Category: Campus News

Club Corner: SAIS Jams Brings Music to SAIS DC

By Editorial Staff

October 30, 2019

Following their inaugural performance at a SAIS Alumni Happy Hour, student-led music organization SAIS Jams seeks to bring local musicians together to share their craft.

Inspired by the success of SAIS DC’s annual “SAIS Got Talent” in March of 2019, DC students put their heads together to create a creative and physical space to house a new drum set, coordinate set lists and expand outreach to engage musicians at all levels of musicality. With members that include classically trained pianists and former musical-theatre vocalists, SAIS Jams is eager to tap into the passion and potential of all closet musicians at SAIS.

SAIS Jams Rehearsal in Kenney Auditorium

President of SAIS Jams and second-year HNC Certificate-SAIS MA student Kevin Acker was struck by the lack of musical engagement on the DC campus. “DC is the only SAIS campus without a formal music room or practice space…I want to provide a platform for SAIS students to stay involved in music. There are plenty of academic and career focused extra curriculars, but very few are designed for people to enjoy their hobby.”

The club hosted an open call for participants early in the semester and continues to invite all students to performances, gigs and “jam sessions.”

Professor Canetti, the organization’s faculty advisor, regularly practices with students and graces every jam session with his nearly 40 years of musical experience on the keyboard.

Other members of the organization, including experienced musicians like bass player Simon Hudes, enjoy the reprieve from the stresses of academics that this outlet for musical expression has given them. As Hudes described his experience playing and jamming with his fellow students, “It loosens people up… and smoothes out the edges,” of students in an otherwise high-stress, high-pressure environment.

For students like Acker, music runs in the family. “My mother’s a singer, my father plays drums, and my grandfather was really into Dixieland jazz,” he explained. For Acker, “Music is cathartic and meditative.”

The club will be teaming up with the Latin American studies club (LASP club) on November 8, 2019 for their next performance in Kenney auditorium.

For more information on how to get involved with the SAIS Jams, contact Kevin Acker ( or Chris Merriman (

The 75th anniversary of SAIS invites reflection on its past—and its future

By Yilin Wang

October 29, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On a summer morning in 1943, Congressman Christian Herter and Paul Nitze were chatting about international affairs as usual over the breakfast table in a Georgetown house, while their wives were on vacation. At that time, the world was still shocked by the traumas of World War II and the U.S. was faced with the huge challenge of assuming the responsibilities as a postwar great power. So when Herter raised the idea of founding a graduate institution to train professionals in the international affairs in Washington, Nitze immediately took notice. Acting quickly, Herter and Nitze gathered a group of friends to support their initiative. Among them was Halford Hoskins, the founding dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, who was extremely supportive of the idea of establishing a graduate school of international studies in Washington. In fact, Hoskins soon moved to Washington and became the first director of SAIS. By October 1944, SAIS was up and running at an old mansion on Florida Avenue, formerly home to the Gunston Hall School for Girls.

The initial SAIS cohorts in the 1940s were small (23 students in the first class), almost resembling a family, and they consisted only of Americans. After all, SAIS’s founding fathers had envisioned the school as an institution that would train “young Americans for world careers in government or business.” The contrast is sharp between the situation then and now, when 38% of the M.A. students in the class of 2021 are international. In a conversation with Dean Eliot Cohen, he said, “I would say that we are an American school of international affairs—not in a parochial way, but in a rooted way, as we are located in the capital of the United States and that ought to be part of the appeal of SAIS. I think SAIS is ‘American’ in terms of its approach to higher education. American universities are different from those in Europe, China, or anywhere else for that matter, in ways such as faculty-student relationships, kinds of faculty members, etc. It’s not just that our students are international—we have international faculty, staff, and international presence as well. I think one of the things that makes SAIS distinctive is that we don’t pretend we are based on the moon and have no roots anywhere. We do, but in every other respect we are international and, I hope, welcoming.”

