Three Fulbright students from three different countries have come to the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities to complete their graduate studies. All share a similar goal: They’re motivated by the desire to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.
Adi Vosawale Lesuma plans to return home to Fiji after graduation and take a leadership role in preparing her country for the challenges that come with increased urbanization. She is entering her second year in the Clemson graduate program in city and regional planning.
Daniel Fallas wants to be a strong advocate for sustainable development in his native Costa Rica. Fallas is beginning his first semester in the Master of Real Estate Development program.
Gabrielle Wilkosz, an incoming master’s student in English, arrives in Clemson after what she describes as a transformative year teaching in Malaysia. As a writer, she’s particularly interested in cross-cultural communication, bridging the gaps that often divide people.
The highly competitive Fulbright program is designed to increase mutual understanding between Americans and the people of other countries. The U.S. government’s flagship international exchange initiative funds the travel, education and living expenses for students who are selected on the basis of outstanding academic or professional achievement.
Lesuma and Fallas are attending Clemson as a part of the Fulbright Foreign Student Program, which brings young people from around the world to the United States to study and conduct research. Wilkosz, meanwhile, spent a year abroad in the English Teaching Assistant Program, which sends American students overseas to serve as educators and cultural ambassadors.
Contributing to her country
Adi Vosawale Lesuma knew she would love Clemson when she found a supportive environment that reminded her of home.
“People at Clemson were just so friendly,” she said. “President James Clements talks about the Clemson Family, and it’s true. I always tell my family back home that I was blessed to be put here.”
Lesuma, 25, plans to graduate in May with a master’s degree in city and regional planning, a longtime dream.
“Ever since I finished high school, I wanted to be a city planner,” she said. “When I was 5, I wanted to be an architect. But later I decided that I’d like to design not just one building but entire communities.”
She hopes to use her Clemson education to make a meaningful contribution to Fiji’s future.
“We have a shortage of city planners back home,” she said. “My country is becoming more urbanized, just like the rest of the world. I was really drawn to city planning by the fact that you get to help people. Trying to build up my country has always been a passion of mine, something my family instilled in us growing up.”
In May of 2018, Lesuma saw an ad about the Fulbright program on the Facebook page of the U.S. Embassy in Fiji. She applied and a year later was accepted.
She looked around for “somewhere that was relevant to my country and field of study but also had good weather.”
Clemson fit the bill, and in August of 2019 she arrived in the United States for the first time.
“The first thing I noticed in Greenville when I stepped off the plane was the number of churches,” she said. “That’s something that is very common back home in Fiji. We’re a very conservative culture, so I really identify with that.”
Lesuma was born and grew up in the capital city of Suva. She attended the University of the South Pacific, earning a bachelor’s degree in land management and geography.
Later, she became a civil servant for the government of Fiji, working in the area of land management.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Lesuma has been taking classes online while refining her master’s thesis – and occasionally enjoying her hobby of photography.
For international Fulbright students, summers are meant to be a time of travel around the United States, but this year the program had to settle for virtual events.
Lesuma, who lives in nearby Central, has been welcomed not only by Clemson students and faculty but also the Clemson Area International Friendship, a nonprofit organization that offers support for foreign students, faculty and visitors in the Clemson area.
“My host family has taken good care of me while I’ve been here,” she said. “We go to church together. They have me over to their house. It’s been a great experience.”
Pursuing sustainable development
Daniel Fallas chose Clemson for a simple reason: a trusted advisor recommended the University.
“I read a lot of things about it and thought it was great, a very prestigious university.
“I think it will also be a calm place where I can concentrate on my studies,” he added. “I had other university opportunities, but Clemson was always the best option for me.”
Fallas, 29, is a civil engineer, working in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. He sees the University’s Master of Real Estate Development program as a way of taking his career to the next level.
“I feel really engaged with the program’s approach to development as an integrated field that takes into consideration all the variables such as social, environmental and economic issues,” Fallas said.
The program’s emphasis on sustainable development was particularly important to Fallas.
“Costa Rica is trying to become a carbon-neutral country,” he said. “I want to be a part of construction projects that are sustainable because I believe that would provide a better future for our next generation.”
