Mabel Proenza

Mabel Proenza

Mabel Proenza sits atop the Great Wall of China.

Mabel Proenza’s involvement in Chinese culture at the University of South Florida (USF) shaped her academic focus and strengthened her desire for life-changing study abroad opportunities. As a first year student double majoring in International Studies and Chinese, she knew she wanted a career that would integrate her desire to help people with her love of Chinese culture.

Mabel is an Honors College student and the recipient of two national scholarships: the Gilman International Scholarship and the Freeman-ASIA Award. Both scholarships supplied the funding necessary to make her dream of studying in China a reality.

“I went to China for two months and studied conversational Chinese language at Peking University in Beijing, China,” says Mabel. In addition to language classes, she took a course to learn about traditional and modern aspects of Chinese culture, Language and Culture Practicum.

She was introduced to Chinese language and culture through a music class in high school that focused on Chinese opera, so she was eager to learn how to perform vocal music and traditional plays. While in the country, Mabel had the chance to explore historical aspects of civilization by hiking the Great Wall of China and visiting cities around Beijing.

Mabel believes this opportunity to improve her Mandarin Chinese language skills and broaden her understanding of Chinese history and culture will advance her career goals. She plans to become a Public Diplomacy Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State, focusing on the East-Pacific region. This position manages cultural and information programs to promote U.S. initiatives abroad.

After returning from China, Mabel was awarded a position with the U.S. Foreign Service Internship Program in November 2018. This will provide her with two paid internships – first at the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C. during summer 2019, then at an embassy abroad (location to be determined) in summer 2020. These internships will bring her one step closer to her dream of representing the United States as a diplomat abroad.

Ms. Lauren Bartshe-Hanlen, Assistant Director of the Office of National Scholarships (ONS), helped Mabel through the application process. “The best advice I received,” Mabel says, “was to tell my story while outlining the goals I wanted to accomplish with the scholarship – and the personal statement was a crucial piece of the application, so multiple revisions and edits should be expected.”

Even though Mabel has lived in Tampa, Florida since childhood, she considers her native Cuba home. She advises prospective applicants to take a chance, however hesitant they might be. “I would advise potential national scholarship candidates to apply, even if they think it is too competitive,” she says. “There is no harm in applying, and the process teaches you how to create a competitive application.”

“Receiving the Gilman International Scholarship, Freeman­-ASIA Award, and a position with the U.S. Foreign Service Internship Program were important steps toward achieving my academic and professional goals,” Mabel continues. “I plan to return to China in the future and reach native fluency in Mandarin Chinese while gaining global affairs knowledge and understanding Chinese culture.”


The U.S. Department of State's Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship is a grant program that enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad.

Freeman Awards for Study in Asia (Freeman-ASIA) provides scholarships for U.S. undergraduate students with demonstrated financial need to study abroad in East or Southeast Asia. Preference goes to students studying Asian language and culture. The proposed length of study in the host country must be a minimum of 8 weeks for a summer term, 10 weeks for a quarter term, and 12 weeks for a semester term.