Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Alumni Profile: Matt Geraci

Matt Geraci, HNC Certificate '16 + SAIS MA '17, is a Research Associate & Program Officer at the Institute for China-America Studies (ICAS) in Washington, DC.

How did your experience at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) and Johns Hopkins SAIS together prepare you for your position that you have now?   

Before the HNC, I hadn't taken any coursework in energy and the environment and hadn’t really thought of a way to combine those ideas. The HNC is where I started to do that. Once I got to SAIS DC, I was able to take this interest to the next step through a practicum where you’re teamed up with four other students to work with either a company or a nonprofit. I was paired up with an environmental non-profit called Clean Water Action. They wanted us to produce a research report, organize a panel discussion, and help them get a huge background and understanding of the environmental impacts to underground sources of drinking water from an oil and gas recovery technique similar to fracking called "enhanced oil recovery”. It was a combination of a consulting type role (where a client comes to you and presents the problem for recommendations), and a think tank role (pulling together primary and secondary source research and trying to take an objective look at the facts as much as one possibly can).  

What was your journey after Johns Hopkins SAIS to the position you have now?  

Definitely a complicated one. After SAIS, I thought of the world of environmental non-profits. I really liked the work I did with Clean Water Action, so I sent my application out to similar organizations and got an internship with a non-profit called Oceana. I was on their energy campaign team looking at offshore drilling, offshore oil and gas survey techniques, etc. I didn’t feel satisfied–it was an advocacy group, but I wanted my work to remain objective. After that, I worked for a US-government funded, international development organization. While there, I kept networking like everyone in DC does, and at a think-tank event, I bumped into an old HNC classmate of mine. He introduced me to someone who worked at a think tank who just so happened to be leaving his role in a couple weeks and was looking for someone to replace him. That chance meeting would lead to the job I have now.  

Do you still keep in contact with people that you went to the HNC with?  

All the time! After graduating from SAIS, I had a HNCer as a roommate. In my HNC cohort, together there were about 15 of us that stayed in DC after graduation. Some have gone into the State Department's Foreign Service, government, some in the consulting world, different types of non-profits, and defense, all in the DC area. Whenever it’s one of our birthdays, we all try to get together. Even in the early days of the pandemic, we would host virtual happy hours. I had other friends at SAIS, but I definitely remained closest to my HNC program classmates.  

What advice would you give to current or future HNC students?  

I would definitely harp on learning the technical skillsets. At the end of the day, anyone can write a policy paper, but when it comes to the quantitative outlook, not as many people can use programs like STATA and R to bring statistical analysis into their economic study. As much as you can, expose yourself to some of these unique types of programs and courses, like corporate finance. Think about how you can apply what you learn in classes to your research.   

Maybe you want to work for an international development bank like the World Bank; try to look at what types of roles they offer and figure out the soft skills and hard skills that people at those organizations have. If there are gaps in your studies or professional experience, think about ways to fill them. While in DC, get on every mailing list you can, be notified on every event within your topics of interest, go to as many events as you can and introduce yourself. While you’re a student, it puts you in a unique position to receive positive feedback from others.   

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Meet our 2020-2021 Student Blogger, Hannah Sorenson (MAIS '22)

Meet our new student blogger for the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, Hannah Sorenson! Hannah (MAIS '22) will be joining veteran blogger, Brandy Darling (HNC Certificate '20 + SAIS MA '21), in sharing her experiences studying at the HNC throughout the academic year.

Hello, all! My name is Hannah Sorenson, and I am a MAIS student at the HNC concentrating in China Studies. Although presently located in my home state of Minnesota, I am eagerly awaiting the opportunity to join my classmates and the rest of the HNC community in Nanjing. I graduated from St. Olaf College in 2019 with a BA in Political Science, Asian Studies, and Chinese.  

