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Graduating International Students Reflect, Look to Future

international student graduation

22 May 2013

On May 15, the International Office hosted a special ceremony to honor more than 600 international students graduating this spring from The University of Texas at Austin. Graduates brought family and friends, and heard from current and former international graduates who detailed their incredible journeys.

Essay and photo contests encouraged graduates to reflect on their experiences at the university. Essay contest winner Geun Heui from South Korea completed a bachelor’s degree in American Studies this spring. In her essay, which she read to the reception attendees, Geun Heui detailed her dream of earning a degree from an American university, and the challenges she faced as a 50-something woman who would leave her family and a successful career in South Korea to pursue a degree in American Studies from The University of Texas at Austin. After deciding to take the leap, Geun Heui faced even more hurdles, attending fast-paced courses taught in English, while also adapting to the heavy focus on critical and creative thinking, which was at first uncomfortable for her, having come of age in a culture where “criticizing” others was frowned upon.

Keynote speaker John Kidenda, a former international student from Kenya and graduate of the McCombs School of Business and current vice president of the African Leadership Bridge, a non-profit organization that provides scholarship support for African students studying in the US, shared the difference UT-Austin made in his own life. Kidenda encouraged the graduating international students to stay connected to their UT-Austin family, a support network that helped him persevere during his time at UT, even helping him find a job after an offer from a New York finance firm was rescinded due to the economic crisis just weeks before Kidenda was to graduate in May 2009.

john kidendaThe 2013 graduates had more inspiring stories of their own. Ceremony attendee Katrin Greisberger, a Fulbright Scholar from Austria, completed her master’s degree in global policy studies. Her interest in international economic development was amplified by opportunities she pursued at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. “I’ve always known I wanted a career in international policy, but my time at UT exposed me to even more areas of international development. I had the opportunity to travel to Haiti, which gave me a whole new perspective on the power of international policy to impact those in need around the world.”

Her passion for entrepreneurship also made Austin a natural choice for Katrin – she attended the Dell Social Innovation Challenge this May. And beyond academics, Katrin became a card-carrying member of the Longhorn Nation. “I loved football, tailgating, and campus life.  Austrian universities are typically in small towns, so to come here where the university itself is like a small community, and is surrounded by the great city of Austin, was really the best of both worlds for me.”

Victor De la Flor, a banking lawyer in Peru planning to continue his legal career in the US, completed his master’s degree in law. To pursue his goal of working in banking law, he will be moving to New York and taking the New York bar exam. His time at UT presented Victor with countless opportunities, but one stood out more than any other. “We worked with local contacts in the rural community of Hallettsville, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, to learn about the situations for which residents needed legal counsel, as well as the barriers they faced in accessing it. It was rewarding to help rural, lower-income families obtain legal counsel that made a real difference in their lives.” Like Katrin, Victor also enjoyed the outdoor life in Austin – from the bustling downtown neighborhoods to the trail along Lady Bird Lake. He’ll also be taking one more big leap before leaving Austin – riding a zip line across Lake Austin.

Bismark Singh, who just completed his master’s degree in the interdisciplinary field of operations research, will be staying at UT to complete his PhD. He is excited to continue his studies in operations research, an emerging discipline that blends finance and engineering to solve real-world problems in fields such as health care. His UT experience has led to accomplishments he could not have imagined just a few years ago, “Due to the personal relationships I’ve had with my professors at UT, I’ve managed to do well academically.” After just his second semester at UT, Bismark decided to pursue his PhD. “I realized there was nothing holding me back – the opportunities and support here makes anything possible.”

The staff at the International Office has also supported Bismark’s success. “The International Office staff was so helpful with the immigration process, both when I first arrived and more recently when I decided to extend my time at UT. I’m grateful for their expertise and support.”

These are just a few of the many success stories among the international student class of 2013. These inspiring graduates have already made a lasting impact on the UT community, and the future promises a new world of global connections and collaboration. Congratulations to all international graduates – we wish you happiness, success and fulfillment wherever your journey may take you.

Story by Angie Pastorek

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