Consuelo Naranjo/Staff Writer
Some of the most brilliant FIU Fulbright students and alumni participated on a three day meeting, from April 5 to April 7, in St. Augustine, Fla. for the commemoration of Juan Ponce de Leon – a Spanish explorer who arrived to one of the oldest cities in the United States 500 years ago.
The Fulbright Scholar Program, established in 1946 by Senator J. William Fulbright from Arkansas, is one of the most prestigious academic grants which provides funding for vivid minds from all around the world in the science, education and arts fields.
The following five FIU Fulbright graduate representatives attended to St. Augustine events: Ziyad Ben Taleb, public health major (Libya); Nicolás Terradas, international relations major (Argentina); Juan Sebastián Betancourt, business major (Colombia); Anas Salah Eddin, electrical engineering major (Syria); and Valerie Pelletier, public health major (Haiti).
They were invited by the Fulbright Association, a private nonprofit organization with chapters in North, Central and South Florida. This society was established by Fulbright Scholars Program alumni, enabling supporters of international education to learn more about St. Augustine’s history by attending conferences, touring the city and interacting with other Fulbrighters from Florida universities.
Jesus Mendez, vice president of the South Florida Chapter of the Fulbright Association, describes Fulbright not just as an academic program where students can acquire knowledge, but also as a program that promotes mutual understanding between cultures through education and communication – the main objectives of Fulbright.
“Knowledge without understanding creates tragedies. Fulbright reunions are amazing and necessary opportunities where students can appreciate and share new cultures, languages and different points of views,” Mendez said.
Flagler College in St. Augustine was a co-sponsor of the weekend’s events.
William T. Abare, Jr., president of Flagler College, Thomas Graham, professor of history at Flagler College and Jesus Mendez addressed the 500th anniversary of St. Augustine history. Betty Castor, member of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board and former Florida commissioner of education, and Shaz Akram, director of chapter relations of the Fulbright Association in Washington, D.C, welcomed Fulbrighters by presenting the organization’s goals, recognitions and personal experiences.
Nicolás Terradas, FIU Fulbright international relations graduate, shared the importance of the Fulbright program and how this opportunity has impacted his personal life and professional career.
“Fulbright has changed my life completely. This program not just only gave me the opportunity to study in a country where the highest academic standards resided, but also allowed me to obtain cultural understanding. I have met people from all around the world; without this grant, I would never have these experiences.”
The students, alumni and participants visited historical venues such as the Hotel Ponce de Leon building of Flagler College, the Castillo de San Marcos, St. George Street, Markland House and the Colonial Quarter while enjoying the town’s cuisine and receptions.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program awards over one thousand grants every year, available in over 155 countries worldwide. FIU students have been the proud recipients of these prestigious awards.
According to the Fulbright association in 2012-2013, Florida welcomed 60 foreign Fulbright students from 25 different countries. Also, during 2012-2013, a total of 61 students attending Florida universities received Fulbright Scholarship grants to study and organize academic research abroad.
Florida International University has approximately 50,000 students, most with an international background, and has been a successful academic entity for the Fulbright Scholarship Program.
“FIU is growing extremely fast. It has well-known and globally recognized academic programs that attract students from the five continents,” Mendez said.