While much of my life took place far from China, opportunities to study abroad in Shanghai, farm in Japan’s Tochigi prefecture, and conduct research with WWF-Hong Kong instilled in me a passion for interdisciplinary academic exploration and intentional learning communities. I first applied to the Hopkins-Nanjing Center as a college senior, eager to join a community whose stories punctuated my undergraduate experience; however, in an effort to challenge myself, I delayed my enrolment and moved to Indonesia as a Global Community Fellow with VIA Programs. While working as a journal editor at the University of Jember’s Centre for Human Rights, Multiculturalism, and Migration, formal and informal discussion of anti-Chinese and anti-communist sentiment in Indonesia’s political development captivated me. After only two months in Indonesia, I knew I was ready to join the HNC community 

I am currently taking four courses in addition to the bilingual MAIS tutorial: Anthropology and China Studies; East Asian Regionalism (taught in English); Social Issues of China’s Modernization; and Contemporary Chinese Film, Society, and Culture. Social science has dominated my study of China, so I am particularly excited to learn about contemporary Chinese film (and re-watch《霸王别姬》for the third time and for course credit).  

Being off-campus in the US necessitates intentionality towards not only language practice and study habits, but also building connections with classmates and professors. As many of us continue daydreaming about Nanjing, I am excited to watch our cohort community grow and share the experience with the HNC blog!  

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

JHU’s Black Student Union: An Event to Remember

Student blogger, Brandy Darling (HNC Certificate '20 + SAIS MA '21) writes about her experience with joining a new club and attending an outside event with them. Her attendance led to an expanded network and enhanced her experience at SAIS.

The transition from the HNC to SAIS DC paired with the challenges of a virtual environment
led me to find new ways to interact with students at SAIS. The best method? Join clubs! There are a bunch to choose from: career clubs, regional clubs, social clubs, and more. The main club I am associated with is the Black Student Union (BSU) at SAIS DC. As a new club, I have attended amazing events hosted and cohosted by BSU, such as a webinar targeting mental health, featuring a calming meditation session. I also enjoy the newsletters sent by BSU, which feature news updates, upcoming events, and great career opportunities. 

One event in particular left a lasting impression on me. With the help of SAIS and BSU, I attended The International Association of Black Professionals in International Affairs’ (BPIA) Diversity in International Affairs Virtual Conference and Career Fair. BPIA is a non-profit membership association that “aims to develop and expand professional opportunities for African-Americans and members of the African Diaspora”. I spent the day virtually with over 500 other professionals and scholars via a unique conference software. I explored panels on topics of international development and multilateral organizations, participated in career fair booths to engage with hiring managers, and the best part: the networking session. BPIA counted “over 250 connections made through the 1-on-1 speed networking feature”.

Before I boast about the networking session, I should say that this was one of the most inspiring conferences I have ever been to. I came into the conference comfortable because I knew other students from BSU were also attending, so I didn’t feel like I was alone. I also knew that this conference was made to “connect diverse talent to international opportunities” so I took this as the time to meet people who were doing what I aspire to do. I also made it a goal to branch out and see what the conference had to offer. The best way of doing that was by meeting people through the networking session. I used this conference feature to do a few rounds of speed networking, and met an undergraduate student who I gave advice to about choosing a graduate program. I also met a mid-career professional looking to move into a more security-focused international role. Most importantly, I met a SAIS alumna! She was very eager to hear updates about SAIS and I was excited to learn about her journey after SAIS. By the end of the conference, I made lasting connections and learned about opportunities from various companies of interest.

Overall, it was nice to attend such an awe-inspiring event with the Black Student Union at SAIS. I applaud BSU leadership for all their hard work in creating a new organization and congratulate them on all that they have accomplished in such a short amount of time. Though I only highlighted one opportunity given by BSU, there are many more examples of how BSU and other clubs across campus are taking this virtual environment by storm. The collaboration between clubs alone is a great way to meet people from all corners of SAIS. I look forward to making more connections with current students, professors and many more alumni!

Written by Brandy Darling, HNC Certificate '20 + SAIS MA '21.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Meet John Urban, HNC Deputy American Co-Director

Tell us a bit about your roll at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) as Deputy American Co-Director.

I do a little bit of everything. This ranges from getting students, faculty, and staff their visas, arranging housing assignments, creating class schedules and academic calendars, and helping organize events and host visitors. Aside from teaching a class, I have likely had a hand in most tasks at HNC in the past five years.

What is your background with China and what attracted you to work at the HNC in Nanjing?
My first experience in China was in the summer of 2008. I completed a twelve-week summer program ran by the University of Wisconsin in Tianjin. After spending time in China right before the Olympics, I was hooked. I graduated from Wisconsin with a degree in Chinese and International Studies and got my first job working in Study Abroad with CIEE in Beijing. It was fun helping American university students engage with China for the first time. I had heard of the HNC when my predecessor came to promote the program to our students. I was impressed by the unique structure and its target language education model. After seeing an open position for an academic coordinator, I applied and luckily was chosen. The rest, I guess, is history!