Though a brand new, independent institution, SAIS was authorized to award PhD degrees at the time it was founded. Interestingly, the 1949-50 catalog of SAIS indicated that the PhD degree at SAIS was a professional one “intended only for those to whose vocational plans it is essential.” This was a direct reflection of the positioning of SAIS as a professional school. Contrary to what one might believe, however, there were recurring debates throughout the school’s history on whether SAIS should be academically or professionally oriented, especially when there were changes in the composition of faculty. During the 1960s, as the first generation of SAIS faculty retired, prominent scholars Robert Osgood, Robert Tucker and George Liska came to form an integral part of the second-generation faculty, teaching theory-heavy courses on American foreign policy, American history, and so on. Students joked that they were the “sixth-floor mafia” because of their affiliation with the Washington Center of Foreign Policy Research (now Foreign Policy Institute), the flagship research center of SAIS at that time located on the sixth floor of the Nitze Building. Jokes aside, in the 60s, SAIS evolved from a vocational training program to a rigorous, structured academic institution. To this day, one of the things that distinguishes SAIS from other policy schools is that it can “pursue deep knowledge and yet still be relevant to policy,” remarked Dean Cohen.

During the 60s and 70s, the student body at SAIS was very actively engaged in political affairs. The Vietnam War elicited intensive debates on campus, as there were some who had fought in the war and others who had participated in the Peace Corps, groups that held completely different positions on the war. SAIS students would gather together and discuss how the group should voice their opinions in view of the intensifying war. After the bombing of Cambodia, they signed an open letter to publicly condemn the incident and also organized boycotts and strikes to express their fury. “As intensely politicized as a lot of things seem to be right now, it’s nothing compared to what it was compared to the Vietnam era, because you not only had the war but a lot of dramatic social changes, such as the Civil Rights Movements. So that was a time when people were politically very active,” said Dean Cohen.

The 70s and 80s witnessed substantial changes in all academic programs at SAIS, as the third generation of SAIS faculty arrived during this time. For instance, the Latin America Studies program underwent an influential reform under Riordan Roett and grew into one of the largest programs at SAIS. The Asian Studies program flourished under Dean George Packard, who was a distinguished scholar in East Asian studies. Dean Packard made huge efforts to establish the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies and also helped push forward the creation of Hopkins-Nanjing Center, a significant breakthrough of SAIS and a truly rare case in the entire field of higher education in both China and the U.S. at that time. It was also during this period that SAIS acquired the Rome building, as the school was expanding both in the scope of its studies and size of its members.

Dean Cohen arrived at SAIS in 1990. In his opinion, the biggest change of SAIS since 1990 has been the demographic turnover among faculties. In recent years, SAIS has experienced enormous changes among its faculty members, now representing different kinds of interests and a wider array of backgrounds. What’s more, he remarked that we are currently still at an early stage of a transition where the school will gradually evolve from an institution with predominantly M.A. students to one that will feature more types of degrees and reach more demographics. There will also be deeper integration between SAIS and other Johns Hopkins divisions. For example, there will be more SAIS classes taught to undergraduate students at Homewood, a more direct admissions program for Hopkins undergraduates, and perhaps even cooperation with the Whiting School of Engineering and the Applied Physics Lab, with potential courses exploring the intersection of technology and international affairs. SAIS plans to launch a joint degree program with the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School as well. The move to 555 Pennsylvania Avenue will create a great opportunity for cooperation among different divisions to take place, and the move, as described by Dean Cohen, will be a “transformative” experience.


Gutner, Tammi. The Story of SAIS. Washington, D.C.: School of Advanced International Studies, The Johns Hopkins University, 1987.

What are you up to this weekend?

Taylor Loeb

October 25, 2019

Location: Nitze Café

Time: Friday afternoon

Walks into Grab and Go. Sees Steve.

Steve: Hey! What are you up to this weekend?

Me: Not much. Just hanging, I guess. You?

Steve: Not much. I have this paper to bang out for the Jordanian government about that new tax reform in the Zarqa region. They want it in Arabic and English, which is a pain. Saturday I’ll probably hang out with a professor or something during the day and then I’m supposed to lead these protests on the CBO’s new provisions in the afternoon.

Me: Oh, nice. Have fun.

Leaves Grab and Go. While walking toward elevator, runs into Rosa.

Me: Hey Rosa! Happy Friday. What are you up to this weekend?

Rosa: Eh. Keeping it chill. Finishing this op-ed for Bloomberg on the implications of this US-China trade stuff on East Timor. Then, I don’t know, I think I’m supposed to testify on the Hill about that Ebola work I was doing in Guinea last summer on Saturday afternoon which is kind of annoying because I’m committed to a couple gallery openings Downtown on Saturday night. But whatever. And I guess Dean Cohen is supposed to come over for brunch on Sunday or something so I have to prep for that. But, yeah, kinda just weekending. You?

