Friday, March 23, 2018

Coursework at the HNC

Emily Rivera (Certificate ’18) shares her experience choosing classes at the HNC and tips on overcoming the learning curve.

During orientation week at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, students gathered in the auditorium to listen to the international and Chinese faculty present on the courses they would teach that semester. As an HNC Certificate student, students are required to take a minimum of three courses per semester in their target language. Students also have the option to take an additional fourth course in their non-target language.

At my undergraduate university, I was a Government and Chinese double major. At the beginning of orientation, I naturally gravitated towards government and politics courses. However, after much thought, I decided I wanted to take courses that I would only be able to take in China and particularly, courses unique to the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. I decided that I wanted to explore other areas of China studies and really challenge myself by expanding my vocabulary beyond my comfortable 政治生词。With this in mind, I chose the following Chinese courses for the Fall semester: Anthropology and Chinese Studies, China’s Development and Environment, and Contemporary Chinese Foreign Policy. I also opted to take an additional English course and chose History and Philosophy of Law in the West.

Presenting on China’s foreign policy in Southeast Asia for Contemporary Chinese Foreign Policy (当代中国对外政策).

That first Sunday before class, it felt like every student at the HNC was in the library preparing for our very first class. I remember printing out my readings for Foreign Policy – the class I thought I would feel most comfortable in – and staring back at me was a very small font 60-page reading on Chinese culture and its influence on diplomatic decision making. I won’t lie – it was completely nerve-racking! I remember feeling nervous, thinking, is anyone else just a little bit worried? And, is this going to get easier? The answer is yes and yes. After the first couple weeks of class, that nervous feeling before class went away. Students became more confident and more comfortable raising their hands and participating in class. The readings also became easier to get through and more and more recurring 生词 started to become consistent in everyday vocabulary. Here are some tips to consider when preparing for your classes in that first semester:

1) Talk to your professors! (I cannot stress this enough). The first day sitting in my China’s Development and Environment class was very, very, very intimidating to say the least. I had never taken an environmental studies course in English, let alone at a graduate level and in Mandarin. I remember after about two weeks of class, after taking in all new vocabulary and doing outside reading on my own, I excitedly ran to my professor’s office and told her, “I don’t always understand every single word you are saying, but I love your class and I think it is all so interesting.” My Professor helped me better understand the broader concepts we were learning in class and gave me tips on how to prepare for her class. Even more, she helped me feel confident and told me she was so proud of all of the international students in her class – she knew it wasn’t easy and she was impressed by our willingness to think critically about the most pressing environmental issues that China faces. Professors at the HNC care about their students and are more than happy to chat about anything – whether it be on a required reading for class or on independent reading students complete outside of class.

2) Explore and push your boundaries. The HNC has a very unique curriculum that gives students the option to take courses particularly unique to the HNC. Students can choose from classes in international politics, international economics, and energy, environment, and resources (ERE), a new concentration offered since 2014, among others. My favorite Chinese course I took in the Fall semester was my China’s Development and Environment class. This class challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone and it ended up being one of the best decisions I could have made! I learned about electronic waste, water resource management, and outsourcing CO2 within China, topics I never thought I would learn about in China and in Chinese. This semester, I decided to take another ERE course called Global Environment Fundamentals and I have a feeling my pursuit of ERE studies will not stop there!

3) Ask second-year MAIS students for advice. Second-year students are returning to finish their last year at the HNC and to earn their master’s degree. That means, they have likely taken the classes you have questions about. They are not only experienced, but also have great advice. That first week (and even beyond that) the second-year students graciously offered advice on preparing and reading for class. Also, become friends with them too! While they may be busy preparing for their thesis, they are very friendly and want to get to know you too.

4) Make a vocabulary list (and only write down those really important words). While reading for class, you may feel as though you want to constantly stop and write down every single unknown word in an 80-page reading. While this may be doable for some people, I found the best study method for me personally was to really understand what I felt were the most important, most frequently used words so that I could actively participate in class. For me, this set realistic expectations, helped me get through the readings quicker, and further, I never felt as though I was drowning in learning 150+ characters per reading.

5) Find a study method that works for you and be patient with yourself.
Everyone both learns and studies differently. Some students like to use their laptops in class to jot down notes and instantly look up words they might not know, while other students focus better by physically writing down characters in a notebook to look up after class. Some students enjoy using apps like Pleco for learning unfamiliar words, while others prefer good old-fashioned flashcards. Don’t get frustrated with yourself if you switch study methods after the first few weeks – this is normal, just find what works for you!

6) Also find a study spot that works for you. Some students (cough, me) enjoy studying alone in quiet spaces like the library cubicles. Other students prefer being surrounded by their friends and perhaps work better with a little noise in the background. Accordingly, this student may opt to study in shared work spaces. Choose wherever you feel most productive and better yet, feel free to switch it up! There are also several study spots outside of the HNC at coffee shops and public libraries.

7) Ask your Chinese roommate for recommendations on the most popular TV shows/movies at the moment. Reading articles in Chinese on water resource management and arbitration proceedings on the South China Sea dispute can surely get tiring. Take a break and watch a Chinese TV show or movie for fun. You are still learning and taking in new information, while simultaneously taking a break from dense class readings.

Emily Rivera (Certificate ’18) and 凌梓钦 (Certificate ’18) presenting oral arguments in History and Philosophy of Law in the West.

8) Take that optional fourth class in English if your schedule allows for it. Although not necessary, I took an English course and absolutely loved it! I enjoyed being in a class where the majority of the students were Chinese (about 15) and the international students were in the minority (only 3 of us). History and Philosophy of Law in the West was one of my favorite classes, partially for this reason. Throughout the semester, me and my Chinese classmates had such interesting discussions on topics ranging from human nature to the relationship between law and morality. This gave me the chance to not only understand the differences between America’s criminal law system and China’s criminal law system, but also the opportunity to hear the perspectives of my fellow Chinese classmates on different areas within criminal law.

Written by Emily Rivera, Certificate '18