Meet Natalia Mendez: the first Chilean woman selected for the Schwarzman Scholars program

Natalia has made history in Chile after being admitted to the renowned program that welcomes 200 scholars from different countries each year to pursue a Master’s in Global Affairs at one of China’s most recognized universities. These young professionals receive higher education known for its leadership focus and innovative curriculum.

The past few months have been filled with new experiences for Natalia Mendez, a graduate in Public Administration from the University of Santiago de Chile. In 2023, she became the first Chilean woman admitted to the distinguished Schwarzman Scholars program. This academic opportunity annually gathers students from various parts of the world to pursue a Master’s in Global Affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.

Her accomplishment was remarkable, not only because she was the first Chilean woman to be accepted, but also because she was the first person to join the program after earning her undergraduate degree in Chile versus abroad. Natalia now aims to inspire other women to follow their dreams and push the boundaries.

She says, “for me, the significance of being the first woman selected is that I feel I’ll be able to motivate many people, especially women. My story is one of effort and a passion for continuous learning, a testimony that things can indeed be achieved. Also, it speaks to the talent in Chile and the importance of promoting opportunities for people to access meaningful multicultural experiences.”

The Schwarzman Scholars program offers a unique platform for young professionals to develop leadership skills and build networks. In addition to classes, workshops, coaching, and mentorship, participants enhance their education through interactions with political leaders, foreign ministers, cultural experts, and entrepreneurs. They also receive Mandarin classes to immerse themselves in Chinese culture and have a significant experience during their stay in the country.

Natalia Mendez mentions one of the reasons she was drawn to this program was its innovative curriculum. “When I started looking into postgraduate options, I initially considered typical places like the United States or Europe but as I delved into China, I was amazed. I was particularly struck by their innovative approach and the up-to-date nature of their academic programs. In China, curriculum structures are constantly changing, and their focus on technology and innovation is impressive. Moreover, they are very open to collaboration with Latin America, especially Chile, which I found very positive,” she highlighted.

With a steadily growing economy and an increasingly prominent presence on the international stage, China has solidified its position as a global power in recent years. In this context, Schwarzman Scholars aims to promote the development of young leaders prepared to act as intermediaries in China’s relations with the world.

“My goal is to become a professional who understands China in Chile. As a young Latin American woman, I want to offer a comprehensive perspective on what’s happening both there and here. Nowadays, it’s not just about the United States, but also about China. It’s a very interesting perspective, and it is crucial that we have young professionals who understand how to maximize this trend to position Chile in Asia, which has a lot of potential,” stated Natalia.

Next Application Process

The program is one of the largest philanthropic efforts China has undertaken in the realm of higher education. The approximately 200 scholars admitted to Schwarzman Scholars each year receive full funding, covering tuition, fees, accommodation, travel costs, living expenses, and health insurance. This academic opportunity operates based on a network of national and international donors, among which Scholars are included.

In April, a new admission process will open for the academic year 2025-2026, extending until September 2024. Applications are made directly through the university, which is responsible for selecting and awarding scholarships to admitted candidates. To apply, candidates must have obtained a university degree in any subject area before the program’s start (August 2024), be between 18 and 28 years old, and have proficiency in the English language.

In terms of advice to all those interested in applying to this program, Natalia stated: “I invite you to believe in yourselves, to dare, and to seize this academic opportunity that will enrich your minds and souls, connect with other people, and understand a part of the world and its complexities. Cultivating leadership skills empowers us to act according to our standards and principles, and to drive the changes we believe in. And, finally, never forget that we have infinite potential for growth.”