Category: SAIS Matters

A Hopkins-Nanjing Halloween

Photo by: Alexandra Hansen


NANJING – Halloween came early this Saturday at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center with a night-long celebration for the students and staff. The event featured music, a live band and a gift card raffle. Costumes were mandatory for attendance and did not disappoint. Highlights included a full-piece Winnie the Pooh costume, Daenerys Targaryen, and Rorschach from Watchmen.

Attendees voted on awards such as “scariest costume” and “funniest costume” for a Center-wide costume contest. Winning “most creative” were Sun Yi and Anneliese Gegenheimer for their pairing of Frozen’s Anna and Elsa. Gegenheimer explains, “Sun Yi had never done Halloween before and wanted to dress up. I wanted something where we were sisters because we’re roommates, and was trying to think of something she’d know that’s also famous in China. I said Frozen, and it just worked.”

The Hopkins-Nanjing student band took the stage at 9 p.m. The set-list featured seven songs, including Halloween classics like “Monster Mash” and “Thriller,” as well as some non-holiday hits like “Toxic.” To prepare, the band practiced twice a week for about a month and every day in the week leading up to the party. Bassist Joel Forsstrom’s favorite song to play was “Uptown Funk” because the band’s version had solos for the drums, guitar and bass. The song ended with a three-minute extended jam session. “Thriller” was a hit among the American students, including Brian Hart. “I always love Thriller, because that’s the most Halloween-y song ever,” he says.

The Hopkins-Nanjing Center ‘banwei’ committee (a student council consisting of elected international and Chinese students) organized the night’s festivities. The committee spent the majority of Friday and Saturday putting up $200 worth of decorations, including a spider-web wall where party-goers could take pictures.  

The Halloween celebration was relatively unique as the holiday is not widely celebrated in China, though it is becoming more popular according to Certificate student Mao Tingting. Gao Yaqian, a master’s student, notes the growing popularity of Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day in Chinese culture, since “businessmen have a great opportunity to sell things, and people like to have fun and go to parties.”

The American and Chinese Leadership Transitions: Perspectives from Nanjing

HNC Students watch Xi Jinping’s Opening Remarks. Photo Credit: Brian Hart


NANJING – The Chinese Communist Party held the 19th Party Congress this month in Beijing. At the Party Congress, a new leadership was chosen. This leadership will set the path for China and guide the next five years. At the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, SAIS students gained an unique perspective on this major event. Significantly, the 2018 MAIS class experienced the leadership transitions of both China and the United States. Last year, students watched as the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election results rolled in, and this past week they had a front-row seat to the 19th Party Congress. However, reactions to these two events varied significantly at the Center.

Before the U.S. Presidential Election, the Center hosted several speakers and roundtable discussions about the candidates and the merits of American democracy. Students gathered in the auditorium, sometimes skipping morning classes, to watch the livestream of the Presidential debates. In the weeks leading up to the election, American students asked each other “have you mailed in your ballot yet?”

On the day of the election, students filled the student lounge as the election results were reported by county. With a predominantly liberal student body, the mood throughout the day shifted from that of excitement to despair, and Chinese students flowed in and out of the lounge to witness the spectacle. Chinese student Shi Zeyu reflected, “I was surprised by how heated the American students got during the election results. I saw so many students smoking that day.” With a twelve-hour time difference from the U.S. East coast, the students had plenty of daylight left after the election results to either drown their sorrows or celebrate their unanticipated victory.

Many students at the HNC are considering a career in government and were particularly engaged with the election. Kris Rodulfo commented, “Being abroad made me feel more detached from the election, but I was still invested since the results came as such a shock. I would like to work in the federal government and whoever is in office has a direct effect on my willingness to serve. Since Trump is in power, my plan is to wait it out until the next administration.”

The rest of the year was spent discussing one question – “What happened?” Guest speakers and club meetings addressed this topic throughout the spring semester. Just this month, another speaker came to campus to discuss the role of gender during the 2016 election.

In contrast, the lead-up to the 19th Party Congress was much less emotionally charged. Granted, the 19th Party Congress marks the start of Xi Jinping’s second term as Party Secretary, and leadership changes only affected the Standing Committee, a group of seven senior Party officials who guide policy. Nonetheless, changes at this Party Congress sets the stage for the 20th Party Congress, for which it is debated whether Xi Jinping will step down after serving two terms.

As the convention approached, Chinese website layouts were redesigned and red banners were strung up around Nanjing announcing the upcoming event. The student group-chat was dominated by the question “Is your VPN working?” as the government tightened internet controls. Classes such as Chinese Government and Politics turned their attention to the Party Congress, hosting lively debates about possible changes in the Politburo Standing Committee.

Outside of these classes, however, official discussion about the Party Congress was limited at the Center. American student Margie Tanner described the atmosphere at the Center as apathetic: “We all know what to expect with the Party Congress.” Chinese classmates conveyed a lack of sense of participation with the Party Congress since they had no direct influence on its outcome. Chinese youths have a phrase called “cha shui biao” (查水表), which literally translates to ‘reading the water meter.’ It refers to the way that things one says on the internet can be censored and possibly used against them in the future. There have been high-profile cases of people being punished for criticizing the Communist Party during private in-person conversations as well. With this atmosphere, there was not much public discussion about the Congress.

Despite these differences, witnessing both leadership transitions has initiated deeper engagement with U.S.-China relations among HNC students. American student Christian Flores shared, “Trump’s win signaled a withdrawal from the international stage for the country. I think that this kind of withdrawal changed the way I viewed China’s role in the international stage. I now believe that China should continue to push for multilateralism and engage the U.S. even more so than before.”

Caroline Yarber is a second-year M.A. candidate at the Nanjing campus as well as the Nanjing Bureau Chief. She is also concentrating in International Politics.

Student Profile: Fitz Fitzpatrick


To the casual observer, Fitz Fitzpatrick may seem to be an overly diligent student who spends an inordinate amount of time in the library. In fact, he jokes that in some regards he is more familiar with the student computer room at SAIS Europe than with the city of Bologna.

