Wednesday, April 7, 2021

From HNC Student to Expedition/Polar Guide and Antarctic Ambassador

Alexandra Hansen, Certificate ’18, is an Expedition/Polar Guide, International Studies Lecturer, and Naturalist with Silversea Cruises aboard small expedition ships spanning all seven continents.

What led you to your current job? 
A bizarre set of circumstances! At the beginning of my second semester at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, I reached out to my network for job leads. One afternoon, a previous supervisor sent me an email of a poster. The poster had pictures of tropical reefs, king penguins, and snow-capped mountains. But, most prominently, it had a picture of a guide driving a zodiac (a small rubber inflatable boat) with an arrow that said, “This Could Be You.” The poster explained that the company was hosting an intensive training program aboard one of their expedition ships. The program was to train individuals to work and guide in some of the most remote destinations on the planet. They were particularly looking for mandarin speakers, anthropologists, and biologists. I was intrigued and immediately expressed my interest to the hiring manager. I got into the program, flew to South Africa a few months later, and spent 7 weeks aboard a small ship that sailed across the Indian Ocean (visiting 15 countries in between). Eventually, I graduated from the program and was hired as a professional Lecturer, Expedition Guide, and Zodiac Driver. I’ve been doing it ever since. 

What is the coolest place expedition guiding has taken you?
Definitely, Antarctica. I think that it is the most incredible place on the planet. When I am out in the field, I spend my time sharing my knowledge about Antarctica’s history, governance, exploration, and wildlife. I’m also an Antarctic Ambassador who advocates for its continued protection for international cooperation, conservation, and scientific research. 

What drew you to the HNC?
As an undergraduate student, I had a keen interest in Chinese and international studies. I learned about the Hopkins-Nanjing Center when I was studying abroad in Hangzhou my junior year. I was enamored by the idea that I could take graduate-level courses in mandarin, and live and study in a place that was dedicated to free and open academic and cross-cultural dialogue. 

After completing the Certificate program, I can say with certainty that the HNC provided me with meaningful opportunities to solidify my fluency in Chinese, build my network, and discover all sorts of new passions. I was able to get deeply involved in campus life, conduct research, and establish a multidisciplinary understanding of Sino-global issues. The Hopkins-Nanjing Center is a one-of-a-kind program, and it turned out to be the perfect fit for me.

What was your favorite class at the HNC?
I enjoyed many of the courses I took at the HNC. One of my favorites was China and America: A Cross-Cultural Dialogue (中国与美国:文化对话课). This course was a special co-taught, bilingual and cross-cultural course that delved into the changing perspectives between China and America over the last few centuries. The class enrolled 30 students (15 Chinese students and 15 international students) and was taught by two professors, American professor Joe Renouard and Chinese professor Liu Woyu. I think this course was the epitome of what the HNC strives forthe open exchange of ideas between Chinese and International Students. 

What was your favorite memory of the HNC outside of class?
I have three “big” moments that really stand out:
  1. The Nanjing Wall Walk. This ten-hour marathon-long walk traced what used to be the imperial fortifications of Nanjing. The class of 2018 did the walk at the start of the first semester. It was a great way to get to know our classmates and understand the true scale of Nanjing. I can’t think of a better introduction to the city!  
  2. Spending Spring Break Conducting Research in Yunnan. I was granted an opportunity to join an HNC research team that traveled to Xishaungbanna Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan. On this trip I met incredible people, visited a number of influential organizations, and learned more about the current issues facing Xishuangbanna’s population on the China-Myanmar border.
  3. Hiking in Zhangjiajie and Wulingyuan Scenic Area (Hunan). I went with a few friends and was blown away by how beautiful it was. Take a trip there, it’s worth it!  
Reflecting on my experience, I also want to mention that I have many fond memories of just “ordinary” everyday activities. Outside of class, I enjoyed discovering new restaurants with my friends, going on long runs around Xuanwu Lake, checking out the neighborhood bookstore, and hanging out on the yangtai.
What is the value of the HNC to students interested in China?

The HNC curates a unique environment that you can’t find anywhere else. In fact, it’s the only joint program of its kind in China. The campus community is made up of roughly 50% international, and 50% Chinese students and faculty members, all of whom are passionate about Sino-global relations and committed to studying in their target-language. By studying and living at the center, students develop high-level professional target-language skills because they debate issues in class, write analytical papers, read academic articles, and give presentations in front of their peers.

The center also has incredible career development opportunities. The career services team organizes regular career workshops on resumes, applications, and interviewing. It also provides several “career-treks,'' where you can travel to different companies and meet with HNC alumni. By graduating from the HNC, you join a professional network of policymakers, researchers, analysts, diplomats, and business executives who are just as interested in China as you are. 

As the HNC turns 35, what do you think the role of the HNC will be in the future?

As the HNC celebrates 35 years, I think it is valuable to reflect upon its achievements and look towards its future. I hope that over the next 35 years the HNC will continue to strengthen the intellectual bonds that tie its students to beneficial global cooperation.

The Hopkins-Nanjing Center offers its students a unique forum where people with different backgrounds and perspectives can engage in intellectual dialogue, and develop the skills necessary to be important global change-makers. 

Interview conducted by Nick Kaufman, HNC Certificate '21.