Santiago Castellanos, an international student from Barquisimeto, Venezuela, recently received a grant from the Institute of International Education to pay for his final semester at UT. The institute is a nonprofit organization focusing on providing aid for international students.
During his college career, Castellanos said there were two times when he considered dropping out of school because of financial problems his family was experiencing back home. He said the first time was in 2016, when his father lost his job due to an unstable government, and the second time was this school year.
“My dad was like, ‘This is impossible. Things back home are just so bad and you’re on out-of-state tuition,’” said Castellanos, a radio-television-film senior.
In January, Castellanos received one of 59 grants awarded to international students from Venezuela studying at schools across the United States. The grant was through the institute’s Emergency Student Fund, which supports students who are at risk of dropping out of school due to hardships in their home countries, such as political unrest.
Castellanos said he visited Venezuela over a year ago, and the situation is difficult to see.
“Last time I went there, I saw people in the corner of my street just digging food out of the garbage, just to have breakfast or lunch,” Castellanos said.
Castellanos said financial resources are limited for international students.
“If I hadn’t gotten (the grant) I wouldn’t have been able to finish school for this semester,” Castellanos said.
Sarah Akbar, an radio-television-film senior and friend of Castellanos, said he always has a smile on his face despite the difficulties of being away from home.
“He handles it with such grace and you wouldn’t even know if you didn’t talk to him,” Akbar said.
Jeffrey Marsh, Castellano’s former academic adviser, said Castellanos is an exemplary student.
“I think he’s a perfect example of the type of student that UT strives for, especially the type of transfer student that UT strives for,” Marsh said. “He values his education.”
Castellanos said in the future, he wants to tell stories with his radio-television-film degree and inspire people from his home country.
“When I was a kid, everything that I saw on TV taught me that there was more beyond the boundaries of my country,” Castellanos said. “I feel like following my dreams to give them allowance to follow theirs is something very important for me.”