LAWRENCE — Profirio Fernandes Xavier recently embarked on the journey of a lifetime. It’s taken him over 9,000 miles from the small country of East Timor to Marvin Hall, courtesy of the Fulbright Scholar Program.
And, the 30-year-old East Timorese graduate student believes that what he learns while at the University of Kansas Department of Urban Planning will help him create positive social change in his homeland.
“I’m optimistic about the future,” Profirio said. “I grew up there; it has a great culture, but life needs to improve in urban areas.”
East Timor was colonized by Portugal in the 16th century. After declaring its independence in 1975 it was almost immediately invaded and occupied by Indonesia. During a second struggle for independence in 1999, Indonesian troops and anti-independence militias destroyed about 70 percent of the country’s infrastructure.
This created both problems and tremendous opportunities, according to Profirio. He says his country is still in its infancy when it when it comes to creating infrastructure, land-use planning and zoning regulations. That gives him and his fellow planners a chance to learn from what other countries have done, both right and wrong, where urban planning is concerned.
Profirio, who previously earned an urban planning degree in Indonesia, says he chose KU because the program aligns well with his interests.
“Kansas has a particularly good program for my field of study,” he said. “I don’t like the cold, but I really enjoy studying here.”
After graduation, Profirio will return and help develop basic planning codes at a moment that may prove to be a turning point in the fledgling nation’s history. While East Timor is, for now, one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, its government is in the midst of a petroleum exploration program that could change the island nation’s fortunes drastically.
“The planning processes in both countries are very different, but I’m excited to use what I’ll learn here to make East Timor a better place to live,” Profirio said.
The Fulbright Scholar Program was started in 1945 by the U.S. government. It serves as an international education exchange. Participants are chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential. They have the opportunity to study and conduct research at American universities, and help find solutions to problems shared by people around the globe.