Rey Bujan Figueredo, a Cuban-born, Phoenix College student, walked the cobblestone streets of Edinburgh, Scotland; the cool July evening stood in sharp contrast to the sweltering heat of the Arizona desert. 

In his hands was a very special letter, a note from Greg Adams, the man responsible for Rey’s life-changing summer experience overseas. As Rey strode through the foreign city on his way to dinner with his travel companions, he reflected on the twists and turns of his life. 

Only four years prior, Rey had been living in Cuba under tough conditions. His father had been gone for many years, leaving the family to find a better living situation in Arizona. This left middle-schooler Rey to fill his father’s shoes as head of the house. He had to watch out for his little brother, make meals, and keep up the pig breeding business his father had started to sustain the family.

After finishing his high school equivalently (pre-universitario), Rey started his mandatory military service, a prerequisite for studying at a Cuban university. He left his large, close family and hometown in Jobado, Las Tunas, to go to La Havana’s military base. There, he spent a long year mitigating sanitary problems, especially focusing on mosquito control and the spreading of dengue fever. The days were long and the conditions were rough, but Rey’s outlook on life always tended to the sunnier side, even in gloomy circumstances. He managed to cope by looking for the positives in his situation. 

He would soon go to the university, and luckily his aunt lived in nearby Playa. There, he enjoyed some respite, relishing in better cooking, clean clothes, and fresh air. Finally, his time in military service was at an end and he was able to return to his family. His life; however, would not stay quiet for long. It was about to upheave again, but in a much more positive circumstance!

Rey had not been at Universidad more than a month before his father sent for Rey to come to Arizona! Rey had always dreamed of becoming a doctor and knew he could achieve this dream in the United States. With that, Rey said a bittersweet goodbye to his Cuban family to start a new life in the desert.

Although Rey had taken English classes in Cuba, the first year in the United States was a painful adjustment. The culture shock and language barrier proved extremely challenging. Since he could still not speak English fluently, Rey’s first job was one of hard manual labor. 

Always one to encounter hardships as an opportunity, Rey soon enrolled in English classes at Rio Salado College while working as a janitor at a local McDonalds. He took every opportunity to begin English conversations with his coworkers to master his new language. Finally, he was able to achieve his General Education Development (GED) and start the college process over again in his adopted country.

Rey cast his thoughts back to the first time he arrived at Phoenix College. As he walked the grounds of PC with his father, surveying the historic red-brick buildings and mature towering trees, Rey spotted the phrase, “Go Far. Close to Home” etched under the Phoenix College sign. It was at that moment that he knew he was home.

A few years after that fateful day on PC’s campus, Rey was now, by all accounts, an exemplary student. In addition to juggling a heavy load of science classes, he was part of the International and Pre-Med student clubs, a participant in leadership retreats, a member of the Honors Program and a student Ambassador, working with the enrollment team doing outreach events, providing campus tours and serving as a new student orientation leaders.

“I came to the United States a little more than three years ago, without knowing the language, without resources, but with a very clear goal of what I wanted. I feel really proud of what I have done, from mastering the language and maintaining academic excellence, being involved on campus and participating in numerous extracurricular activities,” said Rey.

 

…..

 

50 years prior, Greg Adams was making the same discovery. It was 1969, and Greg was a sophomore at Phoenix College. He had recently applied and was granted a summer abroad scholarship through PC and was headed to Toledo, Spain. There, he would spend four wonderful weeks living with a local family and soaking up the language and culture.

That experience forever altered Greg’s destiny. After returning home, he graduated from PC and enrolled at Northern Arizona University as a Spanish major. He later served in the Peace Corps and enjoyed an impressive 31-year career as a diplomat with the U.S. Department of State. 

Greg was forever grateful for the opportunity to visit a foreign country during his time as a Phoenix College student. Looking for a way to honor his experience at PC, Greg connected with the PC Development Office to create a new scholarship to help students study-abroad.

“Establishing this scholarship has been a long-held dream of mine, going back almost 50 years. During my sophomore year at PC, I read an article about summer study abroad scholarships, and applied. I ended up getting one of the scholarships – and spent four wonderful weeks living in Spain.  The experience changed my life; I served in the Peace Corps, and had a 31-year career as a diplomat with the U.S. Department of State,” said Greg. 

Rey Bujan Figueredo is the first student to receive the Adams Study Abroad Fellowship at Phoenix College. Throughout the journey of awarding the scholarship, Rey and Greg connected several times through letters that crossed both countries and languages. They are now connected, not only by their love of Phoenix College and international travel, but by sincere appreciation of the other’s contributions.

“It felt good to finally pay PC back by ‘paying it forward’; making it possible for others to have the same life-changing experience that I did,” said Greg. 

Scholarships like the Greg Adams Study Abroad Fellowship provide PC students with life-changing experiences.  If you would like to learn more about establishing a scholarship at Phoenix College, call 602.285.7667 or email development@phoenixcollege.edu. You can check out many other scholarships on Phoenix College's website as well: https://www.phoenixcollege.edu/become-a-student/paying-for-college/financial-aid/scholarships

If you'd like more information or would like to feature this story, please contact Erika Keenan at erika.keenan@phoenixcollege.edu.

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