Me: I don’t know. Maybe some homework or a party or something. So that’s, like, the person who runs our school, Dean Cohen?

Rosa: Yeah, I mean, last time we were over at his, so it’s my turn to host.

Entering elevator, runs into Tomas.

Me: Wow Tomas! Did you lose weight?

Tomas: Yeah, I ran two half marathons back to back this morning. How are you?

Me: Just, you know, grinding away and stuff. Plans for the weekend?

Tomas: Meh. Going to fly back to Portugal tonight. I have to deliver my concession speech on Saturday morning — you win some, you lose some — and then I’ll probably meet some investors after that — you probably heard about the new venture. Anyways, I’m gonna shoot back for Saturday night. I think Karlin and McLaughlin wanted to grab drinks. Plus, Trump is really putting the pressure on me to reveal my identity so I might write up a memo and just get it over with, you know. But, honestly, yeah

should be nice. Yourself?

Me: Something like that, yeah.

Leaving library, at the tables in front of Nitze. Runs into Eliza.

Me: Hey! Eliza. It’s been a minute! What are you up to this weekend?

Eliza: Probably just bop around D.C. and do some homework.

Me: What?

Eliza: I guess just hang out. Maybe go to a Happy Hour. There’s a high likelihood I binge-watch “Fleabag” on Saturday night. Maybe sleep in and read in the park on Sunday.

Me: What?

Eliza: Yeah. It’s the weekend, man.

Me: Right, but don’t you have something important to do? Like, you know, something that will inspire me with deep feelings of inadequacy and fear about my future? That Happy Hour you said you might go to — is it exclusive in some capacity? Will people with high-level security clearances be there?

Eliza: Umm. Sauf Haus? Probably not, to be honest.

Me: Please…can I go with you?

Trump and Pelosi’s impeachment-themed golf course release Ukrainian taxes as Supreme Court tweets sanctions

[Editor’s note: In addition to pursuing the truth and impactful journalism, the SAIS Observer also supports the advancement of science in the modern world for a better future. We have chosen to partner with the Functional Algorithmic-Yield Kernelspace initiative of JHU’s Whiting School of Engineering to develop and test an artificial intelligence program for generating news articles. The project, dubbed F.A.Y.K. News, web-scrapes thousands of articles from online journalistic sources to best approximate and summarize aggregate news stories in near real-time. We hope you enjoy the world’s first iteration of machine-learned reporting.]

WASHINGTON — Ecuador magnate prayed that new fellow stealth F-35 would revive the independence movement in the northern territories. The SAIS Observer has the latest on this story.

At noon yesterday United States and coalition aerial drones led new trade deals without Turkey upon discovery of controversial South Park episode, leading to climate activist outrage. “Russia successfully tested and launched a new hypersonic missile capable of carrying six warheads and could widen the inequality gap,” said Baskin Robbins CEO. 

The result for US-backed allies in Syria? Justin Trudeau pledged to reduce coal consumption by 120% by 2020 in response to a $1.7 million cocaine stash seized in a raid by the Coast Guard. Meanwhile, an unarmed man shot by UN ambassadors and a NASDAQ spokesperson has sued a hospital for defamation, enraging Twitter fans. “If we don’t stand for anything, we stand for an accelerating budget deficit,” proclaimed social media followers. Investigators still could not explain the drug bust at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

Trump welcomed the Minister of Trump for 1 hour and 59 minutes, beating previous world marathon records at Trump Tower. Emails Benghazi inquiry could lead to 11 new political appointees to arrest those responsible for spayed and neutered pets — likely killed in airstrikes in southern Afghanistan.

German leaders made it clear that they will not stand for the increasing price of opiates. They are expected to send an envoy of LeBron James to renegotiate carbon tax credits. Trump made remarks in the Bering Sea soon after to criticize NBA involvement in Guantanamo Bay operations. Box office failure “Gemini Man” starring Will Smith and Mike Pence was considered the “final straw” for cancelling the Brexit deal.

Greenland’s glaciers face potential jail time for campaign finance fraud — for more information, follow our internet.

