Friday, December 2, 2016

Holiday Season at the HNC

It’s easy to assume that living in China might make celebrating “traditional” American holidays, such as Thanksgiving, somewhat tricky. Admittedly, there are a few logistical issues, such as the difference between appliances found in a Chinese kitchen and in an American one—most Chinese kitchens are not equipped with an oven— and trying to find certain items that are harder to come by at a Chinese supermarket—i.e. condensed milk. But don’t let that discourage you! I recently celebrated my first Chinese Thanksgiving here at the HNC and found that it was surprisingly easy to accomplish and any extra effort I put in was definitely worth it in the end.


As I started preparing for Thanksgiving, the first challenge was finding the proper ingredients. One of my favorite shops in the area is Times Grocery, an imported goods store on Shanghai Road just two blocks away from the HNC. The lady who owns the shop is always friendly and will offer to help you find whatever you’re looking for. The shop is small but packed with literally everything you might need to prepare and variety of 西菜. After picking up some Australian flower, canned pumpkin, Irish butter, and other necessities, I was feeling more confident in my ability to at least put together a few pies.

Times Grocery, for all your imported grocery needs
At the center, we’re lucky enough to have a week-long holiday falling over Thanksgiving. I haven’t had the chance to do much cooking since moving to Nanjing, so I was particularly excited about the opportunity to host a Thanksgiving get-together with the help of my roommate and some friends. Thanks to a friend’s toaster oven and kitchen, we made good use of our extra vacation time, preparing staples like cornbread, pies, green beans, mashed potatoes, and more pie.


Learning how to make apple pie
Though I always enjoy Thanksgiving as an excuse to spend a few days preparing (and eating) some of my favorite homemade foods, this holiday was especially fun as I was able to introduce some of my Chinese friends to an American holiday. It’s always funny to see people’s first reaction to a new dish, or way of preparing food. For example, I made a pumpkin sweet-bread and I had also put some butter out on the table to spread on it. My roommate asked me why anyone would want to put butter on cake. To which my typical American answer was, “ 为什么不!?”
The pies didn’t last for long

However and wherever you choose to celebrate, have a safe and happy holiday season!


Written by Amanda Bogan, HNC Certificate '17

Friday, November 25, 2016

Election Perspectives from Nanjing

Resident HNC Professor of American History Joe Renouard shares his perspectives on observing the U.S. presidential election from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center in this guest post.

The 2016 presidential campaign got plenty of attention at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center.  Students, faculty, and staff kept a close eye on events back home via cable TV, the internet, and social media, and the center hosted a slew of lectures and forums that enabled members of the campus community to share their thoughts on what this election means for Americans and for the rest of the world.

Chinese newspapers report the U.S. election results
The series kicked off on September 12, when Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito visited the campus to deliver a lecture on international and U.S. domestic law.  One month later, United States Ambassador to China Max Baucus addressed the HNC community and reflected on his many experiences as a diplomat and senator.  Both visitors were gracious enough to field a wide range of audience questions.

Also in September and October, our tech specialists live-streamed the presidential and vice-presidential debates in the Kuang Yaming auditorium.  For those of us accustomed to watching political debates at night, the 9 a.m. starting time made for some interesting viewing.  While the folks back home were gathering at debate parties or curling up in front of their televisions, we at the HNC were downing coffee and carving time into our busy morning schedules.  As always, the debates were great fun, and the audience dynamic made for a nice shared experience.  I walked away thinking that watching a debate is a bit like enjoying a steak and a shot of bourbon – maybe it’s better to do these things after sundown, but sometimes you’ve gotta break the rules.

On October 25, the U.S. Consulate sponsored a lecture by Associate Professor Nicholas J. G. Winter of the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia.  Dr. Winter, who specializes in public opinion, political psychology, and statistical analysis, explored the election process, the latest polling data, and the roots of Donald Trump’s popularity.  He began with a straightforward, “Civics 101” description of the American political system, and then moved on to a sophisticated analysis of the latest data on voter behavior and demographic trends.  It was a well-balanced approach that appealed to novices and experts alike.  (Pressed by his audience, Dr. Winter wisely refused to make any predictions about the election outcome.)

