Friday, March 31, 2017

Internships and Summer Jobs at the HNC

Finding the right job, and the right direction for a career path, is a serious consideration for students and can often be a somewhat stress-inducing topic. Luckily, though studying and classes are a priority at the HNC, there are also extensive opportunities to get real-world experience and prepare for entering the job market.

One of the busiest offices at the HNC is Career Services, led by the multi-talented Robbie Shields. Robbie, Student Career Counselor, provides students with guidance from organizing resumes, composing cover letters, to preparing for interviews. It was through a visit to Career Services last semester that I first learned of the internship I will be doing this summer, a research position with the Congressional Executive Committee on China in Washington, D.C.

HNC and SAIS students visit Amazon in China on last year's Beijing Career Trek held each spring.
Not only are there opportunities for summer internships, but many HNC students also take on part-time intern positions during the school year. Many of my classmates also stay busy interning businesses right here in Nanjing. On days she doesn’t have class, my friend Ruonan interns for a company in Chervon, a company with headquarters in the city. She was introduced to Chervon during a company visit organized by HNC Career Services. Another recent company visit was done by Apple, with representatives conducting interviews on campus for summer internship positions and openings in their China headquarters.

Holidays are a great time to do an internship. In addition to summer break we also have a long winter holiday during Chinese New Year, a time when many Chinese businesses are understaffed due to employees returning home to visit family. During his winter holiday, my classmate John worked for an investment management company in Shenzhen, writing reports, in Chinese, on future market prospects for products in China.

One of the many useful pieces of advice that I’ve received from Robbie, Student Career Counselor, is to cast a wide net when going on a job search, and apply to many jobs in your area of interest. With the amount of job opportunities and internships made accessible to HNC students, the most important decision is usually what kinds of positions to focus your energy on pursuing and applying to. Interning is a great way to get real-life experience that can make you more hirable in the future, while exploring different fields that you’re interested in.

Written by Amanda Bogan, MAIS '18

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Interview with MAIS Student Christian Flores

Christian Flores is a first year HNC Master of Arts in International Studies (MAIS) student from Queens, New York. Christian desires to work in the Foreign Service and obtain a PhD. He is involved in HNC’s Book Club and Hit Workout group on campus. He also started the bilingual Multicultural Interest Group, which explores the student diversity of HNC. Previous events have included Chinese oral histories, led by two Chinese professors, and a discussion on the movie Moonlight. Read below for Christian’s journey to HNC, advice on the MAIS thesis process and advice on preparing for studying at the HNC.

How has your background influenced your study at the HNC?
I was born in Ecuador and immigrated to the United States at a very young age. I grew up in a bilingual household where we used both Spanish and English mainly because my father spoke limited English. My parents encouraged me to pursue programs in school that were bilingual, especially Spanish programs. This encouragement eventually led me to study Chinese in high school and then partake in the Chinese Flagship Program during undergrad. The Flagship program is a U.S. government sponsored language program that aims to make students fluent in Chinese after four years. When I started studying Chinese, I saw a lot of cultural similarities between Ecuador and China. Emphasis on family and children taking care of their parents as they get older were aspects of Chinese culture that I could relate to the Ecuadorian part of my culture. This lens on viewing China still impacts me today.

Why did you choose the HNC?
Throughout my undergraduate experiences in China, I gained a passion for Chinese language and society. When I graduated from college, I began to think of programs that would meet these interests. During Flagship, HNC representatives often came to talk to students about the graduate programs they offered. Since HNC combined the skills and knowledge I needed for my career pursuit, I applied for the program. Meanwhile, I started working in the private sector as a translation project manager. I was a liaison between clients and translators, which meant that I checked English to Chinese and Spanish translations to make sure they were impeccable before they were sent back to clients. This kept up my interest in Chinese while I waited to hear back from HNC.

However, when I received my HNC acceptance, I didn’t make my decision until I received the Boren Fellowship. The Boren Fellowship is a U.S. government program that sponsors American students to study critical languages. After completing a Masters program, they require minimal years of service in the U.S. State Department. The combo package of HNC and the Boren Fellowship was enough to satisfy my career-oriented outlook. Both are helping me achieve my goals of becoming a Foreign Service Officer and obtaining a PhD.

