September 12th, 2007 01:43 EST
Ford Foundation program focuses on community development
Washington -- Deng Mingguo, the director of an orphanage in Chongqing, China, is in the United States working toward a master’s degree in social work. He hopes to improve the well-being of vulnerable groups in China -- orphans, the disabled, the homeless -- and believes his country can learn from social and humanitarian programs in the United States.
Wang Ximin, an environmental specialist from Zhejiang, China, wants to foster the conservation of birds and their habitats. On his return to China, he hopes to create a nongovernmental organization to educate students and the public about birds and bird conservation.
Deng and Wang are fellows with the International Fellowship Program (IFP), which was launched by the Ford Foundation in 2000 to provide opportunities for advanced study to people who want to help solve their countries’ most pressing problems and advance economic and social justice worldwide.
IFP fellows are selected in 22 countries and territories with the help of local organizations. The fellowships provide support for up to three years of formal graduate-level study leading to a master’s or doctoral degree in an appropriate university program anywhere in the world. About two-thirds of Chinese IFP fellows chose to study in the United States. (See related article.)
“The [IFP] program has opened my mind and changed my life,” Wang told USINFO. “I have learned a lot about bird education activities, techniques and theories in the USA which are very useful for my future career.”
“In China, people usually treat birds as pets or food,” Wang said. “I tried to expand bird-watching activities to improve awareness of bird protection in China and I would keep on doing it after finishing my study here.”
He has spent some of his time in the classroom, studying for a master’s degree in environmental education at the University of Wisconsin at Steven’s Point. But given his aim of learning as much about the activities and techniques providing education on birds as about the theory, Wang also has spent much time outdoors, visiting research stations, attending conferences and workshops, participating with 50,000 other volunteers in the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count and the Greater Prairie Chicken Survey, and interning this summer for three months at the International Crane Center in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
Deng is studying at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
He said he originally wanted to be a doctor, but “came to realize that social problems need diagnosis and solution, and that the voice of the vulnerable groups needs to be heard and paid attention to.”
On urban streets in China, Deng told USINFO, “it’s not hard to find many homeless kids who survive on begging. A community is expected to provide for distressed children at any time. [The treatment of children] should be an important aspect in judging social and humanitarian progress. My participation in the IFP has offered me an opportunity to understand and research the U.S. solution to these issues.”
“Any society has its own problems,” he said. Although the United States has faced some serious social problems and conflicts, “overall, thanks to the continuous betterment of social services and social security, the basic life necessities of Americans have been met, and the entire society remains relatively stable.”
Every society has a unique political system and social environment, he added, “but when we try to solve social issues in China, we might want to borrow from the great successful experiences that the American social work has garnered over the years.”
What has most surprised Wang are the American people themselves. “People are very friendly. I am never afraid of being refused or mocked for language, race or nation in any place,” he said. “Many people like to give me a hand when I need some help.”
Deng, on the other hand, is “most impressed by America’s beautiful landscape and strong academic atmosphere, as well as school resources that are open to the public.”
“The concept of higher education here is very different than in China,” he said. “In the [United] States, academic study is only part of life. Many American students have jobs.”
In China, Deng said, “higher education, to a great extent, is accomplished in an isolated environment; huge walls, both visible and invisible, have separated students from the community.”
He said he hopes to become a social worker in China “with a broad vision, a strong sense of responsibility, and a devotion to the well-being of the vulnerable groups among the Chinese population.”
The IFP fellows are among the 97,000 international researchers and scholars who come to the United States each year under scholarships, fellowships or private financing to study, research or teach at the graduate level or above. Nearly 570,000 international students study at the undergraduate level each year in the United States. (See related article.)
More information (in Chinese) about the IFP program in China and a pre-application form are available on an IFP Web site. Because local requirements vary widely among IFP countries, applicants carefully should follow the specific application guidelines provided by the relevant IFP International Partner organizations, including deadlines for the submission of applications.
The U.S. departments of Commerce, State and Education sponsor a Web page in Chinese called Liu Xue USA ("Overseas Study in the USA").
For more information on study in the United States, see Study in the U.S./Education.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
By Jeffrey Thomas
USINFO Staff Writer