Student Trade-offs = SAIS Identity Loss?

By Nikole Otolia

October 25, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. — While much attention has been paid to SAIS’s future move to 555 Pennsylvania Ave., word on the street is that changes may be coming to SAIS’s language department as soon as the next academic year. The SAIS Observer reached out to the SAIS administration, current faculty members and five MA students to gain a better understanding of the SAIS language department and what it means to the SAIS community.

As a part of the SAIS experience since 1943, the language department has expanded over the years to offer instruction in 17 languages. One of the SAIS language program’s unique qualities compared to other top international relations graduate institutions is that the language staff is trained to teach students IR-specific terms in a graduate school setting. As the joke goes, SAIS students learn how to negotiate for nuclear nonproliferation in their target language, but at the same time may have no idea how to order a sandwich in that language. Is this part of the SAIS experience and identity to be shrunk or altered in the coming years?

Speaking to the SAIS Observer, Vice Dean Filipe Campante of Academic Affairs offered a window into the discussion taking place in the upper echelons of the SAIS administration. “We at Academic Affairs are currently engaged in a review of the Language Program…We are thus focused on how we can continue offering a vibrant language program, which requires allocating our resources in line with the needs of students as conveyed by their interest and enrollment, as well as thinking creatively about how to provide the best instruction,” he said.

The statement highlights the role that students play in shaping their education at SAIS by signaling their interest in foreign language instruction through their enrollment in language classes. This prompts consideration, however, of a problem that has been a topic of discussion at SAIS for years. Several sources confirmed that for decades, SAIS students have had to balance the plethora of internship opportunities afforded to them by the city of Washington D.C. with taking advantage of the foreign language instruction at SAIS. Language classes tend to be scheduled for earlier in the day and are typically not offered in the evenings, making it difficult to coordinate with the usual 10-15 hours per week that internships generally require. Thus, many students feel they must make a choice between furthering their foreign language education and pursuing an internship that could make all the difference in their job hunt. Especially once a student is past the point of proficiency in their target language, it may become increasingly difficult to justify choosing in favor of language training.

The SAIS Observer spoke with five SAIS second-year students from different concentrations about whether the SAIS Language Program factored into their decision to come to SAIS and if they have faced the internship-language trade-off. Matt Serrone, a Strategic Studies concentrator, shared that he initially came to SAIS hoping to take a class focused on economics and national security in German, a language he has studied on and off for 13 years. After testing out of proficiency in German last September, Serrone was told that SAIS does not offer a post-proficiency German class and he would have to go to Georgetown for more advanced instruction. “I [actually] had gone to Georgetown undergrad and I really enjoyed their [language] program…there were graduate students in the program, but I thought that while I was in graduate school, I wanted a program that was specifically targeted towards graduate students and their specific concentrations,” Serrone told the Observer. Although he was not able to continue with German, Serrone decided to pick a new language to focus on while at SAIS, and he settled on Russian. One year later, he is currently in Russian Mid I with hopes of taking the Russian proficiency exam in May; however, he maintains that he would have taken Advanced German if SAIS had the ability to offer it.

Another student taking full advantage of the SAIS Language Program is Sarah Aver, a Tsinghua-SAIS dual degree student looking to graduate this December. While at SAIS, Aver made the decision to focus on her Chinese language training during the semester and intern over the summer. “I am adding a very unique skill…once you’re good enough in Chinese or any language it’s something that makes a difference in a job market.” She also added that while she has taken many Chinese classes throughout her life in different institutes and countries, “The one at SAIS is probably one of the best I’ve ever taken. You are only 3 or 4 in the class, they are very flexible and in terms of quality and improvement of skills, it’s definitely the best class I’ve ever taken.”

While Aver and Serrone expect to use their language skills in their future careers, Lujia Yang, another Tsinghua-SAIS dual degree student, explained that knowledge of a second foreign language doesn’t matter as much in the field she wants to enter. This is the major reason why she has not continued her study of French, as she had originally planned to do at SAIS, so that she can focus on internships and job hunting. “It really depends on the industry [someone wants to work in.]”

