By Shruti Mungi '19
Junior Soko Cheng has been awarded a competitive Gilman Scholarship, which she will use this spring to study Southeast Asian culture and society in Thailand and reconnect with her family's roots.
Cheng's parents are Cambodian refugees.
“I realized that I didn't know much about their personal experiences,” said Cheng. “I knew that no amount of learning about different cultures could compare to actually experiencing it.”
Cheng’s spring semester in Thailand is supported by a $5,000 Gilman Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, the highest award amount that the program grants. She is one of many Knox students to have received the prestigious scholarship over the years, which gives students with financial need the means to study or intern abroad.
In Thailand, Cheng will take classes on Thai culture, human rights, and social issues at Chiang Mai University. For a short period of time, she will stay with a family in a rural village and work with the community on a service project.
An anthropology and sociology major with minors in Gender & Women’s Studies and social service, Cheng feels well prepared for the program. She attributed her sustained interest in Southeast Asian culture to her McNair research on Cambodian refugee experiences and Professor of Anthropology Nancy Eberhardt's Southeast Asian Buddhism class.
“As a Gilman Scholar, I now have a unique opportunity to learn more about Southeast Asian culture,” she said. “I hope that my study abroad experience will inspire me and give me new insights into the type of research I want to do for my summer Graduate School Exploration Fellowship.”
The Gilman workshop held by The Eleanor Stellyes Center for Global Studies was a beneficial resource to Cheng while applying for the scholarship. She attended the workshop to speak with previous Gilman recipients, where she gained key insight into writing scholarship essays. The center ensures that students like Cheng have similar resources to make their study abroad goals possible.
Cheng also participates in the TRIO program at Knox, which assists first-generation and income-eligible college students with financial, academic, and social resources. As a participant, she knew she could always rely on her TRIO mentors for additional feedback.
“I truly believe that utilizing all my resources at Knox made a big impact on my scholarship essay and was instrumental in my being awarded the Gilman Scholarship,” she said.