Following a meticulous application process that spanned well over a year, Kelvin Arana Orozco’s dreams were finally taking flight.
The Nicaraguan native was now soaring high above the clouds en route to the sprawling city of Los Angeles as a Fulbright Scholar pursuing a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.
“Coming to the United States from Nicaragua was both exciting and intimidating. The thrill of exploring new opportunities at USC Viterbi was balanced by the apprehension of leaving my familiar surroundings,” said Orozco.
This fall, the USC Viterbi School welcomed ten new Fulbrighters to its master’s programs from countries including Mexico, Turkey, Pakistan, Panama, Argentina, Ukraine and Sri Lanka.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is a prestigious international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government in partnership with 140 countries worldwide. Fulbrighters embark on a transformative journey during their grants, immersing themselves in the daily lives of the people of their host country. Created in 1946 in the aftermath of World War II, the program was established to help scholars create a deep appreciation for diverse viewpoints, customs and beliefs.
USC has been named one of the country’s top producers of U.S. Fulbright students, with 22 Trojans receiving the esteemed grant during the 2022-23 award cycle, and one of the top destinations for international pursuing a graduate degree in the United States.
For Orozco, hailing from the second most economically challenged nation in the western hemisphere, he embarked on the journey as a Fulbright Scholar fueled by an unwavering desire to harness the vast reservoirs of engineering expertise in the United States. His goal was to one day be able to take that knowledge back to Nicaragua. Specifically, he wanted to explore how research was conducted in the U.S. and bring those research foundations back to his home country.
Beyond academia, Orozco sought to immerse himself in the rich tapestry of U.S. culture, from the sun-drenched shores of Santa Monica to the bustling stalls of the Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles.
Upon securing the coveted Fulbright Scholarship, a process marked by rigorous essays and meticulous interviews, he soon confronted an array of unanticipated challenges. Navigating cultural nuances, overcoming social isolation and even the simple tasks of securing housing and groceries in a foreign land proved to be formidable hurdles.
“As a Fulbrighter, you have to worry about filling out Fulbright forms, excelling in classes, and —most difficult of all — adapting to the U.S.,” said Orozco. “It’s a lot of issues and dealing with everything alone makes it even harder.”
Orozco felt lost and lonely as an international student more than 3,000 miles away from home. He thought he was the only Fulbright Scholar at USC. However, a few weeks later, he met Daniela Rodriguez Martinez, a fellow Fulbright Scholar from Mexico.
Martinez had a journey similar to Orozco’s. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in communications from Panamerican University, her next step was to study abroad. Her professors and mentor recommended the Fulbright Scholarship, and a year later, she came to USC to pursue a master’s in public relations and advertising from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
In her first month at USC, she ventured into a gathering orchestrated by USC Viterbi, a moment that would indelibly etch itself into her collegiate journey. It was here that she crossed paths with Orozco. Though both possessed impressive academic pedigrees as graduate students, in that encounter, their shared delight was simply the joy of discovering a fellow Fulbright scholar.
Their first conversations surrounded topics of adapting to life in the United States. Basic questions like “Where are you living? Where are you buying food? What transportation are you using?” became questions they connected over.
Throughout the next couple of months, Martinez and Orozco met other fellow Fulbrighters. Eventually, they took it upon themselves to create the Fulbright Trojans Association (BRIGHTS), a student organization that brings together the Fulbright scholar community at USC, including current students, alumni, faculty, and staff.
They reached out to the USC admissions department and several other academic departments across the university. Orozco and Martinez say that Jessica Stern, USC Viterbi director of marketing and graduate recruitment, played a pivotal role in guiding them toward the inception of the Fulbright Trojan Association.
Currently, 60.97% of Fulbrighters in the Fulbright Trojan Association are USC Viterbi students.
“Jessica was so helpful in connecting Kelvin (Orozco) and me with Fulbright scholars,” said Martinez. “She set up mixers and events hosting Fulbright scholars which tremendously helped our association grow to what it is today.”
Alan Venegas Garza, a new Fulbright Scholar from Mexico, is studying civil engineering at USC Viterbi. He’s among a select group of 10 promising scholars chosen as incoming USC Viterbi Fulbrighters.
“The Fulbright Scholarship is much more than an academic achievement. You commit to making connections with other people you would’ve never met. You also learn about other cultures, and are always on the lookout for the opportunity to bring new knowledge back to your community,” said Garza. “For me, I saw that within USC. Also, their academic curriculum piqued my interest out of any of my prospective colleges.”
When asked about the correlation between USC Viterbi and Fulbright Scholars, Orozco saw an obvious connection between the two.
“USC is highly ranked, especially in the engineering field. One of the main reasons I came to Viterbi was because of Andrew Viterbi. He created the Viterbi Algorithm, an algorithm that is highly used in my field of electrical engineering,” he said. “Everyone knows that Viterbi faculty are world-renowned and there’s so much this school has to offer to its students.”
Published on November 20th, 2023
Last updated on November 27th, 2023