Upon closer look, however, one comes to understand a man who has devoted much of his life to the service of his country.  At an early age, Colonel Fitzpatrick became interested in a career in the armed forces. In his words, Fitz saw a career in the military as the opportunity to do a “white collar job in the woods”. Drawing inspiration from his father, who served in Germany during the early Cold War, and from an uncle who had a thirty year career in infantry, Fitzpatrick studied History at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore with an ROTC scholarship.

Photo by Michele Choy

Surprisingly, Fitz credits time spent as a radio news reporter in Frederick County, MD, as playing an important role in his later military career. As an Army Civil Affairs Officer in Bosnia, Djibouti, Iraq, and Kuwait, he drew upon earlier interactions with local government officials.

“In 1999, I met with a municipal electric director in Ugljevik, Bosnia,” he said, “and it struck me that his concerns were similar to those of a water commissioner I interviewed for the radio station two decades earlier.”

If there is a pattern in Fitz’s career, it is that he finds similarities in seemingly disparate situations.  After eight years in the infantry, mostly in Korea, Fitzpatrick returned to the Homewood campus in 1993, where he earned a Masters in Geography. His thesis on Base Realignment and Closure at Fort Ritchie, MD, informed his understanding of a steel mill closure in Zenica, Bosnia, and he was able to discuss the issue of secondary- and tertiary-unemployment with the Turkish Commander responsible for security and reconstruction of the area.

Fitz was previously accepted to the MIPP program in 2005, but delayed the opportunity to take a tour of duty with Joint Forces Command, in Norfolk, VA, and then to serve as Deputy Commander of the Civil Affairs Brigade in Baghdad during 2006-2007. This was the year of the ‘surge’, and his duties included oversight for Army Civil Affairs companies and battalions supporting 20 Maneuver Brigades and three Division Headquarters, in the various regions of Iraq.  

Colonel Fitzpatrick retired from the U.S. Army in 2012, and has been studying Arabic with Middlebury College and German with the Goethe Institute ever since. After SAIS, Fitz intends to do an additional year or two of language study, before returning to work with the U.S. government or with an international agency.  

“I have worked with excellent interpreters, but nothing matches the ability to actually talk one-on-one with your counterpart, regardless if it is the news, military, or diplomatic field.”

Garrett Sweitzer is the Managing News Editor of the SAIS Observer as well as a first year M.A student in European and Eurasian Studies.

“The Only Solution for Europe is Enhanced Cooperation”: A Conversation with President Romano Prodi


It was about 6:30 pm in Bologna, with the sun finally showing signs of setting. Another long Tuesday had taken its toll on a group of tired Bolognesi.

Nonetheless, they packed the auditorium for a rare conversation presented by  the Bologna Institute of Policy Research last week.

The conversation began with a simple question from a student in the audience:  “Do you think this is the end of the Euro?” President Romano Prodi, the former Italian Prime-Minister and President of the European Commission, gave an unequivocal answer.


After an illustrious career, Prodi has settled in Bologna, though he continues to serve as the U.N. Special Envoy for the Sahel and teaches economics at the University of Bologna where people affectionately refer to him as “Il Professore.”

On the evening of April 4, BIPR invited Mr. Prodi to engage with SAIS students in a conversation related to the future of the Eurozone. He sounded a hopeful, if overly optimistic stance on the present state of European affairs. Largely, he drew on his experience with migration from Sahel as a microcosm through which to consider the rise in populism both in Europe and across the globe. The SAIS Observer sat down with President Romano Prodi shortly before his conversation to discuss these issues in more detail.

The SAIS Observer: What is the state of the European Union, seeing as we have had the triggering of the Article 50 in the U.K. and the continuous discussion over political populism?

President Romano Prodi: The European Union in the last years has been losing strength and speed. The steps taken by the union have always been difficult. However, the differentiation of the member states had been increasing until the first breakup that was Brexit. And such a development is important because half of the world was looking through Europe with “British glasses”.

Britain has always been trying to get increasing differentiation from the EU. I am very sad for the Brexit. It was unexpected but not a surprise, if perhaps we can put it this way. Then we had Trump; for the first time, an American president puts himself openly against Europe.

Nonetheless, in my opinion it is the start of the European recovery, in the sense that Angela Merkel, who is the leader of Europe in this moment, agreed on the proposal of different speeds in Europe: multiple speeds and enhanced cooperation. “We cannot be altogether, because it is a moment that international policy mix-ups are different, but we go on forward with the countries that want to be together.” And, this is important.

TSO: During your presidency, we witnessed the further integration of countries into the European Union. Has this deeper cooperation and integration been betrayed in recent months by the apparent lack of confidence in the union?

PRP: Europe right now is not at its best. At the time [of my presidency] you had the idea of integration that was important, but now you have this strange unsettlement between Russia and the US — that I hope will change — that influences the countries. To this international phenomenon, the reaction cannot be the same for all countries. The reaction of the Baltic states is not going to be the same as the reaction of Italy. But in regards to a further disintegration process, I do not believe that Brexit will be an example for more countries to follow.

TSO: You have played a big role in incentivizing the EU in regards of the Sahel countries. Could the EU help the Sahel and the southern Mediterranean countries?

PRP: The south Mediterranean countries were regretting that my attention was only to the North and Northeast and this was my biggest nightmare. My answer was honest and in good faith: ‘look, this is a historical necessity, the empty space from the fall of the Soviet Union obliges us to act immediately’.

Most of my personal proposals in favor of a systemic policy to the South were met with the denial of Northwestern European countries, claiming that initiatives towards the South would have been money wasted. I am convinced that we have an obligation to both the Sahel countries but also with the countries struggling with immigration at the moment.

Considering Sahel in particular, we need to have a systemic plan for development and cooperation, because the reasons for immigration are irresistible. In addition to that, the biggest countries in Europe, population-wise, are facing significant problems with their birth rates. The rate is close to 1.39 births per person in Europe, while in Sahel it is much higher. The people in the Sahel countries are facing vast problems, so they are trying to find a way out.

