Meet Our 2017 Student Fellows

We are excited to announce the recipients of the Starr Foundation Student Fellows grant for 2017.

This is the tenth cohort of  students who are awarded a Travel and Research Grant towards their academic engagement on India and China. Students undergo a competitive application and interview process and commit to conducting field research in India or China for a minimum of  three weeks during the spring or summer.

The list of the 2017 Finalists is below. Congratulations to all of them!!

mariaMaria Radulescu is an undergraduate student in The School of Drama. Her project is entitled “Tracking the Evolution of Theatre Practices in India”. She will explore the influence of traditional and classical theatre of India on contemporary theatre practice.




monisesilvaMonise Silva is a Ph.D. student majoring in Public and Urban Policy at NSPE. Monise will study the socio-spatial dynamics of Indian mega-cities.  Monise comes from Curitiba, Brazil, and has been studying the working of socio-spatial dynamics in Brazil in relation to the issues of intra-urban inequality and social exclusion. She conducted similar research in Africa.  The ICI grant would allow her to compare and contrast the urban experiences of Delhi with her previous work on megacities in the other two continents, and to further explore alternative categories of urban analysis to strengthen the discourse on the urban condition.



isabellaIsabella Kazanecki is an undergraduate student at Eugene Lang College. The topic of her project is “Sacred Practices and the Environment”. She will explore the physical manifestations of religion and analyze globalization’s impact on the way people worship.  With the help of interviews and photography, Isabella aims to get a grounded understanding of climate change and its effects on cultures in the Himalayas.



amandaastrogapintoAmanda Astorga is a student in M.F.A. Transdisciplinary Design at Parsons. She comes from Chile, where she worked in public health care services after her college study. Drawing from her previous work experiences, she has grown a major interest in exploring gender equality in health care system. Amanda will look into gender equality in India, since India has been rated the country with worst gender equality statistics. Amanda hopes to obtain the answer to her question—how the concept of gender equality is perceived in Indian culture and what is its impact on women’s health care?



dannydangDanny Dang is a senior student in Design and Technology at Parsons. His project is “BeyondABC”, a game designed by two former Starr Travel Award recipients, Kate Wallace and Ker Thao, and himself. “BeyondABC” is a game aimed at providing Indian youth with the safety skills they need to protect themselves from human trafficking. As a core team member of BeyondABC, Danny wishes to go to India and contact people who have first-hand experiences with human trafficking, as well as work with GOAL India, an organization that helps youth leaders in underprivileged communities to develop critical thinking skills.



kaartikkeyabajpaiKaartikeya Bajpai is an M.A. student in Creative Writing at NSPE. Curious about the questions why Chinese literature doesn’t widely reach the West and vice versa, Kaartikeya’s project is to compile a “Contemporary Chinese Literature and the Global Reader”. As the chief editor of The Bombay Review, a bi-monthly international literary magazine in India, he accumulated great experiences to help him research into the literature world in China. He aspires to generate a deeper analysis of readership and popularity of certain Chinese books.

Meet Our New Student Fellows (2016)


We are excited to announce the final list of Starr Foundation Student Fellows for 2016. These are students that applied to the Student Travel and Research Grants in the fall of 2015 to support academic research on India and China. The list of final Fellows is below. Congratulations to all of them!!

read on

Student Research and Travel Grants (2015) – Apply Now

Nick Krebs Student Fellow

Former Student Fellow Nick Krebs in China.

We’re happy to announce that the application period is now open for the 2014-15 Starr Foundation Student Research and Travel grants. ICI will be offering six New School students a $3,000 grant to support their research in India or China in 2015. Each year these Student Fellows engage in exciting research projects around some topic of interest to their academic or professional interests. So if you have ever thought about going to India or China, here’s your chance!

Applications are being accepted until Monday, October 27, 2014.

Want to know more about this grant, and what past Student Fellows did? Simple. You can meet our past Student Fellows right here. While you’re at it, take a look at the latest blog posts from the current group of Student Fellows conducting research right now in China and India. This is the best way to see what you could be doing a year from now.

To learn more about the details of Starr Foundation student grants click here.


Migrants in the Archives

Union Pacific Tea

In a little less than two months, I will travel to some of the main commercial centers and transport hubs (of both people and goods) of the late nineteenth-early twentieth century: Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guandong. I intend to access archival materials and museum collections that may contain information on both the commercial activities and life stories of Chinese migrants and businessmen.