Can you share what students can expect when joining the international HNC community?
Very rarely do you encounter another group of non-native Chinese speakers who have high Chinese language speaking ability, but who are also passionate about living and learning in China. That can be intimidating, but also a thrill to be able to have meaningful conversations about any aspect of China on a deeper level. Very rarely do you meet other classmates, regardless of nationality, who share such a wide range of experiences, but all of whom have a similar passion for interpersonal engagement and curiosity.

What is your favorite thing about living in the city of Nanjing?
Coming from the Midwest, I still have not gotten used to the humidity of southern China. However, Nanjing is easy to navigate, is not nearly as sprawling as Beijing, and I love the greenery. I am endlessly fascinated by the important role it has played in multiple dynastic and modern eras. Author Pearl S. Buck’s house is less than one kilometer from the HNC, while scattered throughout the surrounding neighborhoods are regal houses from the republican era, all surrounded by a Ming Dynasty city wall. When you want to get out of the city, you can go to the Purple Mountain Scenic Area and forget you are still in the middle of a large city.

What advice would you provide to prospective or incoming students as they prepare for their graduate studies at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center?
Find ways to engage with the Chinese language on a regular basis. Whether it is flashcards, watching television, or singing Chinese songs; intermittent practice on a semi-regular basis will yield dividends when you come to the HNC. Make it something you enjoy, because then you will not feel like it is a chore!

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Winter Break - Chinese New Year Travels: Thailand, South Korea, and Japan

Student blogger Amanda Walencewicz (Certificate '20) reflects back on her winter break spent traveling throughout Thailand, Japan, and South Korea earlier this year.

For my Chinese New Year break, I wanted to explore a couple of new places in east Asia (Thailand and South Korea) and return to one that I’d really enjoyed in the past (Japan). Leaving Nanjing at the end of January, I had no idea that my month of travel would end up being much longer than anticipated, and am grateful that none of my vacation plans were impacted during that early period of the coronavirus outbreak. 

I first flew from Nanjing to Chiang Mai, Thailand for a week of solo travels. Staying at a villa in Chiang Mai’s Old City, I spent my days walking around the city, visiting temple after temple, and hitting up as many restaurants recommended by friends as possible. Traveling alone was peaceful and refreshing, sort of a reset button after the end of the semester at the HNC. The highlight of Chiang Mai for me was an excursion to the Elephant Nature Park, a rehabilitation center for rescued elephants. After Chiang Mai, I headed to Bangkok for a lot more historical sightseeing at sites like the Temple of the Golden Buddha, the Jim Thompson House, and the Palace Museum. 

Amanda Walencewicz feeds pumpkin to an elephant
at the Elephant Nature Park. 

From there, I met up with friends from the HNC for two weeks in Japan, beginning in Osaka. I was looking forward to showing the group some of the highlights of my previous trip to Japan, which in Osaka meant food first and foremost. A particular favorite was a few rounds of sushi at Harukoma--huge slabs of fish paired with warm sake on a frigid February afternoon. After a few days we took a train to Kyoto, another great city for historical sites, like the Fushimi Inari Shrine with its thousands of bright red torii gates set against the green of the surrounding forest.  

A sushi spread at Osaka’s Harukoma. 

HNC friends pose in front of the
Osaka Castle. 

Next up was Tokyo, where we stayed for nearly a week, shopping in Harajuku, walking around the Tsukiji seafood market, and happening upon a parade at the Meiji Jingu Shrine on National Foundation Day. For the last leg of our trip, we flew to Seoul, staying in Hongdae, known for being a center of music, art, and shopping. We visited palaces and temples, ate all kinds of Korean specialties (including, of course, barbeque), checked out the nightlife, and found time to load up on K-beauty products.  

In Seoul, we began to see the effects of the spread of the coronavirus, as more and more people on public transportation began wearing masks and guided tours at landmarks were canceled. Heading home for what we anticipated would be a delayed return to the HNC, we didn’t think this trip would mark the end of our time on campus this year. Sitting at home under our respective stay-at-home orders now, we’re all glad we got the chance to hang out together and travel before the outbreak became a critical situation globally.  