An additional problem is the Libyan war, which makes migration unpredictable and less manageable. Even if the war were to stop tomorrow, the problem would still exist. Europe is afraid of the domestic political aspect of migration, and it is seen only in a national perspective.

TSO: Can the Europe hope for further cooperation to combat the challenges?

PRP: If you ask me whether all the European countries are willing to do that then I would answer no. But I believe a partial agreement among countries and a partial plan on immigration can be placed forward.

TSO: Can the European Union look to China in order to further relations that would help its economic situation?

PRP: It all depends on the American policy. If Trump implements the policies he claims, then the EU is obliged to look to different outlets for economic cooperation, such as China, India or Africa. In terms of quantity, China is the most feasible alternative. Already the trade between Europe and China is increasing more than the Atlantic one. I honestly cannot think that the American policy will follow the declaration.

But in any case, the new paths for trade will not be created by new trade agreements. The era of TPP, TTIP, NAFTA, EFTA is over. The new agreements will come through bilateral agreements. You saw how difficult the agreement between Europe and Canada was. The agreements will be on limited and targeted economic policies.

TSO: Given the G7 talks, will these talks about trade and cooperation be brought up to the discussion?

PRP: Having participated in ten G7s, I can say that nowadays the influence of the institution is withering. It is no longer, as you know, a G8 summit. The world is changing, and the G20 is more important than the G7 or G8. So no, I don’t think that the G7 will make decisions. Perhaps, it could show orientations, or a clearer American view, but I do not believe that any kind of formal decision will be taken.

TSO: Could we see, in regards to seeking alternatives as you mentioned, Europe reengaging with Russia in the near future?

PRP: There is a strange event in the last weeks: an increasing distance between Russia and Europe. It had never happened in the past that the Russian President would meet with such disruptive leaders as Le Pen or the Minister of Foreign Affairs with the leader of the Northern League. If you take the latest events together as a whole, you have a Europe that is unsettled from East to West and does not have a sense of togetherness. Again, I was absolutely shocked by the fact that the leader of the populist parties was so warmly received in the Kremlin, because in Russia these kinds of initiatives are not random in nature. They have their own political meaning. It was a signal from Russia that perhaps “we can damage you more than you can damage us with the sanctions”. It is a sign that Russia wants to go in the interior policy of Europe. Putin is a rational player in terms of foreign policy.

TSO: As a last note, are you optimistic about the future of the Euro and the European Union?

PRP: I think that there will be no other disruption, in regards to any other country wishing to leave [the union]. Optimistic is a strong word for the Euro; I‘ll simply telling you that the elections in France and Germany will help Europe. We never had, in France, a candidate with such a strong European platform, such as Macron.

In Germany, the increase in strength of the Social Democratic Party has shown that the two traditional parties in Germany, which clearly have a European agenda, are stronger than they were a few months ago. I do believe that this year will be a year of non-decision due to the elections in both countries. We could also see some enhanced cooperation in Europe, but it would be difficult to see it as a Europe of solidarity. Europe has changed, with Germany having a greater influence in the EU, while on the other hand there isn’t a supranational body that can leverage the power of the nations, like the European Commission was in the past.

The European Council dominates Europe and in the Council, of course, the stronger states have greater influence. If you take the Greek case, for example, it wasn’t a negotiation between Athens and Brussels, but a decision between Berlin and Athens, to delay the final decision due to the North Rhine-Westphalia elections.

This is not the paradigm of a traditional Europe. It was the concept of a decreasing power for us in Europe. After Great Britain decided to hold a referendum to leave the European Union, the only “umbrella” that was left open was Berlin. So, the balance between the European powers became uneven due to this change. With enhanced cooperation, perhaps we could move forward from this problematic situation. For example, in the case of defense cooperation among European states, France could play a vital role, as it is the only country with nuclear capability and a veto right.

Brexit changed the internal balance of Europe.

Utpala is a staff writer for the SAIS Observer. She is an MA student concentrating in International Law and Organizations at SAIS Bologna.

Ilias is also a staff writer for the SAIS Observer. He is an MA student concentrating in Conflict Management at SAIS Bologna. You can find him on Twitter at @IliasKalotychos.

Is China Splitting From Europe Over Carbon Trading?


NANJING – On March 9th Climate Home, an online publication focused on the international politics of climate change, published an article titled “China floats split with EU over carbon trading”. Citing Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) vice president and National People’s Congress (NPC) member, Wang Yi, as their source, Climate Home published a number of quotations indicating that China might need to consider a carbon tax in addition to or even in place of the cap and trade program slated to officially launch nation-wide this year.

Wang, not to be mistaken for the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, is involved in a number of key sustainability and climate change organizations including a Vice Chairship of the International Organization for Standardization’s Climate Change Coordinating Committees (ISO CCCC). His comments cannot be directly interpreted as an official policy change, but they are nonetheless worthy of consideration. Is China preparing to “split” from the EU by abandoning its ETS program in favor of a tax mechanism?

Market based carbon controls come in two main forms: price mechanisms and quantity mechanisms. Price mechanisms, called Pigouvian taxes after the 20th century economist Arthur Pigou, aim to internalize the externalities of markets. For example, it is widely recognized that green house gases (GHGs) have an averse effect on the environment, yet GHG emissions are not included in the costs of the goods and services that produce them. A Pigouvian tax on GHG emissions would levy a tax against the producer that would add the cost of emissions into the cost of production. In this way, the tax is distributed between the producer and the consumer and the government decides how the tax revenue is best used.

Quantity based mechanisms, more commonly recognized as cap and trade programs fix the quanitiy of emissions permitted within a given system. Emittors must buy additional permits if they plan to exceed their allocated emissions from parties who have excess permits. In theory, because the emissions permits are scarce the externality price is internalized when emittors are forced to pay for emissions. The EU ETS set a cap on CO2 emissions for around 11,000 factories and power plants across thirty countries, the idea being that these companies would be able to buy and sell CO2 permits amongst each other—encouraging efficiency and maximizing the productivity of a unit of pollution. In 2013 and 2014 China formally began pilotting its own ETS in Beijing, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Chongqing, and Shanghai and in the provinces of Hubei and Guangdong. According to the International Emissions Trading Agency, in 2014 the pilot programs covered 13.75 million tonnes of CO2 that was priced between 1.75 and 7 euros per ton.

