Nguyen Duc Quang, from Vietnam

Roman Vladimirovich Yorick, from Nakhodka, Russia

By Bruce Peterson

For the first time, the Rafael Rodriguez/Golden Age (RRGA) Scholarship honors two students— both of whom seem destined to contribute to their homelands as well as to benefit from their I-House experience. The RRGA Scholarship is a unique award, providing a full room and board scholarship at plus a stipend for new international students.

The recipients are Nguyen Duc Quang, a native of Hanoi, Vietnam, and Roman Vladimirovich Yorick, from remote Nakhodka, Russia. Nguyen studies demography- focusing on uses of the science to help better his country's economic and social life. Roman, a pediatric surgeon, wants to use his public health degree to help reverse declines in the Russian health care system.

"As long as I can remember, I wanted to be a physician," says Roman. Inspired by two grandparents in the profession- one served in the Russian navy during World War II- Roman recalls, "My grandmother used to say, 'Become a surgeon because on a floating hospital, surgery is one deck up from general medicine and if the ship sinks, you'll have more time.'"

At Cal, "I came to learn how to do medical research. In Russia, there is underfunding and a lack of knowledge of research procedures." In the last five years, "the health of the general population, and of children in particular, is deteriorating in Russia. Curiously," he adds "there's a lack of funding on the one hand, and too many physicians on the other, a result of the Soviet legacy." With his master's in public health from Cal, maybe I can switch from doing medicine to organizing medicine."

When Roman first came to the area, "I met several people who knew Rafael Rodriguez personally, and who lived with him here at International House. The scholarship in his name is such a wonderful program. Without it I wouldn't be here at Berkeley at all."

Roman's deceased father worked in a can factory; his mother works for the port authority in Nakhodka. "Oakland is Nakhodka's sister city," he says of his hometown, about 100 miles from Vladivostok. "Ten years ago I visited Oakland and Head Royce School as part of a Sister City delegation. I still have Bay Area friends from that experience."

During that time, Roman, still in high school, volunteered at Children's Hospital Oakland. It's the place where his interest in pediatric medicine was first piqued and where he now visits once a week as part of his studies.

"I really want to say thank I-House for the scholarship, not just to study at Cal, but for being able to live here and meet all the different people."

Nguyen arrived in Berkeley ten days prior to the start of fall semester "with no idea where to live" when he got the word of the Rafael Rodriguez/Golden Age scholarship. "I'm very fortunate; very few Vietnamese travel abroad. This is the perfect opportunity to meet people from all over the world, and in Vietnam, there is little opportunity to meet other nationals.

As a population researcher for the government's National Committee for Population and Family of Vietnam, Nguyen wrestled with vexing problems of demographics and economics. "This issue is of great importance in an agriculture-based country like Vietnam. I try to answer the question if socioeconomic development will automatically solve the problem of population overgrowth without any family planning effort. Population issues are a matter of great concern.

"Vietnam is about 75% rural. A predominant idea in these areas is a preference for a son; for example, a family with three daughters will continue to have children until they get a son." Traditional beliefs are starting to change in Vietnam, which Nguyen greets with mixed feeling, "We learn good things from Western countries, but we will still need to keep our Oriental values." His own family "is very supportive of my moving to Berkeley and are open to new ideas; they know this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." Nguyen's mother is a retired school teacher; a brother and sister have families back home.

Nguyen now greatly enjoys the chance to meet, on a daily basis, not only Westerners, but those from around the globe. It's an opportunity unimaginable a few years ago. "I am very lucky."