Thursday, May 30, 2013

Student Profile: Till Lembke

Till Alexander Lembke

HNC Certificate '13

Brussels, Belgium

Undergraduate Institution and Major:
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Chinese and Politics.

Favorite course at the Center:
Chinese Constitutional Law with Professor Zhao Juan

Center extra-curricular activities:
Dance Class and teaching English as part of the Migrant School Learning Initiative

Why did you choose the Hopkins-Nanjing Center?
After having spent four consecutive years in London doing very little Chinese, I realised I wanted and needed to go back to China to maintain my Chinese. At the same time, however, I wanted to pursue my interest in politics and law (especially within the East Asian region), and combine a year in China with studying something I could later make use of in my professional life, something beyond mere language classes. The Certificate Programme at HNC was thus exactly what I wanted: it allowed me to fulfil my academic interests while at the same time maintain and improve my Chinese language skills.

How would you sum up your experience at the HNC?
In two words: Absolutely Amazing!

Advice for prospective students:
Don’t be disheartened by the first few weeks (months) – everyone will tell you it is awful to get used to the workload and studying in Chinese, and most will feel very stressed in the first semester. Take a deep breath, a step back, and put it in perspective from day one: the workload is definitely manageable, everyone’s in the same boat, and you should make plenty of time to engage in extra-curricula activities, explore Nanjing, and make the most of living and travelling in China and Asia.

Post-graduation plans:
I will be heading back to London in August 2013, when I will start working as a trainee lawyer for the American law firm Latham and Watkins – a position which will hopefully, in the long term, allow me to go back to China/Asia and work on issues related to the East Asian region.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"No rest going into the summer holidays!"

SAIS students in DC may have graduated last week, but HNC students are still hard at work in Nanjing.  HNC MAIS student Natalie Sammarco sends an update as she heads into the final few weeks of the semester:

"It’s been a very long road so far this year and the weather in Nanjing is warming up. It’s an average of about 85 degrees F most days and will only get hotter as June approaches. That’s pretty average around here. It makes us all glad that the Center has central air. 

As an out of sequence student, meaning I previously completed the Certificate program and am now pursuing the MAIS in 3 semesters, this semester has been pretty busy. Taking a full course load + thesis work is proving to be a big challenge. Technically, what I’m going through now is what every MAIS student’s 3rd semester will be like. I wrote an overall plan for my thesis earlier in the semester and then, this past week, turned in my first draft chapter. I also had to give a presentation to professors and peers on the structure of my research and methodology. Whoa. That’s a lot. I feel as though I’m in a good place right now with my thesis, though. My topic is unique in that it touches on what could be considered an ‘iffy’ subject if approached in the wrong way. This makes me very thankful that the Center has academic freedom and will let the MA theses be conducted on nearly any topic. 

The rest of my friends are gearing up for the last month of classes, as I will be once I get an afternoon to breathe after all the work I’ve done in the past week (Whew! There’s a $5 foot massage in my future -- there’s a great place in Nanxiucun, I’ll show you when you get here). In the next couple weeks, we’ll be going into exam period/final paper mode. It can’t hurt to talk about what’s actually required for our classes since the workload is probably what makes people worry the most about going to graduate school in Chinese. 

Most classes require presentations at some point during the semester (between 5 and 20 minutes long, in Chinese) and papers. Economics classes are different in that many of them require tests. Regarding the papers, topics are basically opened up to whatever the student wants to write on given that it’s related to the class. Papers can be anywhere between 1200-6000 characters, depending on the teacher.

If I could give advice on how to be successful at HNC, it would be this: start your papers early. One can definitely tell who has started working on their papers earlier rather than later as finals week approaches. This is my same advice for the MAIS students when thinking about their thesis topics. It’s better to think of what you’d like to study early, fleshing out new ideas and getting many opinions on what you’d like to study, instead of waiting until the last minute and being boxed in when there’s a time crunch. 

