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From Nanjing to DC, The HNC Connection Continues

By |November 13th, 2017|APSIA Member Blog Posts|

As if the HNC wasn’t already special enough, another of the unique characteristics of your time in Nanjing is that almost every student rooms with another of the different culture. In this blog post, I wanted to write about my personal experience of living with my roommate Ning Xinyuan 宁心源. While our experience can’t count for everyone’s (people are different, and we all have varying dynamics) I thought it would be helpful to provide an example of what this was really like in practice.
A photo of our room from the very first week

The first step in my roommate journey was the online form I filled out in May of 2016, a couple of months after finding out I had been accepted to the HNC. There are questions about your habits and personality and sections to describe your sleeping schedule and to mention if you mind having a roommate who snores (!) (I don’t remember what I picked, but luckily for me Xinyuan did not snore, haha).

The thing that amazed us both on the very first day we met was how tailor made we were for each other – it was like we had magicked each other up out of our descriptions. Xinyuan fit all of mine and more that I wouldn’t have thought to ask for: she was an economics major which thrilled this econ nerd, and was the oldest of three kids, just like me. It’s sweet to look back at my hopes for what activities I would do with my roommate, since I can confirm now that we did indeed do all of these things.

At the beginning, it was great to have Xinyuan helping me set up things like my bank account and phone plan, as well as going to meals and orientation activities together. We hung out with our neighbors on the first floor of the dorm and had fun exploring Nanjing and going to yummy restaurants. I tried to focus my friend making energies on Xinyuan and our Chinese neighbors at the start, because I knew I would end up making lovely international friends just through virtue of living in the same place and having classes together. Hence, I wanted to be sure I was getting to know my Chinese classmates really well and building a good relationship with my roommate.

Eating dinner at our favorite Sichuan noodle joint
Some traditions we created over the year were leaving each other little treats on our desks, having sweet chats while lying on our beds during an afternoon rest or before falling asleep, and having a fairly regular Friday night dinner date at a Sichuan noodle shop (where we always ordered spicy vegetarian mixian and langya tudou, delicious cold slices of potato in a spicy mala dressing).

Improving in our target language was a big priority for the both of us, so we tried to talk in both and help the other with grammar and vocabulary. We practiced presentations and corrected pronunciation: for example, when Xinyuan was asked to deliver an introduction in English for a visiting speaker, she got me to read out the introduction to her as if I was the one presenting, so she could hear what words to stress so as to make it sound the most natural and polished possible. Likewise, when I was working on my presentation for my econometrics class, it was to Xinyuan I turned to ensure the Chinese words I had found matched up with the specific terminology I was referring to.

Xinyuan writing calligraphy
Of course, you can’t be serious all the time, certainly not these two bouncy, giggly girls, and so we had great fun playing with language too. I giggled as I listened to her speaking in her dialect with her family back in Shanxi on the phone, so growly and wild sounding compared with the precise standard Mandarin she spoke at the HNC. She was entertained by my sassy conversations with my sister, and was initially surprised by my habit of ending phone calls with “love you!” thinking it was overly demonstrative. When I used my New Zealand slang, she would try to adopt it. However, as much as I loved the thought of her spouting about jandals, lollies and paddocks, I had to caution her that the majority of English speakers she would be talking to would not understand her meaning! I did have fun though telling her pop culture English, and it always gave me such a thrill to hear her say it in the right context. For example, the line “started from the bottom now we’re here” from Drake’s song. I explained the meaning to her, and months later, after we got some good grades back in the second semester, Xinyuan proudly announced it. It was perfect.

At our commencement ceremony, a true “started from the bottom now we’re here” moment

When we left Nanjing, we each gave the other a present of calligraphy: mine in English, hers in Chinese. It was a common hobby of ours that we loved to do as a break from classes. Xinyuan’s calligraphy scroll is currently hanging on display on the wall in my bedroom in DC, and she has informed me mine is on display on her desk in her Beijing dorm. It’s a special way we can continue to have the other’s presence in our room, even as we live in different countries and time zones. I don’t know the next time we will see each other, but I know we’ll always be in touch some way or another, thanks to the profound influence we had on each other’s lives during that special year in Nanjing.

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2018 Admissions Guideline: Preparing for the Interview

By |November 9th, 2017|APSIA Member Blog Posts|

Did you know that Johns Hopkins SAIS offers optional interviews for MA applicants both on-campus and on Skype?Interviews are a great way to individualize your application and to shine your personal strengths in addition to what's written in your applic...

