International Grads Realize American Dream
South African student Nelvia Rawheath (left) stands with her fellow Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority sisters. The international transplant graduates at the University's 70th Commencement on May 21, 2013. (Photo courtesy of Rawheath)
By Kenna Caprio
The IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J. will be awash with festive, decorated caps and traditional gowns as Fairleigh Dickinson University celebrates its 70th Commencement and approximately 2,500 students receive degrees.
The Class of 2013 represents 26 countries including the United States, 24 states plus the District of Columbia and all 21 counties in New Jersey.
Amongst those graduates are international students Nelvia Rawheath and Ivar Murd hailing from South Africa and Estonia, respectively.
While studying international relations and communications as a Global Scholar and Honors Student on the Metropolitan Campus, 22-year-old Rawheath joined Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority, The University Players, the Student Government Association and worked as a Resident Assistant.
“Going to a university is not only about going to class and gaining an academic education. You have to be educated culturally and emotionally,” she says. “That’s a very important part of becoming an adult.”
Rawheath found her way to FDU from her home near the ocean in Durban, South Africa because she wanted to attend a university close to New York City and the United Nations.
“I’ve always been interested in becoming part of the U.N. and UNICEF is where my heart really lies, especially helping underprivileged children in Africa,” Rawheath says. “With the diversity that I’ve come across at this campus, it’s just proved to me that it’s so important to continue to educate and develop youth.
“Diversity is such a remarkable thing. It’s what we all have in common,” she continues.
Though she lived a “very modern, Westernized life” in Durban, Rawheath notes that it was still an adjustment coming to FDU because the way people relate to one another in the United States is different than in South Africa. Joining various extracurricular activities on campus allowed Rawheath to feel less hesitant. She credits her involvement in her sorority with teaching her teamwork, leadership and philanthropy, while The University Players bolstered her confidence and “gave me a voice.” As an RA, she met new people and understood domestic students on a deeper level.
“I’ve had the time of my life at this University. The caliber of people that I’ve met at this University is remarkable. It’s very bittersweet to leave. I’ve worked so hard to reach this moment but I am also very sad to be saying goodbye to the FDU family,” she says.
Following graduation, Rawheath intends to attend graduate school after visiting home for a few months. She’s interested in finding a specialized course of study in the international relations field. “I’m really looking into going to NYU,” she says.
Graduating senior and film student Ivar Murd (right) looks on during the filming of his senior thesis film, “Drought,” on a sailboat in his homeland of Estonia. (Photo courtesy of Murd)
Meanwhile at the College at Florham, the 22-year-old Murd says he’s ready to leap into the working world.
The Tallinn, Estonia native learned the “ABCs” of filmmaking at FDU — working closely with Howard Libov, assistant dean and film professor in Becton College — while also tackling the University Honors Program.
“My time here at FDU has really taught me just how far a little initiative can go,” says the film major, whose concentration is in directing. “Having firsthand experience with the ‘global,’ filming my senior thesis in Tallinn while doing most of the pre- and post-production here, has really opened up my eyes to how universal some things can be.”
Some of his best memories of college feature fellow film students and take place in the Dreyfuss Building editing labs or on set.
“I’ve heard some about how uninterested American college students can be regarding the background of international students and how hard it is overall for international students to fit in,” he says. “This has not been my experience at all.”
He instead took pleasure in the opportunity for cultural exchange, discussing his roots.
“I must have explained to people thousands of times by now where exactly Estonia is, and that, yes, we speak Estonian. But I wouldn’t expect someone from there to be able to pinpoint Minnesota on a map of the U.S., so it’s hard to expect the same here,” he continues. “I’ve found people to be very accepting, open-minded and helpful, overall.”
Currently, Murd is submitting his thesis film, “Drought,” to European film festivals. “Drought,” a 20-minute dramedy, details a love triangle involving two former lovers and an expatriate.
He just finished a draft of the movie’s sequel, and is currently in pre-production. This summer, he’s interning at THEM Media Inc. in Manhattan, as a media intern, helping out during various stages of production and with office management duties. Following that experience he’s going to apply for “full time work authorization” so he can stay in the United States and pursue his film career.
“Fairleigh Dickinson University's international students are an extraordinarily gifted group. Coming to us from close to ninety different countries, they add richness and diversity to our campuses by participating actively in student organizations, campus symposia and classroom discussions,” says Jason Scorza, vice provost for international education. “They remind us through their energy and engagement that the 'American Dream' is a truly global phenomenon and that global education is a vital part of that dream.”