When Santiago Vidal Calvo was considering where to apply to college, a chance encounter at a coffee shop in his native Venezuela set him on a course for New York City.

“I’m talking about universities and this guy next to me says, ‘Why don’t you apply to Fordham?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know Fordham.’” The guy had graduated from Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business, and his enthusiasm sparked Vidal Calvo’s own interest in the University, he said. “I started investigating … the majors and the community, and actually I found out that it’s a great school in New York City, with a university campus. And it was something I was very interested in.”

Now a senior at Fordham College at Rose Hill, after earning enough credits a year early, Vidal Calvo is double majoring in political science and economics, and he’s an active member of the campus community. He said going to school thousands of miles from home can be challenging, but his “neighborly and welcoming” classmates helped him adjust to college life in a new country.

“I made my best friends the first week that I got here,” he said. “I remember asking in the Queen’s Court chat, ‘Does anyone have a cable for a speaker, because I left mine at home?’ And two guys immediately came to my room with a cable—and they are now my roommates.”

A man talks at a podium
Santiago Vidal Calvo, speaking at President Tania Tetlow’s inauguration (Photo by Bruce Gilbert)

Becoming a Student Leader

Simply feeling welcomed and finding a second home at Fordham wasn’t enough for Vidal Calvo. As a sophomore, he ran for United Student Government (USG) and was elected to serve as a class senator, the only international student to do so that year. And in April 2022, he was elected president of USG at Rose Hill, a position he currently holds.

He’s also an active member of the Fordham Model U.N. team that placed third in February at this year’s Harvard National Model United Nations, widely regarded as the field’s most prestigious competition in the U.S. The Fordham group also recently participated in the Harvard World Model United Nations in Paris, France, Vidal Calvo said, where they won four awards, including one he shared with Fordham College at Rose Hill junior Alexander Yankovsky. The pair took home one of the top awards in diplomacy for their work “representing” Togo on a mock committee on decolonization.

Previously, Vidal Calvo was involved with with Fordham’s mock trial and debate clubs, and the Fordham Political Review. And last October, Vidal Calvo was one of only two students selected to speak at Fordham President Tania Tetlow’s inauguration ceremony.

“We ask you to inspire the generations to come,” he said on behalf of his classmates, “and to teach students principles of honesty and integrity while preserving Fordham’s most remarkable achievement: caring about graduating good people before people with good degrees.”

In his leadership role, Vidal Calvo has advocated for more resources for international students, pushed to expand food options on campus, and worked to improve communications between USG and students, particularly through social media.

“I’ve always had a passion for public service since I was in high school,” he said. “I used to do a lot of volunteering back at home to try to help lower-income neighborhoods, the least advantaged back in Venezuela.”

After graduating from Fordham, he will pursue a master’s degree at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy before aiming to “go back home to try to be a politician there.” In the meantime, studying at Fordham has given him opportunities he couldn’t get in Venezuela, he said. “It’s this idea of free thought, freedom—this is a space where you can thrive and be safe. Those things are possible here; back at home they’re not.”

Santiago Vidal Calvo is the president of United Student Government at Rose Hill. (Photo by Kelly Prinz)

Advice for International Students

At Fordham, international students make up about 7% of the undergraduate student population, and they come from about 90 countries. Vidal Calvo said he tells incoming students to “be open to the possibilities” of making lifelong friends as they adjust to college life in the U.S. And he encourages them to share their cultural traditions with their classmates.

“That’s what makes you special,” he said. “Recognize that as a valid power for everything you’re going to do at Fordham and in the community.”