Illinois International Undergraduate Achievement Award 2009
by Sarah Small
Cynthia Wong got her taste for traveling when she was a child traveling with her parents. Now a senior in Marketing, Wong can count 40 countries she has visited, three of which she visited most recently for internships. Her extensive travels were noticed by the College of Business and ILLINOIS and she received the Illinois International Undergraduate Achievement Award 2009.
Wong is the second consecutive College of Business student to receive this award, following College graduate Muffadal Saylawala who won the award for the 2008 academic year.
“It’s great that I can give back, most of my experiences have been through the Study Abroad Business office,” Wong said.
In the recent years Christine Gozdziak, assistant dean of the College’s International Programs office, said she has observed a dramatic increase in the number of students interested in studying abroad, and attributes much of the increased popularity to travel-role models Wong and Saylawala.
“They have made big goals, for themselves and the other study abroad students,” Gozdziak said.
As a freshman, Wong joined AIESEC, the world’s largest student organization that helps connect students to international work opportunities.
The summer after her freshman year, she traveled to Morocco through AIESEC and worked with a non-profit organization that taught children English.
“That was the first time I really became passionate about travel,” Wong said.
Inspired by her travel experience, and experience with AIESEC, Wong became the president of the organization’s ILLINOIS chapter her sophomore year and under her guidance, the chapter grew from 50 students to 90 students in one year.
With her involvement in AIESEC, she found two other internships with non-profit organizations, one in India that promotes awareness about road safety and one in Brazil that helps other non-profits help children in high risk situations.
“I wanted to throw myself somewhere that was totally out of my comfort zone” Wong said. “I seek that culture shock experience.”
During her second semester junior year, she studied in Vienna through a College of Business exchange program and while abroad she became involved in her foreign university’s AIESEC program.
“I have found Cynthia to be one of the most inspiring students I have had the opportunity to meet during my decade at the University of Illinois,” Gozdziak said. “She has such passion for international travel and for making the world a better place.”
Gozdziak and John Hedeman, assistant dean, along with previous winner Saylawala nominated Wong for the award.
Matt VanderZalm, communication coordinator for International Programs and Studies said the Illinois International Undergraduate Achievement Award is intended to recognize the service of one ILLINOIS student through his or her international travels.
“The award is meant to honor those who have embraced these opportunities and made their impact on another country,” VanderZalm said.
In each country she visited, Wong said the conversations she had with the local people were special to her. She said she enjoyed the perspectives they gave her, and in turn, felt that she also showed them a new perspective.
“Travel has the opportunity to impact people through the ripple effect,” Wong said.
With approaching graduation, she is unsure of her next travel destination, but she said the lessons she learned from study abroad, AIESEC, international internships and independent travel helped her discover her passion for helping people internationally.
“Me and Muff are people who took advantage of the study abroad opportunity,” Wong said. “We sought out the opportunities and made it happen.”