Written by Amanda Walencewicz, HNC Certificate '20

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Alumni Profile: William Yale

William Yale, HNC Certificate '13 + SAIS MA '15, is a Surface Warfare Officer in the US Navy currently based in Yokosuka, Japan and an Adjunct Fellow at the American Security Project. 

How did you become interested in China and end up at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center? 
It was 2008 and at that point I had done Latin and German, and my whole family is German, so I was sick of doing German and someone on the lark was Chinese. I stuck with it; it was very hard for the first 2 years. Then I went to Beijing for study abroad with IES Abroad, [a study location at IES] which no longer exists. IES was a great program for introducing me to China. I also took advantage of the travel opportunities and non-language classes. [I also took part in Yale's ACC Intensive Chinese Language and Culture Program in Beijing.] ACC was helpful for developing my language skills--very challenging. They were strict disciplinarians. While in Beijing, I heard the HNC was the best graduate program for studying in China. I was thinking about graduate school after college, so I applied and interviewed at SAIS in DC while I interned at the State Department in 2011. It was my first choice, so I was excited to get in. I spent five semesters studying in the HNC Certificate + Johns Hopkins SAIS MA program. 

How did your experience at the HNC prepare you for the position you have now? I think the HNC gives you a really solid foundation and grounding studying China. In my current position, I am not using that actively, but I hope to transition to another position where I will use my Chinese language skills. In the past, I have had think-tank-type jobs where I used Chinese language and my Chinese expertise daily. It gives you a “BS detector”--there are a lot of people that think they know a lot about China, there’s Chinese propaganda, and people exaggerate about certain things. A lot of people have financial interests in saying certain things about China--both from the CCP’s perspective as well as Western businesses. I think the HNC gives you that “BS detector” and lets you see through whatever spin that people are telling about China.  

What was your journey in becoming an Officer in the US Navy after leaving HNC? 
The process for getting into the Navy, for me at least, was pretty long and arduous. Way back when I was 16, I did summer seminar at the Naval Academy, I thought about joining but decided against it. I spoke to a recruiter my senior year of college but I went to SAIS instead. When I was studying at SAIS in DC, I started to speak with recruiters again. It took about four and a half years to actually get to Officer Candidate School (OCS). I applied to different programs--some things didn’t pan out and other things made it challenging. Eventually, I went to OCS and was commissioned an officer.  

Do you still keep in contact with people that went to the HNC with you? 
Yeah! I’m in Japan now so I don’t know if anyone I knew personally from HNC is currently living in Japan but in DC, yeah. 

What advice would you give to current and future HNC students? 
[To current HNC students] Enjoy your time because you will never have another opportunity probably in your entire life to do what you’re doing now. Work is not as fun as school. (laughs) It’s a harsh world and people expect a lot more of you when you’re working. [To future HNC students] Focus on improving your language as much as possible prior to starting at HNC. You’ll get a lot more out of it that way. In order to boost your language skills in preparation for HNC, try to attend programs that are known for having rigorous language education like Middlebury Language Schools or Yale's ACC Intensive Chinese Language and Culture Program.  

Interview conducted by Brandy Darling, HNC Certificate '20  + SAIS MA '21

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Being an HNC Student During COVID-19

Student blogger Brandy Darling (HNC Certificate '20 + SAIS MA '21) shares her experience and offers advice on attending the HNC virtually.  

HNC ladies go to Brunch in Nanjing before Winter Break. 

Ever since the Hopkins-Nanjing Center began online classes in February, I have been finding new ways to adjust to being home while taking classes in Mandarin. Our classes are in Beijing time, so my first challenge consisted of making sure I went to class on the right day at the right time. My next biggest challenge was having a school-life balance. Especially during self-quarantine, it’s easy to fill your day with doing schoolwork, however, I become more efficient if I set aside time for schoolwork as well as personal time. Johns-Hopkins University offers a free subscription service for the Calm app which has positively impacted my mental health. The meditation sessions, sleep stories and calming music come in handy throughout today as I engage in yoga and even sit to think about my to-do list.  

