Category: SAIS Life

A Staff Ride Through Germany and Poland


ISR students in Germany gather around Samer Mosis, second-year Strategic Studies concentrator (Photo Courtesy: Siddarth Ravishankar)

In September 1939, Germany began a campaign of conquest across Europe, starting with an assault on Poland. Almost 80 years later, over the course of a week in March 2016, students from the SAIS Washington D.C. campus got the opportunity to go back in time and investigate the causes of what eventually became the Second World War and relive the events of the day.

The International Staff Ride (ISR) to Germany and Poland was the 2016 edition of an annual event that has in the past taken SAIS students through the jungles of Colombia and Vietnam to the shores of Normandy, and everywhere in between.

Staff rides, organized by the Strategic Studies program, are an investigative exercise aimed at educating participants on the circumstances and decision-making process of a military campaign. Ben Chase, one of the two quartermasters leading the team that organized the trip, says that the ISR is a unique way to study a campaign as “you are not looking at a campaign from a large overview but from a series of vignettes,” where “participants are asked for an opinion on the broader campaign by assembling the vignettes themselves to lead to an understanding of the overall campaign.”

Participants in SAIS Staff Rides typically take on the role of an individual involved in the military campaign, research that individual’s actions during the campaign and give presentations during the events of the campaign. During ISR 2016, presentations ranged from the coldly calculated to the highly emotional, representing much of the wide variety of experiences that characterized leaders of the nations marching towards war. The roles played by students included those of leaders, diplomats, military officers, and civilians.

From March 11 to 19, students, faculty, and invited guests visited historically important sites across Germany and Poland. The trip started in Berlin, moving on to Gdańsk (known as Danzig to Germans in 1939), before ending in Warsaw. Participants gave presentations at sites such as the Reichstag, Modlin Fortress, and the post office in Gdańsk where valiant Polish postmen held out against German forces for more than 12 hours.

On the topic of the staff ride as an educational experience, Chase said that he “wanted to dispel a lot of the myths about the early stages of the war in Poland. This is the idea that Germany just steamrolled Poland and that it was easy for them, which turned out to not be the case.” The campaign also partly grounded itself in the greater geopolitics of inter-war Europe, as Chase added, “we wanted to show how Poland’s experiences couldn’t be isolated in Poland itself. We wanted to contextualize Poland’s place in Europe.”

As an educational tool, the staff ride also presents lessons for the contemporary world. Chase is of the view that, “There are a lot of things to look at in the 1939 September Campaign that are extremely relevant today.” He added that the September Campaign can provide insight through ”the salami tactics employed by Germany and what that means for expansionist powers today and what it means for alliances and commitments and what sort of false understandings they can lead to.”

Planning for ISR 2016 began shortly after the conclusion of ISR 2015. Quartermasters Emily Scammell and Chase, both MA 2016 from the Strategic Studies program, led the effort. As quartermasters, the Scammell and Chase led multiple scouting trips to the sites students visited and coordinated the efforts of the research, logistics, and public affairs teams in the run up to the staff ride. This student-led effort involved hundreds of hours of work and, as someone joked during the trip, took longer to plan than the German invasion of Poland.

The Strategic Studies program at SAIS D.C. typically organizes two domestic and one international staff ride per year. The Fall staff ride in 2015 took students through the Chesapeake Campaign of the War of 1812 while the Spring staff ride to be organized in May will investigate the Battle of Yorktown during the American Revolutionary War. All staff rides are open to participation from students in any concentration.

SAIS Europe is Ready for Hillary


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Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati

In keeping with the spirit of Super Tuesday on March 1, the SAIS Europe Observer staff held a “closed primary” of its own to gauge the thoughts of students, faculty and staff on the current U.S. presidential candidates. With all the votes counted, SAIS Europe is clearly ready for Hillary.