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“Creating Good: Entrepreneurs for the Environment” Mini-Course at the HNC

By |November 7th, 2017|APSIA Member Blog Posts|

If you’ve never thought about soda cans sitting on the ocean floor, or how the fish you may have eaten yesterday used to feed on small, toxic plastic pieces that float throughout oceanic water columns, neither did most of us attending Doug Woodring’s three-day ERE mini-course at Hopkins-Nanjing Center, “Creating Good: Entrepreneurs for the Environment”. A SAIS/Wharton graduate and a resident of Hong Kong for the last 20 years, Doug shared with us his past successes, present endeavors, and future aspirations regarding the monumental task of reducing global plastic pollution -- and how we, as potential entrepreneurs, could do the same.

 Director and Co-Founder of the Ocean Recovery Alliance, Mr. Woodring inspired us to think about how plastic products and related services can be changed to reduce plastic footprints through design alterations and publicity, and how by imagining areas of constructive conflict between brands and creatively challenging businesses to embrace social responsibility, we can realize positive change. Some of the current projects that he and the Ocean Recovery Alliance have partnered with, such as the My Little Plastic Footprint app (beta now available) and the Plastic Soup Foundation (see thought-provoking video) served as tangible and provocative examples of how to stimulate action and awareness regarding the plastic problem we all are facing.

Despite the severity of the pollution tragedy that is unfolding upon our land, rivers, and seas, Mr. Woodring’s mini-course drove home the optimistic idea that there is still much work that must and can be done to expand human economic activity into the realms of environmental rehabilitation and recovery. Though there were only three days to explore the problems and solutions surrounding plastic, the weekend was one of productive engagement and reflection that informed the environmentalist and business-minded alike, even breaking down the barrier between the two and showing how both outlooks are essential for a healthy ecology of future entrepreneurship.

Written by Nick Manthey, MAIS '19

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2017 HNC Halloween Party

By |November 3rd, 2017|APSIA Member Blog Posts|

Last week, the HNC held its annual Halloween party (万圣节派对). A yearly tradition, the party gives students the opportunity to spend time with their peers and faculty members, as well as the opportunity to meet students studying at other universities in Nanjing. HNC’s student-elected banwei (班委) traditionally coordinates the party. Made up of two international students and two Chinese students, the banwei act as the student representatives of the HNC student body. Besides working as the student-faculty liaison, the banwei also has the fun job of planning parties and events throughout the year, including the Halloween party, Christmas party, and end of the year BBQ!

The banquet hall before the festivities began!

My favorite part of the party was the fact that this was many of the Chinese students’ first time celebrating Halloween and attending a Halloween party! Here is what some of the Chinese students had to say about their Halloween experiences:

"The Chinese students were really excited to attend the party and do a lot of preparation, such as carefully choosing and buying the costumes and spending a lot of time doing their make-up!" – 陈娟玲

"特别开心第一次参加万圣节party,是一个从未有过的新鲜体验。我想以后我会十分怀念中心,怀念那年和你们一起度过的第一个万圣节” –  刘松月

"I loved the party, the decorations were great!"– 肖玲

Left: 杨荣骞 &毛婷婷dress up for their first Halloween! Photo courtesy of 黄葵. 胡天on the right as Superman
Pawel Chrzanowski, a first-year HNC Certificate student, joined the volunteer decorating committee formed by banwei. Four students – two international students and two Chinese students – volunteered to help plan and put up the decorations for the party. It took a lot of planning, but after speaking with Pawel, it was clear it was definitely worth it.

Why did you decide to volunteer for the decorating committee? What was your favorite part of the entire process?

Pawel: That’s easy, I’ve always enjoyed setting up parties. I love visualizing the space for a party, coming up with a plan, executing it, and then seeing the happy celebratory reactions. My favorite part, and what I’m most proud of, is that we tripled the funds that were given to last year’s decorating committee. The banwei gave us an initial budget, but after very kind donations from the students themselves, we were able to triple our budget. It showed the type of community that we have at the HNC, where everyone tries to contribute. I also really enjoyed working with the Chinese students. Our collaboration was awesome and we were so much more efficient with their help, for example they facilitated the transactions with sellers on Taobao.

