Aug. 24, 2018

10,000-mile journey to Guangzhou inspires Social Work students

Canada-China exchange deepens understanding, builds foundation for social innovation hub
Members of the University of Calgary and former exchange students meet in Guangzhou, China. Professors Dora Tam, far right, and Siu Ming Kwok, second from left, are leading the creation of a social innovation hub to support collaboration.
Members of the University of Calgary and former exchange students meet in Guangzhou, China. Dora Tam, University of Calgary

There’s an old Chinese saying that "It is better to travel 10,000 miles than to read 10,000 books" (读万卷书, 不如行万里路). In June, a delegation of Social Work faculty members and students led by Dr. Dora Tam, PhD, and Dr. Siu Ming Kwok, PhD, did just that, travelling 10,000 miles to Guangzhou, China for a unique, 10-day Canada-China exchange.

Made-in-China solutions to social work

The sheer size of China means that social issues have a scale that is almost incomprehensible for Canadians. For example, while Canada grapples with the realities of an aging population, the numbers in China are staggering; in 2017, Guangdong province had more than 9.6 million people (well over twice the population of Alberta) aged 65 or above. This number is expected to increase to 15.4 million in 2020.

Issues of this scale mean that China, necessarily, has had to invent a unique approach to social work — which is still a relatively new profession in the country. Accordingly, while the UCalgary delegates shared scholarship and experience, they also were inspired by the accelerated growth of the social work profession in China.

For example, Guandong’s Double Hundred project aims at developing 200 social work stations in rural and remote areas of Guangdong, in just a few years, reflecting the accelerated growth of social work in China.

“I’m truly grateful for the experience,” reflects alumna Beth Fox, MSW'18. “I believe it has strengthened my understanding of social work practice on an international level and allowed me to establish new relationships with social work students and practitioners abroad.”

Social innovation hub planned

The exchange is another element in a foundation being constructed between the University of Calgary and Sun Yat-sen University and South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province. The schools signed a memorandum of understanding last year, and Social Work profs Tam and Kwok look to build on that MOU with a social innovation hub.

The hub is envisioned as a platform for interdisciplinary collaboration that will facilitate and support collaborative and innovative research, teaching, and evidence-informed practice for enhancing the well-being of individuals and families. Kwok and Tam believe that international exchange is about sharing and learning.

“Until we are able to see and experience first-hand,” says Tam, “we will never know our strengths and where there is room for growth.”

In between symposium presentations and meetings, the delegates also found time for a few friendly games of table tennis.

In between symposium presentations and meetings, the delegates also found time for fun.

Dora Tam, University of Calgary

Jammed itinerary

Despite an average temperature of 33 C, high humidity and a touch of culture shock, the delegates had an extraordinarily productive visit. They met and shared with more than 60 social work educators, social workers, social work students, government officials and officials from the Consulate General of Canada in Guangzhou.

The students and faculty presented at three symposiums, including the Guangdong Institute of Public Administration, the Center for Social Work Education and Research in Sun Yat-sen University, and another at Qi Chuang Social Work Development Association.

“As first-time visitors, the students and myself were treated with such generosity and respect,” says Dr. Beth Archer-Kuhn, PhD. “I’m grateful for the invitation and experience of the trip.”

'Eat in Guangzhou'

Besides being a hub for finance in southern China, the booming city of Guangzhou is also famous for its gourmet food — particularly its legendary dim sum. In fact, its nickname is simply “Eat in Guangzhou.” Luckily there was enough time for the delegates to sample many different cuisines while learning more of the area’s transformation into an economic centre from its roots culture and 2,000-year historyThe group toured thold city in Liwan district, the commercial centre in Tianhe district, the Yuexiu district museum, and the beautiful Canton Tower.

“I think the group was really impressed by the resilience and strengths of the local people and their ancestors,” says Tam. “They’ve survived war and occupation by foreign invaders and somehow preserved their history, tradition, and cultural practices, despite the rapid modernization that has occurred.”