Two months ago, Gerardo Calderon boarded a plane from El Salvador to the U.S., leaving his family and culture for a new experience as a Fulbright student.
“I think this opportunity is good not only for me to learn and study but also for my personal growth,” said Calderon, 25.
As one of 20 Fulbright students at Lehigh, Calderon came to the U.S. to experience American culture and to pursue a master’s degree in political science.
The Fulbright International Educational Exchange Program, in the words of its website, “offers grants to study, teach and conduct research for U.S. citizens to go abroad and [for] non-U.S. citizens to come to the United States.”
The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsors the program, which is named for U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright, who proposed the legislation that was signed into law in 1946 by President Harry Truman.
Culture nights, and American-style birthdays
Like many students coming to Lehigh, Calderon found that making housing arrangements can be daunting. William Hunter, director of international outreach, proposed two roommate opportunities for Calderon – one student from Ecuador and another from Panama. While he shared a common language with both, Calderon decided that living with Spanish speakers wouldn’t improve his English-speaking abilities.
“I said no to those options and two days later I got an email [from Hunter] about the house,” said Calderon.
That house, the old ArtsLehigh building on West Packer Avenue, is being made available to Fulbright students for the next academic year by the office of residential services. Calderon now shares it with three other Fulbright recipients. Shiang Yi Lin, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology, is from Taiwan. Tudor Stanciu of Romania is a scholar in residence in the College of Education’s Comparative and International Education program. Naila Nabiyeva of Azerbaijan is a visiting researcher with the same program.
The Fulbright students and scholars are working to establish a community among themselves. Before the first day of class, some took a trip to the beach. On a recent Sunday they celebrated the birthday of Aubin Adi, a Fulbrighter from the Ivory Coast, in American fashion with cake and a Lehigh backpack as a gift.
Hunter said Debra Nyby, director of international services in the office of international affairs, and Ozzie Breiner, director of residential services, played key roles in overcoming challenges and bringing the new Fulbright house to fruition.
“The Fulbright house has been a tremendously positive addition to our Fulbright outreach program,” said Hunter.
With many different cultures converging in the Fulbright program, students share their diverse heritages and embrace other cultures. One evening Fulbrighters enjoyed traditional Russian cuisine.
“We are planning to have typical nights,” said Calderon, “where we choose one Fulbrighter to present his culture to the rest of us.”
Hunter said that the global programs at Lehigh plan to use the temporary Fulbright house as a discussion and dining space.
“Students from the Global Citizen program, the Globalization and Social Change program and Comparative and International Education will be part of those discussion groups. We view it as a living, learning space, and we plan to make the most of it.”