With a pool of more than 220 possible voters, polling staff counted a total of 183 ballots. The ballot consisted of two parts that included indicating voter status as either an eligible American student voter or faculty member or an international student or faculty member; and choosing one person from the current candidate choices. The Democratic candidates on the ballot were Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and the five Republican candidates included Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump. There were 170 valid votes and 13 invalid ones that either marked two candidates or did not indicate voter status. The omission of the invalid votes would not sway the overall results.

Winning approximately 53 percent of the vote, Hillary Clinton emerged as the clear victor in the 2016 SAIS Europe Primary with Bernie Sanders in second place winning 30.6 percent.  Marco Rubio was third with 8.8 percent of the vote. John Kasich received seven votes, Cruz got one vote, and former Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson finished in last place with zero votes.

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Current Republican frontrunner Donald Trump received two votes, at least one of which was declared by the voter as a joke. Additionally, among the responses in the poll were some “write-in” choices including former New York mayor and Johns Hopkins alum Michael Bloomberg, libertarian Gary Johnson, a vote of “no confidence” and even a vote for SAIS PhD candidate Brian Carlson.

The majority of votes cast came from American students with 105 valid votes. Of the American students, 58 voted for Clinton, 25 voted for Sanders and 13 voted for Rubio. There were a total of 56 valid international student votes, which were split evenly between Clinton and Sanders, though Clinton maintained a slight edge. Four American and six international faculty members stopped by to vote, with one American vote going to Rubio, but the majority to Clinton.

Additional voter identification information, such as name, age, gender and academic concentration was asked for only during voluntary exit interviews that were conducted after the polls closed. When asked to predict the overall winner of the SAIS election, three out of six exit interviewees correctly selected Clinton and the three others chose Sanders, but their predictions didn’t necessarily match their votes.

Almost consistently, exit interviewees acknowledged Sanders’ appeal to the younger generation as well as his stance on civic and social rights. Leonidas Marcantonatos, an international student and Clinton supporter, predicted that Sanders might win the SAIS primary. He said, “SAIS is not a good sample [of voters] because we are more aware, as political science or international relations students, of the issues being put at stake… there is also a paradox: although [Sanders] is very old, he represents something new.”

Speaking for the minority of voters at SAIS Europe, American student Christina Pushaw explained, “I voted for Marco Rubio because I perceive him as a representative of the next generation of the GOP. With Trump in the forefront, the Republican party is in the midst of an identity crisis. Rather than a demagogue, we need a pragmatic leader with a broader appeal… The Republican candidate must not polarize his/her party or marginalize potential voters due to their backgrounds.”

Finally, Mary D’Amico, an American student who worked for the Ready for Hillary PAC in 2014, stated, “I voted for Hillary because I believe that not only is she the most qualified candidate, but also that she will be the best candidate to protect my interests both at home and abroad.”  

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Typo has been fixed at 17:15 GMT on 2 March 2016


Life is Like a Bologna of Chocolates

Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati
Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati


BOLOGNA, Italy – Italy has long been praised for being a culinary epicenter of Europe and the city of Bologna continues to uphold its delicious reputation. From Nov. 11 through 15, Bologna hosted the 11th edition of the famous CioccoShow fair. The fair first made an appearance this year at the Milan Expo in hopes of publicizing the event and gaining a more international audience. Master chocolatiers from all over Italy later travelled to Bologna to compete in a showcase of their cacao confectionaries.

Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati
Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati

The CioccoShow is a unique annual event specifically reserved for culinary craftsman who must diligently apply to exhibit their work and sell freely to the public. The fair hosted 95 different chocolate exhibits, reaching more than 330,000 visitors in the span of five days. Vending stalls, mini-cafés, and workshops were set up throughout Bologna, with the main exhibition concentrating in the city square, Piazza Maggiore. The fair provided guided tours throughout the city and the historic center to showcase Bologna’s beauty, accompanied by chocolate tastings along the way.

