Hanz Valbuena Builds an International Community

With a creative approach to life, the Remembrance Scholar enjoys connecting with people from around the globe and uses his media skills to bring them together. #BeOrange

Hanz Lionel Valbuena ’19 is a community builder with creative flair. During his time at Syracuse University, he pursued his passion for visual communications while working to create community among international students on campus. For Valbuena, it’s a reflection of his personality. “I love people and love meeting new people,” says Valbuena, who graduated with a degree in television, radio and film from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. “There’s a thrill for me when I meet someone new and it clicks. I love making that connection.”

Among Valbuena’s accomplishments is the work he’s done to connect international students on campus. He was born in the Philippines and grew up in Dubai, attending international school as one of the few Filipinos, with classmates from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. In Dubai, he says, he didn’t embrace his Filipino roots. That changed when he came to Syracuse University and met not only Filipino Americans, but Filipinos, like himself, who’d lived in other countries. This newfound sense of community led him to found the Filipino Student Association (FSA). “I saw this pride, and I was so inspired that they were enjoying the language and culture like I never did,” he says. “I thought what a great concept it would be to have space where we can all enjoy that together. We have Filipinos from all over the world here at the University, and the FSA creates a great sense of community and family for us.”

He also launched The International, a magazine that gives voice to international students, serving as a forum for their thoughts and issues they confront. He says the publication serves as a resource for the University, including the Office of Admissions and Syracuse Abroad. “It makes me feel great that my team has created an impact on the community here,” says Valbuena, who also belonged to the Asian Students In America campus organization.

Unforgettable Lessons Abroad

Portrait of Hanz Valbuena while studying abroad
Hanz Valbuena ’19 stands on the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic, which he visited as part of Syracuse Abroad’s Exploring Central Europe program.

In fall 2018, a longtime interest in Prague led Valbuena to Syracuse Abroad’s Exploring Central Europe program. Based in Wroclaw, Poland, the program introduces students to cities and sites connected to World War II, the Holocaust and Soviet totalitarianism—places where memories of conflict and reconciliation are ever present—and the role of social justice. The experience proved influential far beyond his desire to visit Prague.

Valbuena met people whose intelligence he admired, learned the value of an open mind and strengthened his interest in identity. He also contributed to the program’s Urban Labs Central Europe website (urbanlabsce.eu), writing an essay on an Austro-Turkish community and producing a documentary on a Polish activist who assists Romani people. “The best five months of my life were in Central Europe,” he says. “After that semester, I was looking at everything through the lens of memory.”

That view inspired Valbuena, the first in his family to study in the U.S., to apply for a 2019-20 Remembrance Scholarship, which he was awarded last spring. “I read about the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 and was mesmerized by the stories,” he says. “Remembering every name, every family, mother, father and student is important. I’m so grateful I’m one of the 35 scholars. They are people I look up to and the scholarship opened my network to some amazing people.”

Creative Pursuits

Portrait of Hanz Valbuena

Creativity is integral to Valbuena’s identity—and he’s taken advantage of many opportunities. He held internships in the Philippines, Dubai and Syracuse that allowed him to develop his skills in video production, advertising, marketing and public relations. He also worked as a communications assistant for the University’s Department of Campus Safety and Emergency Services, producing safety and training videos for digital media.

He thrives in digital media and, by combining his Newhouse major with a minor in data analytics from the School of Information Studies, hopes those interests will serve him well in the job market. “Newhouse made me aware of what I wanted to do and didn’t want to do,” he says. “The structure of the Newhouse core helped me navigate through what I might want to feature in my studies. With my minor, I want to pursue data analytics through the lens of film and TV.”

Film, photography, fashion and graphic design all fuel his creativity. He especially revels in photography and video and has recently been captivated by film photography. “It’s a whole different platform for me,” he says. “You only have 36 chances to capture the perfect photo, and that’s when I learned the beauty of that level of photography. It keeps me aware of what is beautiful around me and helps me frame the world in what I perceive as beauty.”

And credit Syracuse for his fashion sense. The heat of Dubai requires cool, practical clothing, he says, but living in Central New York introduced him to coats, boots and scarves. “When I first witnessed fall here—the beautiful orange-colored trees, the falling leaves—I also found out about scarves,” he says. “I discovered I was born to be warm and cozy, and since then I’ve loved fashion. It doesn’t mean I’m good at it, but fashion is definitely one of the ways I communicate my sense of aesthetics.”

One of the best lessons I’ve learned here and something I’m always working toward is that I function as part of a greater whole.

Valbuena has carried his imaginative approach to life with him since leaving campus. And when asked what it means to be Orange, he says, “One of the best lessons I’ve learned here and something I’m always working toward is that I function as part of a greater whole. Every single action I take, every single cent I spend, every single friend I make will impact the world, maybe in a large way or maybe in a good-day kind of way, but every single thing I do will affect something. I’m more than myself and, at the same time, I’m just myself.”