 Pictured from left to right: 陈娟玲, Kimya Nia, 代攀红, 杨训琪 and Emily Rivera
The HNC Band – Savage Cabbages – was one of the highlights of the night. I had a chance to speak to three band members who shared their Savage Cabbages experience. Margie Tanner, one of the singers and a second year MAIS student, said this was her second year participating in the band. Margie explained that this year the band decided on a “haunted” theme when choosing which songs to play. These included: Haunted, Don’t Fear the Reaper, Toxic, Thriller, Uptown Funk, and 当然, and the Monster Mash. Here is what Margie, Daniel Burke, first year Certificate student and guitarist in the band, and 苏梦菲, second year Chinese MAIS student and bassist in the band, had to say about the Halloween party and their performance.

What did you think of the party? Did you have a favorite part of the performance?

Margie: This year, we had a lot of internal organization within the band so we were very organized, which was really cool. I’m glad we were able to continue the band this year, as the band is also an HNC tradition. It’s great - it makes me feel really good when I’m able to sing and everyone in the band loves making music, so it’s fun to get together and just jam. There’s a lot of diversity this year, in people and in instruments, which is also great.

Margie Tanner pictured on stage with the HNC band playing for the crowd. Photo by丁子倩
苏梦菲 (Maya): I learned to play the bass guitar right before the HNC Halloween party last year and it was the first musical instrument that I’ve ever learned to play. I felt pretty nervous this year before I stood on stage even though it has been the third time that I perform in front of a large group of people. But after I tuned my bass, everything seemed all right to me because I really enjoy playing bass and it was my last Halloween here at the center. The audience seemed to enjoy the songs, which made me so happy!

Daniel: The performance was so much fun! As we were playing, I remember looking up and thinking it was awesome to see my friends in the audience jamming out to our songs. Plus, everyone in the audience was dancing along. We couldn’t have asked for a better audience.

After speaking with several students and faculty, one thing was clear: The annual HNC Halloween party tradition must go on!

Written by Emily Rivera, Certificate '18

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November 2017 Recruitment Events

By |November 1st, 2017|APSIA Member Blog Posts|

Virtual Information Sessions:November 10, 2017 (7pm EST): Hopkins-Nanjing Center Virtual Information SessionNovember 14, 2017 (12:30pm EST): Masters Programs for Experienced Professionals (MAGP & MIPP) Virtual Information SessionNovember ...

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Wordless Wednesday

By |November 1st, 2017|APSIA Member Blog Posts|

"A Picture is worth a thousand words." This Wednesday, student blogger, Alexandra Hansen, features life at the HNC through pictures. We hope that through this series you will be able to better understand the HNC’s campus, community, and culture. 


Photos by Alexandra Hansen, Certificate '18

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2018 Admissions Guideline: Work Experience

By |October 30th, 2017|APSIA Member Blog Posts|

Most of our students coming into Johns Hopkins SAIS enter with at least 1-2 years of work experience. We often get questions about how much work experience is needed to apply. Let me break it down for you based on some of the most frequently asked ques...

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Interview with American-Co-Director David Davies on the HNC’s Annual Wall Walk

By |October 26th, 2017|APSIA Member Blog Posts|

David J. Davies is the American Co-Director of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. His experience at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center includes his time as a student (1997-1998), a visiting scholar (2006), and the interim American Co-Director (2011). Co-Director Davies holds a PhD in Socio-Cultural Anthropology from the University of Washington, and has extensive research and work experience in China, and the greater East Asia region. This year, Co-Director Davies led a group from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center on a 26.2-mile walk around Nanjing – here is what he had to say about the event!

What is the Nanjing wall, and what is the Wall-Walk?

When you come to a place like the HNC, you have Chinese students and international students. The student body is made up of people who don’t come from the same geographic location in the world and don’t necessarily speak the same languages. They really only have one thing in common: they’ve all chosen this place to study. It isn’t a natural community; we shouldn’t naturally have anything in common.

But, one thing that really creates a sense of being in a community is doing something together. It is nice to do something that doesn’t involve consumption, and the easiest thing to do is walk. The Wall Walk is a ten-hour marathon-long walk around what used to be the imperial fortifications of Nanjing. There is a certain quality about that in terms of the time that you actually get to know people! By the end, you also think, I did a marathon, I walked a long way, I walked longer in some cases most people have ever walked in their life. And you realize, oh I can do that!

What does the day of the wall-walk look like? What should first time walkers expect?