The fair was more than just a collection of delicious chocolates, but rather a display of culinary art and creativity. SAIS students, on their way to a weekend trip in Croatia, picked a few dozen truffles for their long road trip. The various flavors in their bag of delicacies ranged from classic dark chocolate and Nutella to olive oil crème and kiwi. “Be Well di Marco Segoloni” was selling more than 100 different liquor-flavored chocolate bars, while “Cioccolato Colle di Colle Loretta” specialized in liquor-filled chocolate treats – not the usual rum cream chocolate you regrettably pick out of grandma’s mysterious box of treats, but literally a chocolate egg filled with a shot of rum. However, the most interesting, creative, and eye-catching exhibit had to be by “Vecchia Brianza.” These master chocolatiers magically crafted wrenches, knives, shoes, cell phones, cutlery, and even a DSLR camera out of chocolate.

Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati
Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati

Along with the stalls of chocolate crêpes, chocolate waffles, chocolate lollipops, and chocolate shoes, the fair also held a series of workshops about… chocolate. At the Chocolate Lab, children learned everything they needed to know about the heavenly treat and were even given the chance to make small cakes. On Saturday night, when the fair ran until midnight, the Nero CioccoShow invited visiting connoisseurs to test their senses in a dark room with the help of a blind guide. Around the corner in Piazza Galvani, Andrea and Lorenzo Marin taught a series of classes, for both adults and children, at the School of Chocolate for the duration of the fair. For those who would preferred to enjoy their confectionary treats in the company of a good book, the Literary Café hosted 18 events including book talks and poetry performances.

The CioccoShow will return to Bologna next November with even more creative, delicious, and calorie-filled exhibits. With plans to exhibit over 100 stalls, to host a competition to “win your weight in chocolate,” and a line-up of special guests, the fair is sure to be a hit.

One is the Loneliest Number: A Celebration

Never Heard of Singes’ Day? Never Fear – Susan Wang Is Here to Fill You In


If you missed Valentine’s Day, chances are you have:

1) Shattered the expectations of some poor individual who was pining for your affection;

2) You shared in the annual showering of love and affection from your significant other;


3) Like most people, the reminder of Valentine’s Day is pouring a gallon of salt into your wounds.  

To those of you who are single, your status will not be overshadowed by the marketing ploy that is Valentine’s Day. For one day in November, to be single is worthy of celebration. Welcome to 11.11, Singles’ Day, known to everyone in China as “Guanggun Jie”  or “Bare Branches Day.”

What on earth is Singles’ Day?

Good question. Even I was perplexed by this cultural phenomenon. As the days drew closer, a couple of questions immediately came up.

Is Singles’ Day a day to empower all the single people out there to rebel against the notion of relationships?  

  1. Is it similar to Single’s Awareness Day (anti-Valentine’s Day)? Would one rally with all one’s friends, have a loud sob fest over another predictable yet vapid romantic comedy whilst inhaling endless amounts of chocolates and questioning the lack of romance in one’s life?


  1. Does one go searching throughout the city, throughout all those dating apps to find love to find a connection and NOT be single?

So what does one do?

While the answer appears to be YES to all of the above, it turns out while Singles’ Day is the anti-Valentine’s Day, a celebration of being single, it boils down to simply treating yourself.

So what do you treat yourselves to? As the fictional characters Donna Meagle and Tom Haverford of the hit NBC series “Parks and Recreation would” say, “clothes, fragrances, massages, mimosas, fine leather goods.”

Essentially, it’s the best day of the year.

Ever since Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, coined the term “Double 11” and ignited the marketing lull between National Week and Spring Festival in 2009, Singles’ Day was not to be ignored.

