First year MAIS wrap-up

First year MAIS wrap-up

First year MAIS student and HNC student worker Kalina Pateva reflects on her year at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. 

As the semester comes to a close, I find myself constantly wondering where the time went – the semesters seem to fly by, especially around finals. My first year at the HNC was a turbulent one, and it was honestly nothing like I imagined it would be. For one, due to the ongoing COVID-19 regulations in China, international HNC students were unable to physically attend the HNC campus – this not only meant that all of our classes were online, but also that the international and Chinese cohorts weren’t able to meet. As a result, my academic, extracurricular and social experience was much different than that of other cohorts.

Overall, I feel like I learned a lot in my first year at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, though semesters 1 and 2 were drastically different from each other. During the first semester, I was spending the entirety of my days, 9:00 – 19:00, or even later, reading articles and studying for class. For the whole semester, I was trying to read everything that was assigned and prepare notes before each class. This was extremely time consuming, as the volume of reading was extremely high and, especially in the beginning, my reading speed was quite slow. However, by the end of the semester I found that my reading speed for academic articles in Mandarin had gotten almost three times faster. Simultaneously, my academic writing improved exponentially – I found that I had subconsciously picked up key phrases, semantics, and other nuances of Chinese academic writing, which made my register sound much more scholarly by the time I was writing full-length final papers. I also found that I amassed a lot of technical knowledge – for the first time, I was able to discuss International Relations theories in Mandarin, I learned a lot of specific mechanisms of international organizations and global governance and was introduced to a wide array of theoretical approaches to social sciences that I can now draw upon if I’m ever reading something that isn’t super familiar.  

Students in Hua Tao's Ethnic Minorities Class were able to meet his friend 
and fellow professor, who does research on Chinese ethnic minorities at
Taiwan Chengchi University 

Second semester was also stressful, but in a different way. For one, by the spring semester you figure out which readings are the most important, and which parts of readings are worth spending a little time on. Due to the sheer volume of assigned reading, you probably won’t have the time or energy to read everything, and by the second semester it’s much easier to filter out what will be important, and what you can skim through. This can make the reading load much lighter, until it’s time to do your own research for the final papers. For some of us, myself included, second semester offered an opportunity to move to Taipei. This included a mandatory requirement to take 2 classes at Taiwan’s top university, National Taiwan University (NTU). While the grades from these two classes do not appear on your HNC transcript, it’s important to keep up a good rapport with your professors. So, for many of us this meant taking six total classes – 4 HNC and 2 NTU. Even with “easier” classes, this meant that the workload increased dramatically, and I found myself spending even more time preparing for classes – all amidst quarantine, moving, and settling into a brand-new environment. As the semester wraps up, taking more classes means having more finals, so the stress can definitely pile up. However, I was fortunate enough to take classes that also relate to my HNC degree, which gave me the ability to learn about the Taiwanese perspective on China – something I would not have had access to typically.  

As a MAIS student, first year also means thinking about my thesis. We had two classes in preparation for submitting a prospectus that outlines the topic, methodology, and major literature that you will be working with. Early in semester two, after declaring my concentration, I spoke to several professors in order to determine which one was best suited to advise my interests. Currently, I am in the process of narrowing down my topic and reading major works that relate to it. I meet with my professor to work on and perfect my prospectus, so that it can be a solid foundation for any thesis work I am able to do over the summer.  

Overall, my academic takeaway from the year is that despite the virtual situation, I was still able to learn a lot and improve my Chinese level, especially writing and reading. Out of all the classes I took, I rank Hua Tao’s Social Issues of China’s Modernization class as a must-take for any incoming student. As for me, after a year of only doing Mandarin-taught courses, I'm looking forward to finally taking some English-language courses with the international professors next year!  
Must take class: Hua Tao’s Social Issues of China’s Modernization

Coming to Taipei and getting to meet 15 other HNC international students was definitely the highlight of this year. Even though we all had a tough first semester that left us exhausted from Zoom meetings, getting to meet so many people in person was extremely refreshing, especially the trips we took together. Over spring break, myself and some other students went to the south of Taiwan to explore some southern cities like Tainan and Gaoxiong, and of course, to take advantage of the sunny weather at the beach. Just a few weeks ago, the entire group in Taipei was able to visit Jinmen, an island a mere 5km away from mainland China. It was cold and rainy throughout our trip, but the fact that we were all going through it together had everyone smiling and having a good time despite the unfortunate weather. We got to see a lot of old war memorials, underground tunnels, and of course – mainland China. So, while we weren’t able to meet our Chinese counterparts this academic year, we were able to (figuratively) wave to them from across the strait. Other highlights of extracurricular life have been alumni networking events, exploring Taiwan’s nightlife, meeting with classmates for meals or study dates, taking pole-dancing classes together, and even simple things like finding a group of buddies to hit the gym with. I feel like in the last few months, these little things have really brought back some sense of normalcy to the traditional graduate school experience. With more students potentially traveling to Taiwan in the fall, I’m sure our community will become even more 热闹 (renao – bustling).
Must-do activity: Group trip with other HNC-ers