Harry Potter Unites: Bridging the Cultural Gap in Nanjing

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Photo Courtesy: Susan Wang
Photo Courtesy: Susan Wang

Delivering on his platform promise to build a close-knit and fun student community, Certificate Student Brendan Melchiorri has used his position as the international male representative on the HNC’s Student Council to turn the Center into the Hogwarts-Nanjing Center of Chinese and American Studies and Wizardry. Melchiorri devised his own personality test that sorts students into the four residential houses of J.K. Rowling’s beloved Harry Potter series. In the past two months, be it in the Hopkins dining hall to the student lounge, sorting students with the help of a hat have become a common occurrence.

A month into the semester, Melchiorri, supported by the Student Council, has organized competitive games, such as a scavenger hunt, trivia, house placard design contest and most recently, Assassins. These activities have provided students the opportunity to socialize and improving team building skills while alleviating the stress of graduate studies in a foreign language.

The Potter house system has brought a new social energy to the Center’s student body, with 2/3 of the total Chinese and international populations sorted into one of the four houses (Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin) and many of the remainder participating as “muggles”.

Melchiorri initiated a Potter house system at his previous job in EF Beijing where its success in an office of 16 people continued even after his departure. The positive effect it had on community-building in the workplace encouraged Melchiorri to try it at the Hopkins Center, not expecting it to become as popular with the Center’s dedicated graduate students.

Bridging the Chinese and American cultural gap has been of the principal goals of the Hopkins Nanjing Center since its inception. While Harry Potter is more of a cultural phenomenon in the west, an integral part of many people’s childhoods and adolescence, the Hogwarts houses is bringing students together and helping Hopkins achieve this elusive goal, the failure of which can deflate the overall attitude of a study abroad program.

Jake Gunter, first-year MA Candidate, noticed the camaraderie go viral at Hopkins and decided to hop on the bandwagon.

“It’s nice to be able to bond, In addition, through the competitions we’ve had, we have been able to interact with a lot more classmates who have diverse backgrounds.”

Gunter also notes how it’s been a great way to balance out graduate school in China.

“The very nature of it (Hogwarts), being able to relax, get competitive over a few games helps balance out the stress with my graduate studies, especially with the foreign language aspect. I’m able to get to know my classmates in a non-academic environment.”

Previously, there have been concerns about Hogwarts and its role at Hopkins Nanjing but the idea is growing stronger and becoming more inclusive as more and more students and faculty are joining in, including Co-Director Cornelius Kubler and Economics Professor Paul Armstrong Taylor.

Armstrong Taylor notes, “In the past (five years) there have been organized events, all great, but there’s never been organized events like this, the House system is a great idea because it attracts a broader audience and helps with bringing individuals in, people tend to be more active when there’s more of a group mentality rather than individually.”

In addition, Armstrong Taylor expressed his own enthusiasm getting placed into a house.

“It makes sense to be in Ravenclaw, I think most professors have elements that align with this particular house. Plus, as an economics professor, I have enjoyed seeing the economics of strategy being played out in the competitions so far.”

The enthusiasm from Hopkins students and the possibility of keeping the Harry Potter momentum remains strong. Future events planned include a Yule Ball, courtyard picnics, a barbeque, and even themed social dances. Brendan is also optimistic about its future at Hopkins Nanjing.

“Moving forward, I hope that the Potter houses find their home at Center and become a sustainable fixture in student life. I hope it (Hogwarts) can grow beyond what it is now to become more inclusive and reflective of students’ interests and inspire more Hopkins students to take the initiative to enjoy their extracurricular lives in and out of the Center with each other.”

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