There’s not much time left in the semester. Four weeks. It seems as if the year has flown by since everyone is so busy. The city has changed quite a bit, as well. In preparation for the Asia Youth Games (Aug 2013) and the Youth Olympic Games (YOG, 2014), Nanjing is cleaning up its streets and building new facilities every day. Nanjing is also continuing to build its extensive web of subways, which will hopefully be open in time for the YOG. That’s the part I’m most looking forward to; they are building a subway stop right outside the Center gates and it will be much more convenient!"

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Congrats to Graduating Five-Semester Option Students!

Today is graduation day at SAIS in Washington, DC.  Congratulations to all HNC/DC Five-Semester Option students who are graduating!  To watch the ceremony live, check out the webcast on the SAIS website.  The webcast will begin at 3pm EST. 

The HNC Washington Support Office will be closed this afternoon to attend the graduation ceremonies.  In addition, we will be closed on Monday, May 27 in observance of Memorial Day. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sneak Peek: HNC's New Chinese Proficiency Test

Since the Center's founding, we have been using the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) Chinese Proficiency Test to measure the Chinese language levels of international applicants to the HNC.  This test has served us well for over 25 years by providing an accurate indicator of whether or not an applicant is prepared for the certificate or MAIS programs.  However, based on student and alumni feedback, we will discontinue the use of the CAL test once all of this year's conditionally admitted students have retaken the test in July.

We are therefore excited to announce that we will be transitioning to the Avant Assessment STAMP Chinese Proficiency Test beginning in August in preparation for the 2014 application cycle.  A few notes about the STAMP test:
  • It's online!  Applicants outside of the US will no longer need to worry about shipping costs. 
  • It's adaptive. Like the CAL, the STAMP will test your reading and listening skills but will adjust to your level depending on your answers to previous questions.
  • It's quick. The test takes less than two hours and you will receive your score within two business days.  No more waiting several weeks for your test results.
Like the CAL, you will be required to select a proctor (professor, work supervisor, etc) to administer the test.  We will send the test link and code to the proctor.  They will then observe as you take the test to ensure that no outside resources are used.

We are currently doing extensive testing to determine the STAMP score ranges that will become our new standards for admission, so check back here in the coming months for more information!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Reminder: Pre-Departure Forms Due Tomorrow!

To all incoming students, don't forget that pre-departure forms are due Friday, May 17!  These will asist us in preparing your visa documentation, assigning your roommate, and ensuring a smooth transition to the HNC.  These forms can be emailed to us at or faxed to 202-663-7729.  If you have any questions as you complete these forms, please do not hesitate to contact us

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Alumna Profile: Laura Dow

Laura Dow
HNC MAIS Program
Class of 2012

Kittery Point, Maine

Previous Education
University of Massachusetts
B.A. in Economics & Legal Studies

Previous Work Experience 
After graduating from UMASS, I worked as a Human Resources Director for one year.  I left that position to join the Peace Corps, where I served as a volunteer English Teacher in Sichuan, China from 2006 - 2008.  After the Peace Corps, I worked in Resource Management for the Department of Defense.  

Chinese Language Study Prior to the Center
I learned all of my Chinese while in the Peace Corps, during which time I diligently studied every day.  I never took one Chinese course during my undergraduate studies! 

Center Activities 
I participated in Dragon Boat, and it was a wonderful way to foster team-building skills between international and Chinese students.  Our boat came in 3rd place, and we received the best time in HNC history!   I also volunteered with an organization called the Five Project, which works with Chinese individuals with disabilities and their families to promote self-help and self-advocacy skills.  Volunteering with the Five Project basically consisted of monthly social activities, where I interacted and became friends with many disabled individuals in the surrounding Nanjing community.  Other Center activities included many different ways to keep fit and healthy, including, hip-hop and belly dance classes as well as participating in the Great Wall half-marathon with other Center classmates!  

