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Rutgers Initiates Groundbreaking Partnerships During Summer Study Abroad Program

Twenty-four MSW students and six faculty members, including SSW Dean Richard Edwards, travelled to the People's Republic of China in May to learn about emerging social welfare initiatives and participate in a groundbreaking conference. 'Special Topics in Social Work: Social Welfare Systems in China' is Rutgers School of Social Work's first study abroad trip to Asia and part of the school's initiative to promote international welfare and service.

"Travel abroad experiences have made me realize how inspirational and enlightening it is to be exposed to different environments and cultures," says Caroline Leeds, an MSW student who participated in the program and traveled abroad as an undergraduate.  "Not only do you learn about others, you also learn about yourself. You are given the opportunity to test your limits, broaden your perspective and expand your boundaries."
 
Associate Professor Chien-Chung Huang, first approached Richards in summer 2010 about developing a study abroad program after meeting several Chinese university scholars in Beijing who hoped to learn more about US welfare programs such as social security and how to deal with China's immense and rapidly aging population. "I knew immediately that the two universities had an amazing synergy based on our mutual interests in social welfare practice and research," says Huang, a native of Taiwan. "Rutgers and Renmin Universities co-organized an International Conference on Social Welfare Systems in China and the United States: Comparison and Innovation on May 2. As evidenced in the conference, we know we can offer a top rate study abroad experience that will  provide our students with a very unique opportunity to directly engage with and learn about China's welfare agencies and programs." 

"Even when we were not on site visits, spending time with the Renmin students and learning firsthand about Chinese culture and their experience with China's social welfare systems was extremely helpful," reports Haley Stasinos, a MSW student from Wheelock College in Boston.

Leeds agrees.
"We were warmly welcomed by the hosting universities, students and faculty alike, and got a true glimpse into China's progressive social welfare system. Each experience illuminated our understanding of China's social welfare needs and the steps that are being taken to address them.  All of the places we visited were spectacular and all of the people we met were enjoyable, all of which helped to create unforgettable memories."

Students visited welfare agencies in Beijing and Tianjin every morning, including: Huamin Charity Foundation; China Social Welfare Association; China's Ministry of Civil Affairs; China Bureau of NGO; Institute of Mental Health of Peking University; Half the Sky Senior Center and the China Center for Adoption Affairs and Child Welfare. Afternoon trips focused on historic sites including the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven. 
 
Rutgers University School of Social Work also met a key objective of the trip with the endorsement of new memorandums of understanding with Renmin University School of Labor and Human Resources on May 27 and with Nankai University on May 31. Both agreements promote collaborative research projects, scholarly exchange, joint research publication, as well as faculty and student exchange. Renmin and Nankai are two of the China's most prestigious research institutions.  Both programs will launch in fall 2011.

Rutgers University's also announced a new China initiative in May and is currently searching for an executive to head this initiative.  Learn more about the Rutgers Initiative in China.
 
"China was once thought of as the 'sleeping giant' of Asia but they have the second largest economy in the world and will overtake the United States GDP within the next three decades," says Susan Merkel, a Rutgers University MSW student who also participated in the trip. "Given China's status as the United States largest trading partner and the financier of the great majority of US debt, for practical reasons I feel that every American citizen should understand China's issues and how our economies and social systems interrelate. For me, there is no more important place on the planet to understand, and ignorance of our interconnectedness is at our peril."

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