USTL provides full scholarships to outstanding students from Timor-Leste for two to four years of study at high-quality undergraduate degree institutions in the United States. Scholarship awards include full tuition toward either a bachelor’s degree or associate degree, travel, living stipends, medical insurance in the U.S., and visa costs. USTL is a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), U.S. Department of State.

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Valley Packaging Industries is a community rehabilitation center, located in Appleton, that provides a variety of human services and vocational training skills to people with disabilities to learn and be independent. A classmate of mine is managing this program, so she invited me to join the cooking group at her workplace. It was an exciting opportunity because I could get the chance to meet new people. However, I became nervous and skeptical when she requested to cook a Timorese dish. How I am going to find the ingredients?

She picked me up around noon to purchase some supplies at Asian Store for the event and we went to her workplace in Downtown Appleton afterwards. The cooking group starts at 5 in the afternoon, so I had some time to join the students to do a painting activity and to get to know them. They were friendly and welcoming which is such a good feeling. Soon I learned that I was the first international student to join this cooking group, which is such as an honor, but daunting at the same time. I was worried about how they were going to react to the food.

Finally, it was time to cook. We cooked beans, beef, chicken with rice salad with Timorese dressing, banana flowers, and green papaya. All which are typical food consumed in Timor. The cooking activity was so enjoyable and intimate because the 10 students were happy to help and willing to learn. I showed them how to peel and chop the vegetables, marinate the meat, and cook rice. They were easy to work with and followed instructions very well. The atmosphere was real with Timorese food presentation and style. Before we could taste, I made a short presentation about Timorese culture and history so that they could get a better understanding of Timor. They asked a lot of questions at the dinner table, which showed their curiosity and interest to learn more about Timor. The food was enjoyed, especially beef and Banana flower, and most of them wanted to take the rest of the food home.

The key takes away here is to be flexible, open minded, to try new things, and learn. Involving yourself in the activities helps you a lot with making new friends, not only at school but, outside of school as well. I am looking forward to cooking with them again in the near future.