Gricelda Ramos, a Latin American Studies concentrator, agrees—but for different reasons. While the SAIS language program did factor into Ramos’s decision to come to SAIS, she commented that her view has shifted as she gets closer to graduating. As she explained, “I have always prioritized language learning, but my future career in the Foreign Service will provide language learning opportunities; therefore, I took the decision to spend my second year at SAIS interning.” Likewise, Chris Merriman, an African Studies concentrator, voiced a similar experience. He said, “I wanted to take advantage and learn a new language [Arabic] last year…but I do think that this year the trade-off for me was higher for the internship because I feel that it was providing more value for me in terms of my future career than taking an extra semester of Arabic.”

Each student at SAIS has a language story: how many languages they spoke before SAIS, the language in which they take their proficiency exam, and the languages they hope to improve or begin to learn while at SAIS. Each person’s story is different, but all must go through the language department to graduate. Whether they choose to test out of proficiency their first semester in order to focus solely on internships or to take full advantage of the languages offered at SAIS is a personal decision in which each student must consider their goals and weigh the opportunity costs. 

One thing is certain: SAIS stands out among other IR graduate school programs, with its multifaceted curriculum that requires economics, regional studies and policy concentrations, a diverse language program, and its location in the heart of Washington, D.C. As Dean Campante shared with the Observer, “We do understand that it is something that our students and alumni value, and that we, as an institution, believe is an important part of a top-notch education in international affairs.”

SAIS has always focused on giving students world-class training in economics and languages, both of which are key parts of the school’s identity and comparative advantage. As SAIS celebrates its 75th anniversary, acknowledgment of what has made SAIS a leader in advanced international studies is more appropriate than ever.

SAIS unveils new Master of Arts in European Public Policy

October 13, 2019

By Gerhard Ottehenning

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Prospective SAIS students with an interest in European Union  institutions and governance may have noticed the addition of a new program: the Master of Arts in European Public Policy (MEPP). Beginning in Fall 2020, SAIS Europe will welcome its first cohort of MEPP students to its campus in Bologna, Italy. Leveraging the European campus’ access to EU officials and its transatlantic faculty, the MEPP program aims to prepare students for a successful career in the European policy community. The year-long MEPP program will be divided into four terms beginning in the summer of 2020 and ending with an internship or original research project in the summer of 2021. The winter term allows students to spend two weeks visiting EU governing institutions and exploring the areas that most interest them. 

The program will be directed by former European Commission director-general and political scientist, Michael Leigh, and will fall under the responsibility of SAIS-Europe and its director, Michael Plummer. Leigh said that the MEPP will “provide students with an insider’s understanding of the functioning of the EU and to support them in their efforts to build a career in areas related to the EU.” This will include efforts to facilitate student access to governing institutions, think tanks, professional associations, law firms and other entities with close ties to the EU. The goal is to ensure MEPP graduates have “a clear advantage over their competitors in pursuing EU-related careers,” Leigh said.

Given the wide array of masters programs offered at SAIS, Leigh said that the MEPP is seeking to set itself apart by appealing to “students eager to develop their career in the [European policy community] who were ready to dedicate one year, but not two years, to a masters program.” The program hopes to attract a mix of recent graduates, students with a first masters degree, and mid-career professionals whose work brings them in close contact with EU institutions. Daniela Coleman, director of admissions and recruiting at SAIS-Europe, said she hopes the MEPP will appeal to students “seeking or engaged in a career as an official, contract agent, consultant, diplomat, lobbyist, government affairs expert, business, NGO, regional or professional representative, journalist and more.” Those with an interest in such careers may enjoy the unique benefits of the program’s winter term including “one-to-one meetings” and “training in specific skills needed to operate effectively in the EU policy community including negotiation, languages, public speaking, and drafting of political briefings and communications,” Leigh said.

The current price tag for the MEPP is 30,000 Euros ($33,082 USD) for tuition, with an estimated total cost of 56,236 Euros ($62,013 USD). Financial aid will not be offered for the program due to the MEPP being subsidized by SAIS Europe. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis, with the final deadline for admission at the end of April 2020.  

Is age just a number? SAIS Europe average age lowest in 24 years

By Zoe Mize

October 7, 2019

BOLOGNA, Italy — During his welcoming remarks, SAIS Europe Director Michael Plummer, received mixed reactions from incoming students when announcing that the average age of SAIS Europe students for the 2019-2020 academic year is lower than previous years. In fact, this year’s average age of 24 is the lowest recorded in over two decades. 