HNC Students partake in Chinese Oral Histories led by Chinese professors during the Multicultural Interest Group earlier this week. Christian calls it a platform that showcases and celebrates the diversity within HNC through both Chinese and English.
How did you pick your MAIS thesis topic?  
I decided to base my thesis topics off of something I really liked. As an undergraduate, I studied International Political Economy (IPE), which is a very interesting realm within international relations. For the Boren fellowship, I wrote about the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) which is an international organization established by China in 2013. It’s new and the U.S. is unsure about the prospects of the organization in Asia. Since I took an IPE course during my first semester at HNC, my interest in the AIIB increased. After speaking with my advisor, I decided to write a thesis on the future of the AIIB by looking at the circumstances for success or failure. I will mostly focus on comparative research on China’s past experiences with foreign direct investment. This summer I have to do a lot of reading!

How did you choose your MA thesis advisor?
During the first semester, HNC encouraged us to begin thinking about choosing an advisor that taught in our target language. So I decided to explore and take a lot of courses. During my first semester, I took 6 classes, 3 courses in Chinese and 3 courses in English. The English courses were very writing intensive and interactive while the Chinese courses had two types. Traditional Chinese classes typically include the professor lecturing for an hour and a half in front of the classroom. He may or may not ask questions about the readings in class but requires students to understand the information. The other style for Chinese classrooms at HNC is more liberal with a lot more reading-based discussion and intensive sessions.

Fortunately, I took an IPE course instructed in Chinese and tried my best to do well and stay engaged in the coursework. At the end of the semester, the professor took our class out to dinner. After I discussed with him about IPE and the AIIB during dinner, I asked him to be my advisor right then and there.

What’s your advice for prospective HNC students?

Advice for Choosing an Advisor
The key begins with building a relationship. Start as early as possible and get to know the professor a little bit more. Go to office hours and talk to them to see if both of your research interests match up. Stop by other professor’s office hours to ask for advice and talk about interests as well. You could choose an advisor from a class you didn’t take. If you have an interest in your concentration, which you choose in your first semester, make sure you take courses in your concentration during that period.

Advice for Chinese Language Preparation
  • Take a language intensive course in the summer before HNC. It’s a productive way to spend your summer as opposed to doing an internship. You’ll have a lot of opportunity to take internships when you come to China. A language program helps you refresh vocabulary, learn new grammar and immerse yourself in Chinese culture again because it does take time to adjust. When you don’t use a language for a long time, there’s a gap in acclimating to the language environment. 
  • Talk to your current Chinese professors to get resources to help you study Chinese in the summer.
  •  Read Chinese newspapers. Go into Chinese databases for Chinese academic papers and try to read on topics that you’re interested in. These help you become familiar with grammar structure and common words. Start getting used to that level of reading in Chinese because it takes time.  
  • Refresh! Wherever your Chinese level is, it doesn’t hurt to refresh on what you already know.
All the best!

Written by Tarela Osuobeni, HNC Certificate ‘17 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

HNC Events: Personal Finance Lecture and a Conversation with Economics Professor Paul Armstrong-Taylor

There are many events at the HNC intended to help prepare students for the realities of post-graduation life. Career Services events, counseling, workshops, and company visits are all designed to help students make a smooth transition when it comes time to leave the HNC. I attended one of these events this past week, a yearly lecture about managing personal finances given by Professor Armstrong-Taylor.

Many of the economics classes here at the Center are taught by Professor Armstrong-Taylor, including this semester’s introductory course “U.S.-China Comparative Economies”, which I am currently enrolled in. Known fondly as “P.A.T.” by most students, Professor Armstrong-Taylor brings energy and passion to economics and I am finding my first introduction to “the dismal science” to be anything but.

Tuesday’s Personal Finance lecture was packed with both students and faculty, eager to improve on their financial know-how. It covered a wide range of practical topics, such as managing debt, savings, and investments. Professor Armstrong-Taylor began by talking about debt, an issue of concern for most students today. A useful way of looking at paying off debt, as he explained, is as a form of “saving” that should be prioritized over all other savings, and in order of highest to lowest rates. One encouraging aspect of the discussion was a statistic indicating that graduates with a higher degree earn an annual income that is on average $20,000 greater than those without. In other words, education itself is a kind of investment, and one with sizeable returns.

