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UHV hosts three exchange students from federal program

Three international students from the Dominican Republic, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine are spending the spring semester at the University of Houston-Victoria as part of the university’s participation in the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program.

Ludmi Herath

“Students are chosen for the Global UGRAD programs on an extremely competitive basis,” said Ludmi Herath, UHV International Programs director. “Programs such as these allow the university to reach out to countries that might not typically send students to UHV and puts us on more equal footing with other universities across the nation.”

Global UGRAD brings students with the potential to be future leaders to the U.S. for a semester to experience the education system, share their cultures and explore U.S. culture and values. The program is sponsored by the U.S Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by World Learning, a nonprofit organization that focuses on international development through education, sustainable development and exchange programs. This is the first time UHV has participated in the Global UGRAD program. The university also is hosting a student through the UGRAD Pakistan program and has been hosting students through that program since Spring 2017.

During their time at UHV, the three students have taken part in an International Café Series event that allowed them to share elements of their cultures with UHV students. They also took part Friday in the UHV International Festival and showcased information about their home countries, traditional outfits and food.

Maureen Tejeda, a senior law student at Universidad Católica Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, applied to the program after her uncle told her about it. She had visited the U.S. before but had never been to Texas.

Maureen Tejeda

“The first thing I saw when I looked it up was, ‘Everything is bigger in Texas,’” she said. “Victoria is very different from my previous visit to New York City. It feels safe here, and the people are gentle and kind. There’s so much diversity in the U.S.”

Tejeda hopes to teach one day, and she learned during her time at UHV that if she works hard enough, she can make her dreams come true, she said. She plans to take her experiences learning at UHV with her as she pursues her dreams.

“My UHV professors have a very different approach to working with students than professors back home,” she said. “Here, there is much more open communication and a willingness to help and work with students to encourage them to learn. Back home, there is very little communication with a professor outside the classroom.”

Vladyslav Shapoval, a sophomore international economic relations student at Sumy State University in Ukraine, has wanted to study in the U.S. for a long time.

Vladyslav Shapoval

“I was the happiest person in the world when I heard that I was accepted and going to Texas,” Shapoval said. “Everyone here is so welcoming and respectful. At home, people just say ‘hello,’ but here, people actually ask how you are.”

After his time at UHV, Shapoval wants to take home what he’s learned about leadership from a U.S. perspective, he said.

“There’s a lot of diversity here, and that plays into how people lead,” he said. “I want to gain a real perspective on how to build a democratic country and make my country better.”

Rehab Alhawsawi, a junior law student at Dar Alhekmah University in Saudi Arabia, considered attending a U.S. school for a full four years, but she decided the semester-long Global UGRAD program was a better fit for her because she did not want to spend a lot of time away from her family.

“It’s been a great experience, and I’ve enjoyed my independence,” Alhawsawi said. “At home, my family handles many of the things I need, so this has been a learning experience. My family has been so supportive of me and my decision to study abroad, and they helped me believe in myself through this process.”

Although she said much of what she has seen in the U.S. looks exactly like it’s shown in the movies and on social media, she had a different view of Texas that proved to be inaccurate.

“Texas is the complete opposite of what I thought,” Alhawsawi said. “I’ve been to some major cities and visited museums to learn more, and it’s not all cowboys and cactus here. This program has been a good experience, and I plan to encourage my friends to apply. It’s a shot worth taking.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973, offers courses leading to 70 bachelor’s, master’s and specialist degree programs and concentrations in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.