In a conversation with The SAIS Observer, Director Plummer discussed the implications of this statistic. Dir. Plummer is not convinced that the statistic is particularly meaningful, reminding students that although age may correlate with experience, it is not a causal mechanism. 

According to Dir. Plummer, the relatively low average age of new students to the Bologna campus may have less to do with experience, and more to do with a shift in admissions decisions, as SAIS seeks to grow its Master of Arts in International Affairs (MAIA) program. The program consists of a two-year masters degree based in Bologna at the SAIS Europe campus. Students enrolled in the MAIA program are able to complete one year of the degree at a partnered European institution, making the degree appealing to a greater number of European students. Usually, European students come to SAIS Europe directly after completing their undergraduate degree.

Markus Specht, 23, is a first year Master of Arts student concentrating in International Development. Specht confirms that the European educational system encourages the pursuit of a masters degree directly after completion of an undergraduate degree. Though Specht may not have full-time professional experience, the flexibility of the German educational system afforded him the opportunity to work multiple part-time jobs while taking classes in Berlin, preparing him for the rigorous International Development program at SAIS. Speaking to the advantages of entering graduate school directly following his undergraduate degree, Specht acknowledges, “You’re in the academic mindset, everything is fresh.”

Dir. Plummer also sees an advantage to younger students in the classroom, where youth can provide for a new perspective. He revealed that SAIS is encouraging more Johns Hopkins undergraduate students to spend their junior year abroad at SAIS Europe. 

Natalia Woo, 20, is one such student. While she sees an advantage to studying among older, more experienced peers, she sometimes feels overwhelmed by their career experience. “Especially when [older students] are like, ‘Oh, what do you want to do with your life,’ the conversation ends there, basically,” she says, emphasizing her own lack of professional experience.

Hopkins also offers a dual BA/MA program, allowing students to complete their bachelors and masters degrees in only five years. Although these students may have less professional experience to offer, Ashley Wax, 21, finds that her studies were positively affected. “It’s important to understand how my narrative is just as important to bring to the table as other people around me, even if that might not necessarily reflect my work experience.”

As students settle into the school year, age differences can become more apparent to some. For students older than the average, such statistics can seem jarring. “There is definitely a gap,” says first-year student Hayley Anderson. At 30 years old, Anderson has nine years of professional experience outside the classroom. However, she feels that younger students bring a noticeable eagerness to their classes and to their professional development. As someone with an existing professional network, Anderson recognizes that she can take a more relaxed approach to career opportunities and internships. 

Mandy Bowers, 27, agrees that age and experience can be beneficial to her educational approach. Bowers has worked in a variety of roles in consulting, at the Federal Reserve, and as an English teacher in Xinjiang, China. She is now pursuing a dual MA/MBA with SAIS and Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires (INSEAD). “I’ve definitely noticed some advantages, personally. Especially as compared to my undergrad, I feel a lot more focused on knowing what I want to get out of grad school, knowing how much time I need to put into the balance of classes, extracurricular study, research assistant position, whatever. I think I just have a better control on my time now than I did before.”

Dir. Plummer pointed to other factors that, he believes, may be more important than age. In particular, he notes that SAIS is a forum wherein students from diverse backgrounds can gather and learn. The rigorous economic curriculum at SAIS provides a common link between future alumni, who may go on to work in all types of careers, and industries around the world. To him, age is just a number.

Credit: SAIS Registrar, courtesy of Bernadette O’Toole 

Drawing the Future

By Rashi Seth

October 17, 2019

BOLOGNA, Italy — Bolognese graffiti offers a glimpse into the social, cultural and political mindset of the Bolognesi people. The city’s walls serve as blank canvases for open expression of grievances under the protection of anonymity. 

The word graffiti is derived from the Italian word “graffito,” meaning singular scratch; graffiti refers to writings or drawings scribbled illicitly in public places. The earliest graffiti can be traced back to Pompeii, before Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.  

Graffiti is ubiquitous in Italy, especially in student towns like Bologna. Most of the graffiti is concentrated in the Via Zamboni area, home to the University of Bologna and its 86,500 students. Here, it holds more significance, reflecting the Bolognese expression of the present political order and depicting what is happening at a particular time and place. 

