Not-so-random Act of Kindness

Gilman Scholar raises funds to help host-sister in Nicaragua attend college

For first generation college student Eduardo Belalcazar, studying abroad seemed out of reach. The son of a Honduran immigrant, Eduardo was born and raised in Houston. But he’s no stranger to poverty and hardship. Several members of his family have been deported, involved in criminal activity, and he’s the only one of his six siblings to graduate high school. 

Eduardo wanted to break the cycle.

“I was fortunate to attend a small private school for low-income students, where everyone is on scholarship,” he says. “This school cultivated all the qualities I needed to be a good student and caring citizen. It’s the major reason I was able to make it to college, unlike most of the kids in my neighborhood.” 

UT student Eduardo Belalcazar holds up the Hook Em Horns hand sign in front of a mountain landscape.Eduardo received a scholarship from the Terry Foundation to fund his undergraduate studies and is now in his third year at UT Austin and majoring in International Relations and Global Studies with a minor in Latin American Studies. A requirement of his major is to study abroad. When he came to Texas Global to meet with Program Coordinator Sierra Anderson in early 2014, he thought an exchange program was his only option, as they are often more affordable than other programs.

Sierra showed Eduardo the large variety of scholarship options available to him to make studying abroad affordable. “Eduardo is very proactive about his education,” says the program coordinator who oversees a number of study abroad programs in Latin America. “He is very ambitious and wants to get as much out of his study abroad experience as possible.”

She encouraged Eduardo to consider an affiliated program in Nicaragua that combines independent study, hands on experience, and coursework, and apply for a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to help fund it. In alignment with one of Texas Global’s critical priorities to increase access to study abroad for unrepresented communities, the Gilman Scholarship Program aims to diversify the population of undergraduate students who study and intern abroad by helping those who otherwise might not be able to participate due to financial constraints.  

Eduardo applied for the prestigious scholarship and was one of an elite group to receive it. He also received additional support from the School for International Training that runs the program in Nicaragua, for a total of $10,000 to offset his study abroad expenses. 

Now the scholarship recipient is paying it forward. 

He has launched a gofundme social campaign to raise $2,500 to help his Nicaraguan host-sister, Reyna, be the first person in her family to graduate from college. 

Eduardo lived with Reyna’s family for part of his study abroad and says he felt a close connection to her. “We share a similar story,” he says. “So many people throughout my life have encouraged me and helped me get to where I am. But Reyna doesn’t have the same opportunities that I had in the U.S. I want to be that for Reyna; I want to encourage her and help sponsor her education.”  

With the help of friends and fellow Terry Scholars, Eduardo has already raised more than half of what Reyna will need to cover her entire college education in Nicaragua. He says, “Reyna deserves the same chance I got to attend college and improve her quality of life.”

Eduardo Belalcazar posing with his host family in Nicaragua.Paying it forward is what drives Eduardo in all his academic, personal, and professional pursuits. He believes his study abroad experience has been transformational and will help him in his quest for a career in human rights and foreign policy that gives back to the community.

Having just wrapped up a semester abroad in Nicaragua, Eduardo is looking forward to spending the spring in Brazil. After graduation, he plans to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship to do research abroad and later to work for the Department of State or a human rights NGO.

“I can't believe I've been this fortunate, to not only attend one of the best universities in the world, but to have been honored as a Gilman Scholar to study in Nicaragua,” he says. “I want to encourage every student to study abroad and to explore all the options open to them. I did, and I received several grants and scholarships to make it possible. You just have to apply yourself.”

By Fiona Mazurenko

Photos courtesy of Eduardo Belalcazar