U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus addresses the HNC community

Two nights later, HNC faculty hosted an open forum on globalization and the election.  We addressed many of the macro-level questions that have puzzled the pundits in 2016: Why have so many voters embraced outsider candidates?  Is the Trump/Sanders phenomenon part of the same worldwide trend that has spawned the Brexit vote and the return of European populism?  Are we witnessing a major political realignment in America?  While I cannot claim that we predicted the election result, we did explore many of the larger trends that are now at the center of the experts’ election postmortems.  These include stagnant wages, controversial trade agreements, growing class disparities, contentious immigration policies, changing demographics, the rising cost of healthcare and education, and – perhaps most significant of all – public frustration with political, economic, and media elites.

On November 3, HNC Student Career Counselor Robert Shields delivered a lecture on the 2000 election and the court cases that grew out of the contested vote count in Florida.  It was an intriguing lesson in federalism, equal protection laws, post-election partisanship, and the difficulties of enforcing state election statutes while also ensuring the rights of voters.  Shields taught those who were too young to remember (and reminded those who are too old to forget) about everything from “hanging chads” to the infamous Palm Beach County “butterfly ballot.”

The capstone of the 2000 election story is the case of Bush v. Gore (531 U.S. 98), in which the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to order a recount only in certain counties had violated the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  With the halting of the recount, George W. Bush won the state and, ultimately, the presidency.  Although we have largely avoided similar fights over state vote counts since 2000, there is at least one major parallel between 2000 and 2016: the election winner lost the popular vote.  Thus the 2016 outcome has already spurred further debate about the necessity of the Electoral College.
HNC Students watch the election broadcast
Election Day was a fitting climax to this very unusual and seemingly endless presidential campaign.  Our tech gurus once again ensured that the returns were broadcast live in the auditorium beginning at 8am on Wednesday, November 9 (Tuesday, November 8 in America), and HNC residents trickled in throughout the morning and early afternoon to watch the coverage.  A quick and very unscientific polling of students suggested that a strong majority preferred a Clinton victory, though enthusiasm for the Democratic candidate was somewhat muted.  Some pointed out that they were voting against Trump rather than for Clinton.

Much like everyone back home, we watched the returns with a combination of surprise, exhilaration (among Trump supporters), and bemusement (among Clinton supporters and “anybody but Trump” voters).  One professor who had closely watched the Brexit returns in July suggested that the real-time sentiment was much the same in this case.  The polls had predicted a particular outcome, but as the day wore on we were reminded that it is the voters who ultimately decide these things, not the journalists or the pollsters.

A week after the election, a large group turned out for our final faculty/student forum on what the results mean for America and the world.  Does Trump’s victory represent a protest vote against our country’s political and economic elites?  Does the result prove the strength of reactionary tendencies in American society?  With a nod to Plato, is America a nation more like “two cities that are at war with each other?”  It was a very fruitful discussion, and as always the students’ comments were sharp and insightful.

Election results broadcast at the HNC

A few final thoughts.  We may live in cynical times, but we would do well to recall that our forebears, too, endured flawed leaders and imperfect systems.  In one of Plato’s more acerbic passages in The Republic, he called democracy “a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequaled alike.”  Alexis de Tocqueville, that most astute foreign observer of American life, wryly observed 180 years ago that “a democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it.”  The great American author H.L. Mencken was just as wary of the voters as he was the politicians.  “Democracy,” he wrote nearly a century ago, “is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” 

Clearly the quest for effective governance is never-ending.  Whatever one may think of the election results, perhaps it’s best not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  With our students offering plenty of inspiration throughout this election season, I remain optimistic that our republic will be just fine in the long run.



Written by Joe Renouard, PhD
Resident HNC Professor of American History 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Exploring Nanjing: 南京大排档 Restaurant

Our first semester here at the HNC passed at lightning speed, jam-packed with school events, traveling during the National Holiday, and lots of time spent at the library preparing for class. With all that’s been going on, I realized that most  of the time I’ve had with my roommate, Wu Ye, has consisted studying, discussing our course material, and more studying.

