Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Earth Day: Reflecting on Winter Break in Thailand

Student blogger Brandy Darling (HNC Certificate '20 + SAIS MA '21) reflects on her nature-filled winter break trip to Thailand in light of Earth Day 2020. 

Earth Day 2020. The 50th year anniversary of a new environmental revolution. People all around the world participate in a movement to create a healthier and cleaner world. In 2012, more than 100,000 people rode bikes in China to reduce CO2 emissions. I enjoy being in nature, and being in a big city makes me crave alone time in a scenic place. Even though there are a great number of big cities in China, there are many scenic destinations across the country, such as the Tianshan Mountains in Xinjiang, the beautiful beach of Yalong Bay in Hainan, and even the parks on Chongming Island near Shanghai. Holidays and weekends at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center are great times to explore nearby Chinese cities and towns. For this past Winter Break, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to travel to another Asian country: Thailand. Flights from China to other Asian countries are cheaper than if you were to fly from the United States. 

(Left) The natural beauty of Phuket, Thailand.
 Sunset on Patong Beach.

For two weeks, I took a solo trip to Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand. Phuket is the largest island in Thailand and Patong Beach is the biggest tourist attraction of the thirty-six beaches that span the entire island. The opportunities to enjoy nature in Phuket were endless, especially because 70% of Phuket is covered in mountains. My favorite days were the trips that included traveling to smaller islands. There, I could partake in water sports like parasailing and jet skiing without the crowds. Thailand is made up of over one-thousand islands, and many of these islands are within a 30-minute boat ride of Phuket and are home to diverse species of animals and plants.

Enjoying Thailand from the sky
while parasailing.

I traveled to many different islands, such as Racha Island, Phang Nga Bay, and Naka Island. One island that left a deep impression on me was Coral Island. Before we got off the boat, the crew said: “This will be one of the most beautiful islands you visit, however, you cannot swim or snorkel here.” He explained to us that in 2004 a tsunami destroyed all the beautiful coral and deposited rocks, so it is very dangerous to swim or snorkel. Many researchers thought that the coral would heal itself and be fully revived in a few years, but it has never grown back. This could be due to the debris pulled into the ocean from the tsunami, or overfishing which is destructive to coral. Protests and awareness through Earth Day are for this reason: for people to take action. We could take measures, such as cleaning beaches and using safer fishing practices, to save coral reefs which are important marine ecosystems. 

Due to my interest in environmental protection, I am currently taking African Development and Environment in Chinese, and the Economic Instruments of Pollution Control in English. The African Development and Environment class is especially interesting because we talk about how tourism in African countries are largely dependent on the natural world. However, climate change is rapidly changing ecosystems and depleting important resources. As a result, many African countries are struggling to turn to more diverse, sustainable ways of developing. Unfortunately, environmental control is very political. One way we can genuinely make the Earth cleaner is by appreciating her and taking steps in our individual lives to reduce waste. My trip to Thailand was filled with breaths of fresh air and calm blue seas. Once we learn how to work to make the environment cleaner, the Earth will share the rewards back with us. 

(Left) Taking in the view on Coral Island.
(Right) Boaters and beachgoers at Raya Island.

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Student Profile: Morgan Brown

Name: Morgan Brown (HNC '20)

Program: Master of Arts International Studies, China Studies concentration

Hometown: Phoenix, AZ

Undergraduate Institution and Major: University of Colorado Boulder; Chinese Language and Literature, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

How did you become interested in China? Have you had any prior experiences here?

I happened to stumble upon China during my Sophomore year of high school when I saw a poster advertising an exchange program with a sister school in Chengdu. They needed more people to host students who were visiting from China for 10 days and I volunteered to help. We then had the opportunity to reverse exchange, traveling to Chengdu for 10 days on a scholarship provided by my school to stay with the same people who we had hosted. Traveling to China for the first time was an amazing experience, and completely changed my life. My host family tried to give me the real China experience and I was blown away by the food, culture, sense of history, and kindness I received there. My host family invited me back to live with them for the summer and from that time on my interest was sparked. I ended up taking Mandarin starting my Junior year of high school, majoring in Chinese Language and Literature, and traveling to Nanjing to study abroad during my senior year of college before coming to the HNC.

