SAIS Students Find Ways to Balance Life and School in a Chaotic World

SAIS Europe Stays in Mental, Physical Shape


Photo Courtesy:  Edmund Ruge
Photo Courtesy: Edmund Ruge

Bologna is known throughout Italy as “La Dotta, La Rossa and La Grassa”, which translates to the educated, the red and the fat. The educated refers to the University of Bologna, one of the world’s oldest institutions of higher learning, and the red is for the town’s red roofs and communist history. And if you spend enough time indulging in Bologna’s rich culinary traditions “the fat” becomes self explanatory.

While Bologna’s architecture and academic atmosphere suits first-year M.A. candidate Edmund Ruge well, “the fat” doesn’t.

Looking to continue his active lifestyle, and to help fellow SAISers avoid La Grassa, Ruge, an ACE certified personal trainer, founded a weekly bodyweight exercise class with the working title “Bologna Bodies”.

Ruge hosted the inaugural Bologna Bodies session on Saturday October 11th at Park Giardini Margherita with a sparse turnout of one. However, the attendance for the hour-long workout routine that features cardio exercises intermixed with bodyweight resistance routines grew quickly. The following Saturday saw a turnout of four and the most recent gathering, which took place the day after the SAIS Bologna Halloween party, featured eight SAISers.

The growing popularity of the class is no surprise to Ruge. In fact, he founded Bologna Bodies foreseeing a large assemblage. “A lot of people, as soon as I say I’m a personal trainer, people say, ‘dude you got to get me in shape then’. I’m like, whoa. Wait. This is a job. It’s also a passion, and a hobby, but it’s a lot of work,” Ruge said. “So almost anticipating that, I thought, how can I help the most people? … because I know the interest is there. … People who don’t have a gym membership or people who just don’t like working out alone, or just don’t know enough to do their own thing … the weekend group fitness class, I knew at a minimum those people are going to love it.”

Even though all of Ruge’s two and a half years of professional personal training experience took place in the confines of Equinox Gym in New York City – where he trained clients using state-of-the-art equipment — he honed his competency in bodyweight training while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique.

Marooned in the costal town of Moma miles away from a proper gym, the 27-year-old made due with a half-complete jungle gym that served as a pull-up bar and some resistance bands brought from home to stay in shape during his two-year stint as a volunteer.

Subsisting on a low-protein diet, Ruge dropped 20 pounds during his time in Mozambique, but gained a respect for bodyweight workouts while away from the barbells.

“You can achieve a high-level of fitness with just bodyweight stuff. I’m convinced of that,” Ruge said. “You can get ripped if you’re diet is on point. You can get seriously cardiovacularly fit, and your strength and endurance can increase by doing a lot of push ups and a lot of pull ups.”

Whether it was training himself on a low-protein diet, or training American clients, Ruge emphasizes the situational needs of clients when designing their workout. Working with SAIS students, Ruge prioritizes hip flexor and upper-back warmups, two areas of the body that stiffen up as students sit hunched over their computers or books at school, before launching the work out.

“I love the circuit sets he does because they’re all bodyweight exercises,” first-year M.A. candidate Anne Tousignant Miller said. “But the stretching, like the ones he does for the hip flexors, feels amazing if you’ve been sitting around for most of the week like I have.”

After running through warmups, Ruge moves his class through a series of muscle activation exercises that transitions into alternating strength and cardio workouts. During the past two weeks, when attendance has been adequate, Ruge has ended the sessions with buddy exercises, not only to make the workout more enjoyable, but also so the attendees can push each other.

So far, his training methods have received rave reviews, and not just for the physical exercises, but for the mental clarity the workout brings as well.

“I think it’s super fun to be doing with other SAISers, and friends of SAISers. And contrary to what some people may think, it’s always been helpful to take some time out for myself to do some kind of physical activity,” Anne Tousignant Miller added. “Even though it may seem like it takes an hour out of your day, in my opinion, it actually helps me to be more productive afterwards because I’ve been able to clear my head.”

With midterms at SAIS Europe still in full swing, many may think that Ruge would tone down his weekly sessions, but to him, that would be counter-intuitive.