Luckily, we found some time this past week to get out and have dinner at a nearby restaurant she’d recommended as a must-go for Nanjing new-comers and locals alike.

南京大排档 is perhaps the best known restaurant in Nanjing. Conveniently located a short 15 minute walk from the HNC, this dining establishment serves authentic Nanjing cuisine. If you’re trying to get a good idea of what specialty dishes characterize Nanjing flavor, 南京大排档 is the place to go.


Before we even entered the restaurant I was struck by the beautiful exterior and luminescent interior. The outside of the restaurant is structured like a traditional Chinese mansion, and the inside is filled with bright red lanterns that display the names of dishes written in elegant calligraphy.

Upon entering the restaurant we were immediately greeted by an enthusiastic host who first asked for the number of people in our party, and then called out a 成语 using the number we gave him (两全其美). When we sat down, Wu Ye explained to me the meaning of the 成语, which translates loosely into “double-win” or “both sides get what they want”. Apparently the host can find a number-specific idiom to greet parties of any size!

Since it was my first time, I let Wu Ye do the ordering while I walked around the restaurant to snap a few pictures and watch some of the cooks in action. The restaurant’s interior is reminiscent of a traditional night market, with cooks working behind a counter set up like Nanjing street vendors or market stands. This is fun for people like me, who enjoy the chance to check out of the dishes and preparation methods before getting to enjoy the chef’s work.


When the dishes arrived I knew I was right letting Wu Ye take charge. Since she knows that my main dish of choice is always some kind of  面条, she ordered a large bowl of hand-pulled noodles in a delicious broth that I finished off without much help. We were both also very fond of the fried radish cakes, crispy and perfect for dipping in broth or with some black vinegar and  辣椒. My favorite dish was a bowl of finely chopped leafy green vegetable called 马兰头, which is local to Jiangsu province, paired with dried tofu, and delicately flavored with fragrant sesame oil.


I also highly recommend the 宋美龄粥,a classic dish of sweet, rice and soy-milk porridge, with tasty pieces of lily root thrown in. The dish is named after the famous and widely-loved female politician and diplomat, 宋美龄, wife of the KMT leaders and president Republic of China, 蒋介石. My roommate has many wonderful attributes, one of which is her extensive historical knowledge, particularly of influential women in Chinese history.

Written by Amanda Bogan, HNC Certificate '17

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Top 5 Things to Remember When Applying to Graduate School

The Hopkins-Nanjing Center's February 1 application deadline will be here before you know it! We have complied 5 tips to keep in mind as you start working on your applications. You'll find even more application guidance by clicking on the links below. If you have more specific questions, feel free to reach out to the admissions team at nanjing@jhu.edu.   

Tip #1: Write a specific personal statement that clearly addresses your individual career goals. It’s not called a “personal” statement for nothing!
  • Admissions officers like to see that you have taken the time to become familiar with the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and can articulate how you see yourself and your career goals fitting in to the specific program.
  • Don’t waste this opportunity to tell admissions officers about your interests and career goals by rehashing your resume. In the past, we have had students write about lessons they learned from playing ping pong with a Chinese classmate. Another student wrote about her experience at a Chinese rural hospital. We encourage you to get creative! 


Tip #2: There are more funding opportunities than you think and fellowship deadlines may be before the HNC application deadline
  • Online resources such as Fastweb and Collegenet can guide your search for fellowships that apply for you intended program of study. 
  • Be sure to submit your financial aid application by February 1. All students who do will receive a fellowship if accepted, regardless of their program choice. You also may be eligible for one of our new fellowships in honor of the our 30th anniversary. 
Tip #3: Go for quality over quantity for your letters of recommendation
  • You can submit 2-3 letters of recommendation. Don’t feel pressured to find a third recommender just to meet the maximum.  A good letter of recommendation should come from a professor, adviser, or work supervisor who knows you well and can speak to your specific strengths. 
  • Be sure to ask your recommender for your letter well in advance of the application deadline. Since many graduate programs share similar deadlines, chances are that you will not be the only student asking your professor for a recommendation.

