Thursday, November 19, 2020

From HNC to DC: The COVID-19 Edition

Student blogger, Brandy Darling (HNC Certificate ‘20 + SAIS MA ‘21), shares her experience transitioning from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center to the Johns Hopkins SAIS campus in Washington, DC to complete the MA(IR) portion of her program. 

Nanjing City Wall
The Academic Transition 

After writing papers and reading articles in Mandarin for a year at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC), it took me a while to adjust to SAIS DC. The thought process I used for writing a paper in Mandarin do not match the same methods I use for papers in English. Also, assignments are typically stretched out over longer periods of time at SAIS DC, which made the adjustment that much slower for me. This is something I continue to develop as I go throughout the semester, but the best solution I’ve found so far is to start papers early. That way, I have more time to put my thoughts in order, research relevant information and evidence, and polish the paper to perfection before the due date. It’s easy to become busy while at SAIS, so starting papers early is a good practice. 

When you come to SAIS DC, you will indeed be using all the knowledge you accumulated from the HNC. Sometimes you might feel that since you went to the HNC, you should know more than the next person about China, but that's simply not true. You do, however, bring the experience of learning from Chinese professors and classmates in Mandarin to your expanded SAIS community. The conversations you had and the papers you wrote will influence the way you think about certain issues, particularly those that relate to Sino-US relations; such topics will be heavily discussed inside and outside of the classroom at SAIS DC. It’s been fun to meet others at SAIS DC who understand China in different ways to me, such as those with purely business interests in the region, or those with a familial connection (e.g. their partner is from China). The HNC experience, therefore, should not be a burden on you to know everything about China when you come to SAIS DC. The HNC experience should instead enhance your discussions and relationships, both inside and outside of the classroom.  

The Social Transition 

Johns Hopkins SAIS-DC
The SAIS community grows even more when you head to SAIS DC. I take classes with people from a variety of backgrounds: students from the SAIS Europe campus, international students from all over the globe, retired World Bankers, and students fresh out of undergrad. I keep up with virtual events through the cohort’s group chat and by joining student organizations. I enjoy going to China Club virtual happy hours to connect with other people interested in China in a fun way. I also attend many Black Student Union events to connect with fellow SAISers of similar background and interests.  

Meeting people has admittedly been difficult due to the pandemic, but it has not been impossible. Knowing someone virtually doesn’t feel real until I met them in person. However, I’ve gotten to know some classmates through study groups, group projects, and breakout rooms. SAIS DC might be bigger than the HNC, but it too is a small community and once you begin recognizing the same people in classes and at events, it becomes less weird to speak to them and get to know them on a virtual platform. Other students want to meet people too, so it has been easy to reach out to fellow students, introduce myself, or to say hello at SAIS events because you recognize them from a class discussion. 

The Personal & Professional Transition 

Dupont Circle, Washington, DC
© The New York Times 
The COVID-19 pandemic and the election were rough patches in the semester that made my HNC-to-DC experience quite unique. Finding housing in DC was stressful due to less apartment tours. As a result of social distancing restrictions, in-person networking lost momentum in one of the most vibrant cities in the country. Also, with last minute cancellations, all plans seemed to float in midair. In the end, I still ultimately decided to move to DC because I knew that I needed to be here to focus. I joined many different housing Facebook groups and received neighborhood advice and tips from the cohort’s group chat. Additionally, being in the same city as the school (just like I was in Nanjing) gives me a focus and a drive to keep working hard. Since moving to DC, my networking opportunities have been numerous, despite the pandemic. Career clubs are famous at the school, with high levels of participation from members. Career clubs like Careers in Diplomacy and Consulting Club host events that I enjoy attending, such as networking events and career panels that cater to my professional interests. Networking sessions with SAIS alumni are the most intriguing, especially when I heard from an HNC Certificate + SAIS DC alumni like myself. Their journey helps put my SAIS experience into perspective. SAIS-CARI (China-Africa research institute) also hosts conferences that interest me and even provoke me to reach out to outside speakers. Overall, the move to DC, coupled with my yearning to network, ended up being the right choice for me. Yes, I could’ve stayed home and had the same virtual opportunities, but in my experience, moving to DC gave me the environment and motivation to grow professionally throughout the semester.  

Overall, my move from the HNC to DC during this time of COVID-19 has definitely been one for the books! 

Written by Brandy Darling, HNC Certificate '20 + SAIS MA '21.