Student’s diversity experience lands her an opportunity abroad

Image of blue waters surrounding a Green peninsula or island in Galway, Ireland. Jackie Chilsen’s personal experience with diversity has helped her earn a $3,000 scholarship to go to Galway, Ireland fall semester.

Chilsen hails from New Richmond, Wisconsin — a small town that is 94 percent white. One of her first experiences with diversity occurred when she met a student from South Korea studying abroad at New Richmond High. Initially, she and the foreign exchange student, Juwon Jeong, assumed they didn’t have much in common. Although Juwon understood a lot of English when she first arrived and spoke some, she didn’t speak much English because she was not confident in her abilities.

“I think that our friendship truly developed because of our sincere curiosity to learn more about each other’s cultures,” says Chilsen.

The two ended up becoming close friends. The experience inspired Chilsen to learn about people from different cultural backgrounds. Now in college, Chilsen has had ample opportunity learn about cultural diversity from UW-L international students and others who’ve studied abroad.

Chilsen and a leadership team at her residence hall organized an event in April to bring international and study abroad students in to share their experience in other countries.

“Not many opportunities exist for students on campus to talk about their background or for others to learn about it,” says Chilsen.

She looks forward to studying abroad this fall and learning about another culture first-hand. She received a $3,000 diversity scholarship with distinction from Cultural Experiences Abroad (CEA). The competitive award is based on excellence and exemplary effort for students from diverse backgrounds and/or for students who have had a personal experience with diversity.

Similar to her high school experience, Chilsen hopes to dig deeper than the surface-layer information to forge new relationships in the community abroad.

“I hope to not be a tourist, but to integrate into their culture and learn how it really works,” she says. “I feel like I can better understand how we live here if I can understand how other cultures function as well.”