I have previously sought to analyze the links between business and migration by relying on various archival sources and oral histories in the United States. Albeit informative, these sources have provided only a limited understanding of the ‘Chinese’ side of the story, and particularly the three-pronged role of Chinese business companies in: i) aiding migration, ii) negotiating Chinese migrants’ right to entry and presence on the US territory, and iii) engaging with the budding consumer society in the United States. Such understanding is important because it allows for a more thorough analysis of the various levels of interaction between the Chinese and US representatives and better assessment of the ways in which the Chinese business community, in conjunction with various US officials, facilitated the transfer and presence of migrants in the United States.

I am hopeful that my extensive research of archival collections in the United States provides some degree of preparation for exploring archives in China. (At the very least, it provides a good basis for comparison.) Yet, I am aware that accessing procedures might be vastly different. For this reason, I am currently thinking ‘beyond the archives’ and trying to identify alternative sources of information, such as museums, universities, public libraries, personal connections, etc.

Looking through the eyes of a researcher, this summer travel will allow me to see China in a different light. Especially, I will be curious to explore the extent to which the history and politics of trade and migration still influence/are part of the cultural and social interactions today. I look froward to sharing my thoughts and experiences through photos, videos, and blogs!



2014 Student Fellows Announced

We are happy to announce the final selection of students for the 2013-14  India China Institute Student Fellows. The Starr Foundation supports ICI Student Research Fellowships, which provides a $3,000 study/research grant to support an independent study project or to defray the cost of attending a New School Program in India, China, or the Himalaya region. Applications are accepted every fall for the next group of Student Fellows. A list of all past Student Fellows can be found here. Congratulation to the next group of Student Fellows, who are listed below.

Mikaela Kvan is currently pursuing a BS in Urban Design at Parsons, The New School for Design. She is interested in examining the global framework of economic development through the garment manufacturing industry. Through the ICI travel grant, Mikaela will look at China’s labor laws and use China as a baseline to evaluate the growth of Cambodia’s garment industry through the voices of women who work at various levels throughout the garment manufacturing process. The research will assess the physical effects of the growth of this industry on emotional outcomes in identity and personal expression, and will take place in Shenzhen, China and Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Carolina Coviello is majoring in Strategic Design and Management at Parsons, The New School for Design. She is deeply interested in observing the business dynamics around the world, especially in emerging countries like China. Carolina’s research will look to gain a better understanding of the impacts of globalization in China’s goods market. During her summer experience in China, she would like to explore first-hand and define the improvement in Chinese labor standards. Furthermore, she would like to explore how this process has impacted both the manufacturing market and the relationship between China and the international companies, like Adidas, which have outsourced there.

Tomas Uribe is a M.A. student in Media Studies at The New School. With the ICI travel grant, Tomas will conduct research on music as a tool for empowering youth in order to analyze and evaluate the applicability and relevance of music education in the lives of at-risk youth based on two case studies in Mumbai (Mewsic) and New Delhi (Music Basti). In order to reach this goal, Tomas will create multi-media pieces that will be posted on the website or blog which will be developed, for further reference for other countries.

Joseph Wheeler is a MFA student in the Transdisciplinary Design program at Parsons, The New School. With the ICI travel grant, Joseph will engage in discourse with women working toward gender equality externally (via national reform) and internally (via community reform) in India. He will explore how the Uniform Civil Code is understood by both sides, the advantages and disadvantages of both solutions to this complex problem, as well as the lived ramifications of discriminatory Personal Law and real world persecution of religious minorities. Joseph will work with Women’s Rights groups such as Feminists India to set up in-person interviews with activists and community members, and reach out to some of the key voices in this debate.

Tim Rosenkranz is a PhD candidate in Sociology at The New School for Social Research. With the support of the ICI travel grant, Tim will explore how the nation-state of India is reproduced as a commoditized tourist destination; and what are the emerging conflicts of such an effort of the nation-state as actor of both the public interest and private enterprise. Through this project, Tim’s research will sketch out the emerging relational triangle between the tourist as audience, the private industry as part of the tourist destination India, and the national government agency as acting both in the public interest and as private enterprise.

Marina Kaneti is pursing her PhD in Political Theory and Comparative Politics at the New School for Social Research. Marina is interested in exploring various intersections between the politics of urbanization and business, globalization and migration. Marina will use the ICI travel grant to travel to Hong Kong, Guandong, and Shanghai to conduct research of archival collections at several locations. This research, part of a broader PhD Dissertation work, will examine the links between migration and business at the end of the nineteenth – early twentieth century. Marina will analyze the Chinese business companies’ trade negotiations with the United States business and government elites; and the Chinese business community facilitation of migration flows to the United States.