Cyber Monday? Black Friday? They don’t stand a chance against this tidal wave. Prices were slashed nearly in half this year, and consumers hit online merchants in full force to the point where sales made new records this year. Within 12 hours, merchants made $14.3 billion, an increase from the $9.3 billion made in 2014.  Riding up to the notorious 11.11, you could not escape it. You could not hide. “Shuang yi is coming.” Your phone would be blowing up with notifications from every social media platform. In every subway station, giant posters of handsome celebrities reclining on beds of roses enticed you at every moment, reminding you to jump on those deals, to fulfill your desires and shop till your fingers drop. Regardless, you are seizing the day. No matter how crazy the shopping gets, no matter how much money is depleted from your bank accounts, there are no regrets.

How has the world reacted to this?

While Singles’ Day is nearly unheard of in the West, I would like to remain optimistic that Singles’ Day will make its way over through one influential person, Taylor Swift.

Taylor Swift’s 1989 World Tour stopped at the Mercedes Benz Arena on 11.11, one of three nights she performed in Shanghai. It felt too good to be true that she was performing to thousands upon thousands of crazed fans on Singles’ Day. What better person to promote being single, to never ever ever getting back together, to remind your former partners your memories will follow them around? And what better way to experience Singles’ Day? I will say, from being inside the arena that night watching her perform, surrounded by friends, hearing all the best songs, no other Singles’ day can ever trump this one. Genius. Simply genius, T-Swift. You definitely know your audience, breaking hearts everywhere.

So when November rolls around again next year and that pang of loneliness starts to settle into your brain, remind yourself to mark the 11th. Enjoy Singles’ Day, embrace the fact that you’re single. If you happen to not be single, it’s Valentine’s Day round two, don’t forget again! A few tips for you rookie Singles’ Day people: go celebrate with your other single friends, rejoice in your continued sense of independence with generous amounts of chocolate dipped pocky sticks and your favorite Taylor Swift albums (1989 is highly recommended), and hop on Taobao to enjoy the cathartic release that is retail therapy. Treat yourself!


The Emperors Touch Down in China


NANJING, China — Blood, sweat, tears and body pain for days is over…No, I’m not talking about a Justin Bieber concert! I am, of course, referring to American football. This, however, is not just any football team; this is the Nanjing Emperor football team (南京帝王美式橄榄球队) or “Diwangs,” the only one of its kind in Nanjing. Now coached by the HNC’s very own second-year MAIS candidate James Fitzgerald, who began playing pickup games at the age of six, the team has been going from strength to strength. Two games into the season, the “Diwangs” are preparing for future challenges over the course of the year, with players such as HNC students quarterback Grant Brown and running back Jeff Craig as well as locals lineman Adrubal Axel (Heilong 黑龙) and the fullback brick wall known as Tong Zi Hao 童子豪 (Tong Tong 童童; Supertight).

Created in 2014, the team, like most, has had its ups and downs. A conflict regarding what direction they should head in left the team in the managerial hands of Kang Jun 亢君 (Edward). Although very capable, the team was only four in number by the time Mr. Fitzgerald was appointed head coach. The “Diwangs” have been gathering momentum ever since, growing in both size and strength. With approximately 25 players, the weekly practice demonstrating their unbreakable determination has generated interest from both Chinese locals and expats alike.

With the increase of international players, the team is undergoing a significant change. Players from all walks of life have come together to take part in something that is generally unheard of in China. There are many difficulties that any team faces when training, perhaps even more so in China. Of course, there is the language barrier, but it could be argued that cultural differences pose a larger challenge. Even for those whose Chinese language is at a high level, a team still needs that bonding agent.

Who would have guessed that it would be American football that would serve as the platform for many of the relationships between locals and international students? “Recently, there has been an increase of international players on the team,” says Coach Fitz. “They bring a certain intensity and team experience that the Chinese could be said to be lacking.” There is a difference between international students helping the team develop and dominating the team in numbers and decision-making on and off the field, behaviors that might ostracize locals. However, this appears not to be the case with the “Diwangs.”

“A lot of the foreigners can speak Chinese (on the team),” Coach Fitz continues. “They are inspired to transfer their passion of the game to the Chinese locals.”