Although the theory behind the EU ETS was solid, in practice results have been much more mixed. The European Commission’s Climate Action Emissions Trading System itself admits that there have been a surplus of trading emissions within the ETS since at least 2009—causing the mechanism to fail to trigger higher carbon prices through scarcity. In a 2011 publication The Carbon Trade Watch succinctly summed up ETS with the statement “the cap does not fit.” In spite of these weaknesses, China’s proposed ETS is modeled after the EU ETS.

The nationwide Chinese ETS, as evidenced in an official notice from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), is to cover all firms in 8 industries and 15 sub agencies that consume more than 10,000 tons of coal equivalent annually. Companies were supposed to release compliance plans to the NDRC in 2016 in anticipation of the 2017 implemenation. The China ETS is seen as a primary example of international cooperation between Europe and China parties, something particularly valuable in a geopolitical arena of climate denial in the White House. Indications from the NDRC reflect that the Chinese ETS will begin this year. Sina News reported that Xie Zhenhua, the former vice-chairman of the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission, announced on March 17th at the Annual Conference on Sustainable Green Transformation at the Paulson Institute that the National ETS would formally come into force this year.

So then what is going on? Why is there an article from March 17th announcing the commencement of the Chinese ETS while there is also an article from March 9th that China may be considering splitting from the EU ETS? Although there are a couple distinct possibilities, the most likely story is rather one of competition behind the scenes between different actors within the Chinese government and the political economy of carbon taxes and carbon markets.

Luckily I happen to live in the same building as a carbon market expert who was also at the Paulson Institute event on March 17th. Dr. Roger Raufer, SAIS Resident Professor of Energy, Resources, and Environment, compared Wang Yi’s comment to a “trial balloon,” referring to the Chinese practice of testing ideas and policy goals through unofficial statements by state officials. From a policy prospective, many people in the government see an ETS and think of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which the Chinese utilized to great domestic benefit. An ETS gives the Chinese both something to sell to Europe and provides China with an opportunity to play a greater role on the international stage. A tax, on the other hand, is strictly domestic.

The opportunity cost of exclusively using a tax would be a greater international role and a connection to Europe—both things China would be loathe to forego. Dr. Raufer went on to describe how “there has been a battle going on since at least 2008” over whether China should use a carbon tax or a carbon market to reduce emissions, with the Ministry of Finance (MOF) preferring a tax and the NDRC preferring a market. Viewed as an isolated pair of events, Wang and Xie’s comments appear to be a strange contradiction, but Dr. Raufer agreed this fits with the pattern: “Historically what has been happening is that every time MOF comes out a carbon tax proposal, they get slapped down by the NDRC.” So why would the MOF prefer a tax and the NDRC an ETS? The simplest answer is that the agencies both stand to gain from holding the reigns and potential revenues from the respective carbon control mechanisms.

When asked if Dr. Raufer could see China moving away from the ETS and splitting from the EU, he responded, “First, this political battle has been going on for a long time. Secondly, I think you can say that China is more comfortable with the tax, and will employ it in some manner in the future, as it recently did, revising the pollution levy system into an environmental tax. It’s not a question of either or, there is room enough for both instruments in different sectors and at different scales. It could be that the tax creeps more and more into the areas in which the market is operating, particularly if they are having trouble implementing the market approach. I think China would be very reluctant to give up totally on the market because of the potential international opportunities.

Dr. Raufer’s interpretation of the situation is both convincing and somewhat verifiable. In 2016 Dr. Carla Freeman, the director of the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute, and Bo Li, a research analyst at WRI, authored an article for ChinaFAQs showing that the MOF, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), the Ministry of Transport (MOT), the NDRC and the State Administration of Taxation (SAT) all agree “that a tax of 10-20 renminbi per ton of carbon dioxide would have a very limited dampening impact on economic growth… and that that a tax on carbon at that level would generate billions of renminbi in revenue that could be distributed to promote energy conservation and emissions reductions.”

Freeman and Li further demonstrate the competition for authority when they point out that individuals affiliated with the MOF and MEP favor a tax under the authority of the environmental levy, while even researches affiliated with the NDRC ague that the simplest solution would be for the carbon tax, albeit one collected by the New Energy Administration (a body of the NDRC). Freeman and Li also show that industry is generally opposed to the idea of a tax instead of a trading market because a tax would stifle growth.

Baidu news searches for the Chinese phrases “China”, “Carbon Markets”, and “Abandon” don’t yield any relevant results about a split from the EU ETS and a turn to a carbon tax. One could blame this on censorship, but it isn’t the kind of news that is censored. Rather, searching Chinese sources demonstrates that Wang’s comments are more likely part of the plan for the future rather than an exclusive story on an imminent schism in a major international cooperation.

In an article published on September 9th, 2016 that states the national ETS has moved into a phase of final preparation before sprinting to deployment (the diction is particularly military). The National Business Daily, a Chinese financial and economic publication, writes that by 2020 when the ETS is more mature expansions can be made including a carbon tax that “relevant ministries are in the process of researching how to implement”. In this case, the suggested carbon tax wouldn’t be symptomatic of a schism, but instead by an addition to a developing framework.

Wang Yi’s comments may not be the tip of the iceberg that will sink the EU ETS’ hopes for integration with the Chinese market, but they reveal a fascinating behind the scenes competition for power among China’s ministries, and of the larger political economy forces behind mechanisms for controlling carbon.

Alumni Continue Giving Back to the HNC by Transitioning to Staff

by: Caroline Yarber

NANJING–The Hopkins-Nanjing Center provides a unique opportunity for SAIS students. Not only do students receive an immersive perspective on US-China relations, but also become a part of a tight-knit community of likeminded people. A significant portion of the current staff are former students of the Center who wish to remain a lasting part of this community. We spoke with two young alumni of the Center to find out why they chose to start their careers at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and what they have learned about the Center from the staff perspective.