The most nerve-wracking thing about taking Mandarin lessons in an English-speaking environment is the lack of Chinese-language around you. Language immersion in China allowed for smoother transitions to classrooms because daily interactions also involved Mandarin. However, in America, most areas are English dominated and it can be hard to go to class and immediately transfer your mind into using Mandarin. To help with this, I began to teach Mandarin to all levels.  

Teaching Mandarin has reminded me about the foundational knowledge of Mandarin and areas I can improve on to sharpen my Mandarin language skills. This can be especially useful for writing papers at the HNC. I can be reminded about phrases that I might have left in the past and practice using them with my students. I currently teach an American football coach beginner-level Mandarin that he can use with his teams in China. I also teach an American fourth grade teacher who is learning for fun at a beginner-high level. Interestingly, I also teach an English teacher in China who has made her way to an almost intermediate-low level by watching Chinese television shows and movies. With students at three different levels of Mandarin speaking, I am able to practice my Chinese every day which helps my current language study at home. So far, I have taught greetings, introductions, and family members and I cannot wait to explore words for the house and family to help make my student’s quarantine time fun and memorable. It also feels good to be able to fill up my days a bit more so that quarantine time does not drift slowly.  

I do find myself missing the HNC and my professors, so to alleviate that, I use Zoom to my advantage. Professors either linger around after class or have office hours so I use those times to catch up with my professors and keep up with my Mandarin language skills. The HNC student body also meets every Friday night to catch up with one another in a virtual student lounge. The HNC administration also offers many interesting lectures and workshops through Zoom and other virtual platforms. These extra steps to make our time at home fulfilling make my time at the HNC virtually very hands-on and fun. No matter how far apart we are, it seems that the HNC community knows how to connect with each other no matter what.  

Written by Brandy Darling, HNC Certificate '20 + SAIS MA '21.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Alumni Profile: June Choi

HNC Student Blogger Amanda Walencewicz interviews June Choi, an HNC Certificate + MA graduate who concentrated in Energy, Resources, and Environment (ERE). She currently works as a climate finance analyst at the Climate Policy Initiative.

How did you become interested in China and end up at the HNC?

My interest in China had two major drivers. One, I'm Korean, so I was interested in the shared heritage, and my interest in Mandarin in particular stemmed from its close relationship with Korean. I had started learning Mandarin in college and wanted to deepen that experience and be in an environment where I could use the language 24/7.

The second driving factor was the fact that you need to understand China if you are interested in global climate policy, because of the huge role that China plays in terms of emissions contributions. For example, if China's national emissions trading scheme went online, it would be more than four times the size of the current EU trading system. So just in terms of scale, you have to understand China and I had a sense that China would be coming up a lot in my future work. It was very important to me that I feel confident in doing research in Mandarin, and this was the only program out there that provided the 24/7 immersive environment. I also knew that Professor Roger Raufer taught at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) within the ERE program, and I wanted to take classes with him. So that's how I chose the HNC.

How did your experience at the HNC prepare you for working as an analyst at CPI?

Number one was Mandarin skills, being fluent enough to research, read and write in Mandarin, and also be able to hold some basic conversations. I think that was the most important. I also took a lot of classes with Professor Raufer. As an ERE student, I ended up taking two of his classes for credit and auditing two, so I took all four of his classes that were offered. I think he's just so great to have as a resource. He’s a leading China expert in his field, and a world expert on pollution control. The fact that he's with the HNC means a lot. A lot of the foreign professors there who are residents there, they’re in China for a reason, and that’s what makes the HNC so great.

I also participated in the Jessup moot court with Professor Simon as our coach. It was a crash course in international law and helped me understand the challenges of resolving transboundary environmental issues. It was also a strong team bonding experience, I remember the day we had to submit our case we were crowded around in Professor Simon’s office sifting through volumes of legal text, I even missed my first train leaving for Tibet. It’s not easy to be a participant in a prestigious competition like Jessup, it’s great that Professor Simon makes it possible for HNC [students] to participate in the China round.

Does your research at CPI use Mandarin a lot, like looking at statistics from Chinese databases?

Definitely, there's a report recently published that I worked on last year, which looks at China's green bond market. That involved looking at a lot of Chinese statistics on green bond issuance, a lot of green bond reports and third-party reports. A lot of that's only available in Mandarin. And generally, they’re not the copy-and-paste kind of file, they're PDFs that are impossible to copy and paste into Google Translate. So that was very useful being able to read files like that.