Tip #4:  Submit a polished resume.
  • A resume should be no more than two pages, include specific experience and be personalized for your skills and your experience. 
  • The look and feel of a resume is important. It can make a difference to standardize the formatting and spacing on your resume. 

Tip #5: Proofread, proofread, proofread!
  • The last thing you want is for an admissions officer to have a negative impression on an otherwise great application because of a grammar mistake. It’s always great to have a second pair of eyes (or third or fourth!) on your application. Ask a friend, professor or colleague to look over your application. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election Season at the HNC

Watching the presidential debates at the HNC
Voting season has arrived and the Hopkins Nanjing Center is buzzing with anticipation. Although HNC students are far removed from the atmosphere of election season in the US, it hasn’t stopped us from keeping up to date on presidential candidate debates and discussing the possible outcomes of the 2016 elections. “Have you mailed in your ballot yet?” has become a frequently asked question among American nationals. Non-American students have inquired about the differences between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns. 

Within the last few weeks, multiple election events have taken place on campus. Two weeks ago a speaker sponsored by the U.S. Consulate office, presented on the American election system and the significance of the rise of Trump supporters. Soon after, the HNC faculty hosted a discussion on globalization’s influence on the American election. Topics ranged from the global free trade’s impact on American economy to the public frustration with the current political system. The election speaker series also included a presentation by Robert Shields on the Constitutional significance of the Al Gore v. Bush election year and the implications of that outcome for this election. Chinese students and international students were both inquisitive about the Electoral College system and intrigued by the impact the case had on judicial practice in the United States.

Election events held at the HNC

I found these events fascinating and helpful because I recently became a US citizen in 2015. Moreover, I am a resident of Ohio, notorious for its swing state status. Figuring out the process of absentee voting was slightly stressful but worth it. Although I am in China, as a Nigerian-American from Ohio, I still have the right to request a ballot by email and submit it by mail to the voting office. Amazing! When I shared this process with my roommate from China, we exchanged knowledge about the US political system and launched into the prospects of each candidate winning.

Tarela mailing her absentee ballot
This week, the elections will be on display in the HNC Kuang Yaming auditorium even as classes and events continue. We are all eager to see what will happen and are glad that we’re not missing out on anything.



Written by Tarela Osuobeni, HNC Certificate ‘17

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Interview with Professor Fan-Ke (范可), HNC Professor and Nanjing University's Socio-Cultural Anthropology Department Chair



大家好! Today I'll be doing my first bilingual post for the blog. This past week I had the opportunity to conduct an informal interview with a one of my teachers here at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, Professor Fan-Ke(范可). During our conversation, I asked him a few questions I’d had about his particular area of research as a published anthropologist, as well as his experience teaching international students at the HNC. Our conversation also touched on the importance of anthropological studies in the context of international relations, and how cultural understanding between countries can influence international government relations. Professor Fan-Ke teaches Anthropology and Chinese Studies at the HNC and is a Department Chair at Nanjing University. 

我: 首先请您介绍一下您在南京大学教过的课程。
范: 我教过人类学理论与方法研究所课程, 还有族群性与民族主义。本课程是人类学与文化多样性。刚来的时候也交过一门课叫"社会学原理", 还有,我也教过“政治人类学”。

我:接下来,我也想问,您在中心教书的经验与您在南大教书的经验有什么不同?教国际学生的过程中觉得有没有什么特别的困难?
范:我觉得因为都是用中文教的,对国际学生来讲,可能有时候在理解上会有问题。但是我觉得一个比较大的问题是写作文。这个我当然能够理解,因为我自己在美国留学过也经验过了这个过程,写作实在很难。包括我自己写英文的时候经常问题很多。

我:但是我看过您写的英文的文章,看起来真的非常的优秀!
范:都经过 native speaker 的 editing!Thomas Simon 教授就 editing 过我的文章。

