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A Leader Finds His Path

International student helps first-year students feel welcomed to campus while building his home away from home.

Group of students wearing masks have a conversation in Schine Student Center
Enrique Prejula ’23 (third from left) chats with other student leaders in the Schine Student Center.

Enrique Prejula ’23 understands the importance of feeling welcomed to campus. After all, it wasn't very long ago that he was a first-year student arriving at Syracuse University from the Philippines, searching for the parts of campus that he could make his own. More than 8,000 miles away from home, he built his community. Now, as an orientation leader, he strives to help others do the same.

Prejula became an orientation leader for Syracuse Welcome, the University’s student orientation program, in fall 2020—when the program had been adjusted to ensure student safety amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. “Welcoming students and parents under safety protocols was limiting, but I tried my best to show the Syracuse hospitality that the new students and their parents deserved,” he says. “Even though it wasn’t the Syracuse Welcome everyone knows, we made it the best it could be.”

The sense of community is something that I like best about being a Syracuse student. It has helped me build a home away from home.

—Enrique Prejula ’23

Looking forward to this year’s student arrival, Prejula has tremendous empathy for parents dropping off students at their new dorms, whether they’re moving from a different city or from thousands of miles away. “Knowing how my mom reacted to being separated from me when I came to campus, I want to focus on taking care of the parents, as the uncertainty of leaving their child on a college campus can be scary,” he says.

Foundation for the Future

Enrique Prejula sits in chair smiling for camera

Prejula received his acceptance to Syracuse University at his home in Pasig City, one of a group of cities in the Philippines’ capital region known as Metro Manila. The news arrived in an unconventional way: “With the time difference between the Philippines and Eastern Standard Time, I woke up to two email notifications on my phone—one from a shipping courier and one from Syracuse University,” he says. Prejula had already been accepted to a few colleges, and their notifications were usually followed by an email from the shipping courier for the acceptance package.

As the third person in his family to study in the U.S., Prejula follows in the footsteps of his mom and aunt. “I’m extremely grateful that my family was very supportive in my decision to come to Syracuse University, as they saw the possibilities for me to grow not just in my academics and career, but also as a person who is ready to face the different challenges headed my way,” Prejula says.

With a plethora of options before him, Prejula chose Syracuse in part due to its classic campus setting. “Deciding which university to go to was a tough choice, but I knew that I wanted to be in a place where I was comfortable. The campus and the location were something that I really prioritized in my decision.”

The Office of Admissions’ virtual information sessions for prospective students eased his concerns. “As someone who wasn’t able to visit the campus before applying and accepting the offer, the information session played such a huge part in my application,” he says. “It gave current students a platform to talk about the school to applicants who were unsure if Syracuse University was the right fit for them.”

Prejula also cites the flexibility in academics as a motivation to attend, since he was not yet sure what he wanted to pursue as a major. He was excited to take a variety of classes in different subject areas—first in the College of Arts and Sciences, where he was especially interested in economics and ethics, and then in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, where he transferred to pursue a degree in management. “I wanted to highlight myself as a leader,” he says, adding that his family has a background in business.

I’m extremely grateful that my family was very supportive in my decision to come to Syracuse University, as they saw the possibilities for me to grow not just in my academics and career, but also as a person who is ready to face the different challenges headed my way.

—Enrique Prejula ’23

Later, he added a second major in finance to build his analytical skills. “Majoring in these two areas allows me not only to build my skills in the business field but to improve my sense of open-mindedness and critical thinking,” he says.

Prejula was grateful to find professors who acted as mentors every step of the way. “They helped me realize what I should pursue further and brought out my best performance in their classes, which then motivated me to do my best in all my other classes,” he says. “They care about the success and improvement of their students, which really is essential. Having professors like them is truly beneficial.”

Community on Campus

Enrique Prejula sits at desk writing on tablet

Before he arrived, the University connected Prejula with fellow Filipino students and alumni, which he says was helpful in providing insight into the international student experience. Today, he is part of the Filipino Student Association (FSA) on campus, a critical resource in helping him feel at home in Syracuse after the initial culture shock.

“Having an organization that brings together those who come from similar cultures and countries is something that’s extremely beneficial to feeling more comfortable on campus,” he says. “The community that FSA has built has helped me find a place where I can feel a sense of where I come from, and I am extremely thankful to be a part of it.”

Prejula also enjoys being active on campus and cites the Orange After Dark events as his favorite. This entertainment program, offered through the Office of Student Activities, features a lineup of late-night events, including trivia, movies and games. “Student life activities and organizations are a way to get to know more people while being involved in activities you enjoy,” he says.

Building Connections

Besides his volunteer work as an orientation leader, Prejula is dedicated to advocacy in the City of Syracuse. One area he feels strongly about supporting is education, a mission which he embraces by tutoring fifth and sixth grade public school students in English and math. “Coming from a developing country where the academic system is still a work in progress, it’s important to me to support those who are underprivileged and motivate those who are struggling,” he says. “I want to help the students flourish, not only in school but in the future.”

Prejula also promotes the performing arts, which are not seen as a stable career path in his culture. “Growing up, I was lucky enough to be exposed to different literature, plays and musicals that opened my mind to the world of performing arts. For four summers, I participated in a summer repertory theater that allowed me to experience what it feels like to be on stage performing,” he says. In the future, Prejula hopes to become involved with art events and organizations on campus and in the Syracuse community.

Coming from a developing country where the academic system is still a work in progress, it’s important to me to support those who are underprivileged and motivate those who are struggling. I want to help the students flourish, not only in school but in the future.

—Enrique Prejula ’23

Despite his full schedule, Prejula is already making big plans for the future. “I want to experience working for a corporation, volunteering for organizations that I truly support, and possibly creating my own business that supports different social issues,” he says.

As Prejula prepares for Welcome Week, he hopes the incoming students take time to appreciate the once-in-a-lifetime event of arriving on campus. “Take in every moment of it and enjoy this week,” he says. “It is an experience that starts your life here at Syracuse University.”

His most important advice for new students is to step out of their comfort zone, enjoy the process, and embrace the chance to interact with new people, as everyone is here to help each other. “The sense of community is something that I like best about being a Syracuse student,” he says. “It has helped me build a home away from home.”

Shaina M. Hill

This story was published on .


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