Can you talk a bit about your focus on climate finance and the way that financial institutions are mobilized to influence or advance climate policy?

One of the ultimate objectives of climate finance is to mobilize the private sector. For instance, the renewable energy industry is a good example of how the private sector has really started playing an active role. But that's because they've discovered there is a return to the investments made in that sector. For other sectors, the returns are less certain, and private investors are a lot less active. That's where the public sector comes in and provides concessional capital, guarantees and grants, so that more private investors might be willing to consider entering those sectors as well.

Climate finance encompasses all those different types of actors with different risk-return profiles to unlock larger and more diverse sources of capital. It's also called blended finance, another phrase people use to reach the ultimate objective of making sure we can reach the scale of investment needed to address climate change and ensure a resilient economy, and making it possible for all actors to chip in towards that. The investment need is estimated at trillions of dollars per year. Because the private sector is ultimately sitting on the largest pools of capital, it's about shifting that.

Climate finance is also about embedding green standards in financial instruments like green bonds and green loans and improving green practices within institutions. For example, Paris alignment is a leading agenda currently that asks financial institutions to align their entire portfolios and financing activities, including procurement strategies, with climate objectives. It’s not just about increasing the green share of portfolios, but also decreasing the ‘brown,’ or climate-harmful, share of portfolios. CPI works with governments, public and private finance institutions to advance climate finance on all these fronts.

And what are some of those sectors that are less profitable that the public sector is trying to shift funds to?

Most sectors in climate change adaptation, like biodiversity and ecological preservation, are traditionally sectors where private institutions might not find a good business case. Usually they will donate profits from other investments to those causes or purchase carbon credits to meet sustainability objectives like net-zero targets. Now you see a lot of schemes like results-based payments, pay-for-success, financing structures that monetize the value of natural capital while sharing performance risk. They try to capture natural capital and ecosystem benefits, because that value is there, it just hasn't been quantified before. For example, if you invest in water quality upstream through forest conservation, it results in better water quality and reduced costs for water utilities downstream. The DC Water Bond for improving storm water infrastructure is also a good example of how private investors can take on some of the performance risk that utilities may not take on themselves. Ultimately, it’s about capturing benefits and aligning incentives among all the beneficiaries.

Do you see any major shifts in climate finance coming as a result of the current pandemic, whether they're long-term or short-term? Are these the kinds of programs that for these companies are the first things to go and seen as extraneous investments?

Actually, investment in renewable energy hasn't dropped so much. Globally, energy demand has reduced by six percent. But within that context, renewable energy demand actually increased by one percent.

Also, there are trends set in place now that the private sector can't back away from. For example, BlackRock, the largest asset management company in the world, announced that they are going to make sustainability integral to their investments and expressed a commitment to report on climate risks. A lot of banks are divesting from fossil fuels as well, especially in Chinese banks they're tightening finance for fossil fuels. They're allocating more of their loan portfolios to green projects. The green momentum in China has been building quite significantly over the past five years.

The scale of that change, the ambition of that change, that may seem to have dampened a bit, with major climate conferences getting postponed. But we should be positive about building on these existing trends and momentum. Central banks have been discussing green quantitative easing. Many corporates have reaffirmed sustainability targets during this crisis. The key word right now is resilience. Not just for climate change, but in the broader context of health crises like the one we're in right now which will be more likely to occur in a future with climate change. Recently, a lot of our work has been about bringing those two narratives together, how being resilient in health crises like this also means addressing the climate crisis that's at hand, and how economic recovery packages can and should be guided by climate objectives.

What was one skill that you gained from your time at the HNC?

Of course what really stands out is Mandarin, but I also learned a lot by exploring Nanjing as a city. I was really good friends with my roommate, and with another friend, I had purchased a diàndòngchē. Just having that scooter meant that we had a lot of mobility, that we were able to ride along with other Nanjing residents who were going shopping, picking up kids from school, delivering food, and I learned a lot that way. I felt like I could experience in my own way what it meant to be a citizen of the city, beyond just being in the compound that's HNC because it's easy to stay on the campus and forget that you're actually in a Chinese city, a pretty cool one, too.