我:嗯,其实一般这里的学生也得请中国同学帮助他们。
范可:对,应该这样子啊,譬如说这里的 writing center,这个在美国也有。也并不是说每一个native speaker都写得很好。所以有时候经过人家的帮助之后,还是问题很多。但是这也没关系,都是学习过程的一部分。但是我觉得美国同学在一些方面比中国学生要好。他们比较会寻找一些问题,做projects,很会寻找自己喜欢的话题,”问题意识“比较好。

我:我也想问,如果有未来的学生也对人类学有兴趣,您为什么会建议他们上您的课?
范可:其实我没有建议,最好是他们自己选。但是,如果他们学习的科目或者他们工作会跟中国有关系,我觉得都应该上一下。如果学国际关系的话可能也需要一些人类学背景,这会帮助建立一些"cross-cultural perspectives"。比如,在中美关系上,如果完全不了解中国文化,总是站在美国的立场上来考虑问题,那就会有问题。

我:您觉目前中国与美国的关系是否受到文化的影响?会不会产生政治上的冲突?
范可:其实,我认为文化之间是可以沟通的,至少我们可以达到相互理解。对中国政治来说,文化可以成为一种借口来拒绝改革。很多国家在转型之前,都遇到这样的情况。当然,中美之间的文化对话很重要,譬如说美国对中国的一些问题的判断。你如果了解中国文化那肯定会比不了解中国文化的人来得正确。 美国也一样。如果到过美国,在美国生活过一段的时间比较能够理解美国社会,如果相互了解彼此国家彼此文化的两个国家的人一起做事,一定能获得好的结果。

我:我下一个问题是关于您的研究领域。我看过您写的一些关于在中国的少数民族政策,具体来说您在福建所作的研究。关于这方面,您能不能介绍一下?
范可:这是我的博士论文。做的是在关于在福建的“穆斯林”,他们是回族。但是事实上他们完全不practice伊斯兰。因为中国政府的一些政策的 “preferrential policies toward ethnic minorities”,他们希望政府认可他们是回族。中国政府本来在建国的时候, 进行 “state-making” ,需要许多的民族共同参与,因为中国确实有许多少数民族。当时政府希望在各个地方都能有少数民族参与,因此需要识别到底有多少少数民族。我研究的那个地方,当地回民的祖先是外国人。其实在福建南部有很多这种人,因为以前的泉州是个 port city。所以当地的人有很多这样的穆斯林的后裔,但是表面上看不出来,因为这已经是过去了几百年了。因为政策需要,政府希望我研究的地方的人是少数民族,但是被他们拒绝了。那是上个世纪50年代的事情。

我:因为他们认为他们就是汉族吗?
范可:因为这是一种 inclusion 和 exclusion 的问题。你突然听到别人说你和周围人的不一样,这个一般的人没法儿接受,这是一个很自然的。那后来过了十几二十年,特别是改革开放以后,他们了解到,作为少数民族可以获得很多 benefits。譬如说上大学,因为中国有高考,成绩可以低一点,还是能被接受。这个在美国也有。

我:的确。那最后的一个问题就是,对于未来的学生,您有没有任何建议可以给他们。特别关于上中文课,应该怎么准备?
范可:那当然首先在美国要有好的中文基础。不管在什么地方要早一点尽量的找中国人沟通。另外,多读一点中文。我觉得现在用wechat,很多美国人的中文都提高很多。因为在微信上经常用中文与中国人联系,这个也会有帮助。总之,可以利用很多现在非常好的hi-tech的技术手段。经常读一些中文,或在微信上的一些东西。

我:嗯,好的。那我们今天就谈到这里。多感谢范老师您的时间!


Written by Amanda Bogan, HNC Certificate 2017 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

HNC’s New Banwei Student Committee for Fall 2016 is Elected!

Please allow me the pleasure of introducing our Fall 2016 Banwei Student Committee!

Each semester at HNC four students are elected to the 班委 Banwei (student committee), who act as a liaison between the administration and student body, and plan cultural and community events. This fall, Naomi Garcia 澳米, 马艳霞Ma Yanxia (Coco), John Wilhoite, and 金晓于 Jin Xiaoyu (Arthur) were all elected to represent the student body.

