From rural China to laptops and laundromats
He Mei's home in rural China had no electricity, and no roads. When she walked over the mountains to school at the beginning of every semester, her older sister escorted her before dawn with a torch.
From this remote beginning, Mei has made it to a university in upstate New York.
At the end of the year, Mei will do what few visiting Asian students do. She'll take her new master's degree in educational leadership and go all the way home, not to the booming urban areas that are luring back graduates, but back to the mountains where she started.
She wants to teach the children of her Mosuo ethnic group and send them on their long way into the world, one that moves so much faster than their own.
"Others say, 'You deserve not to go back,"' Mei says, in enthusiastic and almost fluent English. "I say, 'My village deserves me to go back."'
Mei, 27, is one of about 450 students chosen every year from 22 countries to join the Ford Foundation International Fellowship Program. The 10-year program was created in 2000 with the largest grant in the foundation's history, $280 million, to bring together bright young people from the ends of the world.
Fellows can choose where they would like to study. When they've completed their degree, the foundation encourages them to return home.
Mei, already holding an undergraduate degree from an institute for ethnic minorities in her province, chose The College of Saint Rose because she knew of another Chinese student there.
The program looks for people with stories like Mei's, with less privileged backgrounds but with open minds, in the hope of giving them a voice at an increasingly global table.
Many fellows do go home, says Keith Clemenger, director of the Beijing office that chooses about 35 Chinese fellows a year from hundreds of applications.
But Clemenger adds, "Few have come from more remote areas than He Mei."