Interacting with the city also led me to my most memorable moments. I did a lot of things at the HNC, like being part of the Dragon Boat team and learning how to play erhu. But when I think about Nanjing, I think of the time when my roommate Liu Qing and I were interested in the informal recycling sector.

First, we tried to look at food waste recycling, because we were wondering what happened to the food waste collected in the campus dining hall. We ended up tracking down one of the food waste collectors, with the truck with the big blue barrels that collected food waste from all the different restaurants in the neighborhood. We interviewed him, tried to figure out where he takes all of that food, and it turns out he pays the restaurants a commission to take it to pig farms.

Then we tracked down another recycling disposal guy and tried to get on his truck to follow him to the landfill. In the end, he ended up backing out, but we almost got a ride on his truck, it was really fun. We were on the scooter the whole time, following trucks with the scooter.

So I feel like this investigative mindset of being in the city and being curious about how things actually work, and asking the local residents about it, I learned a lot that way. That's something really unique that I remember.

What advice would you give to current or future HNC students?

To make the best time out of Nanjing city, not just the HNC campus. And to pool together money with friends and buy a diàndòngchē! It improves your perspective a lot, it’s not that expensive, and they’re easy to find. With that scooter you can go anywhere: you can go to Xuanwu Lake really easily, you can go have breakfast outside, explore little alleys, see how people live. I think that is really, really important, and leaves a great impression of Nanjing.

Interview conducted by Amanda Walencewicz, HNC Certificate '20.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

China Studies Review and Research Opportunities at SAIS

Mario Colella (HNC Certificate '19 + SAIS MA '20) shares his experience as Editor-in-Chief of the China Studies Review and his inside scoop on research opportunities at SAIS.

How did you hear about the China Studies Review and what drew you to apply to the Editor in Chief position?

I heard about the China Studies Review (CSR) after a good friend of mine made me aware of the journal and the editorial position. I set up a meeting with the previous editor-in-chief and asked her about the responsibilities of the role, the scope of the challenges, and the experience of working as a managing editor. As I learned more about the position, I grew fascinated with the prospect of managing the publication myself and submitted my application to be the next editor-in-chief shortly after our meeting.

You wrote last year for the SAIS Observer at the HNC. How does the CSR differ from the SAIS Observer?

If I had to differentiate between the two, I would focus on the differences we have in scope and timeline. The SAIS Observer is a journalistic publication, with the advantages and disadvantages inherent in the short time constraints of journalism. It gives writers the capacity to work on the most pressing issues of the day, with the caveat that each day brings new issues to the table.

At the China Studies Review, we focus on scholarly publications with an eye for the general reader. This means embracing the highest quality of analysis our student body has to offer, while never losing sight of what this insight means for the intelligent reader who might only have a marginal understanding of Chinese issues. Our work is made to endure, with the months-long process of submitting, editing, and refining pieces to ensure that we reach this goal.

Has this helped you stay connected with Chinese issues while in DC? Do you still have a fairly international group of contributors like at the HNC?

Working with the China Studies Review has absolutely helped to keep me connected with Chinese issues in DC. The record number of submissions we received this year allowed me to understand the breadth of China studies across all SAIS campuses. With submissions ranging from the treatment of Burmese refugees in Yunnan Province to policy recommendations for the Belt and Road Initiative to studies of the black experience within China, I’ve never had the chance to engage with Chinese issues from such a broad range of perspectives as I have in this role.

When it comes to contributors and editors, it had been a key part of my earliest plans to ensure that CSR did not represent a single national viewpoint. Not only was our editorial team equally divided between Americans and Chinese nationals, but our articles in both print and online publication reflect the diversity of students at SAIS. We welcome viewpoints and voices that have been historically underrepresented. In the words of the Daoist sage Zhuangzi, “You cannot discuss the ocean with a frog trapped within a well; he’s trapped by his perspective.” (井蛙不可语于海者,拘于虚也). Only by listening to writers and analysts outside the confines of our own little wells can we understand the ocean’s greater truth.

Do students in Nanjing have access to the CSR? Can they contribute to the publication?

Yes, students in Nanjing have access to CSR here, with our latest issue available here. When the HNC reopens, we will ensure that physical copies of the journal are available on campus. HNC students can definitely contribute to the publication. In fact, one of our strongest articles in the 2020 edition, titled “Two Paths to the Arctic”, was written by an HNC MAIS student. I welcome more publications by HNC students within the China Studies Review, and any students that would be interested in pitching ideas for online publication can feel free to reach out to me at

What is your advice for current students interested in writing/editing for the CSR?

