Kaelyn Lowmaster, HNC Certificate 2010 and SAIS MA 2013, reflects back on her time at the HNC and her experience working for the Asia-Pacific branch of the Department of the Army's International Affairs Division.
Tell us about your current role.
I'm working as a contractor at the Department of the Army, in the Asia-Pacific branch of their International Affairs Division. My office handles the U.S. Army's engagement with countries throughout Asia at the institutional level, so that means we spend a lot of time managing bilateral dialogues and senior leader visits, as well as being the go-to office for political-military advising to Army leadership. My portfolio includes China and Taiwan issues, as well as Philippines, Malaysia, and basically anywhere else in the area as new events come up.
How did your experience at the HNC help prepare you for what you have done since?
Very well, is the short answer. From my first day on the job, having HNC on my resume came with the reputation of being a proven China-hand. As we see in the media every day, there's a great deal of uncertainty and apprehension surrounding China in the defense world, so coming into the job with some immersive experience looking at security/political issues from a Chinese perspective has been incredibly valuable. More broadly, though, I came into the Pentagon with absolutely no military background, which meant a learning curve not unlike the first couple of weeks at HNC being thrown into an all-Chinese academic environment. Getting up to speed quickly and operating effectively in circumstances with incomplete information is a superpower you'll definitely hone at HNC.
What was your most memorable moment when you were at the HNC?
There were a ton of memorable moments in the classroom, though I look back really fondly on the trip I took with my Chinese roommate to her family's hometown in Anhui for the National Day break. That year was the 60th anniversary of the PRC, so I watched the televised military parade with her entire extended family. I would watch that parade now from an entirely different perspective; having an awareness of both sides is really one of the great strengths of HNC. It was about as immersive as you could possibly get, and came with some excellent homemade food. Beating her dad at Mahjong remains the highlight of my China career to this day.
Do you have any advice for current or future students at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center?
Raise your hand on day one. Being in a Chinese-language academic environment tends to make people reluctant to assert themselves, at least initially, for fear of not communicating clearly. The best and most valuable conversations came when I and my fellow classmates simply started conversations. Ask your Chinese Constitution professor what Xi Jinping's thoughts on "constitutionalism" mean for rule of law. Ask your Social Issues of China's Modernization professor about ethnic minority policy. Ask your roommate to take you to her favorite restaurant. You have unfettered access to the people who really know, and they want to talk to you - take advantage of it.