When Thein Nadi San from Myanmar arrived in Texas at the beginning of the fall to attend school at the University of Houston Victoria through the Federal Exchange Program, it was like an out-of-body experience.
“It was my first time in the States, and I thought it was a dream,” San said. “I couldn’t believe I was here and that I would study here in Texas. Being here on my own is a big opportunity for me.”
The university has hosted three exchange students from different countries as part of the Global Undergraduate Exchange Programme, also known as the Global UGRAD Programme. The program is sponsored by the US Department of State, funded by the US government and administered by World Learning, an organization focused on international development through education, sustainable development and exchange programs. In the fall of 2021, UHV hosted students from the Dominican Republic, Montenegro and Myanmar.
UHV has hosted students from the UGRAD Pakistan program since spring 2017, and this is the second time that the university has hosted students in the UGRAD Global Programme. The last time UHV hosted students in programs was in 2019. Due to the pandemic, UHV will not host UGRAD exchange students in 2020.
Ludmi Herath, UHV Director of International Programs, said that in addition to hosting students for Fall 2021, the university will host three Global UGRAD World Learning students and one UGRAD Pakistan student for Spring 2022.
“It’s amazing to have students from the global UGRAD programme,” Hirath said. “UHV has hosted many wonderful students over the years. These students not only advocate for their countries when they are in the United States, but automatically become UHV advocates in their home.”
Students in the UHV program spend one semester at the university. During their time at UHV, students take classes, volunteer, and participate in student activities.
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San, a first-year business student, said she discovered the program through a classmate from her home country. During her time at UHV, San was able to learn more about how higher education is different in the United States, such as the opportunity to choose some of her classes, create her own class schedule, and one-on-one tutoring. She was able to hone her time management skills as well as work on communication skills.
She said that being part of a Global UGRAD partner has opened her eyes to different experiences in education and will help her in her career. San plans to pursue a master’s degree in business and establish a volunteer program. She is open to studying again in the United States as well.
As an introvert, studying abroad helped her break out of her shell. It also helps that most people in the United States are friendly and helpful, she said. I enjoyed meeting students and people from all different backgrounds and cultures, and learning and understanding those different cultures.
“This program boosted my confidence and helped me become more independent,” San said. “I’ve been able to get out here and see what I’ve been able to do while taking a few trips, which is one of my hobbies. I can go home and be more confident. I feel like I’ll be different when I come home next. Now, I won’t be afraid to try other new things. “.
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Erenson de Lana de los Santos from the Dominican Republic will finish his studies in Physical Education after completing his time in the UGRAD Global Program at UHV. This was also the first time he had traveled to the United States. He said that studying at UHV and learning different perspectives on education — particularly in physical education and public speaking — was a wonderful experience.
His participation in the program at UHV helped him find new interests, such as soccer, a sport he learned and played during his time at UHV. He also enjoyed participating in student activities on campus, which also helped him meet more people. He said that studying in the United States gives De Lana De Los Santos the opportunity to improve his English language skills.
De Lana De Los Santos graduated with a degree in Physical Education before studying at UHV in the UGRAD Global Program. He would like to share his global UGRAD experience to help encourage students to apply and build their knowledge and skills. He would also like to create a program for children to help train them properly in sports and leisure activities.
“Being here helped with my personal development,” he said. “You have to do a lot on your own and challenge yourself to grow as a person and gain independence. Because of the travel and learning about other cultures and the friendships I made, I can say this was the best experience of my life.”
For Martina Mikovic, from Montenegro, the opportunity to travel to the United States has been a lifelong dream. The English major first learned about the Global UGRAD program from her mentor, who encouraged Mikovic to apply. She said she was very happy to be accepted into the programme. When she found out she was going to be placed at UHV for a semester, she immediately did research on the university, Victoria and the district.
She said Texas was a great place to start a visit in the US because there are so many different cultures in the state. Being in Victoria was also good because the university wasn’t too big, which I like because the size of the city also wasn’t too big and reminded it of home. The people at the university and Victoria were also very kind and gentle, which made adjustment easier.
During her time at UHV, Mikovic was able to work on her public speaking skills, which she struggled with due to anxiety. She was also able to work on her English, which is one of four languages she speaks in addition to Italian, Russian and Montenegro, which is the language of Montenegro. When she comes home, she plans to get a master’s degree that will help her with writing. Mikovic enjoys writing poetry and short stories and would like to teach at a university one day. She said being at UHV helped her perfect her writing skills.
“The cultural exchange here is a great opportunity for anyone who wants to learn and experience different cultures,” said Mikovic. “I really enjoyed my time here.”
The University of Houston Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business Management; Education, health professions and human development. UHV provides face-to-face classes on the Victoria campus, as well as a tuition site in Katy, Texas, 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 of public colleges and universities and the important role they play in providing accessible and high-quality education to an increasingly diverse group of students, as well as contributing to the region and the economic development of the state.