Spotlight on Education: Welcoming Ceremony

HONOLULU (August 14)  The EWC welcomed 155 new fellows from 37 countries in traditional Hawaiian style with a lei greeting, a hula dance, and a Hawaiian ole chant during this week’s new student orientation.

The traditional welcoming ceremony was part of a two-week orientation that exposes new students to the unique cross-cultural environment of the EWC and instills an appreciation for the host indigenous Hawaiian culture. 

The orientation also set the tone for the year with an emphasis on building a community of tolerance, compassion, and an appreciation of diversity.  This unique learning community continues to attract more students each year, raising the total number of students at the EWC this fiscal year to over 481 representing approximately 55 nations, surpassing all previous years since 1973.  The new arrivals include participants in leadership development activities through the EWC’s Asia Pacific Leadership Program (APLP) as well as degree students ranging from undergraduate to the doctoral level. 

During the orientation, Lucas Serrao Lopes, an EWC student from Timor Leste serving as president of the EWC Participants Association enthusiastically pointed out, “You don’t have to buy a plane ticket to meet people from so many different countries.  You can meet 10 people from 10 different countries in one day at the East-West Center!” Though the majority of students are from throughout Asia, the Pacific, and the United States, each year the range of nations represented expands.  This year the Center welcomes students coming for the first time from Croatia and Germany, along with a student from Tanzania, who is an established doctor sponsored by the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program focusing research on social justice and public health. 

A new scholarship established through a donation by Hawaii-based landscape architect and artist Stephen Haus , in honor of his parents Eleanor and Hermann Haus, awarded its inaugural grant to Julian Aguon, a Chamorro indigenous rights activist and author from Guam who is studying in the JD program at the Richardson School of Law.  Reflecting on his new experiences at the EWC, Aguon stated, “It’s exhilarating to be constantly meeting people from so many parts of the planet . . . to come together with people who are passionate about justice but who are also pragmatic, realistic, and politically in-tune. . . Here people can come together to have a conversation that can be candid and challenging about where the world is going.  I welcome this experience!”

Another recent scholarship established by a generous $100,000 endowment from former EWC staff and volunteers Toufiq and Ulrike Siddiqi , brought its second group of awardees from South Asia.  Laila Rahman a Master’s degree student in Public Health from Bangladesh describes her new experience at the EWC as “Beyond imagination!  There are so many amazing opportunities here to explore.”  Another Siddiqi fellow, Ajay Pandey a doctoral student in Sociology focusing on population and health, explained how he was attracted to the EWC due to its reputation for leading research in the field. 

Padmendra Shrestha from Nepal, also a Siddiqi fellow, will pursue a Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning focusing his research on the interplay between rural migration, urban poverty issues, informal economies in Asia, and social capital.  Though he values the knowledge gained from the classroom, he feels that stemming from the co-mingling of such diverse cultures “the real learning will take place within the EWC community.” Md. Ahsanuzzaman, a civil engineering student from Bangladesh agrees with Padmendra, stating, “This environment is very unique . . . more important than what I learn in the classroom will be the relationships formed.  I’m sure these relationships will last forever. . .now the whole world has become my family.”