Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Meet Tom: HNC Student Blogger

We've already introduced readers to our new student bloggers Tyler and Emily.  Last but not least is HNC MAIS student Thomas Holt.  Read on to learn more about his background studying Chinese and why he decided to attend the Hopkins-Nanjing Center:


Hey everyone, my name is Thomas Holt, and I’m a first year MAIS student with a concentration in International Politics. 我的中文名字是侯天慕.  I graduated this year from Penn State with a BA in Chinese and a minor in History. I’m thrilled to be working with the HNC Washington Support Office, and I look forward to communicating with anyone who has an interest in the HNC through online chats, along with documenting my first year at the HNC through the blog here. I also invite anyone who has questions about the HNC to email me at tholt5@jhu.edu!

My interest in China began shortly after I began my freshmen year of undergrad. I had a vague desire to be fluent in a foreign language by the time I graduated from undergrad, along with a desire to study abroad. Being drawn to the idea of studying in a place so widely different from the US like mainland China, and knowing that Chinese would be a very useful language to learn, I signed up for a beginner Chinese class on a whim. While I was already drawn to China, I did not expect to enjoy the language as much as I did. By the end of my freshmen year, I had decided to major in Chinese and had already decided to study abroad in Shanghai that summer.

I studied abroad at East China Normal University during the summer of 2011 with the CIEE Accelerated Chinese Language program. The program was very intense, with a year of Chinese studied over the course of two months. While the program was very stressful, I’m grateful for how much my Chinese improved during that time. I enjoyed myself so much in China, and made such good Chinese friends, that when I boarded my flight back to the US I knew that I wanted to return to China as soon as possible.

I got my chance to return to China again when I received a PIRE grant that was provided by the National Science Foundation and the Penn State Center for Language Science. During undergrad I was a research assistant at the Brain, Language, and Computation Lab at Penn State, where I conducted linguistics research on Chinese-English bilinguals and Chinese language learners. The PIRE grant allowed me to conduct my own research project on the ability of Chinese-language learners to acquire the lexical tones of Chinese at Beijing Normal University. I spent two months at Beijing Normal University conducting research and even though I wasn’t attending formal language classes, my Chinese still improved.

While my Chinese had improved greatly as a result of my study abroad experiences, by this point it was still only an intermediate level. Realizing that I would never reach an advanced level of Chinese by staying in the US, I decided to study abroad for the entirety of my senior year. For the fall 2014 semester, I studied at the IES Abroad Beijing Center in the Language Intensive program. During this program, I had five hours of Chinese class per day and lived with a Chinese host family. I also took a course on Modern Chinese History, which taught me how to look at Chinese history and nationalism from the perspective of a Chinese, rather than as a 老外. While I greatly enjoyed my time in Beijing, I also realized I needed to gain greater knowledge in a specific area of Chinese international relations, which is why I chose to study abroad in Kunming during the spring of 2014 with the IES Kunming Regional Development in China and Southeast Asia program.

For my study abroad program in Kunming, in addition to continuing my Chinese language study, I studied the history of Southeast Asia and how China's rise is affecting regional stability, trade and the environment of Southeast Asia. I also took a course on the history of ethnic groups and nation-building in China and Southeast Asia. I also interned at the China Kunming Opening-Asia Transportation Logistics Research Institute, where I assisted in research on regional trade and transportation facilitation policy between China, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Throughout the semester,  I had the opportunity to meet with numerous scholars and officials involved in the issues of economic development and environmental protection throughout the region, ending with a two-week trip to Vietnam and Cambodia where I saw first-hand how China's growing clout and regional development has affected the economy and environment of these two nations.

I first heard about the HNC during my junior year of undergrad, when I attended an information session about the center. By this point, I already had a desire to attend graduate school in China so that I could become truly fluent in Chinese. However, the HNC at that point was just one of many options I was considering. I didn’t firmly decide to apply for the Master of Arts in International Studies (MAIS) program until Angela Chang, the American Academic Coordinator at the HNC, came to the IES Beijing center to recruit in the fall of 2013. The idea of being able to take courses in a wide variety of topics in Chinese, along with writing a thesis in Chinese, really appealed to me because I knew that was what would enable me to finally become fluent in Chinese. The center further appealed to me due to the wide range of academic freedom it possessed in comparison to Chinese universities, along with the prestige John Hopkin’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) carries in the field of international relations. I became convinced that earning my master’s at the HNC was what I wanted to do, and I would not have considered any other graduate program. With that, I took the STAMP test in December, and submitted my application in January. When I learned in March that I was accepted into the MAIS program, I was elated and couldn’t wait to arrive at the HNC.

I’ve been in Nanjing for about a month, and so far I’m really enjoying my time here. While I was initially nervous about all of my classes being in Chinese, I’m pleased to say I’ve been able to adjust quickly. It also helps that everyone here is in the same boat. I’ve already become friends with several of my classmates, and it’s been great meeting so many students here with fascinating backgrounds. I can confidently say I made the right choice in coming to the HNC.

I look forward to blogging about my experience over the coming year, and talking with any students who have questions about the HNC!