“When people say, oh it’s midterm season, I can’t be going to the gym. No, that’s exactly when you should be going to the gym,” Ruge said. “The mind and the body are inseparable. The more that you adhere to your fitness plan … the better you’re going to do on your test, too.”  


Nanjing Turns to Yoga, Cardio as Anti-Stressors


Mats unfurl onto the green carpet, the spray spritzed to disinfect, a group of 20-something students seated at the ready, waiting for further instructions. It’s 5 p.m. on Saturday evening and first-year M.A. candidate Joaquin Matek is about to lead his classmates through a series of deep ujjayi breaths followed by some stretching before the hour and half of yoga begins.

Two months into the program in Nanjing, Matek has led the evening Tuesday and Friday yoga classes for HNC students.  From the start of the semester, certificate students, the core of HNC along with the wisdom of second-year Master’s students have rallied to bring students together through exercise. Inspired by the fellowship of Hogwarts to strengthen camaraderie, a band of students both Chinese and International formed a group known as the “Ministry of Iron”. Each week on the popular Chinese app Wechat, the Ministry posts the course schedule, bringing word through the Center and the response has been overwhelming.

“Initially, I was surprised by the turnout for all the classes.” Matek noted. “I’ve noticed now two months in we have a core group of regulars .”

Other student instructors expressed similar feelings, but assumed the enthusiasm would eventually fade.

“You’d think the enthusiasm was going to die down”, Maguire Padley, first-year M.A. candidate, said.  “But a combination of the personalities this semester along with a group mentality has helped maintain this momentum, it pushes people, helps drives people to be involved without feeling self-conscious.”

Noticing there a lack of cardio focused classes, Padley found herself inadvertently leading one. Every Thursday or Friday evening, she teaches plyometrics, a training geared towards athletes: high intensity 30 minute workouts focusing on muscle strengthening and cardio. Her motivations for a cardio based regime echo what many students feel in Nanjing.

“There are many days where we can’t run outside, the pollution is bad or due to the weather, and the fact that gyms here can be quite expensive here, finding time to work out (as a student) is a lot tougher, especially in China.”

In addition to the daily air quality index (AQI) levels averaging ‘unhealthy’ (150 AQI and above), other factors can trigger stress, to many people the biggest surprise was the food.  Balanced meals with high protein and fresh vegetables are a challenge to find on a student budget on and off campus, especially when meals are dominated by oil and carbohydrates such as, noodles, rice and fried buns.

Stress is no laughing matter, according American Institute of Stress, one in five Americans experience “extreme stress” which symptoms can include depression, heart palpitations, and shaking.  Mayo Clinic states in most common cases stress can trigger headaches, sleep problems, and lack of motivation or focus.

“It’s important to take care of your health. People might think they should be studying instead and exercise might be a waste of time,” Matek expressed.  “I notice that when I don’t take care of myself, it makes me less effective as a student and as a person. Exercise has helped me keep things in perspective, when you have a paper due, let’s say. It’s just another task you need to complete, helps you not stress over the little things.”

With midterms approaching and finals just near the horizon, the Ministry remains vigilant combating stress. Recently, with the help of the Hopkins administration, a new squat rack is the latest addition to the fitness center.  New classes, such as a Navy SEAL workout, Ab Blasters are gaining popularity as we speak.  In addition, interest groups, such as Zumba, archery, rock climbing and ballroom dance have been gaining traction, with students attending on a regular weekly basis. Even though the structure of Matek’s yoga classes will remain the same, the take away is “the practice may be the same, it may be repetitive, but your body is different every time, you may be tired or less flexible, you are experiencing something different every time you do yoga. I hope it (yoga) can help people achieve their goals, help people be a better version of themselves.”

The initiative students are taking to balance out their lives is impressive. The enthusiasm these new certificate students have brought into the center has created a new energy, reaching out to a broader range of students, both Chinese and International, creating a supportive environment as everyone embarks on challenging coursework.

With students coming and going every year, it is with optimism that the “Ministry of Iron” can continue to play a significant role balancing students’ academic life, that future students of Hopkins Nanjing can carry the torch, helping more students develop the coping skills and mindfulness of channeling stress.

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