Today, Bologna contains 38 kilometers of porticoes built between the 11th and 20th centuries. The porticoes were recently nominated as a UNESCO cultural heritage site. The graffiti in Bologna is usually contemporary; it is only demonstrative of the current political scenario, since it is usually removed to preserve the historic porticoes. The latest issues feature Turkish President Erdogan attacking the Kurds in Syria. The walls are laden with “Erdogan Assasino” (assassinate Erdogan), “La rivoluzione è un fiore che non muore” (the revolution is a flower that does not die), and “Viva La Revoluzione Kurda” (Long live the Kurdish revolution).

Locals call Bologna the city of “La Dotta, La Grassa, La Rossa” (the learned, the fat, and the red). La Rossa refers to Bologna being the anti-fascist capital since the World War II and the heart of the Renaissance movement. The city was a fortress for Italy’s communist party along with its vibrant student protest culture for decades. 

Bologna’s lasting leftist leanings clash with the recent Italian political swing to the right over issues like immigration, portending difficult times ahead. This shift has given rise to Mussolini-influenced neo-fascism in Italy. Bologna’s history with anti-fascism and its communist local government since World War II do not stand in silence during such times. Graffiti with words like “Attaca lo stato” (attack the state) are still present in Piazza Francesco due to the Bolognese disdain for the state’s fascist, xenophobic traits. 

Even in the face of political uncertainty, Bologna will continue to be “la citta dotta” for decades to come, as it has in the past, providing insight into the Bolognese political grievances through its ever-changing graffiti. 

Il viaggio: Immigrants to Italy from sub-Saharan Africa share their stories

By Fatou Sow

October 2019

BOLOGNA, Italy — Migration from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe is not a new phenomenon. However, according to the Pew Research Center, migration from sub-Saharan Africa has increased drastically during the past decade. Europe has witnessed an influx of nearly 1 million asylum applicants from sub-Saharan Africa (970,000) between 2010 and 2017. The dangerous journey in search of better opportunities forces young adolescents and teenagers to pass through multiple countries. The trend of asylum-seekers going through the “backway” — a colloquial term for illegal smuggling channels — has resurfaced of late. This is seen firsthand in Bologna.

The group of young black men standing near Montagnola Park is immediately noticeable. Some may find it surprising to see high concentrations of black youth in Italy. However, they have established long-lasting communities in Bologna, particularly the Senegambian population. The SAIS Observer interviewed two Gambian migrants, Aly (age 23) and Boubacar (age 17), who successfully migrated to Italy and have been living in Bologna for the past few years.

The SAIS Observer: Why did you decide to come to Italy?

Aly: Since I was 17, I just decided while I was living with my family. I applied for an American visa two times but I didn’t get it, and I heard people were going to Italy. So, I woke up one day, packed my bag, took some money from my family, and I just ran away without anybody knowing. I talked with one of my friends and we decided to go on the journey.

Aly’s friends waiting to continue their journey in Sabha, Libya.

 “In the Sahara, you will go and you will meet dead bodies. The journey is a big risk,” said Aly.

Many of the “backway” stories are unsuccessful. Aly explained that he had to leave one of his friends behind because he did not have enough money to move between countries. He was exposed to situations he had never encountered in the Gambia: police roughing up migrants in Burkina Faso, young children carrying guns in Agadez, even dead bodies in the Sahara. 

“It’s like a connection, like drug dealing and a family business. For example, if you are in Bahe, the other family member will be in Taraghin, Sabha and Tripoli. If the brother takes the people from Bahe to Taraghin, the other brother will smuggle us from Taraghin to Sabha and then next to the capital of Tripoli.” -Aly

Photo of Aly’s friends waiting to continue their journey in Sabha, Libya

The SAIS Observer: How has your transition to Italy? How have the past few years been in terms of family, making new friends and working?

Aly: I arrived in Bologna on April 11, 2014. I was in a city outside of Bologna. I was there for one month since I was underage and I stayed at that camp. I went to school for one month. The boss who was living there was a very good guy. He really liked many of us and gave me an opportunity for work. After six months, I got a contract and I got my documents within three months. I just have to thank the community of Bologna. They made my life after God.