 It’s almost always on a Saturday and almost always involves departing at 6am. We walk, we break for breakfast, and we walk through lunch. We get halfway by noon or one and we try to get back here so that there is a brief break before dinner. I reassure people that they can do it. Most people either decide at some point that I wasn’t telling the truth and they leave, or they say, I’m going to do this. You see this pulling together at the end, and thankfulness that it isn’t 30 miles.

What is your favorite part of the Wall Walk?
 I’ve got two places that I really like. I like walking along the south edge of the wall, because I’ve seen that neighborhood change so much over the years. What was one of the most ram-shackled parts of the city got leveled, clear cut and turned into a tourist destination. No one knows that it used to be an old neighborhood now. I also like walking along the east side when you see Zijinshan. The wall is narrow and high and you really get this sense of a boarder. But all the parts have different pieces; even all the boring parts make the interesting parts interesting.

Why should students take part?
It is fun to trace the route of what you know was originally the classic city of Nanjing! I’ve done it 7 times, for me there is an element of just enjoying a really long walk and seeing the city change over the years. Also, there is something very nice about getting a “command” of a city, by which I mean knowledge of a place.

If students didn’t go on the wall walk, their mental geography of Nanjing would be like a spider web with the HNC at the center. It’s nice in your mental map to know where the current city is, how big the traditional city was, and how the two relate now. Every time we do this there is somebody who says “we should do that again this weekend.”

Written by Alexandra Hansen, Certificate '18

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2018 Admissions Guideline: Application Fee Waiver

By |October 25th, 2017|APSIA Member Blog Posts|

Did you know that you might be eligible for an application fee waiver? Not a lot of applicants realize that if they are/were part of a certain professional development program, they can receive a fee waiver.These are the following professional developm...

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HNC Alumni Profile: Maura Cunningham

By |October 24th, 2017|APSIA Member Blog Posts|

Maura Elizabeth Cunningham is a historian and writer who graduated from the Hopkins Nanjing Center with a HNC Certificate in 2008. She has her PhD in Modern Chinese History from the University of California, Irvine, M.A. in East Asian Studies from Yale University and B.A. in History from Saint Joseph’s University. She is co-author with Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (3rd edition), coming out in 2018.

What was it that drew you to apply for the Hopkins Nanjing Center originally?
I was planning to apply for PhD programs in Chinese history, because I had a pretty good sense that was where I wanted to go…But I wanted to go back to China. There was so much more that I needed to learn about China, so much more that I needed to do there, that the six months I had spent in Beijing studying Chinese just wasn’t enough, before I committed to a PhD program and settled back down for that in the United States. I came across the HNC and it was the kind of graduate program that I was interested in, and it would get me in China, studying really advanced Chinese for a couple of years. It was more than just language study, but more structured than going to China on my own and trying to find a job.

Did you feel your time at the HNC was beneficial in terms of your later study?
It really helped me to refine my academic interests. Taking the courses made me figure out what I liked, what I could focus on in my graduate career afterwards. The language skills that I picked up there – I already knew how to speak Chinese, I already knew how to get by in China – but the advanced, technical vocabulary I picked up and the ability and the confidence to write papers in Chinese was invaluable and you’re just not going to get that in any graduate program in the USA. There’s nothing like reading an academic article in Chinese to make you realize that’s a different thing entirely.

During my first year at the center, I was looking at many different PhD programs in history. I kept coming back to University of California, Irvine, because they were looking at Chinese history but also China’s engagement with other countries and looked at China within a context of world history. Jeff Wasserstrom, one of the UC Irvine professors, came through in my first year to do a talk. The American professors set up a meeting for me with him, I got to meet him face to face and talk about what my interests were and why I should study at his school. I wound up going to UC Irvine. The connection that I made with Jeff at the HNC was one of the reasons that that worked out.

I’m currently working on a co-authored book with Jeff: China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know. It’s the 3rd edition, the first was 2010, then 2013 and now we’re doing the 3rd edition. It’s a short introduction to contemporary China for people who really don’t know much about the country.

Is the book typical of your general academic interests?

Very broadly, my career is about education outside the classroom. I find a lot of fulfillment in talking to general audiences about China, to people who have never been there, who may never get there, but who want to learn more about it, want to understand it in more depth than reading the newspaper or listening to the news. I try to convey in my writing and public speaking that, yes China is special and there are so many unique things about the country, but it is also like other countries, and we shouldn’t always treat it as being this unique, one off sort of thing. News stories can sometimes be about how different China is from everyone else, and I look for connections, parallels and ways of saying let’s put this in a broader context, let’s think about the ways that China is following trends in other places or engaging with things that are happening in other countries, like the US. It’s a way of saying, we’re really not that different after all.