For students interested in writing for the CSR, my recommendation is to create the best possible work in class. If you focus your attention upon an area of research that deeply matters to you, one in which you can spend the extra time to familiarize yourself with the relevant bodies of literature, collect the necessary data sets, and create outstanding analysis, your work will be an excellent candidate for publication in the China Studies Review.

When it comes to editing, there are two qualities that stand out above all others. First, an editor must have a strong command of the written word. Only then can they understand what we should cut, and what we need to keep within the piece. Second, an editor must be a diplomat. As editors our job is auxiliary, we help the writer truly express what it is that they mean to say.

Other thoughts?

When I look at the work done on the China Studies Review in 2020, it’s clear that we’ve raised the profile of our publication, published more demanding forms of analysis, and created an online presence for the CSR that it did not have before. However, I still see this as the early stages of our journal. In looking for the next editor-in-chief, I want to ensure that the China Studies Review continues to improve, and contributors continue to submit high quality articles.
Interview conducted by Cady Deck, Certificate ’19 + Johns Hopkins SAIS MA ‘20

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Quarantine Chronicles: Our Elevated Shelf Book Club

Student blogger Brandy Darling (HNC Certificate '20 + SAIS MA '21) writes about a fulfilling book club she joined during quarantine that has been a great source of self-care and personal growth for her.

Quarantine offered me much time to participate in many modes of self-care and reflection. I began meditating and doing yoga daily. Some days I would take calming baths and other days I would check up on friends and family. While reflecting, I realized that while I had been so focused on international issues, I was losing the strong attachment I have to my own people. Being an African American is the most important part of my identity and I realized that I needed new ways to engage with my community. Lo and behold, three of my college friends created a book club for black people to read books written by black authors. Our Elevated Shelf is an Instagram-ran book club “for millennials that are ready to elevate oneself through reading and discussion”. We meet weekly to discuss assigned sections and guided questions. Currently, most members are black women and we have read books written by black women, however, the club is open to all black people and black authors. 

The first book we read was a novel by Tayari Jones called An American Marriage. This love story is told from the perspective of three different characters, two of whom are a married black couple who were living the American Dream in the New South (post-Civil War American South) until the husband was convicted of a crime he did not commit. The book takes an intimate look at how their relationship was influenced by this tragic event and the lasting consequences it had. As a group, we talked about the larger themes of the book and took sides on which characters we liked based on events that transpired in the book.  

Another book we read was Vibrate Higher Daily: Live Your Power by Lalah Delia. This book was a great source of comfort and reflection during the time of protests and looting throughout the country. The book challenges us through journaling, mantras, poems and the like to encourage people to live their lives to the highest potential. Through daily, intentional choices that we make, we are making a daily effort to live with a higher purpose instead of doing things that negatively affect us spiritually, emotionally, and even physically. While reading this book, many women in my group were able to take time to sit and journal about the paths they want to take in life. I personally even made a morning routine to start my days off with good intentions by drinking water, eating breakfast, reading a book and meditating. Though the things she reiterates in the book are simple, it is the daily reminders of your higher purpose that helped us learn how to be more intentional in the things we do.  

Currently, we are beginning a book by Toni Morrison called The Source of Self-Regard, a non-fiction collection of essays, speeches and meditations that addresses a range of societal issues. I look forward to reading a Toni Morrison book because she is an icon in the African-American literary arts community. This book also interconnects domestic issues with international ones so I cannot wait to have interesting conversations with the group. As we continue to read books and dive into deep conversation about them, it’s warming to be able to engage in dialogue about domestic matters and even being able to connect it to the larger international world. Especially being in America, our domestic matters influence international media and create international movements. I’m learning that one doesn’t have to separate domestic and international interests, both can work together to make a well-rounded global citizen. This book club is my source of comfort in an increasingly chaotic time period in the world and is a wonderful reminder to remember who you are and what you cherish so that you can keep living purposefully. I look forward to remaining in the book club well past quarantine and becoming a better global citizen. 

Written by Brandy Darling, HNC Certificate '20 + SAIS MA '21