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Advice to Applicants

The Pacific Basin Research Center has, for many years, provided partial funding for Soka students to undertake a variety of summer activities.  Consistent with Soka’s emphasis on producing global citizens and the PBRC’s to understand and promote humanistic development, these grants have fuelled a great range of experiences, including internships, research, volunteering, and more.

Given the success of previous grants and the rising costs of travel, the PBRC is happy to announce an expansion of the student summer grants beginning in Summer 2016.  We are offering up to ten grants of up to $2000 each to assist students in achieving their goals over the summer months.

We are open to a wide range of initiatives, but we thought it would be useful to provide a brief overview of what we are looking for and what we are not.  Please take this as a rough guide and advice—not a formal document or checklist.

The longer, the better: Many students want to have both a relaxing, fun summer, but also want to change the world.  This leads some to seek one or two week “internships”.  While we do not totally dismiss such experiences out of hand, our preference is to support work that endures for 1-3 months.  The more time in the field, the more knowledge the student can gain and the further the grant will go.  This means that we are reluctant to fund students to attend a 2-3 day conference on the other side of the world.  And given a choice between a 2 week and 2 month internship, all things being equal the latter makes much more sense for everyone.

Internship? An internship is typically an arrangement in which volunteers contribute work to an organization in exchange for valuable field experience.  The problem is that this term is used in a variety of ways, encompassing everything from year-long practicums to one-week voluntourism gigs.  There is actually nothing wrong with voluntourism, provided it satisfies many of the criteria of this list.  But paying money for a placement in which one learns from a local organization is more service learning, like a Learning Cluster, than internships.  So be honest about what it is that you are doing.

Value: We encourage students to find ways to make grants go as far as possible.  For instance, many students on study abroad have located volunteering opportunities in or near their host countries.  This reduces the travel expenses attached to the summer experience, and makes more sense on our end.  On the other hand, extremely expensive travel and placement costs are less appealing on our end.  For example, many for-profit businesses (such as Dream Careers) charge thousands of dollars to arrange student “internships” in the developing world, standing in as a middle-man.  Some such organizations provide valuable planning and security, while others are ripping you (and us) off.

About your hosts: We are very interested in the nature of the local organization you want to work with.  Established NGOs, government agencies, and universities are highly credible partners.  However there are many for-profit groups masquerading as NGOs, doing work that generates profit instead of helping local communities.  If you are considering an internship with a apparent non-profit that charges a fee, do some research on them first.  Do they have grants from external donors as well?  If they do, there work is more likely to be sustainable and credible, with internships supplementing other income.  If their only form of revenue is internships, then their links to the community may be less credible.  Many internship groups are first and foremost businesses, profiting from your desire to help those in need.  So be critical—if their page is primarily littered with images of Western students posing with poor children and on safaris, it is not a credible group!

Altruism and Hedonism: We prefer to fund opportunities that provide Soka students with educational and vocational experiences that can help prepare them for their futures.  While helping others is admirable, and need not be in tension with helping oneself, it is unlikely that a volunteer can make meaningful change in a month or two.  There is an arrogance in thinking that one can change the world in such a short amount of time, and sometimes there are organizations that prey on kind sentiment.  We are more interested in helping Soka students improve themselves so that they are better equipped for a lifetime of difference.

Do no harm!  In general, students should avoid working with extremely vulnerable populations, such as young children.  For example, over the years we have received applications from students wanting to work with AIDS orphans.  Not all students are equipped for such work, short summer experiences may do more harm than good (think about how the children would be affected by a revolving door of friends), and not all organizations working with vulnerable groups are what they appear to be.  As a result, preference is given to opportunities that have little chance of harming vulnerable groups.

Where in the World?  While activities in other parts of the world will not be excluded, preference is given to initiatives that focus on Pacific Basin countries, widely defined.

Building your future: Preference will be given to applicants whose proposed activities relate to their course work and future activities.  Although not all summer opportunities must fit into some predetermined career path, students who have already shown an interest in a given field are more likely to excel at their work and use this experience to build their futures.  This also helps us avoid tourism, with students having a passing fancy in a given area without having much depth.  It never looks good on your CV to have experiences that jump between fields and continents—it is more humble and impressive to develop expertise and to show commitment to one area.

Safety First!  Safety is a complex issue.  Americans tend to exaggerate fears in the developing world, meanwhile downplaying problems at home (driving the I5 kills more people annually than do many of the diseases and security threats dominating the headlines).  This said, we are not interested in funding activities that put Soka students in harm’s way.  Volunteering in countries experiencing civil war or researching sensitive topics in authoritarian countries will not make for a pleasant summer.  There is also a link between building your future and safety; the more you know about the topic or place, the safer you will probably be.

Details, details: Please provide as much information as you can in your application.  Have you conducted background research on your host organization?  How did you hear about them?  What is your budget?  Will you go whether you receive a PBRC grant or not?

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