Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Meet John Urban, HNC Deputy American Co-Director

Tell us a bit about your roll at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) as Deputy American Co-Director.

I do a little bit of everything. This ranges from getting students, faculty, and staff their visas, arranging housing assignments, creating class schedules and academic calendars, and helping organize events and host visitors. Aside from teaching a class, I have likely had a hand in most tasks at HNC in the past five years.

What is your background with China and what attracted you to work at the HNC in Nanjing?
My first experience in China was in the summer of 2008. I completed a twelve-week summer program ran by the University of Wisconsin in Tianjin. After spending time in China right before the Olympics, I was hooked. I graduated from Wisconsin with a degree in Chinese and International Studies and got my first job working in Study Abroad with CIEE in Beijing. It was fun helping American university students engage with China for the first time. I had heard of the HNC when my predecessor came to promote the program to our students. I was impressed by the unique structure and its target language education model. After seeing an open position for an academic coordinator, I applied and luckily was chosen. The rest, I guess, is history!

Can you share what students can expect when joining the international HNC community?
Very rarely do you encounter another group of non-native Chinese speakers who have high Chinese language speaking ability, but who are also passionate about living and learning in China. That can be intimidating, but also a thrill to be able to have meaningful conversations about any aspect of China on a deeper level. Very rarely do you meet other classmates, regardless of nationality, who share such a wide range of experiences, but all of whom have a similar passion for interpersonal engagement and curiosity.

What is your favorite thing about living in the city of Nanjing?
Coming from the Midwest, I still have not gotten used to the humidity of southern China. However, Nanjing is easy to navigate, is not nearly as sprawling as Beijing, and I love the greenery. I am endlessly fascinated by the important role it has played in multiple dynastic and modern eras. Author Pearl S. Buck’s house is less than one kilometer from the HNC, while scattered throughout the surrounding neighborhoods are regal houses from the republican era, all surrounded by a Ming Dynasty city wall. When you want to get out of the city, you can go to the Purple Mountain Scenic Area and forget you are still in the middle of a large city.

What advice would you provide to prospective or incoming students as they prepare for their graduate studies at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center?
Find ways to engage with the Chinese language on a regular basis. Whether it is flashcards, watching television, or singing Chinese songs; intermittent practice on a semi-regular basis will yield dividends when you come to the HNC. Make it something you enjoy, because then you will not feel like it is a chore!