Niu Xiaohu (left) and Lauren Syzmanski (right). Source: author

Lauren Szymanski and Niu Xiaohu both joined the HNC staff in 2012. Based in DC, Szymanski is the Deputy Director for the HNC Washington Office. She graduated from the HNC Certificate program in 2012 and joined the admissions side of the Center two weeks after graduation as an Admissions Coordinator. She was drawn to the position after speaking with another alumna working in recruiting. Lauren shares, “When I was graduating from the HNC I thought to myself that if I could just share my own experiences as a student with those considering the HNC for the first time, maybe it could make their application process a bit less stressful than mine!”

Niu Xiaohu is the Assistant to the Deputy Director for Academic Affairs at the Center in Nanjing. He completed the Certificate program in 2011 and graduated from Nanjing University with a Master’s in Acquired Linguistics the following year. Like Szymanski, Niu decided to join the HNC staff soon after graduating because of his strong connection with HNC community. Upon graduating, Niu realized he had no desire to work in a regulated office environment. Feeling at home at the HNC, Niu decided to continue giving back to the HNC family.


Szymanski with roommate Fan Xuejiao in 2012. Source: Lauren Syzmanski

Szymanski’s experience as a student has directly influenced her decisionmaking as a staff member. I am able to bring forward some of the challenges I personally faced as a student, and hopefully try to coordinate some ways to make those challenges less trying for new students. For example, when I was considering the HNC I remember hearing over and over about the dreaded learning curve, and even though eventually everyone overcomes it there didnt seem to be any steps I could take beforehand to try and lessen that adjustment period. However, Im happy to announce that starting this last year we have started including actual readings from HNC classes on our admitted student website so that new students can try to get a jump start on that learning curve. She aims to help “more students can really get a feel for what it’s like to study at the HNC” and uses her experiences as a student to reach this goal.

Similarly, Niu draws on his experience as a student to assist incoming students adjusting to the Center. He knows that the first two months at the Center are what he calls a “honeymoon period” in which students are excited to be in this new environment. The real trouble comes in the third month, according to Niu, when students can get tired and stressed. Niu’s advice to students currently experiencing this shift: “don’t worry; no one is perfect.” Szymanski imparts a similar reassuring message to students as we approach the end of the semester: “Just take a deep breath, and take every day one at a time!”


Niu (far left) with classmates in 2011. Source: Niu Xiaohu

Both alumni urge students to embrace their time at the Center. Niu emphasizes the importance of education as the key to one’s future. He encourages students to focus on what they are doing here and now at the Center and to not get distracted by prospective opportunities for after graduation. Szymanski also encourages students to take advantage of the resources at the Center, naming her biggest regret as not seeking out professors outside of class.

Niu and Szymanski share a passion for the exceptional environment offered at the HNC. As an international student, Szymanski emphasizes the importance of leaving the Center and embracing life in China. Niu recognizes the value to be gained within the Center, encouraging students to actively engage their Chinese or International counterparts in dialogue. “Our students come here because they want to know about the world, and [through this exchange] they can make a real difference.”

Looking ahead, Niu and Szymanski both aim to make a lasting difference at the HNC. Despite the geographical distance between Szymanski and the HNC, she stays engaged by reaching out to ever prospective student to ensure their transition to the HNC is a positive experience. Niu draws inspiration from former HNC Chinese Co-Director Huang Chengfeng. He describes the personal connection she had with each student and the lengths she went to in order to truly consider the needs of students. Due to her reputation among students as a great person and effective educator, the Huang Chengfeng scholarship fund was created in her honor. Niu admires her connection with students and aspires to live up to her example, hoping that after graduation students will remember him as someone who made a difference in their HNC experience.

Interview with Marie-Lucie Spoke, founder of the CSR Consulting Company “Community Roots China”


NANJING–Community Roots China works with underprivileged children in 12 provinces around China. Their programmes include the One Heart Gift Bag, which gives bags to primary aged children, the Bookworm programme, which provides books for schools, and the Educational Sponsorship, which pays the fees for students to attend high school or university.

Spoke Photo
Marie-Lucie Spoke speaking at the HNC. Source: author

Anna: Hello Marie-Lucie. To start, I wanted to ask you about how you became interested in the social welfare or non-profit sector? Was there an event or experience in your life that convinced you that this was what you wanted as your career?

Marie-Lucie: I started doing charity on my own. We were in Brasilia [where Spoke’s husband was a diplomat for the Canadian government] and everyone had a seamstress, because there were no stores to buy ready-made clothes. I helped my seamstress, I helped her to build a house, just settling the children, she had 8 children. And I then thought to myself, I could do that with a passion. I was doing that by myself in Brazil.

In Canada, I got into an NGO in Canada and learned all the laws – so you’re talking taxation law, the legal setup, how to run meetings. I ran an NGO.

The opportunity came up to move to China in 2003. So we said, okay, we’re moving to China. I started working as a volunteer just to learn. And naturally the country is very different from the Western world. The laws are not in place – the legal system, the banking system, the charity registration system. So I just did what I had to do with my friends as volunteers. Within 3 years, what we were doing was so big that my husband said, “You have to register.” We had no website, no database, no salaries, no employees.

A: The reason Community Roots China is set up as a consulting company is due to the Chinese government regulations on foreigner-run NGOs in China [they are not allowed]. Could you elaborate on how you decided to set it up as a CSR consultancy, and advantages and disadvantages that have stemmed from that?

M: I don’t mind the consulting company because then you ensure yourself that you have a service to deliver that the community wants to purchase. You get public funding as an NGO. But maybe this is a different country, maybe the country does not realise that they need your service, maybe they outright don’t want your service, but because you keep being funded, you’ve got the money to keep going without the check and balance that the private sector brings to you. If you have a service to sell and no one wants to buy it, there’s a message there. What are we doing wrong or what prevents us from being sustainable?

We are selling our services on a consulting basis. The companies need us, they are buying our service, because they don’t know how to reach the children who need their resources. The corporations want to do CSR, [but] they don’t have time to go digging into the countryside: where are the children, what’s the process, understanding all that. So we are their service agency.

