Tuesday, April 18, 2017

HNC’s Multicultural Interest Group: Bringing a Platform for Diversity to the HNC

The first time I studied abroad in mainland China was in 2013 when I moved to from New York City to Xi’an. One of the things that I noticed from the very beginning of my study abroad experience in Xi’an was that every time a person asked me where I was from, he or she would find it hard to believe that a person with brown skin, black hair, and dark brown eyes could possibly be from America. I could not fully comprehend why this belief was common in China until I was exposed to mainstream media which depicts almost all Americans as white. The more time I spent in China, the more encounters I had with people who held this idea. For someone who, for almost all his life, grew up in one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities in the world, I felt as if the movies, T.V. shows, and social media in China were not doing justice to the America I have experienced.

It was not until I arrived at the HNC that I had the chance to meet other American students of color who shared a similar experience in China and felt that a platform to showcase the diversity at HNC, including that of America, was needed. The more conversations that I would have with students about their diverse backgrounds, the more I felt inspired to create this platform. When my first semester at HNC came to an end, I began to brainstorm on the different possibilities that an interest group could be organized to project the diversity at the HNC. From the very beginning, I knew that racial/ethnic minorities in the US would be one of the topics that I wanted to pursue. Other topics included LGBTQIA+ topics and different cuisine from around the world. However, more importantly, I wanted the weekly meeting to also reflect the diversity at HNC and engage the group in activities that would not only allow it to gain a deeper understanding of different cultures, but to engage Chinese and international students at the same time.

The brainstorming process led me to ask help from my peers at HNC and, after asking for advice from several people, I finalized a list of topics and activities which encompassed the wide range of the diversity at the HNC. The first meeting focused on the showing of the movie Moonlight which won an Oscar for best picture earlier this year. The first discussion, albeit included a small group of students at HNC, touched upon many themes and issues relevant the movie’s intersectional exposition of both the Black and LGBTQIA+ community in America. One of the more inspiring moments of this discussion was the courage demonstrated by students, both Chinese and international, who shared personal and unique stories as a way of relating to the themes and issues explored by the award-winning movie.

Following the heartening and uplifting discussion brought about by Moonlight, the second Multicultural Interest Group meeting “Chinese Oral History” was held in the mode of a forum. For this meeting, I invited Professor Hua and Professor Liu who currently teach at the HNC to talk about their experiences in China as individuals. The perspectives brought by these two Nanjing natives were enlightening and very informational. Professor Hua, who lived nearby where HNC stands today, talked about some of his memories while living on the Nanjing University campus such as the pig farm predating the HNC’s existence among other periods of time such as the Cultural Revolution and the opening of China in the 1980s. Meanwhile, Professor Liu shared his memories in four categories which included the different changes in 食衣住行 (or food, clothing, housing, and transportation). Professor Liu shared some of his fondest memories related to these categories such as the arrival of the fast food industry to Nanjing and the first time he ate his first burger at KFC and drank soda as a child. While both scholars provided unique perspectives through their oral histories, they nonetheless hoped for a continuously peaceful China in the future. One of the most exciting parts of this discussion was the number of students who attended, the stories shared by the Chinese students about their family histories, and the thought provoking questions that were asked to the professors.

Recently, the Multicultural Interest Group met this past Tuesday, April 11 to discuss the topic “Racial/Ethnic Minorities in the US” and view a documentary titled “Race Relations in America.” This meeting was attended by many students and HNC’s diversity allowed for Asian, Latino, and Black Americans to discuss their unique experiences in the US as representatives of their racial/ethnic groups. Some of the topics touched upon were racism, diasporas, living in China as an ethnic/racial minority from the US, stereotypes, the Chinese perspective on race relations in the US, the definition of race, etc. Although this meeting was supposed to last one hour and a half, the long discussions of different topics/issues added a whole hour to the meeting!

Without a doubt the Multicultural Interest Group started out very strong this semester. The platform shared by both Chinese and international classmates/faculty has created a more inclusive environment for those interested in learning more about the goldmine of diversity at HNC. The interest group will continue its mission of creating mutual understanding and greater tolerance with the upcoming planned events which include: a potluck dinner, a discussion on LGBTQIA+ issues/topics, Afro-beats dance session, and more to come. All in all, this group has not only allowed me to showcase the America that, for some us, is not necessarily just white. At the same time, the Multicultural Interest Group has allowed me and other HNC students to further understand other cultures and learn from others’ stories, experiences, and perspectives, allowing us to embrace the differences that make each of us unique.

Written by Christian Flores, MAIS 2018

Thursday, April 6, 2017

HNC Alumni Profile: Matt Ferchen

Matt Ferchen, HNC Certificate 2001, reflects back on his time at the HNC and his experience working as a Professor of International Relations at Tsinghua University.  

Tell us about your current role.
I was the first foreign professor to join the International Relations faculty at Tsinghua and am still the only foreign professor there. I am also a resident scholar at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, where I run the China and the Developing World Program. My own research focuses on governance of China's urban informal economy, debates about the "China model" of development, and relations between China and Latin America.

How did your experience at the HNC prepare you for this work?
Something that I think a lot about in my own teaching and research is that, when I was at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, there was an emphasis on US-China relations and that's still important. But in the past 15 years, China's role in the world has expanded dramatically. I think for a program like the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, but also others including my own program at Tsinghua, this expansion from a primary focus on US-China relations needs to continue, and I think this has been recognized. This requires that faculty, students, and administrators all think about the complex world that China increasingly influences and is influenced by.

What was your most memorable moment when you were at the HNC?

I had a lot of interesting discussions with my Chinese roommate at HNC...I remember that he came back from class one day and said...."Today we learned about different theoretical perspectives in international relations: realism, liberalism, Marxism and constructivism." So then we had a really interesting discussion about how these different perspectives could be used to understand some current event, and he said "But, Matt, which one of them is accurate? Which one is correct?" My roommate's search for a correct answer was, I think, a sign of a cultural difference between the Chinese and American students. This can still be a challenge for me in some of my teaching today, as I often have both Chinese and American students in my class at the same time.

Do you have any advice for current or future students at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center?

The Hopkins-Nanjing Center provides a natural environment for American students to interact with their Chinese classmates and teachers, and to understand Chinese perspectives--whether it's history, relations between the US and China, or domestic challenges in China. It's a mix of students learning from each other and their teachers, on substantive topics. And you're learning from them in their native language...It's difficult to reproduce that kind of interaction, even in the many other programs proliferating around China. This is something that the Hopkins-Nanjing Center does in a way that is still unique after all these years and it's really important for both Chinese and international students.