And do you think that’s a line of thought that you see in the HNC?
The HNC is one of the places where people realize how much the two countries have to learn from each other and how important people to people engagement is between the two. So it’s very useful, the chance to take courses with Chinese students and hear different perspectives on the same topics that we’ve learned about and talked about in American classrooms for decades. It’s also a place where you can hash things out: you say, we’re all coming to this topic with our own understandings that have been conditioned by our education and our media. Let’s exchange ideas and information, and maybe come up with a third understanding of the situation. I think the HNC is one of the very few places, and for a long time it was the only place, where you had Chinese and international students coming together in that sort of context.

Yes, the HNC differs a lot from the typical study abroad in China experience.
The HNC is also different from a language program in that people who usually teach Chinese to foreigners get very good at eliminating accents and they write in very precise standard characters. But at the HNC the professors speak in their normal accents and write with their normal handwriting. They’re not conditioning what they’re doing for a foreign audience. It’s incredibly useful to get used to hearing different accents and learning to read actual Chinese handwriting. It’s another learning curve and it’s a better training. You have to get accustomed to how people actually speak.

Is there anything that stands out from your time at the HNC?
The Wall Walk may still remain the most impressive physical feat that I have ever achieved. I remember the next morning not being able to walk down the stairs from my 5th floor bedroom because my leg muscles hurt so much. The wall walk was a great way to see the layers of Nanjing’s history going back to the Taiping rebellion, up until post 1949. I’m still very impressed with myself that I completed it and I’m not sure that I could do that today!

The spring of 2008 the Olympic torch came right by the HNC. All of the classes that morning were cancelled and we went out to the street and got to see the torch from 20 feet away as it passed. It’s something you just can’t replicate. It’s one of the things that at the time I thought it was cool and interesting, but I didn’t quite realize how important the Olympics were for China. It’s only as the years have passed that I’ve truly come to understand how fortunate I was to be in China in 2008.

Do you have any advice for students looking to write about China in their careers?
I think it is very important to look for unusual stories. Foreign correspondents tend to be based in Beijing or Shanghai or Hong Kong, and so if a young journalist is interested in going to China, there would be a lot of value in going to different cities or out to the countryside, so we get a more layered understanding of the country and its political and social dynamics.

I also recommend reading widely – reading about other places besides from China. I gravitate towards Russia, India, other countries in Asia, I just picked up a book on Brazil. There are certain countries that make for certain parallels – i.e. politically comparing China and Russia. It’s important to think about the world more broadly. Read other people, read other opinions, read a variety of writing styles, if you’re someone who’s really interested in writing. There are plenty of different ways to write about the world, and I think we need to train ourselves well in being good writers.

Do you have any thoughts on encouraging different voices in the conversation on China?
In my previous role, I was co-director of the Public Intellectuals program at the National Committee on US China Relations. That program trains mid-career scholars in learning how to do good interviews, how to speak with non-academic audiences and how to take their knowledge on China and disseminate it to the general public. It introduces the fellows to journalists in the US and China and they get to know each other so that the next time the journalist needs a source, they can use someone they’ve met through that program. That program is a fantastic way to introduce new voices into the conversation. Journalists can go into the national committee website and there’s a list of the 100 intellectual program fellows, and their academic specialties.

Do you have any podcast or book recommendations?
I'm a huge fan of podcasts and subscribe to a bunch of them. Aside from the Sinica podcast, other excellent China podcasts are Laszlo Montgomery's China History Podcast, the Little Red Podcast that Louisa Lim and Graeme Smith are doing from Australia, and Radii China's new Wo men/Women podcast, in which two Chinese women speak with guests about a wide range of topics, from Donald Trump and U.S.-China relations to adventure travel.

Any last thoughts on the HNC and your relationships stemming from the HNC?

When I lived in Shanghai there was an HNC alumni book club. We would get together on Sunday afternoons once or twice a month and talk about different books, dealing with international relations or China. None of them were people I’d gone to the center with but we all had that connection. It’s one of those things that when you find out you both went to the HNC, and even if they went there 10 or 15 or 20 years before you did, there’s still that connection there, so it’s just a really invaluable place to learn a lot and to meet people, and to forge those sorts of networks. It’s hard to believe I was there ten years ago – it just feels like yesterday.

Interview completed by Anna Woods, HNC Certificate/SAIS MA '18

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