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International Fulbright scholars take in Musikfest, Bethlehem Steel Site

By: Christine Lee/The Express-Times
08/12/2013, 03:38 PM

For many, a visit to SteelStacks and Musikfest is an opportunity to learn about local history and see a variety of musical acts.

But for a group of 52 Fulbright scholars from around the world, seeing the former Bethlehem Steel grounds and the sights and sounds of Musikfest is a chance to learn more about life as a student in the United States.

Centenary College this week hosted students representing 34 countries for the Fulbright Gateway Orientation Program. The program, which is in its second year at the Hackettstown college and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, helps students adjust to life in America through a series of workshops and trips.

The students Wednesday toured SteelStacks and walked around the grounds to experience Musikfest.

The students are in the country as part of the Fulbright Foreign Student Program, which allows graduate students, young professionals and artists from around the world to conduct research and study in the U.S. for a year or longer. Students said they’re pleased with how welcoming the college has been.

“The college has been a really great host of us, so we’re enjoying the time with them,” said Moogdho Mahzab, originally from Bangladesh.

Throughout the week students participated in a variety of workshops dealing with leadership, U.S. politics, avoiding culture shock, interpersonal relationships in America and understanding the country’s academic culture.

Other activities included watching the documentary “Bethlehem: The Christmas City,” introduced by the producer, Lou Reda, and touring Waterloo Village and Winakung Native American Village in Stanhope, N.J.

Nancy Paffendorf, Centenary’s dean for community and college affairs, helped coordinate the program on campus. Visiting SteelStacks and Musikfest allowed the students to experience U.S. culture and life firsthand, she said.

“Bethlehem Steel is a very historic place and tells a lot about economics in the U.S. as well,” Paffendorf said. “And Musikfest is a terrific cultural experience and one of the things we try to share with them is United States culture.”

Paffendorf said the program has allowed the visiting Fulbright scholars to interact with one another, which the students said is an aspect of the program they find exciting, particularly because they will be attending colleges throughout the country.

Ksenia Maryasova, who is from Russia, and Agnese Bukovska, from Latvia, said the orientation program has given them the opportunity to meet students from other countries.

“People from all over the world are here and it’s really cool to socialize (with them) and get to know about different countries,” Maryasova said.

Andisiwe Stuurman, who hails from South Africa, said she’s learned about the United States since arriving in New Jersey. When you tell someone you’re visiting America, they think you’re going to the “big city and bright lights,” she said.

“It’s like a normal country sometimes as you find even in our home country,” Stuurman said. “So it’s not always big city and bright lights as you would expect, so that was kind of like, ‘OK, I’m in New Jersey, I’m not in New York City,’ so it’s a bit of a culture shock. It’s quite cool, I think, because you learn more about the place.”

Students said they liked the new life Bethlehem is giving to the old Bethlehem Steel property, which they learned about on their tour.

“It’s a pity that the steel industry is not as good as it used to be, in fact that it failed, but at least there’s new hope for the city of Bethlehem and they’re doing great things now,” Stuurman said.

Paffendorf said the orientation has also been a great experience for the college.

“It’s great to have the opportunity to teach people from so many different countries about life and education in the United States,” she said. “But it’s also a wonderful thing for the Centenary graduate students and faculty and staff to be able speak with people from so many different countries and to learn from them.”