My Person: Global UGRAD Students’ Closest Mentors and Friends

It’s not easy leaving the familiarity of home to begin a new adventure in a foreign country. It takes courage, resilience, and a welcoming community. Luckily, our Global UGRAD students are adept at developing deep and lasting relationships with wonderful people who support and encourage them throughout this journey. Below, some students share with us a special someone who has been there for them during their stay in the United States. These heartwarming stories showcase the families that our Global UGRAD students have created for themselves while studying abroad.

Utthara Wanigasekara from Sri Lanka at University of Southern Indiana

Utthara is pictured with the Vice Provost of USI, Heidi Gahan, in front of a USI banner. First, I would like to thank Global UGRAD for sending me to the University of Southern Indiana (USI). It is the best place for international students. I met many inspiring people, but Mrs. Heidi Gahan was the best and most influential to my development. She is a statue of women empowerment, a mother to many students from around the world, Vice Provost of USI, and head of the International Student Office. Everyone calls her “Mama Heidi” because she is a great mother. From day one until the end, she always looked after me offering advice and empowering me and other young women from across the globe. All my gratitude and honor go to her. Without her, the international students would never get such an amazing experience.


Elizaveta Ivanova from Russia at Fayetteville State University

Elizaveta is pictured with another Global UGRAD participant from Ukraine, Helen. They are both holding their country flags. The person who has supported and motivated me during my most wonderful times in the States is Helen, another Global UGRAD finalist from Ukraine! We became really good friends and it will be extremely hard to say “bye” to her. But I definitely know that we will meet a lot of times later! She inspires me a lot: she is really hardworking, dedicated and diligent.  She is the kind of person who you can share a foxhole with. I am happy I’ve met her here!

Ni Mo from China at New Mexico Highlands University

Ni Mo is posing with her English Composition professor, Kelly Lucero in a classroom. The life of becoming a Global UGRAD in the U.S. was as brief as a glimpse of a white colt flashing past a chink in the wall. I studied in New Mexico Highlands University for 4 months. My whole heart melts in gratitude because of all I learned from my professor, Ms. Kelly Lucero. In her English Composition class, she taught me how to become a better English writer. Under her instruction and encouragement, I immersed myself in the ocean of literature at Highlands Library and started to record my writings in personal journals. My first objective was to explore different kinds of writing. It felt like a time of sunshine and gentle breeze as I sat in the library—a script of Shakespeare, a cup of Starbucks and a heart eager to learn. Summer is coming soon, and Professor Lucero is the beauty in my mind exactly as the eternal summer lover in Sonnet 18 from Shakespeare: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”


Firdavs Sharipov from Tajikistan at Saginaw Valley State University

Firdavs is standing next to his advisor, Pat, who is wearing an animal Halloween costume.I would like to express my appreciation to my lovely advisor, Pat, who has been there for me during both challenging and joyful times in the U.S. He was not only my adviser, but also a friend and mentor. Pat motivated and encouraged me throughout the course of both semesters. We participated in many events and community service projects together. Moreover, he was with me during the bitter time when I was sick in the hospital. I was shocked when I woke up and saw him sitting in front of me with a balloon that said, “Feel Better Soon”. In addition to this, I find him to be the funniest advisor at our university. He wears the funniest clothes during special holidays such as Halloween. I love him so much and will miss him.


Becky Awitty  from Kenya at Murray State University 

The person who’s been with me through both my challenging and joyful times is Aye Moe Thu. We were picked up together from the same airport, and the first thing she did after we introduced ourselves was offer me food. Before she even knew my second name, she bought me blankets and food because it snowed a day after we arrived, and I had no money. We’ve had a few rough times when she cried in my arms and me in hers. It was in those raw moments that I knew I wasn’t alone in this foreign land. We’ve had so many fun times together as well. My exchange program would have been totally different if she wasn’t a part of it. I love her, and I hope we meet again. Well, actually since she’s coming to Kenya!