What professional experiences have you had between undergrad and HNC?

I was really burned out after my undergraduate experience and wanted to get a taste of professional life, so I ended up working for three years before coming to the HNC. I worked for a localization company called TransPerfect Translations where I managed the localization strategies of two of our Fortune 500 enterprise clients. Although I didn’t use my Mandarin during these three years, I think it was a really important time for me. Not only did it help me figure out what I was looking for in a professional career, but I was able to gain the maturity and perspective I wanted before continuing my education.

What encouraged you to apply to the Hopkins-Nanjing Center? What’s your focus here?

I was inspired to apply to the HNC after someone came to introduce the program to my language class during Junior year of Undergrad. I thought the program sounded really cool because I wanted a more extended experience in China (not just a study abroad program) and I wanted the opportunity to solidify my Mandarin. Although during undergrad and study abroad I was taking classes in Mandarin, they were primarily focused on learning the language. I wanted the chance to solidify my fluency by taking classes from Chinese Professors about varying topics that already assumed you had the language background necessary. I was also really excited about the opportunity to write, research, and defend a master’s thesis in Mandarin, which to me felt like it would prove that I had done what I set out to do. Although I wasn’t ready to move on to my graduate studies right after graduating, I always kept this program in the back of my mind, and it was something I knew I would do someday. When I applied for graduate school, I actually only applied to the HNC because I knew it was the right fit for me. Here at the HNC, my focus has been on China Studies, culminating in a thesis looking at the how post-1949 government policy and digitization has affected social capital and feelings of trust between Chinese citizens.

What do you hope to do after you graduate?

After graduation, I want to make a difference in Sino-US relations. Ideally, I would love to work in the political cone as a Foreign Service Officer of the State Department posted in either China or Taiwan. That being said, there are so many great ways to make this impact either through the federal government, think tanks, consulting firms, etc., so I’m excited to see where I decide to go!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Student Life in the Time of COVID-19

COVID-19 has impacted students all around the world. Cady Deck, HNC Certificate '19 + SAIS MA '20, interviewed current HNC students about adjusting to online classes and stay-at-home orders. 

Joe (HNC Certificate to MAIS): Guizhou, China
Dwight (2nd year MAIS): Nanjing, China
Morgan (2nd year MAIS): Washington, DC
Randall (HNC Certificate + SAIS MA, China Studies): South Carolina
Alex (HNC Certificate + SAIS MA, International Development): Washington, DC
Ryan (HNC Certificate + SAIS MA, China Studies): Washington, DC

Empty Metro station in Washington, DC.

How is the adjustment to online classes going?

Morgan: The adjustment to online classes hasn't been too bad. Luckily, I took nearly all of my classes at the HNC during my first 3 semesters. This semester I am only taking one class so I can focus on writing my thesis. The class I’m taking, 全球环境基础 (Global Environmental Fundamentals), has been as good as can be expected! Professor 张海燕 (Zhang Haiyan) is really great and has worked hard to make the transition as smooth as possible. I’m happy to report that all of her graphs are legible, her microphone always works, and we don't seem to have any technology-related issues. She has been extremely understanding of the challenges people are facing during this time.

A meme that sums up Ryan's
Ryan: The transition to online classes has been relatively smooth. I think all of my professors realize the gravity of the situation and as a result made some pretty important adjustments to class requirements and expectations that made it more manageable with moving online. I do find that it’s easier to stay engaged in my classes that do weekly Zoom calls compared to my two classes that do pre-recorded lectures.