Aly has been in Bologna for almost six years and today has the opportunity to supervise incoming migrants. Boubacar is one of the young students he looks after here in Bologna. The Observer’s interview with Boubacar follows:

The SAIS Observer: What made you come to Italy and how was the journey for you?

Boubacar: I was a student in Gambia. One of my friends came the backway to Italy so I played a fake game to my daddy. I told him that I had a school excursion so he gave me money for the contribution. I took that money to pay the bus and went from Banjul to Bamako, Mali. I was in Mali for four days and then went to Algeria. After being in Debdeb for one week, I went to Tripoli, Libya. It’s too much money. After that, I was in Tripoli for three weeks and then arrived to Italy. I was around 15 years old when I left and I have been in Bologna for three years.

The SAIS Observer: Was there a language barrier for you during the journey from Gambia to Italy?

Boubacar: Yes, language is difficult. For me, I speak English, Wolof and Mandinka. So, some countries were easy. Those countries though (Algeria and Libya), people speak only Arabic so it was difficult. 

With respect to his transition, Boubacar is thankful to God for allowing him to make it to Italy. He’s made new friends, enjoys playing basketball, likes going to school and wants to be an electrician when he grows up.

Young migrant men and women face real dangers on the journey to Europe. Aly told the SAIS Observer that if someone paid him to do it all over again, he would say no. The men also said their journeys would not end in Italy. After saving enough money, Aly and Boubacar plan to return to Gambia to take care of their families and start life in their homeland afresh. Both gave thanks to Allah and to the community of Bologna for welcoming them as their own. Their journey has been difficult, but Aly, Boubacar and many other young migrants are determined to create a better life for themselves.

Six-figure salary? There’s a class for that.

September 24, 2019

By Nikole Ottolia

WASHINGTON⁠, D.C. — As SAIS students settle into the joys of economics problem sets and language proficiency training this fall semester, our contemporaries at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (HKS) are diving into, “Fundamentals of Negotiation Analysis.” Taught by Professor Brian Mandell, who has been teaching public policy, international conflict resolution and negotiation for 30 years, the course is known for having an intense pace and heavy workload. He begins the first class each year with a statement: “I am going to teach you how to negotiate your way to a six-figure salary.”  

The statement highlights the culture at HKS, where the importance of graduating students into high salaried positions remains a top priority. All HKS students are required to take the course during their first semester at school, where typical programs require two years of study.  “It’s one of the most difficult classes because it’s a huge time commitment. You meet twice a week, once for lecture and Tuesday evenings for case study role plays,” explains Pedro Armelin, a Master in Public Policy candidate, HKS ’20. “But it’s super rewarding in the end.” 

However, there is more to the course than salary negotiation. In addition to an introduction to negotiation analysis and bargaining, the course includes weekly exercises covering real life case studies with topics ranging from dealing with piracy of U.S. intellectual property to the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the JCPOA). “The case studies are the real beauty of the class because they are actually historical cases, and we [the class] are broken up into teams and have to decide what we would do in that situation,” Armelin went on to explain. “All of the HKS first years have to take the course—no matter if they were expert negotiators before coming to Harvard or not. At the end of the term, Professor Mandell meets with each student individually to discuss how each of us can move forward.”

This is not to say that SAIS is lacking negotiation courses; on the contrary, the Conflict Management Department offers several such classes including “International Bargaining and Negotiation,” taught by Professor Sinisa Vukovic, which has a comparable syllabus to its Harvard counterpart. What is striking about the Harvard model is that all HKS students are required to take the course. While HKS also uses a bid point system for class selection, all first-year students are enrolled in “Fundamentals of Negotiation Analysis” automatically; whereas at SAIS, non-priority students needed to bid a minimum of 500 points to squeeze into “International Bargaining and Negotiation” this semester.  

Should SAIS institute a school wide negotiation course that all students must take to graduate? Matt Eiss, a Latin American Studies concentrator graduating in 2020, agrees, “It’s a very useful skill to provide students—and to make it mandatory, that’s key.” Meanwhile, others cite the fact that many students come to SAIS in order to focus on economics and the specialization of their choice, while negotiation skills are something they have already acquired or feel they have no need to study. As for HKS’ Armelin, the skills he honed while taking “Fundamentals of Negotiation Analysis” assisted with negotiating the terms of his housing lease for this academic year. What’s next for him? That six-figure salary, no doubt.