A: What about the disadvantages?

M: The law is changing so that none of the international NGOs, as of January 1st, if the law comes into effect then as it is supposed to, none of the international NGO will be able to operate in China unless they are registered with the police and they will not be able to receive funding from overseas. You cannot depend on money coming in from anywhere else, to do the purpose for which you set up this NGO.

You know, we want to bring resources to the children, but we have a double purpose, we also want to trigger the buy-in by the Chinese companies to the CSR mode, pattern. We want to integrate the Chinese company to think and operate with a CSR programme. Which they don’t right now, in the greater majority [of cases].. If you look at the direction the government is going, they’re basically sending the message that “You in China, you’ve got to put Chinese money in your Chinese bank account to do Chinese CSR in China.” They’re saying, don’t count on your foundation in the United States. I think the country is making a concerted effort to get their own nationals to step up to the plate.

A: How are you going about marketing CSR to Chinese corporations?

M: The stealth or personal relationship approach. You talk to the people who are already convinced, knowing that they have relationships of which you don’t know anything about. The people we know, they might be the wife of somebody, they might be the colleague at Fudan University, and we do have Fudan University as one of our sponsors, they sponsor the Bookworm Project. You just have to let it go. So all we can ensure, is that we do it well, we are a good role model for others, at the end of the day we want them to see the benefit for the community and we want the children to have resources. It will take a while. Sometimes, an idea takes a long time to gain traction, and all of a sudden there’s incremental pace. So we’re not yet at the incremental pace, we’re just at the trying to gain traction. Especially in the Chinese sector.

There’s hope. Actually, as a company, we’re treading a fine line, because we have to stay in the market in order to influence it. We’re treading this fine line of having to work, deliver, and yet also pitch the bigger picture to those who are not yet on board. We show, there is a display. Because after five years, we did deliver 42,000 or so gift bags. Nobody can say it’s just a gift bag to a primary school child, it has no consequence. When you deliver 42,000 gift bags somebody somewhere is being encouraged with the bigger picture of what life can be and what communities can be, of what helping each other can be. It does make an impact. After those five years maybe some corporations will say, you guys have done this for five years, we could do that. The bigger perspective is that it’s going to take time.

A: Many SAIS students will be looking for satisfying, fulfilling jobs in the near future. Do you have any advice on students looking for work in this area?

M: If you’re passionate about something, there’s a little something that tells you. When I did my second year of my MBA, I thought to myself, do I want to work with Volkswagen, Whirlpool, no that’s not where my passion is. But when I thought would I like to administer women’s shelters or after school programme – oh yes I would, I could put my whole passion into that. So if a person says I could get excited about saving the environment, anything that has to do with the environment, that person has to stick with their passion. Start little, be very humble, build their profile and their CV, based on small accomplishments that add up to a lot. First, you serve as a volunteer. Then, a position becomes open and you enter into that position. Then, you’ve been there for two, three years and you can become a director. Gain that expertise. Be willing to make the effort over and above what your salary range is, or what your managerial level is at, in order to be seen as wanting to go up, and having the skills to go up in management.

A lot of things are self-driven. You go to a conference, or you read a book, or you do a course online to add to your understanding. The big picture is always where I start: what’s the big picture. To understand the full scale of where the impact of CSR is. If you put your eyes on the big picture, you read about the big picture, you read about interesting people, you read the criticism, and then you read the counter-criticism, so then you don’t go in there thinking you’re going to save the world on your own. You stick with your field, eventually you find your position.

Focus, be ready to enter at a lowly level or in a lowly manner, but if that’s your passion, it will quickly flourish. There is space. And in that space, there is need.

A: If you’re already employed, is it worthwhile to raise CSR as a potential activity to your employer?

M: There’s a guy who works for Morgan Stanley. He’s 100% sold on the idea of CSR. He’s the head of the IT department. He says, the best way to improve your profile with the head of the company is to do CSR, and then go knock on his door and ask him for money. We created CSR Social Group, we did five evenings in a restaurant with beer and things like that, and we invited all the top managers that we knew, including some pretty big managers, VP, GMs, etc. To talk to the young people, we divided them by table, topics. It was very well attended.

We’ve been talking about CSR, and social enterprise, and there is a third element. That is leadership. To be bold enough to go and knock on anybody’s door. That is a tell tale sign of a leader. You’re proactive, you don’t wait for anybody else to do it before you do it. Then you say to the others you could do the same thing as I did. I knocked on the president’s door, and he didn’t fire me because of it, and I talked to him, and he gave me $200, $500, and now he knows me by name. Someone who will go and ask. To step up and take initiative is a characteristic of a leader.

Upheaval in Korea: The Opinions of Young Voters



Source: Reuters, Wikimedia Commons License

Last month, the South Korean National Assembly voted to impeach President Park Geun-hye after a political scandal sparked protests nationwide (for background, see Julia Wargo’s article here). President Park has since been impeached. We spoke to several young Koreans to find out how they were feeling about the current situation in their country. The overwhelming feeling from those we spoke to was anger and disappointment.

Joohee Kim, a senior at Seoul National University, describes her reaction as mixed between “surprised, angry, helpless, disappointed and ashamed.” Jeewon Sa, a junior at Korea University, describes a sense of hopelessness as the controversy is increasingly convoluted.

Korea has a long history of political corruption, but according to these young Koreans, President Park took the corruption to a new level.

Bora Yang, a university student in Busan, explains, “I feel it is certainly shameful. The situation resulted from the accumulation of Korea’s corruptions since Park Chunghee, the current president’s father. It’s regrettable that Koreans just did not pay attention to the corruption before, accepting the reality that corruption is everywhere and impossible to remove. But the situation now is really serious.”

She also mentions the role of chaebols, large Korean conglomerates, in covering up Park’s corruption. Gayeong Jeong, a Seoul native now working in Washington D.C., shares her disillusionment with Korean politics over the close ties between the government and large conglomerates. She claims, “Politics work for the rich, not for the citizens.”