Update from Xining, Qinghai

“‘Nomads’, I want to visit nomads.” Xining, the capital of the Qinghai Province in China is considered a pit-stop for backpackers traveling to Lhasa and moving further on to trek at the base of the Himalayas and then going on to visit Tibet, Nepal and India. Approximately, it takes around a week or two depending on how much time, one takes to soak in the beautiful back-packing trip. The best part about the backpackers are that they steer clear from the “touristy” routes which are highly commercialized and tend to camp out with many herders who are partly herders and partly farmers. The moment, I reached Xining, I was welcomed by a host of travelers sharing their journeys with me. I am not only amazed by the hospitality of Xining locals, but also, that is how I found my translator for my field work. Wan Ma Kan Zhou is of a Mongol-Tibetan descent from Henan County in Qinghai. good for me me that she speaks Chinese, Tibetan and some English. But with a translator app on my iPhone, we manage just fine. The past few days and the next week, we are heading to neighboring counties and villages in search of nomadic pastoralist herding communities. Traveling by local buses is also another joyous experience, meeting people of different cultures, Hans, Salars, Hui, Tibetans and Chinese.
“Ni hao, shenme minzi, Wo jiao ‘Divi’, Yindu ren”, I introduce myself with a shorter easier name. It is heartwarming to find people responding and trying their best to speak slowly to make a conversation.

Visiting the rangelands in the neighboring counties is exciting and I am looking forward to bringing back as much in terms of knowledge and experience as possible. Long stretches of varying degrees of greens spotted with grazing sheep, yaks, cows and horses, shy herder communities and rich cultures, such are the joys of this fieldwork.

The Roof of The World

Whenever I am visiting a new place, I like to look at the geological statistics of the place which is not limited to the climate conditions, especially in an exciting ecosystem like the Qinghai Tibetan Plateau. Although my area of study revolves around climate change, environmental vulnerabilities and anthropogenic impacts on the environment, much of this is built on the foundations of the eco-dynamics of a place. The Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP) is colloquially referred to as “The Roof of The World”. Geologists refer to QTP as a natural geological museum. Background studies have brought to light that 200 million years ago, at a time when the continents were drifting in the oceans, the Eurasian continent and the Indian sub-continent collided into one another and as a result of which the Himalayas and the Qinghai Tibetan Plateau arose.
Some interesting facts about the QTP collected from various sources:
– QTP is the highest plateau in the world with an average altitude of 14,800′.
– The world’s highest mountains peaks – Mt. Everest (29,029′)and Mt. Ketu (28,251′) are both located in the QTP region.
– The QTP region is geologically active zone frequented by earthquakes and glacier movements and its geomorphic nature creates and alters climatic conditions in the Asian continent.
Very appropriately termed as “The Roof of The World”.

Preparing for China

I’m excited as my time in China approaches. In preparation, I’ve bought 100 rolls of Kodak Portra 400 (ISO) color film for the two film cameras I plan to bring. I have also been researching used lenses for I am finding that lenses that are more compact (smaller) bring less attention to my camera and allows me to photograph more freely. So I have begun to get my equipment ready.

With the new semester, I have begun to expand my current project on the Chinese and Chinese American community in New York and New Jersey; I have begun photographing people in their homes rather than focusing on the general community. During the photo shoots there have been many stories shared about the experience of racism in the United States, which is not surprising knowing the history of first and second wave Asian immigration/migration to the United States. It is still saddening to hear.

As I talk about my trip with many of my friends from China, I have received much advice. This has ranged from accepting staring as a cultural norm to keeping my identity as a homosexual male unknown, as well as to not take photos in front of police to wearing a mask while in Beijing due to pollution. Of course there is probably truth in my friends’ experiences, but I also understand that this is from their viewpoints. But my friends’ support and help has been amazing. Another friend of mine has been trying to prepare me for the trip by introducing me to many traditional dishes from Shanghai and Beijing; they have all been delicious.

And on top of all of this, I am waiting to begin work on my passport and visa. With my recent name change, I must wait for the right time to file for both of those important documents. Once those are done, I will get my plane tickets.

So I have been preparing my equipment, continuing to be involved with the Chinese and Chinese American community in New York and New Jersey, obtaining advice and knowledge from friends, working on the technical aspects of preparation for my time in China, as well as reviewing my Mandarin as much as possible.

Before I know it, June will be here and I will be boarding a plane to China.

Chengdu and Sichuan

My intuition was correct that I would find a more immersive experience in Chengdu than in Beijing.

