International student’s dream to help his country starts at Temple
Antonio Matias Buenga enrolled in Temple’s Center for American Language and Culture in 2021 and matriculated to the university’s nursing program in fall 2023 after receiving the #WhyUS scholarship.
As he stepped off the plane and into Newark Liberty Airport in October 2021, Antonio Matias Buenga’s stomach was in knots. Negative stories about America had filled his childhood growing up in Angola, so he had braced himself for the worst. But almost immediately after landing he realized that these stories had been overblown. Despite not knowing English at the time, Buenga was met with kindness and respect. “Africa misrepresents the U.S,” he said. “When I came here, I saw people were polite and professional.”
Buenga had traveled almost 7,000 miles to pursue an American university education. He had initially been accepted to Rowan University, but after arriving there he discovered that the school’s English Language Program only received intermediate-level English learners. Educators at Rowan then suggested Temple because of its Center for American Language and Culture (TCALC), which offers English language programs for non-native speakers at all levels for study, employment and everyday life as well as conditional admission for those who would like to attend the university. In addition to providing educational resources, TCALC helped Buenga find inexpensive housing in West Philadelphia.
In his first few weeks of classes, Buenga felt completely overwhelmed. He couldn’t understand his teachers or classmates, the grammatical rules of English didn’t make any sense to him and he feared he was chasing after an impossible dream. “Trying to buy essential things for myself was hard because of the language barrier, and I didn’t have a break from English, which was tiring,” he said. “I didn’t believe I would ever learn English.”
But with unwaivering support from his teachers, Buenga refused to give up. “I took advantage of Charles Library’s resources and teachers’ office hours and went to tutoring every day.” As he started to get a handle on the language, he began to invest himself in the TCALC program in new ways. He regularly visited its offices to speak to staff members, encouraged others to continue studying English and rounded up students to attend the program’s trips and activities. Buenga’s determination paid off. He completed TCALC's Intensive English Language Program.
At long last, Buenga was ready to apply for an undergraduate degree but was met with another obstacle, this one financial. After doing some calculations, Buenga believed his financial constraints only gave him two options: return to Angola or study in Portugal. But the staff at TCALC opened a third door for him. They encouraged him to apply to Temple and its #WhyUS scholarship, designed to support international students like Buenga.
The TCALC staff weren’t surprised when Buenga was accepted to Temple and selected to receive the scholarship. They had been awed by his spirit since he arrived. “What makes Antonio so unique is his persistence and optimism over the last two years. He was relentless in his pursuit of his dream,” said Jacqueline McCafferty, director of TCALC. “Not many people come to us with zero English and persist to university enrollment. Most students with a goal of a Temple degree have studied some English in their home countries, so the journey to enrollment is relatively short. To start as a true beginner and keep going is impressive.”
The support from the #WhyUS scholarship allowed Buenga to matriculate to Temple’s nursing program this fall. He studied nursing in high school in Angola and saw opportunities for improved hospital care back home. “I saw that people were dying because of corruption and realized I need to gain the necessary skills here in the U.S. to improve the quality of health over there,” he said.
Buenga intends to complete his studies at Temple and work in Africa or for an international organization like the Red Cross. “The only way to solve the challenges facing Africa is through education. In Angola, many people quit school to get a job and support their families. Marriage at a young age is common. I wanted to prioritize my education. In the U.S., the greatest opportunity I have is learning.”
His drive to learn is also evident outside of the classroom. Buenga became a student worker at Aramark to further practice his English and was named Employee of the Month. He immersed himself in campus life—participating in Campus Recreation, taking trips around Philadelphia and hosting “Games With Antonio” on Tuesday afternoons for international students to further improve their English and make connections with one another.
“I really love Temple, and Philadelphia is the best of the U.S. The foundation of America is in this city. I have no words to thank Temple for the way it has helped and treated me. Not even my home country ever did this much for me.”