2018-2019 Wien Scholars reflect on life at Brandeis during 60th anniversary

2018-2019 Wien Scholars reflect on life at Brandeis during 60th anniversary

March 15, 2019

The 2018-2019 Wien Scholars spoke about their experiences at Brandeis as international students and transitioning from life outside the United States for the 60th anniversary of the Wien International Scholarship Program (WISP) on March 9 and 10.

Current and past Wien Scholars as well as close friends of the program gathered on campus to celebrate decades of scholars that have passed through Brandeis campus since the program’s inception in 1958.

Groups of the current 2018-2019 Wien Scholars spoke to different aspects of life at Brandeis and how being a Wien Scholar has influenced their experiences not only at Brandeis but in the United States. All of the scholars highlighted how the scholarship brought them together and helped them form a new family within themselves.

The first group looked at academic life at Brandeis. All of the students spoke highly of their professors that helped them find their passions in their studies. Sabina Simkova ’22, who is from Slovakia, said that she didn’t really like American culture when she first came to Brandeis because she didn’t understand it. By speaking with her Russian professor, Simkova found a person who understood her struggles.

Akim Sanni ’21, originally from Benin, spoke about life as a student athlete and how both of these aspects have kept him grounded and boosted him. Sanni said that even though it takes a lot of mental and physical energy to be a student-athlete, “If you’re passionate about something, you can always make it work.” He sees playing basketball as his escape from the stress of academics and the perfect balance between “fantasy and reality.”

The next group of scholars talked about clubs and organizations they are involved in on campus. Juan Ramon Bordon ’22 from Paraguay joined the Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center (PARC) his second semester at Brandeis to help spread awareness for domestic and sexual violence. “From where I come, that’s not a thing we talk about,” explained Bordon. “Domestic and dating violence is something we don’t talk about. It’s just something we accept. This is something I’ve never noticed back at home.” Bordon also said that by joining PARC, he became a part of a group that had different experiences and background with these types of issues.

Sahra Jaamac ’20 and Akwasi Owusu-Brempong ’21 both spoke about their experiences with the Brandeis African Students Organization (BASO) on campus. Even though Jaamac said that she came to Brandeis to experience different cultures, she felt like it was important that she had some part of her home with her. “I joined so I could feel at home,” said Jaamac. “When I feel homesick, I always go there.”

Owusu-Brempong felt similarly to Jaamac about the impact that BASO had on his life. He said that most of the friends he made his first year came from BASO. “It was through talking to people there it gave me the confidence to take to people who weren’t from Africa,” he noted.

The third group talked about what they wished they knew before coming to Brandeis. A lot of the scholars spoke to the numerous resources and opportunities that Brandeis, and the United States in general, offered to them. They also spoke about how these things would not have been attainable in their various home countries.

Tafara Gava ’20 has a different perspective from many of the other Wien scholars as a scholar majoring in something “artsy.” He told the audience that as a first year at Brandeis, he wrote in his journal that “there is so much choice in America that it is almost blinding.” He went on to say that “there is so much freedom and a lot of us come from conservative or restrictive cultures. Part of the culture shock is finding yourself.” Gava also highlighted self-care and the importance of mental health for all students.

The final group of students reflected on what it is like to be a Wien scholar in 2019. Similar to the words of all the previous panelists, all the current Wien scholars felt like their peers were their family away from home. “They are a group that looks out for you and a place where you can find home in every single country,” said Kruti Yeshwant Jethwa ’22.

According to Sonia Maria Pavel ’20, many of the Wien scholars, including current and past scholars, would not have the ability to attend an elite university in the United States if it was not for the Wien scholarship.

Pavel found that not only faculty members but also her fellow Wien scholars were the ones that helped push her towards her passions. “The Wien scholarship comes as a great source of confidence for us to pursue whatever dreams we want to pursue,” said Pavel. “It comes with the trust and the responsibility to excel in whatever we choose to pursue.”

Daniel Garcia Murillo ’20 voiced similar sentiments, saying that “we have the responsibility to attempt to understand what matters and what we should put our time into and do something that is beneficial for everybody. We need to think for ourselves and pursue the actions in what we decided what matters for the change of the world.”

WISP was the first program in the United States that was “bringing students from every corner of the globe to campus and engaging the entire community to be active global citizens,” according to the program’s website. Founded by Lawrence A. and Mae L. Wien, the program has brought over 900 scholars from over 100 countries to Brandeis to study.

Jodi Hanelt, the current director of the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO), moderated the event and highlighted on the ways that Wien Scholars fit into the “Framework for Our Future” that President Ron Liebowitz introduced in November 2018.

The first sector, student living and learning experiences, highlights upon the scholars’ ability to foster close relationships with each other. The scholars oftentimes stay on campus during holiday breaks and look out for and care for one another, according to Hanelt. “It really speaks to the close nature that the Wiens have over time and to collaborate academically in order to advance the thoughts and feelings they have about their life here at Brandeis and their intellectual life.”

The second part, supporting research, creativity and collaborative innovation is a large part of the Wien community, with many of the scholars partaking in the community as humanitarians, leaders and educators, said Hanelt. She went on to say how Brandeis gives these students a platform to test their skills and also gives them a space to thrive and contribute to the growing world around them.

The final section of the framework looks at honoring the founding values of Brandeis. Hanelt praised all the current and past scholars for their reverence for learning and their capacity for critical learning. “All the students have a knack for seizing each moment that is given to them,” added Hanelt.

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