Fallas was born in San Jose and has lived most of his life in the suburban city of Desamparados. He graduated in 2014 from the University of Costa Rica with a degree in civil engineering. Fallas oversees large building projects — with an average of 245,000 square feet – as a production project engineer with Constructora Volio y Trejos.
“I’m really proud to have the power to create unique projects and also contribute to the development of my country,” Fallas said.
Garnering a Fulbright Scholarship was a year-long process.
“Fulbright is the great exchange program in the world,” he said. “I am really engaged with the vision of the program. And I’ve never been in the United States before, so I’m very excited to travel there.”
The master’s program within the Department of City Planning and Real Estate Development educates students to become leaders and innovators in the development of sustainable communities.
Students can complete the Master of Real Estate Development degree in 18 months, but there’s also a fast-track 12-month program for experienced development professionals. Classes are held at Greenville ONE, a towering building in the heart of Greenville’s downtown.
Because of COVID-19, Fallas will begin the semester at home in Costa Rica before traveling in September for in-person classes.
“I am very glad to be a part of the Clemson family,” he said. “I can’t wait to be there and have the Clemson University experience. Go Tigers!”
Reaping rewards from teaching abroad
Gabrielle Wilkosz, who begins her first year in the Master of Arts in English program this fall, embraced an informal mantra during her year as a teaching assistant in Malaysia: “Buckle up, buttercup!”
The experience was one of the most challenging the 23-year-old has ever known, but it was richly rewarding.
“It was incredible,” she said. “I tried to take in as much as I possibly could of the people and places I was able to visit.”
Wilkosz was one of 100 American students chosen to participate in the English Teaching Assistant program in Malaysia in 2019. She worked in the small town of Kemayan, teaching three classes to 14- to -17-year-olds in a classroom without air conditioning.
“We were very isolated,” she said. “The town was surrounded by palm fields, but it was not provincial. It was a place of contrasts, with older men sitting outside tea shops reading the newspaper and young people speaking on cell phones and posting on Instagram. I can’t stress how incredibly similar all people are to one another the world over.”
Wilkosz was a fully embedded “mini-ambassador,” in the words of Kamala Lakhdir, the U.S. ambassador to Malaysia. Wilkosz not only taught grammar and lectured on American culture in an English-immersion classroom but also played basketball, dined with students, visited a retirement home and developed programs for English-language camps.
“We were strongly encouraged to interact with students from dawn to dusk,” she said.
Wilkosz put her writing abilities to good use in crafting and directing a play, “The King of Kemayan,” based on Jeanette Winterson’s children’s book, “The King of Capri.”
“To local knowledge, it was the first and only English-language play performed in the town to date,” she said. “Many of the students had never seen a live-action play, so we really had to work from the ground up.”
Wilkosz was born in Rochester, New York but grew up in Pflugerville, Texas. In 2018, she earned her bachelor’s degree in English writing and rhetoric at St. Edward’s University in Austin.
Wilkosz first became interested in the Fulbright program in her teens. She applied in 2018 and, on New Year’s Day 2019, she boarded a plane for the 36-hour trip to Malaysia.
The experience was a lesson in resilience and international understanding, she said. Wilkosz had to adapt quickly to the food, the local home remedies, and the collectivist nature of a diverse culture with three prominent languages.
“I think my relationships are stronger now because I have a more mature understanding of giving,” she said.
She hopes to apply her experiences in cross-cultural communication to bring people together.
“Academically, I’m interested in learning about how we effectively argue across cultural and/or linguistic boundaries,” she said. “After graduate school, I’m excited to get back into the field. As a writer, I want to help facilitate dialogue between groups that talk past one another instead of to each other.”
Wilkosz believes all students should take advantage of study-abroad opportunities once the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided.
“Traveling allowed me to better understand myself,” she said. “I think the world would be a better place if more Americans were willing to step out of their comfort zone and travel to different countries and experience new cultures and ways of being. I think we might become more accepting of one another at home.”
She added, “I don’t think I left anything in Malaysia. I feel like I took all the good with me.”
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