Thursday, December 6, 2012

Meet Jason Patent, American Co-Director of the HNC

Holiday greetings from the Hopkins–Nanjing Center!

I’m Jason Patent, American Co-Director of the HNC. I have the great privilege of spending my days working in service of this absolutely one-of-a-kind venture.

When people first hear about the HNC, the specific questions they have vary, but the common thread is that they’re always intrigued. This is with good reason.

Now in its 27th year, the HNC is still very much on the cutting edge of graduate education. As a linguist I’ve noticed that even now it’s hard to find simple language to describe what we do here and how we do it. One of the ways language evolves is by creating common understanding in a community of speakers, so that we can use simple labels — chair, apple, door — and understand each other. For a speaker to be understood by a hearer, both must share a common “world,” embodied in language and culture. Much of what makes the HNC hard to describe is the uniqueness of our culture.

HNC Co-Director Jason Patent


The world at large is in many ways a cynical place. A glance at the day’s news usually won’t leave you feeling uplifted. This is true not only of general events, but also of China and its relations with the world.

At the HNC we have internalized much of what the world as a whole is, I believe, striving for: a commitment to working out our problems, driven by respect, by curiosity, and by hard work — not just coursework, but dogged dedication to questioning the solidity of the truths of our own views, and to opening ourselves up to the views of others.

Every day the students, faculty and staff here are challenged by the quirky hybrid that is the HNC. Things aren’t “normal” here. Your classes are in Chinese. Your professors have habits that make no sense to you. So does your roommate. And you’re often caught by surprise, because what you’ve been trained your whole life to expect isn’t a good fit for your environment. The unique challenges of this oddness can be exhausting; that’s by design. The rewards of pushing through the challenges, time after time, are immense and long-lasting: facility in Chinese, a vastly enriched set of tools for solving problems, an ability to arrive at compromise, and many more.

I have never spoken with an alumnus or alumna of the HNC who regrets their decision to come here. They are unanimous in their view that their time at the HNC was extraordinarily challenging. And, to a person, they feel abundantly rewarded for their hard work, and they can’t imagine where else they could have become so enriched.

As for me, I’m off to a senior staff meeting. Our small group of American and Chinese academic administrators will sit down and discuss the week’s business. Who knows what today’s meeting holds? What is there to learn? I can’t know yet. Surprise me!