Arijeta Lajka, a Wagner College sophomore from Great Kills, Staten Island, has won the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, given by the U.S. State Department to support study abroad by college undergraduates who are U.S. citizens.
Lajka is the first Wagner student to win the highly competitive Gilman Scholarship. With over 2,600 Gilman applications reviewed during the Spring 2014 cycle, only 700 scholarships were awarded.
Lajka, who is majoring in English and government with a minor in journalism, was born and raised on Staten Island, graduating from St. John Villa Academy last year. Her family, however, hails from Montenegro, a former Yugoslav republic that achieved independence from Serbia in 2006.
Lajka will spend the Spring 2014 semester studying at the American University in Kosovo, located in the capital city of Pristina. Most coursework at AUK is in English, and transcripts and degrees are issued by AUK’s American partner, the Rochester Institute of Technology.
“I want to be an international journalist,” Lajka said.
She already has a head start on her study-abroad semester, working as a translator/editor/reporter for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network. She is aided by her fluency in Albanian, the native language of her family and the dominant language in Kosovo. One of the stories she recently covered was the participation of Kosovar expatriates here in the local elections in Kosovo, which she says will be important in establishing the kind of government transparency required for admission to the European Union.
Lajka says she will be living next semester with another Wagner College student, Rea Ulaj, whose family owns an apartment in Pristina — and if she gets too lonely, it will be easy to visit her grandmother in nearby Montenegro, where she spends almost every summer with extended family members.