A divisive presidential election and new immigration policies haven’t stopped the approximately 1,200 undergraduate international students that have come from far and wide to receive their diplomas on the National Mall.
These four graduating seniors came to D.C. from all corners of the world and had to adjust to the culture and find their place in the city. Now they’re heading back out across the globe to give back, continue their education and inspire others as they go. Here’s what they’ll be up to:
Giving back abroad
Raised in three different countries, senior Clémentine André stationed herself at GW for four years but plans to travel again after graduation day.
André, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in international affairs and minors in Spanish and geography, will attend graduate school at University College London this fall to get her master’s degree in global migration.
Growing up, André moved from school to school following her dad’s job. André was born in France, but then moved to Belgium, Singapore and the U.S. before graduating from high school in Atlanta. While in Singapore, André attended a British school where she first learned English, she said.
“That was kind of rough, I didn’t speak a word of English then,” André said. “That was a pivotal moment for me.”
André said that she was attracted to the University because the students came from diverse backgrounds like she did. At GW, she took a course on migration, gender and international development that helped cement her plan to focus on women’s mental health in the context of migration during her time in graduate school.
Before André heads to London for graduate school, she will continue her passion for international service by volunteering in Cambodia for two months over the summer through an organization called UBelong, where she will be working with female survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence.
Continuing education in the U.S.
Four years ago, Dinal Jayasekera decided that the District’s diversity in religion, culture and people was worth the almost 9,000-mile journey from his home.
Jayasekera, who is originally from Sri Lanka, will graduate this week with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. He said he feels at home in D.C. because it is similar to Sri Lanka in the diversity of the people.
“I knew that I would be comfortable going to a school which was similar to my home country,” he said.
After Commencement, Jayasekera will be moving on to a different Washington. He will be working toward a Ph.D in mechanical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, where he received a full scholarship.
Jayasekera said he is going to focus his Ph.D program on neuroprosthetics, which are advanced prosthetics that consist of electric and mechanical components that respond to commands from the wearer’s brain. His mother was a doctor in Sri Lanka, so he was exposed to medicine early on in life and chose biomedical engineering after he saw how people can benefit from medical research.
In addition to his childhood, Jayasekera said his interest in prosthetics has also been fueled by trips to the movie theater.
“I’m a big fan of Iron Man, so that’s where my whole interest in these neuroprostheses developed,” he said.
Inspiring the graduating class
When Angela Sako walked into President Steven Knapp’s office as a senior in high school, she was expecting to endure a tough interview for the Stephen Joel Trachtenberg scholarship – a full scholarship awarded to D.C. residents every year. Instead, she was surprised with a celebration and the news that she had already earned a full ride to GW.
This semester, as she was finishing her master’s degree in public policy, Sako received yet another shock: She had been chosen as the student speaker for commencement during a live audition round, competing against 10 other students.
“I’m just happy to have this opportunity to publicly share what GW has meant for me and hopefully give a few words of encouragement to my fellow classmates,” Sako said.
Sako already spent four years at GW and received her bachelor’s degree in international affairs in 2015. She will receive her master’s degree in public policy at this year’s commencement ceremony.
Sako, an Albania native, came to the U.S. with her parents when she was in seventh grade and attended Sidwell Friends School in the McLean Gardens neighborhood of D.C. before moving across the city to attend GW.
Her interest in public health and international affairs first arose when she was studying abroad in Beijing during her junior year of high school, at the same time there was an outbreak of the swine flu virus in 2009. Sako also worked in a health clinic near her home in Albania, and she said that both experiences helped her envision how her interests can be paired in the real world.
“Through these experiences, I became very aware of how political and social systems affect the approach to public health, and I wanted to learn more.” she said.
Sako will be working with Deloitte as a human capital consultant in D.C., where she’ll work with federal clients on everything from employee training to leadership development. She said she hopes to eventually work internationally to improve healthcare delivery and access.
Bringing U.S. culture back home
Eytan Nahmiyas, a senior from Istanbul, Turkey, will graduate with dual bachelor’s degrees in informational systems and international business. But he plans to pursue his side hustle as a full-time career.
Nahmiyas co-founded a business this year called GELD, which will work to create a peer-to-peer transaction software like the application Venmo for people in Turkey, Nahmiyas said. His partners, Tali Salhon, a student at Georgetown University, and Sinan Kou, a student at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, will continue to work on the project with him.
Nahmiyas said that he had grown accustomed to not carrying cash during his time in Foggy Bottom, but at home in Turkey he was unable to pay his friends for meals and other expenses because he didn’t have cash on him. That’s when he decided to create the software that would allow him to easily swap funds with friends even when he was home.
When he and his partners began to create the software this year, they learned that this type of program doesn’t already exist due to regulations in Turkey. Figuring out how to make the software legally was a challenge, he said.
Nahmiyas said the classes he has taken at GW prepared him to take on challenges in the tech world and gave him the idea for his venture, but most of the learning will have to happen on the job.
“You learn it pretty much hands-on,” he said. “You need to hustle, and it’s hard and it’s emotionally challenging more than physically challenging. It’s different so there’s no recipe.”