It is clear that there is a good amount of team cohesion, and as they move to face more obstacles in the future, this can only be considered an advantage.

In the second game this season played at home, the “Diwangs” had a shaky start, conceding two touchdowns within the first five minutes. However, realizing what needed to be done and with the support of the Chinese locals and HNC fans, the team clawed its way back to an even 18-18 by halftime. The second half saw a considerable change in the “Diwangs” attitude. The defense tightened up and lineman Heilong 黑龙, now a local legend, served up a string of tackles including three sacks. Both Craig and Supertight 童童 displayed exquisite skill, running over and around the defense like they have been doing it for years. Grant Brown achieved an unprecedented five rushing touchdowns.  The game drew to a dramatic close as the first win in the history of the team, with the score 32-26.

Reflecting on the match, Brown, the quarterback, was cautious about the win. “It is safe to say that we still have a lot to learn, but throughout the game, I saw improvement from everyone and I’m confident about the future.

Though not the biggest team that ever roamed the land of China, with their first win in the bag, it just goes to show that it’s “not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” It is clear that the “Diwangs” show no sign of slowing down. If anything, the team grows bigger and stronger by the week. Coach Fitz for one sees no reason why this team cannot succeed, stating that he sees the “Diwangs” as “the premier representation of Nanjing in the football world.” With two more games in the next few months, the “Diwangs” momentum and progress will be met with anticipation by local fans and students alike.

What Defeat Means for Narendra Modi?


On Nov. 8, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi suffered a major defeat in the legislative assembly elections in the eastern state of Bihar. It amounted to a personal humiliation of Modi, since he had been the centerpiece of the BJP’s campaign. The party ran a campaign focused on national politics, even refusing to name any candidates for state chief minister before the elections. The BJP’s opposition, a grand alliance of mostly regional parties, including the ruling incumbent party, focused on issues of local development and social welfare. Needless to say, the opposition’s message resonated far better with voters, as they won 178 seats out of 243, compared to 58 seats for the BJP and its allies. But in the last few weeks leading up to the election, the campaign took an ugly turn. Sensing the possibility of defeat, the BJP increasingly resorted to communalism, portraying its opponents as an existential threat to Hindu values and attempting to drive a wedge among voters based on caste. Meanwhile, across the country, Hindu mobs carried out several violent attacks on Muslims and secular activists for perceived slights against Hindu beliefs. Perhaps the most notable attack was the mob lynching of a Muslim man who was falsely accused of storing and consuming beef in his house, an act considered taboo by many Hindus. Modi and the BJP alternated between maintaining silence and implied victim-blaming.

It would have taken very little effort for the BJP’s national leaders to distance themselves from such ugliness. A simple condemnation of violence or statements in support of minority rights would have gone a long way in protecting the image of the party’s top leaders. Instead, BJP leaders portrayed themselves as the victims of some sort of left-wing conspiracy to harm the party or even damage India’s reputation abroad. They deflected blame even in the most clear-cut circumstances, and they have been generally dismissive of an increasingly evident rise in intolerance. When they have responded to specific incidents, they have done so in meaningless platitudes, using words like “regrettable” and “unfortunate.” In some cases, they have even strongly implied that the victims were deserving of their fates.

One can thus only conclude that Modi and other BJP leaders are reluctant to speak out against such communalism either because they are fearful of losing their religious conservative base or because they fundamentally agree with it. Either reason is troublesome, though the latter is considerably more frightening. The BJP rode a wave of massive discontent to power in 2014, running on a platform consisting almost exclusively of economic issues. Voters were fed up with dysfunctional government and a sharp downturn in economic growth. Many voters remained skeptical that the BJP could shed its far-right Hindu nationalist elements, but Modi’s promises of decisive economic reforms and his conspicuous lack of campaigning on social issues convinced many others that his party had turned a new leaf. Now, it seems that skepticism was well-placed, and voters are reminding the BJP of the narrowness of its mandate.

