Friday, August 2, 2019

Hopkins-Nanjing Center Alumni Profile: Ashley Johnson

Ashley Johnson, HNC Certificate ’15 + Johns Hopkins SAIS MA ’16, is a Project Manager for Trade, Economic, and Energy Affairs at the National Bureau of Asian Research, a non-profit think tank focused on U.S. relations with Asia based in Washington, D.C.

Tell us about your current role.
I am currently Project Manager for Trade, Economic, and Energy Affairs at the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR). NBR is a nonpartisan, non-profit think tank that produces independent research on issues affecting U.S. relations with Asia. My team works on topics such as energy security, climate change adaptation and mitigation, technology innovation, sustainable development, and trade relations in the Asia-Pacific. In my role, I develop and maintain relations with technical experts and other stakeholders, assist in editing and publishing essays and reports, and organize events to disseminate NBR’s research and findings.

How did your experience at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and Johns Hopkins SAIS prepare you for this work?
Studying at both campuses provided a truly international experience, which was extremely helpful in developing my ability to work with people from an array of backgrounds and nationalities and adapt quickly to new situations and academic topics. At the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, you are immersed in a Chinese academic setting, learning about topics such as 20th-century international relations, Islamic fundamentalism, or environmental protection from a perspective and cultural approach often different than your own. In D.C., students come from all over the world (a bit more so than in Nanjing, although the Hopkins-Nanjing Center also has, of course, a multinational student body). In classes that focus on understanding international policy and development options, having students from Germany, Nigeria, Brazil, Thailand, and dozens of other places is crucial to a well-rounded and informed discussion and there is a lot to learn from those conversations. In any profession in the international relations field, it is important to have cultural sensitivity and the flexibility to work on projects with which you may not have an extensive background, as you never know when you will be asked to brief stakeholders from Asia or join a project on a technical matter with which you are unfamiliar.

What drew you to apply to the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and Johns Hopkins SAIS?
As I was looking into graduate programs for international relations, my Chinese professor at Southwestern University, Carl Robertson, recommended I look into the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. Dr. Robertson is an alumnus and knew that I wanted to continue advancing my Chinese language ability. For someone who was interested in U.S. foreign policy and China’s role in the international order, there was no better option than the Certificate + MA and the opportunity to study at both the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and Johns Hopkins SAIS in D.C.

Do you use Chinese in your current position or other skills you gained while studying at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center?
As my work covers the entire Asia-Pacific region, I actually do not work on China quite as much as expected. Given China’s prominence in the global order, China of course comes up in many of our conversations, and I am frequently able to draw from my courses at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and Johns Hopkins SAIS in D.C. However, I also work on Japan, South Korea, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Russia, among others, which stretches my ability to focus solely on China as much as I would maybe like. My Chinese is most handy when I’m trying to understand a new energy or environmental policy and I can go directly to the relevant ministry’s website to look at the text. It is very helpful to be able to confirm or clarify what is reported in the media in order to better understand the entire situation or implications of new policies.

What was your most memorable moment when you were studying in Nanjing?
There were many great opportunities at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and in Nanjing to meet a lot of different people and gain new experiences. For example, I enjoyed trying to teach the Thriller dance routine during a Halloween party at the elementary school at which many Hopkins-Nanjing Center students volunteered and I enjoyed joining a touch-rugby team and competing in tournaments. I think my favorite memory, however, was at the end-of-year graduation party. Students and faculty all gathered on the yangtai [rooftop deck], the  student band played music, and everyone was dancing or just hanging out. It was a great way to celebrate our accomplishments over the past year and to say goodbye to friends with whom you spent a lot of time.

What advice would you give to future Hopkins-Nanjing Center students?
Studying at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center provides you with a unique opportunity to learn from your professors and, in many ways more importantly, your classmates. Professors are enthusiastic to meet with you during office hours and outside of class to further discuss a topic or help you understand a particular reading. This was crucial in improving my reading comprehension and academic writing, as well as gaining a better understanding of many policy complexities. My conversations with my Chinese roommate and other friends were eye opening, and I learned a lot about what it was like growing up in a rapidly modernizing China, how our experiences differed, and how they were alike. My advice would be to meet and spend time with as many of your classmates as possible, engage with your professors, and try to get involved in something outside of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center as well. Your classes are of course important, but these personal interactions and new experiences can be the most instructive.