Horyun Sung, a freshman at Seoul National University, shares his frustration with Park: “Many presidents in Korea have had pros and cons but President Park only has cons.” The anger with the Park administration has built up over the past three years she has been in office. Several of the Koreans with whom we spoke mention specifically the poorly handled Sewol Ferry disaster which resulted in the deaths of 304 people, mostly school children.

Youngmin Jang, a resident of Busan, shares why this specific controversy has sparked such outrage: “People think what President Park has done breaks the basis of our democratic system. People voted for her to represent the people’s opinion, not to benefit Choi Sunsil’s personal interests. It is so inappropriate.”

Nationwide Protests

The Park Geun-hye controversy has spurred political action across South Korea. At in November, as many as 2 million Koreans took the streets to protest the president.

The protests polarized the young Koreans with whom we spoke. Many supported and even participated in the protests. Joohee Kim describes the atmosphere of the protests: “it was quite fun actually… people were singing and shouting together. We were all holding candles and people were really nice and organized.”

Horyun Sung attended the protests in Seoul on three occasions. He explains the importance of the protests: “peace and order were the values that Koreans wanted to restore, and through the protest we wanted to demonstrate the right values in the right way… we believe that this way of shouting out our voice was meaningful and powerful. “

However, some criticize the protests for being insincere and sensationalized. Hojoong Kim is a recent graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who has recently returned to his hometown of Seoul for work. He speaks out strongly against the protests. “Koreans have too much interest in politics.”

Before Park’s impeachment was confirmed, Hojoong Kim emphasized patience. “I am just waiting for all the constitutional procedures. We have constitution, congress, and a court of justice. Everything should be determined by those three. We cannot make decision by how the people feel.”

Hojoong Kim asserts, “The one million people protesting do not represent all 51 million Koreans.” He questions the sincerity of the protesters, sharing “it is weird to see middle school and high school students at the protests. How do they understand what is actually going on?”

Kim points out a history of hypocrisy in Korean protest culture. In 2008, massive protests broke out against importing US beef in response to fears of mad cow disease. However, Kim points out, “Seeing people now waiting for 3 hours to get a Shake Shack burger in Gangnam teaches me being emotional is a really bad thing.”

Despite these criticisms, some, like Joohee Kim, insist the protests pressured the National Assembly to respond. Jeewon Sa emphasizes other actions taken by her fellow Koreans. “After hearing the news [of Park’s impeachment], I felt really glad there was still hope the citizens could lead to making a big change. Not only did they go out to the streets and show their will, they called their districts’ congressmen and convinced their congressmen to cooperate in impeaching Park.”

Hope for the Future

Systemically, Koreans hope Park’s impeachment will result in more transparency in Korean politics. Jeewon Sa views lack of transparency is a core problem in the Korean political system, and hopes Park’s impeachment will catalyze change.

Several of the folks we talked to criticized the distance Park maintained from the public. Most recently, as Bora Yang describes, President Park visited the site of a massive fire in Daegu, but refused to speak with the affected citizens. Hojoong Kim explains, “Korean people prefer a leader who comes out on TV to communicate with normal citizens, however President Park did not like media exposure.” He criticized how she would privately make decisions without informing the populace personally.

Youngmin Jang suggests that future administrations increase the transparency of the President’s movements to the public, specifically by releasing daily schedules like is done in the US. Hojoong Kim thinks, “This situation will improve transparency in all aspects of Korean politics, including politics and media.”

In addition to changes to the system, the controversy has changed the nature of political involvement of the populace.

Gayoung Jeong plans to be more critical of individual candidates in future elections. She relates, “I actually voted for Park in the past election, and I feel I was too naïve that I just chose the president by just looking at the party. I did not know much about President Park, but I knew that I wanted to vote for Saenuri Party.” Joohee Kim similarly hopes Park’s impeachment will change how Koreans vote, urging citizens to “think twice and evaluate whether the person is really qualified for the office.”

Although this turn of events made her disappointed in her government, Bora Yang hopes this controversy will lead Korea to become a more democratic nation. Joohee Kim shares that hope, saying, “People will now believe in the value of democracy more than ever.”


Eating for Your Country: The Irresistible Rise of Gastro-Diplomacy


You only have to spend a few minutes in the streets of Bologna to see that food around here is serious business.

The city has always had a foodie air about its image, and since the financial crisis, the opportunities for eating out have multiplied like mushrooms after rain. As a form of comfort and consolation, food has always been a great unifying resource for this city – and for Italy in general – in good times and bad.

A recent conference at Nomisma, a leading economic think-tank based in Bologna, revealed just how big the stakes are in the production and marketing of food in Italy. Diplomats, businesspeople and experts described the effort that the country’s food brands and key ministries are investing in building influence and fortunes in the world’s wine and food markets.

This year, the sector brought €37 billion into the economy. A new, integrated public-private drive presented at the conference hopes to lift this figure to $50 billion by 2020. Food and wine exports have grown 69 percent over the last ten years. Here in Bologna, a giant new food fair will feature 50 food producers, 25 restaurants and countless events for enlightenment and entertainment of the edible sort.

The Nomisma meeting came right after the ‘World Wide Week of Italian Cuisine’. Italian embassies and consulates in 105 countries around the world organised over 1300 food-oriented events: tasting sessions, presentations from celebrity chefs, cooking shows and mini-courses, fairs, films, exhibitions and so on.

This crusade was one of the many spin-offs from the Expo World Fair of Milan, in 2015, dedicated to the theme of ‘Feeding the planet, energy for life!’ Over six months, more than 20 million visitors explored 150 national and company pavilions, giving a much-needed boost to the self-confidence of both the city and the country.

The success of this venture prompted a qualitative leap forward in the attention that authorities at every level give to food and wine not only as a key currency of business, but also as the sort of export which advertises the nation’s creativity, territories and values: an identity narrative that expresses the synthesis of tradition and modernity.  

