Rachael Chesley, 22, is a recent recipient of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program Scholarship. | Supplied photo
Updated: November 9, 2011 11:26AM
Rachael Chesley is a Midwest girl with a global view.
“I don’t know exactly what I want to do as a career,” 22-year-old Chesley said, “but my interest is in working with people of different cultures.”
As the recent recipient of a Fulbright U.S. Student Program Scholarship, the St. Mary’s College 2011 graduate is off to a great start fulfilling that goal.
She will spend nearly a year in Malaysia as part of an English teaching assistantship awarded by the U.S. State Department and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, beginning in January.
Although she will spend her time teaching English to Malaysian students, Chesley has set some goals of her own for the time she will be living abroad.
“I’ll be living in an Islamic community,” said Chesley, who is a practicing Roman Catholic. “My biggest goal is to learn more about the culture and emphasize mutual understanding.”
She won’t be sitting around for the four-month interim between graduation and her move to the southeastern Asia country. Chesley has begun an internship with U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and state Rep. Renee Kosel (R-Mokena).
“I’m not politically driven,” Chesley said. “I am just interested in learning more about the public sector.”
The desire to learn more has kept Chesley open to opportunities wherever they appear.
“I’ve always had a love for meeting people from different places,” Chesley said, but she hadn’t really thought about traveling to other countries until her high school years at Lincoln-Way Central in New Lenox.
When relatives hosted a foreign exchange student from Thailand and she met other students through high school programs and foreign language classes, the New Lenox resident determined she would seek out a college with a program for studying abroad.
Chesley’s choice, St. Mary’s College in Indiana, turned out to be the perfect place for her to begin her international journeys.
“In 2008, I went to Rome, Italy,” Chesley said. “It was the first time I’d ever been out of North America. I loved it.”
An exemplary student with interests beyond the classroom and a taste for foreign travel, she became involved the following year in a study program between St. Mary’s College and Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea.
Chesley “pioneered the program” at St. Mary’s, joining 400 students from around the world to become part of what is now known as the Ewha University Exchange Program.
“That’s where I knew I really wanted to go international,” Chesley said.
She credits her roommate from that time, Lauren Hong, a Fulbright Scholarship recipient, with encouraging her to become a Fulbright Scholarship candidate. Chesley said Hong “was really helpful and supportive throughout the whole process” which took nearly a year from start to finish.
Chesley had to prove herself through essays, interviews and meetings with a Fulbright advisor on campus, in addition to proven academic achievement and accomplishments throughout her college career.
Chesley met the challenging requirements, having been student body president at St. Mary’s in 2010 and 2011, recipient of the International Business Award and recipient of the Management Award from the business administration department of St. Mary’s.
As the typical “Fulbrighter,” “a graduating senior who sought opportunities to learn more outside of the classroom,” Chesley is hoping to use her business administration degree in some international capacity.
No matter where she travels, Chesley said it all began with her parents, Gretchen and Craig Chesley, who have helped her to achieve her goals by allowing her to grow.
“I’m not just saying this,” Chesley said. “They have been so supportive — open hearts and open ears. It’s not easy to watch your child go to the places I’ve traveled, but they always challenge me, always support me.”
Chesley said her Lincoln-Way education also was instrumental in her success.
“Throughout my experience at Lincoln-Way, there was such a standard of excellence being set for students. Those lifestyle habits are what kept me going and fueled this passion for getting involved and taking on leadership roles,” she said.