HNC's Fall 2016 Banwei Student Committee 
Despite being busy with classes, homework, interest groups and planning events for students, Naomi and Xiaoyu took the time to talk with me about their time at the HNC so far.
--
What are three words you would choose to describe yourself? 
Naomi: Easily-amused, child-like, sleep-deprived.

Xiaoyu: Independent, persistent, confident.

So why did you apply to HNC?
Naomi: I graduated from St. Mary’s College in Maryland with three degrees in French, Spanish and Chinese. Chinese is a very challenging language to learn and use in professional work. I applied to the HNC because I think it is the most incredible way to break down the barriers that I felt in China as a foreigner, and live within an accepting community among Chines and international students.

Xiaoyu: To learn more than just law, which I studied at East China University of Political Science and Law. I wanted to know more about American culture and make a lot of friends. I also wanted to improve my English so I could utilize it in professional work
.
What has been the most challenging part about studying at HNC?
Naomi: The most challenging part about studying here is the learning curve; I feel that it was so steep at first, but now I am struggling to advance to the next level.

Xiaoyu: In short, my limited vocabulary range sometimes makes it difficult for me to communicate with others in English efficiently.

What has been your favorite experience as Banwei so far?
Naomi: My favorite experience as Banwei so far was when a student approached me to say that singing on stage was incredibly helpful to her spirituality, and that she would not have had the courage to do so without our open mic night.

Xiaoyu: Organizing the activities on Friday night, which all our classmates appreciate.

What plans does Banwei have for the rest of the semester? 
Naomi: We plan to have more gatherings in the lounge, to share some Chinese and American cultural games, and celebrate Halloween with pumpkin carving!

Xiaoyu: We already celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival and now have the Halloween party coming up; after that we have plans for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and New Year’s Day; we may also organize a short trip in the fall break or plan some other fun things in between.
--
As you guys can see there are a lot of plan coming up! And as a student, I’m excited to attend all of them. Especially Halloween!

Written by Chelsea Toczauer, MAIS 2017




Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Day in the Life of a HNC Certificate/John Hopkins SAIS MA Student

HNC Certificate/Johns Hopkins SAIS MA student, Clarise Brown, shares her experiences now at SAIS in Washington, DC

Last month, I began my studies at the SAIS D.C. campus, penning the last lines of my chapter in China, and starting anew in Dupont Circle. After living for 4 years in China and studying a year at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, it was delightfully strange to be in D.C. again. It was foreign, familiar and frighteningly exciting all at once. I have to say, over the last month, that feeling has only intensified in the best possible way.

Although I loved living in Nanjing, adjusting to the fast-paced life in D.C. has been an incredibly strange and wonderful feeling. A typical day starts with me working in the HNC admissions office in D.C., where I often have first dibs on the tasty Chinese catering for luncheons and events.

Speaking of events, during any given week, there are at least a dozen talks on campus by the most renowned in their field. Yesterday, for example, I happened to have the pleasure of sitting in a Defense against the Dark Arts talk with former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. What is Defense against the Dark Arts you may ask? It is exactly what it sounds like in all of its Harry Potter-esque goodness. Each week, many of the most renowned and respected in their field come to SAIS to shed light on the politics of networking and pursuing your chosen profession in D.C.

In keeping with the theme, Madeleine Albright shared stories of her time studying at SAIS “sometime between the discovery of fire and invention of the iPad.” (Her words, not mine!) Moreover, she shared the tools in her “national security toolbox”, and reminded us that the “art of diplomacy is in putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.”

Feeling like a future diplomat in the making, I was eager to attend my Principles and Practices of Conflict Management class later that evening, which is one of my favorites. Professor Hopmann uses real world examples to shed light on the challenges and tools involved in conflict management. Yesterday, he analyzed the failure of the peace referendum in Colombia and applied the lessons we had only just read in our textbooks to the case at hand. That’s what I love most about the classes at SAIS. Whatever we learn in classroom can be applied directly to current events. The same can be said of my Political Economy and Microeconomics classes.


