Monday, May 21, 2018

Final Thoughts on my HNC Certificate/Johns Hopkins SAIS MA Experience

With graduation just around the corner for students in DC, Anna Woods, HNC Certificate/Johns Hopkins SAIS MA ’18, reflects back on her experience studying in Nanjing and DC.  

As I write this post, the clock is ticking down on my graduate school experience. It’s hard to believe that I’m nearing graduation already and that two years of challenging, enriching study are behind me (and that I’m about to get a master’s degree on my resume!)

For my last piece on the blog, I thought it would be nice to reflect back on what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown along the way during my time at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and the Johns Hopkins SAIS campus in DC.

On rising to the occasion…
I’ve been astonished to observe how quickly I have been able to rise to the occasion when called for. This definitely applies to the steep learning curve that we always talk about regarding taking graduate level classes in Chinese at the HNC, but it is also super applicable to my classes in DC. It felt so intimidating to contribute and answer questions, especially at the beginning before I knew my professors and fellow classmates. However, within weeks at the HNC and at SAIS, I grew in confidence and could offer my reflections and opinions no matter how complex the topic. (It helped when I realized that the other people in the room weren’t expecting perfection, but rather just good preparation and some intellectual curiosity.)

On once in a lifetime opportunities…
I’m so appreciative of all the situations that I could never have imagined I’d be placed in, which were entirely thanks to my being a student of the HNC and SAIS. Meeting US Ambassador to China Max Baucus, going to the Barnett-Oksenberg Lecture with former US Defense Secretary William Perry and Major General Yao Yunzhu in Shanghai, interviewing amazing people and getting to hear their insights for the SAIS Observer and this very blog, visiting top Canadian policymakers on a SAIS study trip, and much more all come to mind. And due to all those challenging classes, I was prepared and poised when I did end up in those situations, since I had context and knowledge to draw on.

On critical thinking skills...
Something that surprised me about graduate school initially was the much increased complexity of the material: so much information to wade through and many different scholarly points of view to balance. As an undergraduate, it often falls on you to master the entirety of the content to then be tested on in the final exam – every detail should be retained and it is all equally valid. At the HNC and SAIS, the emphasis was so much more on critical thinking, and we were not required or even expected to remember every bit of information. Rather, it was all about forming an understanding of the overall concept. This did call for a pretty big change in approach and way of thinking about what I was learning. Now that I’m at the end of the experience, it’s clear how developed my critical thinking skills have become, even in my second language of Chinese!

On the people…
Finally, the most valuable aspect of my whole experience has to be of the kindness and willingness to help I have encountered throughout my whole experience, from early days communicating with the admissions team to meeting my sweet HNC roommate on my first day there, to the HNC’s dear career counselor Robbie Shields, who was helpful and supportive of all my career hopes and applications, to the wonderful alumni who met with me over the phone and in real life, to my professors at both institutions who have been sources of guidance, mentorship and encouragement, and to my classmates who I now count among my closest friends. It’s clear why the HNC and SAIS alumni are renowned for being an incredibly tight-knit network. All those positive, supportive interactions yield a strong desire to give back, be that through mentoring a current student, reaching within the network to publicize a great job opening, or eventually donating to either institution. I know that I’ll be a very proud alumna of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and Johns Hopkins SAIS and I will be sure to carry on the tradition of helping others throughout my career.

Written by Anna Woods, Certificate '17/Johns Hopkins SAIS MA '18