Also covered in the lecture was a few basic rules of savings and investment, such as the importance of diversifying and rebalancing investments, avoiding over-trading, and minimizing fees and taxes related in inefficient, outdated modes of investing.  After the lecture had ended, Professor Armstrong-Taylor took the time to answer a few of my lingering questions.

In your lecture you underscored the importance of investing early to maximize returns from compounding interest. Roughly speaking, how much funds should be kept in liquid assets?

It is generally recommended to have enough to cover around three to six months of expenses, which also depends on how secure your income is. In terms of how much cash to hold, how many stocks to hold, and how many bonds to hold, it’s all just guidelines really and may vary depending on the particular person and how comfortable they are with risk. The determination of how many liquid assets to hold involves a trade-off, because liquid assets such as cash tend to earn low returns, so the more you have the lower your average investment return. On the other hand, the risk of having too few liquid assets is that if you have an emergency expenditure, you would be forced to sell illiquid assets and may not get a good price (i.e. a fire sale).

You also highlighted the advantages of new automated methods of investment such as ETFs and index funds, particularly over stock portfolio managers and hedge-fund managers that come with higher fees because you’re hiring someone to handle your investments for you. If these new methods are so effective, why do people still rely on more traditional, less cost-efficient methods of investment?

That’s a good question, and a lot of people think it doesn’t make sense, but actually it’s been changing quite recently. A lot of money is leaving these active-investment managers and going into passive investments, namely index funds and ETFs. Also, these new forms of investments have really only developed over the past five or ten years, and it takes time for things to transition over.

Is there a common mistake that you see students making in terms of mishandling their finances? Do you have any recommendations for how to avoid this mistake?

I think one thing is to get accustomed to saving and living within your means. There is a two-fold benefit to this. First of all, I talked about compounding returns so the earlier you save the bigger the benefits. Additionally, if you get used to living within a budget it also lowers your costs throughout your life. There’s a tendency for people’s expenditures to expand to meet their incomes, so it doesn’t matter how much money they have, they always feel like they need more. Probably most peoples’ problem is that they haven’t saved enough, so making a habit of paying down your debt and saving early is essentially the most important thing you can do. Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t spend any money, because with something like education you’re going to get a return on that. It’s important to just be conscious of what you’re spending your money on. A lot of people when they’re older look back at the happiest times of their life, and it’s often when they were a student. When you’re a student, you don’t really have any money. When you’re older, you have more money but it doesn’t necessarily make you any happier. I think people often spend money because they think it’s going to make a big difference in their life and often it doesn’t. The earlier that you realize that buying stuff doesn’t actually have a big long-term effect on your happiness then it sort of frees you from that consumer treadmill.

Thank you, Professor Armstrong-Taylor, for your time and guidance!

Written by Amanda Bogan, HNC Certificate '17  

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Interning in DC

After completing a year of study in Nanjing, HNC Certificate/Johns Hopkins SAIS MA student Clarise Brown, started her studies at SAIS in Washington, DC. During her first semester at SAIS, Clarise had the opportunity to put her studies into practice at her internship with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Sub-Committee on Asia & Pacific. 

In September of last year, North Korea launched yet another missile, violating not only the rules of international law I had chosen to dedicate my career to, but also every warning the U.S. had issued. How would the U.S. respond? Over the last year at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, I had pored over dozens of articles in both Chinese and English about the “North Korea Problem.” After I began my Legislative Affairs internship at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Sub-Committee on Asia & Pacific, however, I was no longer merely reading the articles. I was apart of the story.  

There is a certain electric feeling on the Hill when Congress is in session, a buzz that accompanies the bustling of Congressmen heading to hearings and staffers on their way to briefings. I felt it for the first time as I prepared the Hearing Binder for the Committee Chairman, including several potential questions I had researched and contributed. Building off of the conceptual understanding I had gained in classes at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, I constructed my research framework and crafted potential questions for the Congressman chairing the Sub-committee based on the very issues I had studied in Shi Bin Laoshi’s Contemporary International Politics class the semester before.  During the hearing, I took notes and listened as experts testified, many of who had written the articles I had been assigned as a student at both the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and SAIS.