Randall: Adjusting to online classes has been a challenge. I am a creature of habit who is used to arriving at the classroom early to find a front-row seat, then finding a quiet spot in the library to study, and finally going home to cook and unwind. Now that these three places have been combined into one, it has been a challenge to switch between mindsets I had associated with different physical locations. Along with that comes plenty of distractions, including having so many blinking faces on my computer screen when class is in session!

How has your internship been affected by the transition online?

Alex: At my internship with the China-Africa Research Initiative (CARI) we have weekly Zoom meetings, and I work with my partner on a 6-hour Zoom call which replicates pre-shelter-in-place conditions pretty well. I also have a summer internship lined up that’s gone through some pretty drastic changes. Originally, I was slated to spend 10 weeks in Zambia working on a lessons learned report for a project taking place there, and while I’ll still be writing that report it will now be based on video interviews and information passed along from colleagues on the ground in Zambia.

Ryan: C4ADS has been very accommodating about internships moving remote. I’d previously been handed a fair bit of independence (for an intern), so I could continue working on my projects on my own with somewhat reduced communication with my supervisor. It hasn’t all been perfect though: last week I spilled coffee on my work laptop and it’s kaput! I’m now set up on my personal computer, so I can keep working! 

How are you staying focused to finish your thesis? (MAIS-specific question) 

Morgan working on her MAIS thesis.
Morgan: I find that the best way for me to stay focused during this time is to set up tasks that I need to accomplish before I can do the fun things I want to do. I have a lot of thesis deadlines this semester, so I set a daily character count that I need to reach before I can relax. 

Because my thesis partner Leilei is still in China, we message pretty much every night and send each other drafts for review. In the mornings sometimes we have calls to go over any questions we have. But we also spend a bunch of that time catching up because I miss her. It's been really great to stay connected even though we're not physically together.

How do you spend your free time?

Joe: Free time these days is spent sending out summer internship applications, doing thesis readings, going on walks, and occasionally meeting with people in the area I haven't seen in months. There hasn't been a reported case of COVID-19 here in Tongren for over a month now, so it's starting to feel like things are getting back to normal.

Joe exploring Tongren.

Dwight: I’m in Nanjing now and the city has lifted most restrictions related to travel and group gatherings. So, I’ve been able to see a few classmates who happen to be in the city. Besides that, I’ve walked all over the place and finished quite a few novels. 

Randall: I went to my grandmother's house for Spring Break and decided to stay and look after her until the situation improves. She and I have spent time together cooking, flipping through old photo albums, and sneaking out for quick walks when the coast is clear. Looking at old pictures may have rekindled my childhood passion for drawing, though, because I’ve been making pictures depicting funny things that happen each week and sending them to family and friends to make them laugh. 

A local playground in South Carolina taped off.

Alex: Schoolwork has kept me pretty busy, but in the evenings and on weekends I’ve been doing a variety of things to stay sane. My roommates and I started with the quarantine right-of-passage viewing of Contagion and we watch movies on a pretty regular basis. We also play board/card games and indulge in the occasional pancake brunch together. I’ve also gotten in touch with some friends and family that I hadn’t talked to in a while, which has been nice.

(Left) Alex playing Betrayal Legacy with his roommates.
(Right) "HNC house" pancake brunch.

Ryan: In the grand scheme of things, I haven’t had much extra free time because my workload and internship schedule have remained mostly the same. But I’m taking every chance I have now to run every day. In lieu of our weekly bar trivia, my roommates organized a group of around 15 people from undergrad to do weekly Zoom trivia! Each week, there’s a trivia host who arranges a trivia night in the same vein as any bar trivia. We split into virtual teams based on where we’re currently living (Baltimore vs. DC vs. Virginia). It’s been a lot of fun!

Sunset run over the Connecticut Avenue Bridge
in Washington, DC.

