Graduating at 19, Rowan student lands hypercompetitive Fulbright scholarship to teach in Timor-Leste

Graduating at 19, Rowan student lands hypercompetitive Fulbright scholarship to teach in Timor-Leste

Graduating at 19, Rowan student lands hypercompetitive Fulbright scholarship to teach in Timor-Leste


Kavin Haldo has the grades, determination, and drive to change the world, and landing one of the most competitive scholarships in higher education is the latest proof.

A Rowan University marketing major in the William G. Rohrer College of Business with a minor in psychology and a Certificate of Undergraduate Study in public policy, Haldo, at just 19, graduates in May with a flawless 4.0 GPA.

Haldo entered Rowan with an associate degree from Middlesex Community College that he earned in high school, and he has big plans following Commencement: an academic year abroad, graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, followed by law school.

As Spring 2024 ended, news arrived of his acceptance for a highly competitive Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) award. The ETA program, which enables high achieving scholars to teach abroad, is one of several scholarships available through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, which matches Americans with teaching assignments in more than 140 nations where they also serve as cultural ambassadors.

In February, Haldo heads to Timor-Leste, a small Southeast Asian island nation where he’ll teach English to university students.

His own struggle to learn English

Born to aspiring professors in Sri Lanka, Haldo’s family emigrated to Norway, where his parents attended graduate school, before moving to the U.S. when he was about five years old.

When they arrived, Haldo’s own command of English was limited at best and learning yet another new language, even for a bright and committed child, proved trying.

“It was really difficult,” said Haldo, who’s accent-free diction belies the fact that he spent his early years in Sri Lanka and Norway.

But Haldo worked at it, poring over learning materials and absorbing the language of his adopted homeland.

“It was workbook after workbook, trying to understand conjunctions, prepositions, and nouns, and it was all so different from Sinhala,” Haldo said of the Indo-Aryan language his family spoke in Sri Lanka. “In Sinhala, there’s pretty much one pronoun for everyone, with no difference between genders.”

Rowan’s 26th Fulbright awardee, Haldo will teach aspiring English speakers at the National University of Timor-Leste in the nation’s capital, Dili.

“I knew because of my own difficulty learning English that I could help others,” he said. “Learning English expanded the resources I could access from those of a language only spoken in one country, to those of one spoken world-wide.”

Having studied program requirements for Fulbright acceptance, Haldo knew that applicants could only choose one country, and Timor-Leste caught his attention.

“The country has stark similarities to Sri Lanka but is unique enough to allow for me to learn and appreciate cultural differences,” he said.

As a Fulbright ETA, Haldo’s service as a cultural ambassador will include sharing a love of music with Timorese students and possibly helping to start a band.

Dedicated to service

Haldo, who begins studies for a Master of Science this fall at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice as a full-tuition Social Justice Scholar, will serve in Timor-Leste from February through the end of December 2025. Upon returning, he plans to finish graduate school, attend law school, then possibly serve as a public defender and/or pursue a career in social policy.

“My goal has always been to go to law school,” he said. “I want to understand how people work, how their thought processes work, and use that to help motivate people to create change in their communities.”

Dr. Morris Kalliny, interim dean of the RCB, praised Haldo’s commitment to improving the world, both as a Fulbright scholar and in his career.

“I’m thrilled that Kavin will be spending a year in Timor-Leste, making a difference in the lives of those he will be interacting with,” Kalliny said. “In the Rohrer College of Business, we pride ourselves on making a societal impact through our faculty, staff, and students, and Kavin’s accomplishments and goals fit our mission perfectly.”