Ir started with the flight from Beijing to Chengdu.  Instead of flying out of the large capital airport, my travel agent booked me a slightly cheaper ticket to the Nanyuan airport in the south of the city.  This airport is only reluctantly a passenger terminal, catering mostly to the Chinese Air Force   Almost nothing was in English when I arrived, and I also found out that my travel agent omitted my middle name on the boarding pass, meaning I needed to get issued a new ticket to get through security.  Thankfully pointing to my name on the passport and the name on the ticket was sufficient to have them understand what needed to change.  The best part though is that instead of issuing me a new ticket, they just wrote in my middle name in pen, which I then smudged 30 seconds later en route to handing it back to security!  By heeding the first piece of advice on the Beijing hostel wall to smile kind of dopey when problems happened, I was able to charm the security agent to let me through despite the smear.

The next part was also amusing.  For domestic flights, they don’t post the flight information on the gate until the plane is ready to board.  And at Nanyuan, they don’t have a  status board updating about flight delays   So when my flight was delayed, I had to maintain a constant watch over each of the three gates to ensure I wouldn’t miss my flight, and be ready to rush to the front of the boarding line before a crowd of Chinese tourists took all the good carry-on slots on board the flight.  The lack of queuing does not pose a problem to me, as I’m used to being cutthroat with the train in New York, but I was quite worried I’d accidentally board the wrong plane in my rush.  It took me until my plane was rolling away from the gate before I could actually confirm with anyone that I was on the right flight.

It took me a day to get used to being in Chengdu.  The city core was much smaller than Beijing’s, but the scale of development and building is far greater.  Everywhere you look there is a 30 story apartment building or 10 story shopping center being built.  Traveling from the airport alone I counted enough new development to house tens of thousands of residents.  Jane Jacobs would find no home in many of these neighborhoods as the scale dwarfs the natural environment.

Things to write about in the future:

Day 1 Interview with Jane at Habitat
Details of each visit to the different village
Remarks on government led rebuilding/housing policy
Loneliness in a new place
Sichuan hotpot and communal dining
Interpreting between non-native speakers of English (i.e. Chinese and Spanish speakers)
Distance from expatriate life
Difficulties booking train tickets!

Habitat for Humanity – Sichuan Province

My attempt to write one post dealing with my Chengdu experience and my Habitat experience has failed, so I’m breaking them up into pieces to get it all out there.  And to think I haven’t even started on my current location of Xi’an yet!

These are some of my guiding project questions for Habitat for Humanity in Sichuan province.  The preliminary answers have been gathered through an interview with Jane Li, Government Relations and Resources Development Manager at the Sichuan branch of Habitat for Humanity China and visits to three different project sites that serve earthquake survivors of the province. This is an initial write-up with some additional fact-checking to be done, so please use this information only as insight to what I’ve been working on so far in China, and not as gospel 🙂

1. Where does Habitat build in Sichuan province?  

After the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province, Habitat for Humanity has been engaged with 10 different rebuilding projects in the earthquake zone and helped build or fix 1,700 houses in the area.  While I took notes on this during the interview, the Habitat China website provides a much better write-up than my attempt:

“In May 2008, Sichuan experienced an 8.0 magnitude earthquake that killed approximately 90,000 people. Over 1.5 million people lived in the affected area with 3,476,000 houses destroyed or damaged according to government statistics. 1,263,000 houses are in need of complete reconstruction and 2,213,000 are in need of repair. Some of the families hardest hit were those living in poverty in rural areas.

Habitat for Humanity China began its operation in Sichuan province in 2008 in response to the devastating earthquake. To date, HFH China has built 1,400 houses in ten villages in the townships of Xioayudong, Bailu, Jiexing, Zhuyuan and Qionglai working in partnership with the local government.

These houses, which include single detached, row houses, townhouses and apartment buildings, were all built using the government’s quality standard for earthquake resistant housing and designs from the Architecture Design Institute in Chengdu from which the families could choose. In an effort to increase income generation for the families affected by the earthquake, many of whom lost their farm land because of the disaster, 297 of the houses were constructed with livelihood in mind. In Taizi and Yangping villages, houses were built as bed and breakfasts to accommodate the many tourists that visit the area. The houses in Luoyang and Changzhen villages were constructed so that the families would have space for a small business on the ground floor and could live comfortably above.

Habitat for Humanity’s approach to community development in China is holistic, accounting not only for the homes of families, but the education of children as well. In Zhuyan township, Qingchuan county, Habitat is building ten apartment buildings, which will house 236 families, as well as a nursery school to help replace the more than 7,000 classrooms that were lost during the earthquake.”