Morgan: I'm lucky to be self-isolating with 5 of my best friends from the HNC in DC so I'm honestly having a great time! We set up an events calendar for the isolation period. We've been playing a lot of Overcooked, started the board game Betrayal Legacy, did some yoga on the porch and binged a lot of Netflix/movies together. When I'm not hanging with the housemates, I've been enjoying having some free time to actually read books for fun.

(Left) Morgan and a few of her housemates enjoying an afternoon yoga session on the porch.
Morgan watching Saw VI with housemates, cookies, and popcorn.

Any final thoughts?

Randall: Having lived in Wuhan for just shy of two years before ultimately becoming a SAIS student, I have been in more frequent contact with close friends there for the past several months. Although Chinese New Year greetings via WeChat were not as cheerful as they had been in years past, fortunately everyone I know there is safe and healthy. It has been remarkable to see the city bounce back with the Wuhanese resilience I have come to know and love for the past seven years. It has also been very touching to receive messages back from friends in Wuhan and all across China checking in on me and my family during these uncertain times. Stay safe and stay healthy, everyone!

Cherry blossoms line a neighborhood street near the "HNC house" in Washington, DC.

Written by Cady Deck, Certificate '19 + Johns Hopkins SAIS MA '20.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

HNC Word of the Week: Course Vocab List 1

You've seen our "HNC Word of the Week" series on Instagram, now see these words used in a sentence! 

This vocabulary list provided by current Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) students includes frequently used terms and definitions in courses at the HNC. To add to your understanding, our students have also included a brief sentence for each term. Stay tuned for more HNC course vocabulary lists!

to reform and open to the outside world; Refers to China's economic reforms initiated in the late 1970's by Deng Xiaoping
改革开放以后, 中国的经济经历了快速的发展
hépíng juéqǐ
peaceful rise; refers to the theory proposed in 2003 by advisers of President Hu Jintao that China's rise to political and economic prominence will be peaceful--unlike that of ascending world powers in the past
为避免发生像过去那样的大国冲突, 胡锦涛主席指和平崛起道路。
soft power
floating population
wealth disparity
global warming

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Winter Break - Chinese New Year Travels: India

Student blogger Will Putzier (Certificate '20 + Johns Hopkin SAIS MA '21) shares pictures and experiences of his travels throughout India during the HNC Winter Break over the Chinese New Year holiday.

I was fortunate enough to travel to India with an American friend before the spread of the virus accelerated outside of China. As another massive country undergoing tremendous change, it was a thrilling and eye-opening trip. Our travels were broadly split between the north (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur) and the south (Kochi, Munnar, Goa, Mumbai). India’s cultural and natural diversity was astonishing.

I was captivated by the Mughal architecture of northern India. Humayun’s Tomb, Fatehpur Sikri, and the Tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah were some of my favorites. The Taj Mahal is rare among world famous sites in that it still manages to exceed expectations. The grandeur of the mausoleum was moving. Besides the sights, I loved the food and watching people on the streets.

Dawn at Humayun's Tomb in Delhi.

The Taj Mahal in Agra, Uttar Pradesh.

Entering the south gate at Akbar's Tomb in Agra.

Fatehpur Sikri in Uttar Pradesh. I have more than
100 photos of archways from this trip… 

Thali for lunch.

Golden hour in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

The second half of the trip was spent in southern India. It was slightly less overwhelming because there were relatively fewer people and our itinerary was not packed each day. We enjoyed Kerala, where we spent a day on a river boat cruise outside of Kochi, and watched sunsets in tea fields in Munnar. One of the most popular sights in Kochi is the Chinese fishing nets, which are so named because they are believed to have been introduced by explorers sent by Kublai Khan or famed Ming admiral Zheng He.

Chinese fishing nets in Kochi, Kerala.

Sunset over a tea plantation in Munnar, Kerala.

A baggage snafu en route to Goa left us with no sunscreen. We found out the replacement sunscreen we bought was defective, turning a day at the beach into weeks of burnt, peeling skin. Overall the trip to India was a fantastic experience I recall fondly in my current sequestration.

