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Every year since 2006, a handful of international students from developing countries have found in their Penn acceptance letters an added surprise — significant financial assistance and the title of “Penn World Scholar.”

“We come from countries where we can’t get the education we want,” College junior and World Scholar Zeynep Enkavi said. “Here they give us all the opportunities we want.”

World Scholars come from high-need families and, because they are international students, don’t qualify for need-based financial aid, according to Penn President Amy Gutmann.

Enkavi, who had attended a German high school in Istanbul, Turkey, said she wouldn’t have been able to afford Penn without the financial aid she received through the program.

The concept of the PWS program arose from Gutmann and former Provost Ron Daniels’ 2005 Task Force on Global Engagement, which was charged to develop initiatives to advance Penn’s international outreach, according to Provost Adviser Gayle Christensen.

“We should significantly enhance need-based financial aid for exceptional students from all backgrounds and from every corner of the globe, including those from the world’s most impoverished developing countries,” the Task Force report stated. “In this way, Penn can contribute substantially to educating the next generation of global leaders across the disciplines.”

There are a total of 32 World Scholars at Penn — with the first batch graduating this year — and all four classes are represented in the program for the first time.

The first scholars to graduate will be faced with the decision of whether or not to return to their home countries after graduation.

“I will be ending up going back to my country because we don’t have many people going abroad to get a quality education,” said College senior Sieraaj Francis, a World Scholar from Capetown, South Africa.

Francis plans to work in education. He has been teaching every summer since graduating high school. He plans to research teaching development and eventually work in information technology in South Africa or other developing countries.

He said he wants to give back to his community, but added that each World Scholar makes an individual decision about whether or not to return home.

“It’s a personal decision,” he said, “but the kind of people that the program brings are the kind of people that want to develop [their countries].”

College senior and World Scholar Ignacio Crespo secured a job at Goldman Sachs after an internship with the company in New York this summer. His plan is to stay in the United States for a couple of years and return to Ecuador in the long run.

Enkavi plans to stay in the United States or go to Europe to further her education. Eventually, the brain and behavior cognitive science and German double major — with a minor in science, technology and society — plans to go into neuromarketing.

“I’m really interested in research, and I don’t think I would have the same opportunities in Turkey,” she said.

A benefit of the PWS program is the opportunity for international internships. This summer, according to Christensen, two World Scholars interned with the European Union in Belgium as representatives for their countries. The summer before, two others interned with Penn’s Center for the Advanced Study of India at Chintan, an environmental research and action group in New Delhi.

In addition to the benefits of financial aid and internship assistance, the PWS program fosters an informal support system. When Enkavi first got to campus, the other scholars helped her “get used to being here,” even though they were all from different backgrounds, she said.

“We have had unforgettable moments together and are currently working on establishing an alumni network, so that we will be able to keep in touch after the PWS from my class have graduated,” College senior and World Scholar Zhana Sandeva, who grew up in Bulgaria, wrote in an e-mail.

Although the program is in its first few years, students and the administration are already working on further developing its structure, according to Crespo. Some possibilities include leadership skills training or communications seminars.

“As the program grows more and more, it will get more boundaries,” Crespo said.

Earlier this year, Evelyn Robert and Lynn Forester de Rothschild gave the PWS program a $1 million gift to support a World Scholar from a British Commonwealth country.

“This gift ensures that Penn continues to make a difference,” Gutmann wrote in a press release, “by offering the very best education to all students with the potential to change the world.”

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