Out of a devastating storm has come an opportunity for college students in Puerto Rico.
Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine is offering a "guest semester" to students in hurricane-impacted areas. The accepted students have the chance to study at one of the top liberal arts schools in the nation completely free. Bowdoin is covering the cost of tuition, room and board, transportation, books – even supplying students with a winter wardrobe.
"When there was a real need and a way to offer ourselves to support students, particularly to help them continue their education, it was an easy thing to decide to do," said Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Whitney Soule. "Certainly the students who are visiting with us have endured unbelievable trauma. The resilience that they demonstrate by persisting in their education by going someplace different and unknown, that was not part of their plan, shows a lot about their determination."
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One of the students at Bowdoin for the semester is Leonardo Nunez, a third-year student at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras in San Juan. His school closed after Hurricane Maria knocked out power to island, halting his anthropology studies.
"It's the only good thing that came out of the hurricane, was that it opened my mind to new things," said Nunez.
He saw a post on Facebook that other colleges might accept him. He applied to five schools, and chose Bowdoin.
"It was a college I had never heard of before, it was so unknown," he said.
The long winter hasn’t bothered him. He says he likes the cold weather, and his favorite thing to do is study. He has been surprised by the small class sizes, and the "kindness of Uber drivers." But halfway through the semester, his course load isn’t the only thing weighing on him.
"Back where I live, we still don't have full electrical power," Nunez said.
He is from Adjuntas, a mountainous region about two hours away from San Juan. During his months in Maine, he has been able to keep in touch with his family on the island. He said it's an internal conflict to have so much on campus, and know people back home are struggling to rebuild.
"It's made me appreciate more, what I have," he said.
Being at Bowdoin has also given him a new direction for his future. He wants to be an educator when he returns to Puerto Rico.
"All I've learned, all I've experienced I want to give it to them somehow, and I think education is the best way to do it," Nunez said.