Alongside a distinguished functionary of the Foreign Ministry at the Nomisma meeting, the CEO of Eataly – the global food business founded in 2004 and now worth €400 million – insisted that quality and culture were key to the success of Italy’s gastronomic brands around the world, independent of price. Good, healthy food should be available to those spending  €10 just as it is to those spending €100. On that note, French diplomats present at the meeting acknowledged that popular Italian foods like pizza and pasta are economical assets which French traditions – all revolving round haut cuisine – could not match.

The Nomisma organisers explicitly applied the label of “soft power” to what they think the new activism on food and wine means for Italy’s world presence.

The standard definition of soft power presents it as tool for leveraging a nation’s cultural and moral assets so that they might serve conventional objectives of foreign policy. However, the notion can only be taken seriously if it is seen as an expression of prestige and leadership in areas that rarely, if ever, have anything to do with geopolitics.

Food is an example of an issue that broadens the scope of foreign policy. Producing and selling food in a global market connects agriculture and the environment, health and education. Matters of trade, investment and regulation are involved.

Furthermore, every nation with a unique gastro-heritage expects to see it on display around the globe.

A nation can only become a serious player in the game of soft power when it tells stories that others can admire and trust, or sets standards which others choose to follow.

France, with its Michelin stars for the finest restaurants in the world, provides a classic example of an established soft power asset. As such, they were often quoted in the Nomisma gathering.

However, today’s demotic food culture – with its celebrity chefs, vast T.V. audiences, countless cookbooks and new restaurants on every block – demands eating experiences that are authentic and accessible, yet evoke exotic places and traditions. In this soft power competition, Italy looks like it will be a clear winner.

David Ellwood is a faculty guest writer for the SAIS Observer. He teaches Soft Power at SAIS Europe.

Student Spotlight: Jamil Wyne on Bringing the Net Impact Network to SAIS Europe


With a Fulbright scholarship and multiple policy research initiatives in the MENA region, Jamil Wyne already has some impressive experience under his belt. Now a first-year IDEV student in the SAIS-INSEAD dual degree program, he is spending his time in Bologna expanding his social enterprise experience. Along with a team five others, Wyne has recently acquired a Net Impact membership for SAIS Europe, the first of its kind in Italy. The SAIS Observer sat down with Wyne to discuss his past experiences, how they tie into Net Impact and finally his plans for the network in the future.

The SAIS Observer: Tell us more about working on social enterprise issues. .


Photo courtesy of Sharad Sharma

Jamil Wyne: All the work that I’ve done since I graduated in 2008 is focused on economic and social development. The majority of that looks at the way private enterprises, big and small, can be used to support a country or region’s development agenda. It can be in the form of social enterprises that have a business model to generate revenue or profit but its services or product contributes something to a development goal. It could also be a tech start-up that is producing a new technology in a developing country that can help to educate, inform and empower people while creating jobs. Alternatively it can be a corporation that is thinking about how they can effectively interact with the community it’s operating in while responding to its socio-economic needs.  I enjoy looking at these angles of social enterprise and net impact.


TSO: Before coming to SAIS, you spent a large portion of your career in the Middle East, working on social enterprise issues. Can you tell us more about the work you did there?  

JW: While in the Middle East, I lived in Egypt, Syria and Jordan. When I was in Jordan, I was a Fulbright Fellow and then founded the Wamda Research Lab. This focused a lot on understanding and creating new ideas and data around the state of entrepreneurship development in the Middle East and North Africa.  I would say that it was the space where most of my personal learning and contributions were rooted. I was never assigned to MENA by the World Bank or the IFC, though while running the Wamda Research Lab, we worked with the World Bank on two projects, one in Kuwait and one in Oman.

TSO: Can you explain your more recent experiences working for the World Bank and the IFC in DC?

JW: I worked with the World Bank’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship division in DC. I also worked with the World Bank’s innovation lab. It focused internally on the World Bank itself, in order to understand how one supports the concept of innovation within the World Bank teams and departments. I also worked with the IFC’s corporate advisory and strategy team to create their disruptive technology investment strategy team. It focuses heavily on the role new technologies can play in developing countries. For example, we looked at how one gets policymakers, investors and entrepreneurs in civil society to align better to make sure that these technologies are not just getting exported to new countries, but are growing and getting used productively.

TSO: What would you say is the most important influence for  your work with Net Impact?

JW: This would have to do mostly with my work with social enterprise. When I ran the Wamda Research Lab, all of our work focused on how entrepreneurs affected the Middle East and North Africa’s economic and social development. So, we ran a lot of studies on how entrepreneurs were creating jobs, contributing new technologies to healthcare and energy sectors, etc in parallel to running the research lab. In relation to Net Impact, I also authored a chapter of a book on social entrepreneurship in the Middle East. Additionally, as an advisor to Refugee Open Ware, I was helping a social enterprise identify funding and partnership opportunities.

TSO: What would you say is an ideal Net Impact member?

JW: Well, I would say someone who really is just curious about thinking about the field of development differently Especially with the recent elections, I would imagine that there are quite a few people out there who might be reevaluating their plans a little bit, not in the sense that they are going to change them, but maybe thinking more critically about how they might approach them.  I think the concepts on which Net Impact was built could be very helpful for people who might want to re-strategize a bit. Another thing to consider is that there is a lot of networking value to being a part of Net Impact.

TSO: What does the Bologna Net Impact team have planned for the future?

JW: At SAIS, we will have events where we bring in different speakers to talk about their research and experience that contributed to social enterprise and the corporate social responsibility (CSR) field. In addition to that, we are also going to build a database of alumni in this field of Net Impact in collaboration with the Net Impact, SAIS DC team.

Regarding SAIS Bologna exclusively, we are exploring the possibility of doing some research on the state of social enterprise and CSR in Italy. This is a more long-term project. Last but not least, the Net Impact team has a communications and outreach component to it. I think a lot of people at SAIS is sensitive about the way in which they might have an impact in their field, community or world. A lot of us might still be trying to figure out what that might look like, myself included. At Net Impact, we just want people to know that there is an alternative option to traditional pathways such as governments or NGOs.

Utpala is a campus columnist for the SAIS Observer. She is an MA student concentrating in International Law and Organizations at SAIS Europe.