Favorite Course at the Center
International Political Economy with Professor Shu Jianzhong
Cold War History with Professor Ren Donglai

Thesis Topic
China's Soft Power Educational Strategy in Africa: The Influence of Confucius Institutes and the Hope Project

Current Position
Program Manager, Human Rights in China

Why did you choose to attend the Center?  
The Hopkins-Nanjing program provided the perfect combination of language and cultural immersion, along with a top-notch MA program.  

How would you sum up your experience at the Center?
Going to the Center was definitely one of the best decisions of my life.  I received a quality education with reputable professors - but this is only half of it.  The other half is the unique opportunity the Center provides to meet and study with brilliant students from around the world.  The student body is eclectic and diverse; we learn so much from each other simply through our daily interactions. But we are also all drawn together by the same interest in studying and improving U.S.-China relations.  It is nice to be surrounded by classmates who also recognize the importance of the U.S.-China relationship and who feel as passionately about the topic as I do! 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Tips for Incoming Students: Maintaining Your Chinese Over the Summer

As you prepare for your time at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center by applying for visas, making packing lists, and submitting roommate preference forms, it’s also important to maintain (or improve!) your current Chinese level, especially for those who are not currently living in China and don’t use Chinese in your day-to-day life.

Below are several activities and resources to help you practice reading, listening, speaking, and writing in Chinese:

Southern Weekend < 南方周末>  
Xinhua <新华>  
Chinese Literature
Books in translation If you’ve already read the book in English and know the plot, this can help you practice vocabulary and grammar.  For example, most students have read this book in English.
Movies with Chinese subtitles

Chinese films/TV shows- Netflix has a selection of Chinese movies.
Language exchange partners

Keep a journal in Chinese
For even more ideas, check out the American Mandarin Society’s page on language study.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Spring Break: North Korea, Part 2

As promised earlier, MAIS student Natalie Sammarco has sent a follow-up post to her previous entry on spring break in North Korea with her HNC classmates:

"I mentioned in my previous post that I went to North Korea (DPRK) for Spring Break. I have been asked to talk a little more about what we did and saw there as it was a pretty exciting week to be there (April 9-16). 

Six friends (including one HNC professor) and I traveled with an independent tour company in Beijing to Pyongyang and southwestern portions of North Korea. It was an eye opening experience and we were only slightly deterred by the international tensions before we left. We had chosen that time to travel because it was during the National Holiday (April 15, Kim Il Sung’s Birthday) and there would be festivities. Due to the time it takes to get a DPRK visa, tensions had not escalated by the time we had submitted our paperwork and planned the trip.

When we arrived, it was phenomenal. What made me most intrigued is that it looked like China in the late 1970s. Many people were wearing traditional coats in blue and brown and there weren’t many cars on the roads or highways. Pyongyang is developed enough to have wide, sweeping roads that cross the city, a metro system, high rise apartment buildings, and electricity (contrary to what we’d heard). We opted for a more basic tour package, so we had hot water, but had to check beforehand to make sure it was available at the times we needed to shower.

Pyonyang is a city of monuments and they are dedicated to two people: Kim Il Sung (grandfather) and Kim Jong Il (son). Statues in bronze and mosaics of colors are erected everywhere around the country to glorify the leaders’ dreams of modernity and self-reliance. We visited a library (where Madonna just happened to be playing on a boombox, circa 1994), coffee shop, bowling alley, and circus; and we danced in mass dances to get a feel for the culture. For the record, mass dance means 1000+ people dancing in traditional costume and formation in a public square.

Outside Pyongyang, one could see how much DPRK concentrated on agriculture. As I love the outdoors, I enjoyed the pristine air quality (no factories=no pollution) and vast mountain-scapes all over the countryside. Every inch of land was being cultivated for food and most of the fields were brown with mud and water. In the countryside, we visited a hot springs resort, where there was no electricity for miles at night -- very Twlight Zone-like -- and also went to a museum dedicated to what DPRK claims are war crimes committed by the US during the Korean War. I believe most of us felt conflicted seeing how the US is perceived by North Koreans, but this was precisely the reason why we went: to learn more about their culture. If disliking the US is apart of the culture, there is no reason to turn a blind eye and pretend it does not exist.