Written by Will Putzier (Certificate '20 + Johns Hopkins SAIS MA '21)

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Nanjing to DC: Maintaining the HNC Community in DC

Cady Deck, HNC Certificate '19 + SAIS MA '20, talks about her Fall 2019 transition to life in Washington, DC.

Transitioning to DC was probably easier for me than most because I went to college a few blocks away, but the adjustment from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center back to DC was still significant. 

The most immediate challenge was finding housing. At the HNC, we had dorm-style living, but in DC all students live off campus. My friends and I really liked the community aspect at the HNC and wanted to maintain that in DC. We decided we should look for a house together in DC close to campus. Originally there were only three of us, but the number slowly expanded to seven. Looking for a house that can accommodate seven people is, unsurprisingly, a bit difficult. We found a nice house one metro stop away and spent the first month or so searching for and collecting secondhand furniture and appliances. We are now fully stocked!

The transition to DC life and classes at SAIS was a lot easier because of the mini community we built at our house and the frequent activities we host with the wider HNC community. After settling in, we had a couple of dumpling parties and an HNC get together with current and former HNC students. As a house, we visited the National Arboretum and went to dinner on the way back. A few of us also went to a Washington Nationals game right before playoffs began! 

Making dumplings from scratch!
Visiting the National Arboretum with my housemates
Sampling the local Chinese cuisine after walking around
the Arboretum
Go Nats!

More frequent are our game and movie nights, which remind me a lot of nights spent in the HNC lounge watching movies and playing games. We don’t have the same variety of games at the house, but we’re working on our collection. While the reading load is fairly heavy at SAIS and many of us have campus jobs or internships, we still find time to relax and have fun. Most recently we made hotpot together and watched several horror movies. 

Prepping for hotpot

At the HNC I played basketball almost every day and played soccer on the weekends. SAIS doesn’t have a basketball court or soccer field on campus, so I joined the SAIS soccer team. We play every weekend in a local league and play pickup games on bye weeks. Playing sports is a great way to get to know more people at SAIS who may not be in the same concentration or have the same career interests. There are a couple of HNC alumni on the team in addition to current SAIS students and a lot of people who studied in Bologna. 

(Left) SAIS Soccer team DC + Nanjing; (Right) Fans and players at DC + Nanjing v. Bologna match

Though the transition can be tough and the reading load much larger, I encourage students to find a routine and try to maintain a sense of community, both with HNC students and other SAIS students. Part of my routine involves going to talks around DC and finding events on the weekends (in addition to sports). Students should definitely take advantage of all of the unique opportunities DC has to offer!

Chinese New Year celebration in Chinatown
FBI Director Christopher Wray speaking at a CSIS event

Written by Cady Deck, Certificate '19 + Johns Hopkins SAIS MA '20

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

HNC Career Services in the Time of COVID-19

Some of you may be wondering how the HNC is moving forward with student services during this unprecedented and challenging time. HNC career services activities and offerings are being adjusted to meet the changing circumstances of COVID-19. Below are just a few of the virtual Career Services initiatives being offered to the HNC student community.

SAIS-Wide Virtual Career Services
HNC students can now benefit from expanded access to virtual career services programming in DC and Bologna as well as HNC-specific programming. Through increasing connectivity and cooperation between campuses, the HNC is dramatically expanding the services available to students, even in this time of uncertainty. 

Zoom Alumni/Employer Chats
HNC Career Services hosts regular online video interviews and Q&As with alumni working in a variety of different sectors and regions. 

Online Skills Courses

Students continue to have access to online skills courses this semester through Handshake, JHU's professional development and student employment system. Available courses include: Quantitative Methods, Spreadsheet Modeling, Introductory Finance, Advanced Financial Accounting, and Introductory Financial Accounting.

