After 20 hours of travel, their first time so far away from home, two students from the southeast Asian island nation of Timor-Leste have arrived at Genesee Community College. Arsenio Ferreira, 21, and Jorguino (pronounced Jor-gino) Savio, 19, will spend the next two years at GCC earning an associate degree in Food Processing Technology (FPT).
GCC offers its first course in the brand-new degree program, Introduction to Food Processing Technology (FPT 101), beginning with the 12-week class session, which starts on Monday, Sept. 22. A few seats are still available in the class.
Savio and Ferreira earned full scholarships to study in the United States through the Timor-Leste Hillary Clinton Scholarship Program administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE). The IIE suggested GCC to the two young men.
"The program officer from IIE felt that GCC was a good fit for the Timorese students based upon their program of interest, student population, international student population, student services offered and GCC's commitment to diversity," said Carrie Sputore, International Admissions specialist at GCC.
Both Ferreira and Savio come from the capital city of Dìli in Timor-Leste. The city of approximately 190,000 people is the largest in the country, which neighbors Indonesia, and has an overall population of 1.2 million. The tropical climate is much different than western New York. Neither student has ever seen snow. "Everything is new for us," Savio said, including the way Americans cook and the foods we eat.
In Timor-Leste, wood stoves are used to prepare food, 90 percent of which is imported from Indonesia. Crops grown in Timor-Leste include corn, rice and cassava (a woody shrub whose starchy tuberous root resembles a potato; tapioca is extracted from it). The scholarship program aims to train youth to take skills back to Timor-Leste, contributing to the country's economic and social development as well as its democracy.
After two decades, hundreds of thousands of deaths, and near total infrastructure destruction, the country's independence from Indonesia was formally recognized in 2002, but it has faced great challenges rebuilding.
Timor-Leste has benefitted from oil procurement in offshore waters. Arsenio's father works for oil producer ConocoPhillips. He's excited for his son to study abroad as he earned a master's degree on scholarship in Norway. Arsenio is the second of five boys in his family. He also has two sisters. His mother is deceased.
Jorguino has a 21-year old sister studying engineering in Indonesia and a 12-year old brother. Both of his parents are primary school teachers.
"When I got the scholarship, my mother was very proud," he said. "It's very hard to get this scholarship. But when I left my mother was crying."
He already misses his family, but appreciates the educational opportunity he's earned.
Both Arsenio and Jorguino will live in College Village, adjacent to GCC, with American roommates.
"They are very friendly," Arsenio said.
Both he and Jorguino have studied English since high school. They also speak Tetum (official language of East Timor), Portuguese and Indonesian.
The Timor-Leste Hillary Clinton Scholarship program is funded through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Scholarships were awarded to academically talented and qualified Timorese students with the goal of strengthening the base of skilled, high performing professionals in Timor-Leste to contribute to the country's economic and social development.