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), near Kaesong, was my favorite part of the trip. We visited on a day when we heard it was quite possible international tensions could come to a head, but we were assured that, were anything to happen, we would quickly be ushered to safety. The DMZ is just a couple miles wide and filled with land mines. I took photos with the DPRK flag in one corner of the shot and the South Korean flag in the other; thus, indicating the 38th parallel, the demarcation line of the Korean peninsula. Our guides were military personnel and seemed happy to guide us around, stating that it was their great honor to lead tours around this area. All in all, that day was the most poignant, since there was the juxtaposition of knowing there were tensions ‘on the outside’, but it was so seemingly serene inside the country.

The take away from this trip is that the DPRK has very warm people and guides who are very eager to share their country, beliefs, and culture with tourists. We didn’t see unrest on the ground even though tensions were high but this is possibly due to the fact that outside news does not reach the DPRK interior. It is obvious that, to make progress with DPRK politically, the international sphere will have to take a lot of their ingrained ideology into mind when engaging with them. Our group had a good introduction to the culture and I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to see an area of the world that is so mysterious. The question is, once you’ve gone to North Korea during the most intense week of international tensions the country has seen in a decade, where do you go next?

I’m open to suggestions :-) but don’t tell my mother. She already thinks I’m trying to kill her with stress."

Friday, May 3, 2013

Dragonboating on Mochou Hu

HNC Admissions Coordinator and Certificate '11 alumna Margaux Fimbres writes about her experience on the dragon boat team:

In addition to their academic pursuits at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, students also volunteer with the Migrant Schools Learning Initiative, debate on the Jessup Moot Court Team, perfect their brush strokes in calligraphy classes, and my personal favorite, slice through water on the dragon boat team. As the Hopkins-Nanjing Center dragon boat team gears up for the annual race in Nanjing, I started to reminisce about my experience on the HNC dragon boat team in 2011. That first practice was not our finest, as most of us had never rowed before, much less taken instruction from a middle-aged, chain-smoking, Nanjing-hua-speaking coach. We had woken up at 5:00am, were splashed with murky Mochou Hu water, and then were left with extremely sore muscles. But we always came back for the next practice.

Stanley Seiden, a fellow dragon boat-er, remembers, "At the beginning, we didn't think we could make it all the way around the lake and every 15 minutes or so, we would wonder when we were done with practice, but by the end we could actually see how much we improved." Stanley also liked being able to get out into the city and really embrace a part of Chinese society, which is something that most foreigners in China do not have the opportunity to experience. Asked if he had any other memories about dragon boat, he mentioned developing weird, lopsided muscles (because you row on one side of the boat) and the very short shorts.

Our team captains were great at getting people to wake up for practices (calling cell phones and knocking on doors if needed) and organizing team-building exercises. A large portion of dragon boat members also trained for the Great Wall Half-Marathon in June and we would often run back to the Center from Mochou Hu (sometimes stopping by McDonald's for breakfast on the way). Other team members practiced "power yoga" in the Center's workout room to improve flexibility.

One of my favorite aspects of dragon boat was that it brought together Chinese students and international students, and one very athletic Center professor. We bonded the way all sports teams do and we pushed each other to work harder so that we could have a shot at beating the Sheraton team, who seems to win 1st place every year. During the dragon boat race, all the Center students and faculty came out to cheer us on. We even had a surprise visit from Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley! In the end, we placed 3rd, which was the highest any HNC dragon boat team had placed in the history of the Center.

Though difficult at times,
dragon boat was thoroughly fun and really connected me to my classmates. If any HNC prospective or incoming students are reading this, I would encourage you to try it out!