2.  How do volunteers participate in the Habitat builds?

The volunteers come from many sources, from high school students and professionals across China looking to do service to help their country, to Global Village builds that are organized by Habitat to bring disparate volunteers from around the world to work together on local construction sites.  In Sichuan, the volunteers are primarily doing a lot of the heavy lifting for seasoned construction workers.  This means that they carry bricks from one worksite to the next, clear areas of debris, and assist with farming and landscaping tasks in a particular village.  They don’t do the primary bricklaying of the houses, as the houses must be built to a strict standard in order to withstand future high magnitude earthquakes.  For the most part the volunteers take it in stride, knowing that they save the construction workers valuable time as they prepare worksites for bricklaying and other construction.

3. Which families receive houses from Habitat for Humanity?

In the case of the Sichuan Habitat office, families who are selected for the program had their homes destroyed or severely damaged by the 2008 earthquake and have applied for a new Habitat home.  Additionally, even if their home is intact, they may be chosen to participate as part of a land swap with the government, to encourage them to move closer to a centralized village where electricity, gas and sewer services can be provided.

To participate, they must have some savings to contribute to the construction of the house, but they also receive subsidies of 15,000 yuan from the government and also an additional 15,000 yuan per family member from the Habitat office.  These subsidies are not paid in a lump sum, but are sort of like matching grants to the family once they achieve certain milestones for home construction, such as the foundation being laid on the house.  Once a milestone is achieved, the family receives the next portion of the subsidy.

For families that need additional funds beyond the Habitat and government subsidies, they would apply for a mortgage from a local bank that provides a 3-5 year mortgage for the gap financing.  I was quite shocked to learn how short the loan repayment terms were!  In the United States most mortgages have small down payments and 15-30 year terms.  This likely has a lot to do with the sky-high savings rate in China and the terrible savings rate in the United States.

4. How much do the new homes cost?

On average, the building cost for each house is 900 yuan per cubic meter.  China has regulations for new buildings that require each family have 30 cubic meters of space for each occupant, so the cost runs around 27,000 yuan per occupant in a family.  Given that most families have 3-5 members, the average cost of a new Habitat one family house is about 120,000 yuan.  This is about $20,000 US dollars and is considered quite expensive for the region due to the materials used in construction and the tight earthquake building standards.

5. What style are the houses built in? What materials are used?

The new houses are very simple structures and are standalone brick one-family homes.  While brick is the primary building material, the important sections are reinforced with concrete and rebar to provide earthquake protection, and wood is used for interior and exterior finishes.  The roof is primarily made of concrete.  While the Chinese government does use more expensive and sustainable materials in some houses for earthquake survivors, it is not common because the scale of destruction was so vast that it needs commonly available materials to rebuild houses rapidly.  Additionally, these materials are a significant upgrade from the previous homes which were made of dried bamboo, clay and bricks made of sunbaked mud.  These materials were not very insulative and often exposed homeowners to the elements.  They were also incredibly fragile when subjected to a major earthquake, which accounts for 80% of the structures in the area being decimated in 2008.

Old House:

New Construction (This is a multi-family unit built at a different site.  All the houses at Mayan Village where the old house is pictured were still under construction at the time of my visit):

The Chinese government provides the design for the houses and also arranges the contractors to do the actual construction.  In this way, the government takes a primary role in the home building process that is distinct from how Habitat operates in the United States.  Habitat serves as the primary builder and lender for houses built in the states and also solicits designs from architects across the country.

6. How much money do homeowners spend on energy in the new houses?

For most of the homes, electricity costs about .57 yuan per KW and natural gas costs 1.89 yuan per cubic meter.  If a house is primarily occupied by elderly residents, they could spend as little as 5 yuan a month on electricity, as they use few appliances or electronics in their households.  For younger households, the monthly electric bill could approach 80 yuan as they use air conditioning, computers and appliances such as refrigerators.

As an aside, I have to remark on how energy efficient the Chinese people are in almost all the cities I’ve been.  Even as I write this in Xi’an on the top floor of a modern high-rise condo building that I’m staying at with a family member, almost all appliances are unplugged from the wall, the windows are used instead of air conditioner, and the lights remain off.    My host even unplugs things such as the cable modem and router at night to save electricity!  As I blogged earlier, this is likely to change with younger generations of Chinese citizens who become acclimated to Western taste in electronic usage, but for now it still impresses me greatly.

7. Does Habitat for Humanity refurbish houses in Sichuan province?

As soon as I learned a little more about the earthquake, I realized how foolish of a question this was!  Given that 80% of the houses were rendered uninhabitable in the earthquake area, there was very little to rebuild after 2008.  And even the structures that remained were often abandoned due to susceptibility to future earthquakes (and the aftershocks from the 2008 earthquake that continued at up to magnitude 6.0 for months after the initial quake).

However, Jane did tell me that the Habitat branch in Shanghai has a project to refurbish “old-age” buildings in the central city.  I will investigate this further during my trip.

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