Speaking of experts, over the next 3 months, I attended more than half a dozen more congressional hearings, staff briefings and meetings with key stakeholders. Each meeting gave me the opportunity to apply the lessons I’d learned in lectures in a professional setting, providing context for current affairs and geopolitics that helped provide a framework for me to understand and write effective summaries for the Sub-committee members and relevant staffers. Moreover, I also had the chance to connect with other SAIS alum on the Hill. Some were staffers, and others were expert witnesses. All of them were excellent examples of taking lessons from the classroom and applying it in meeting rooms, shaping policies that reflect and respond to geopolitical trends and events.

Despite my best efforts, we were unfortunately not quite able to solve the North Korea problem during my three month Legislative Affairs internship on the Sub-committee. I, however, count it as a success that I not only received my first (of what I hope to be many) government ID badge, I was also able to enhance the foundation gained at the HNC and SAIS with practical skills, including attending and writing summaries regarding formal briefings, meeting with key stakeholders expanding my D.C. network. Moreover, it was a pleasure to introduce a fellow SAIS alum to the office and connect him with an internship for the spring. The internship may not have been as House of Cards-esque as one would have hoped, lacking as it was a realistic Frank and Claire Underwood, but for a brief three months, I not only watched U.S.-Asia affairs unfold firsthand. I also felt more prepared to pursue a career contributing to the U.S.’s relationship with the increasingly complex and crucial region.

Written by Clarise Brown
HNC Certificate/Johns Hopkins SAIS MA 2017 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Chinese New Year Break Adventures

At the HNC, our semester break typically starts in mid January. This year, we had a 5-week break, which allowed for a lot of rest and adventure. The end of the semester was filled with writing papers, studying for exams, preparing for presentations and making travel plans. Some planned group and solo trips to Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia and Europe. Others planned to go back home to America, the U.K. and South Korea. Some students chose to stay in the Mainland to celebrate Chinese New Year with friends and family. A few students were lucky to land internships in Shanghai and Shenzhen.

Winter Break with HNC Chinese and Non-Chinese students! John visited the Harbin International Snow Sculpture Art Expo in Sun Island Harbin and stood at the top of Victoria Peak overlooking Hong Kong (Left). Rui Yang went fishing in Maldives, visited the coast of Galle, Sri Lanka and traveled to universal studios in Singapore with her parents (Right).
After my final exams, I traveled to Suzhou to visit my Chinese host family from the Chinese language immersion program that I participated in during last summer. While staying with them, we visited the Suzhou museum and Yangcheng Lake. It was great exploring the scenic sights of Suzhou with 阿姨,奶奶,叔叔 and 妹妹 again. On the morning of my flight, I took the train and subway to Shanghai Pudong and flew to England. I arrived in Cambridge, England the next evening and found surroundings that were completely different from the tall buildings, large roads and multitudes of people in Nanjing. Although I went through a couple days of “reverse” culture shock, I found comfort in listening to the numerous Chinese tourists on the streets of Cambridge. I was worried I would lose some of the language gain in a non-Chinese speaking environment so every week I spoke Chinese to at least one native speaker and watched Chinese TV-shows.

I also searched for post-graduate opportunities and found think tank internships, service programs and foreign affairs related jobs. Throughout my stay in the England, I took part in interviews via Skype and email for a few positions. While exploring London and Manchester, I couldn’t help but compare and contrast the Chinese and American cultural influence on the country. It showed me that the world is connected more than I think and taking opportunities to see it is worth the time and savings. 

Classes have recently started and I have yet to hear everyone’s amazing adventures! Some students are still dealing with jet lag, while others have adjusted quickly. The transition back to life at the HNC has been enjoyable as we’ve been happy to see those  we met and bonded with last semester. We’re all slipping back into our Chinese/English target language, trying out new courses, preparing for summer opportunities and thinking about what the new semester holds.

Winter Break with HNC Chinese and Non-Chinese students! Caroline visited Hong Kong with Eli, celebrated her Grandma’s birthday in the US and went Kayaking in Florida (Top left). Tao Ran invited his roommate Levi for Chunjie celebration in his hometown (Top right). I traveled around London (Bottom Left). Nathan and Robert visited Japan and Thailand (Bottom Right).
Written by Tarela Osuobeni, HNC Certificate ‘17