Friday, September 19, 2014

My Favorite Class at the HNC

In honor of classes beginning this upcoming Monday, HNC Admissions Coordinator Lauren Szymanski reflects on her favorite course she took during her time in the HNC's certificate program in 2011-2012.  Next week, we'll introduce our two new student workers in Nanjing who will update us on the course offerings this year! 

As a Certificate student at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, I had to take at least three courses per semester in Chinese. Out of all the courses I took while at the Center, one of my favorites would have to be Contemporary Chinese Foreign Policy with Professor Cai Jiahe. Not only was it my favorite course, but it was also the first course I ever sat in on at the Center. 

Lauren in Shanghai
I’ll never forget that first day of the semester. Bright and early at 8:00am and feeling…well, pretty intimidated to be honest with you. I had never taken a graduate level course in Chinese before, and I didn’t really know what to expect. I remember talking with the students sitting next to me, and quickly realizing that I wasn’t the only one who was a bit nervous. That first class was definitely difficult, but not impossible, and after that first day the class just got better and better.

One of the reasons I loved this course so much was that the content was different from anything I had studied before. During my undergraduate studies, the majority of courses concerning Chinese foreign policy dealt with Sino-US relations. However, this course at the Center included a much wider range of China’s foreign policies with countries like Japan, Russia, North Korea, and various nations throughout Africa. Combining historical frameworks with current events, this class taught me how pertinent issues in China’s foreign policy began, how they may have changed over time, and their impact in present day international relations.

Sharing the classroom with both Chinese and international students was an aspect of the Center which I thoroughly enjoyed, but definitely more so in this class. For example, it was fascinating to hear what my Chinese classmates thought about land dispute issues developing in the South China Sea. Another one of my classmates was from Italy, and wrote one of her papers on Chinese business practices with Italian companies. This was a topic my professors had never discussed before, and hearing about it firsthand from my classmate was very educational. Learning about these different perspectives from my classmates enhanced the overall experience of each and every class.

The coursework for Contemporary Chinese Foreign Policy not only expanded my knowledge on the topic of China’s foreign relations, but also had a significant impact on my Chinese language skills. The readings alone helped me to acquire a more advanced level of vocabulary that I don’t think I ever would have the opportunity to learn anywhere else. After giving a 10 minutes presentation in Chinese concerning China’s soft power initiatives in Africa, I found I had much more confidence in my speaking abilities, which were also influenced by weekly small group discussions. Lastly, multiple small essays, concluding with a final research paper covering the topic of my choice, advanced my written skills far beyond the summaries of my winter vacation which I was used to writing in undergrad. Although this class was during my first semester, I used both the vocabulary and knowledge gained from it in almost every other class I enrolled in at the Center.