If I have time between or after classes, I’ll normally head to the library to curl up on the cozy chairs with a textbook and a few dozen highlighters. The library is always filled with the heads of SAIS students bent studiously over their readings, but a low laugh or mutually assured groan of exhaustion with classmates isn’t hard to come by.
 
Lately, the weather has been lovely, so I’ll bike ride through Dupont Circle or pass the White House before I head home to prep for my internship at the House of Representatives the next day. I’m a Legislative Affairs intern on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Sub-Committee on Asia and Pacific, and it’s been amazing to see firsthand Congress influencing the policies that I’ve spent my entire academic career trying to understand and, ultimately, influence.

Although it has only been a month, I already feel like I’ve learned so much during my time at SAIS. First and foremost is the importance of time management! Secondly, remember to apply every lecture to real world lessons. And, lastly, always dress your best on campus. You never know when you’ll bump into a former Secretary of State, Ambassador or, potentially, your next employer.

Written by Clarise Brown
HNC Certificate/Johns Hopkins SAIS MA 2017

Friday, October 14, 2016

Traveling to Shanxi Province

HNC students often use their holiday breaks to travel to other parts of China and Asia. One of the HNC student bloggers, Amanda Bogan, spent the National Day holiday exploring Shanxi Province.

One of my favorite parts of life in China has always been traveling to different parts of the country, easily and affordably, by train. This past week we had our first major holiday, a total of seven days to celebrate National Day (国庆节). I took advantage of this opportunity to journey north, up to Shanxi Province.

Although travel during the National Holiday can be notorious for large crowds and sold out tickets, I was lucky enough to book round trip tickets only a few days in advance, thanks to my wonderful and patient roommate, Wu-Ye (吴叶), who helped me purchase the tickets online.

By standard train, Shanxi is roughly 16 hours from Nanjing. This may sound like a long trip at first, but we got on our train in the evening and had tickets for a sleeper car, so at least half the time was spent sleeping.  The other half was spent watching the changing landscapes, reading in my cozy bunk bed, and making friends with other travelers.

Catching up on some assignments while enjoying the scenery
 Train travel, particularly on longer trips, is unique because there is plenty of time to chat with and get to know the other people in your car or cabin. Although living in Nanjing also provides ample opportunities to get out and talk with locals, it’s definitely easier to strike up a conversation with a stranger when you’re sitting in the same cabin as them for several hours.

During my trip out, I made friends with a young woman employed at an electric company in Shanghai, who was traveling 25 hours to Ningxia Province to visit her family. We shared snacks and talked about the differences in climate and culture between southern and northern China. Our conversation led to a larger conversation with other members of our cabin, many of whom had questions about my impressions of life in China having grown up in the US. A mother traveling with her daughter had many questions about the American education system and teaching methods, while others asked my opinion of the current presidential election.

Hiking with friends in the Loess Plateau (黄土高原)
Talking with people of different backgrounds and from different regions in China is also a useful way to practice Chinese, especially because of the wide range of accents and dialects across the country. In HNC classrooms, teachers speak standard Mandarin, generally with a Nanjing or Beijing accent, but on a train accents will vary significantly from person to person. Increased exposure to different accents and dialects makes it easier to communicate with people from different regions, an important practical skill when living in China.

Tradition cave dwellings (窑洞) in Lvliang (吕梁) City, Shanxi
During our conversations, I particularly enjoyed hearing other passengers’ opinions and thoughts regarding issues they found to be important. Although my hours put in at the library and note-taking during classes are obviously major assets to my education in China, some of the most valuable learning experiences I’ve had here have come directly from conversations with people in everyday, casual settings.

My time in Shanxi went by quickly and happily, filled with long meals, catching up with friends, and trips scenic areas and historical monuments. The ride back to Nanjing was just as long, but I had more than enough reading to keep me busy. Even though a bustling train car may not be the most tranquil environment to study in, it is certainly one of the more exciting and memorable places to learn.

Written by Amanda Bogan, HNC Certificate 2017