Zoom Career Workshop Sessions

Starting the first week of March, HNC Career Services Coordinator Michael Hoffman holds weekly career workshops via Zoom to review career related topics and best practices. Past workshops include: 
  • Careers in China During a Time of Uncertainty. What to expect from employers in China; Staying on track during the virus situation; Being prepared to ride the post-virus wave 2; Hedging your bets on China and planning strategically.
  • Cover Letters and Gaming the Applicant Track System (ATS). What is ATS and how to get your application in the top 25%; What are cover letters and why are they important; How to craft an effective cover letter; Tips and things to avoid when writing a cover letter.
  • Salary: Negotiation and Where to Start. How and when to put a price tag around your neck; What to do when asked "what is your salary expectation?"; how to answer "how much do you make now?"; How to research salaries; How to negotiate for a higher salary.
Counseling Appointments
Students have access to career counseling sessions with Michael Hoffman by appointment via Zoom or WeChat between the hours of 9am-5pm ET, Monday through Friday.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Meet the HNC Washington Office Team!

Ever wonder who processes your STAMP tests, reads your applications, and posts on social media on behalf of the HNC? Meet the HNC international admissions team! We are based in Washington, DC so that we can support you every step of the way on your journey from applicant to student. You'll hear from us about everything from the application process and financial aid, to visas, billing, and pre-departure information. In addition, the Director of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center Washington Office is a graduate of the HNC certificate program and can speak firsthand to the student and alumni experience. To get in touch with a member of the HNC Washington Office team, email us at

Lauren Szymanski, Director:
Lauren is an alumna of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center Certificate program, and first joined the HNC Washington Office in summer 2012 following her graduation in Nanjing. She holds a bachelor’s degree from McGill University with a major in East Asian Studies, and a minor in Chinese Language. Prior to her studies at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, Lauren completed an intensive summer language program in Kunming, China. As the Director of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center Washington Office, Lauren appreciates having the opportunity to share the unique legacy of the HNC with prospective students, as well as discuss her favorite courses and tips for adjusting to coursework. Studying at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center was an incredible experience which she remembers fondly, especially the sense of community which developed among her Chinese and international classmates. “The HNC was truly a one-of-a-kind experience that provided me with a unique skill set I couldn’t have gained anywhere else. I’ve been thrilled at the breadth of the alumni network, as you can find HNC alumni all over the world working in a wide variety of different industries. It's so refreshing to see that the close sense of community which I valued as a student also continues on within the alumni community.”

Lauren Pan, Program Manager:
Lauren joins the Hopkins-Nanjing Center Washington Office team with a diverse background in higher education, study abroad, and grants and program management. She started her “China journey” in 2009 as a volunteer English teacher in Hunan province and has since gone on to study and work in Beijing, Shanxi, and Hong Kong. More recently, Lauren served as Global Portfolio Advisor/Grants Manager for the Institute of International Education, previous to which she managed study abroad programming for the Savannah College of Art and Design. Lauren is passionate about cultural exchanges and immersion and is thrilled to be working alongside the equally committed students and professionals of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. Lauren holds a bachelor's of arts in international studies and political science, and a minor in Chinese from Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Victoria Saam, Senior Academic Program Coordinator:
Victoria joined the Hopkins-Nanjing Center Washington Office after five years living and working in Tianjin, China.  Victoria is a classically trained musician and holds dual bachelor’s degrees from the Florida State University with majors in Music, East Asian Languages & Culture and International Affairs. Upon completing her studies, Victoria was offered a Chinese Government Scholarship for Graduate Studies at the Tianjin Foreign Studies University. She pursued this opportunity and graduated with an M.A. in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, a degree which she completed in Mandarin.  From there, she used her linguistic, international affairs, and musical skills as an administrator at the Juilliard School’s first overseas branch campus, the Tianjin Juilliard School. Now that she is back stateside, Victoria is applying her passion for higher education towards helping current and future students of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center complete graduate level studies in Mandarin and pursue careers in the Sino-global arena.