In both of the BJP’s electoral tests since winning a majority in the national parliament in 2014, the party has failed spectacularly. In February of this year, the BJP won just 3 out of 70 seats in the Delhi legislative assembly elections, handing all 67 remaining seats to the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party. Now, the lopsided defeat in Bihar has dealt a second consecutive major blow to the BJP’s momentum. The BJP does not have a majority in the upper house of India’s parliament, and the state-level losses have hurt their designs on gaining influence in that house – most upper house members are elected by state legislatures. This does not mean that all is lost for Modi’s agenda, however. His party still holds a large majority of seats in the more powerful lower house of parliament until 2019, after all, and upcoming state elections may still go in the BJP’s favor. And the Indian National Congress, the overwhelmingly dominant party in Indian politics for much of the country’s history and now the BJP’s main opposition, still remains in shambles.

But the main takeaway for the BJP should be a healthy dose of humility. The party can no longer coast on Modi’s charisma or presumed popularity, and it certainly cannot afford to indulge in the ugly communalist whims of its right wing – it must compete on the issues that brought it to power in the first place. Most Indians, especially members of the growing middle class, very much want Modi to succeed in delivering the economic growth he promised. The BJP is in power because voters want economic progress, not because they agree with the party’s cultural philosophy. Modi and the BJP would do well to keep that in mind and get back to work on their economic agenda.

SAIS Students Help Judge English Competition


Photo Courtesy: Logan Pauley

On the evening of Sunday, Oct. 25, we had the opportunity to judge and help moderate Learner English’s second annual English speaking competition. The competition brought 28 local Nanjing students and their families to a major auditorium at the Science and Technology Center of Nanjing University. The competition was a unique experience for us, both as judges, but also as international students having a first-hand glimpse into the intriguing Chinese educational model and how it manifests itself during second language acquisition.

The competition was broken down into three age groups of roughly equal numbers of students: first through third grades, fourth through sixth grades, and seventh through eighth grades. Each group was composed of both male and female students, though there were definitively more male students in each group. The competition began with a fierce spelling completion. Each group ascended the stage, lining up one by one to hold the microphone in front of his/her peers, family members, and teachers. Then, a judge would say a word into the microphone and the student would respond with their idea of the correct spelling. Then, a different judge would say “correct” or “incorrect” into a separate microphone. Following this, the student would have a different word directed at him/her. Each student had exactly one minute to correctly spell as many words as possible.

From the competition’s inception, it became very clear these students had practiced spelling the given words for hours upon hours – most likely in school and at home. The phenomenon of pure memorization was nothing shocking to us – the Chinese educational system is, in many aspects, largely based off of this method. It was somewhat strange, however, to see six year old children standing on a stage, knock-kneed, clutching a microphone as they rapidly shouted, “H-O-R-S-E, horse, B-A-L-L, ball,” all the while looking straightaway as they harnessed their honed memorization powers.

The rest of the competition forced the students to think more critically, such as assessing fill-in-the-blank prompts, choosing nouns or phrases that were ‘the odd one out’, and multiple choice reading comprehension questions. In the final round, the top three contestants from each age group presented an extemporaneous speech to the audience based on a topic pre-selected by the competition committee. In my opinion, this was the most telling about the individual characters of each competitor, as speeches ranged in topic, beginning with the youngest student describing why Hong Kong’s Disneyland is a good travel destination to family picnic festivities and concluding with a more senior student beginning his speech on interstellar exploration by proclaiming, “Space! The Final Frontier!” Each student brought their lively personality to this portion of the completion, and it was a pleasure to see how well each student reacted to on-the-spot nature of this part of the competition.

Yet, the influence of content inculcation permeated the competition; not only did students experience the pressure-cooker of instantaneous response, but questions that required deeper understanding often conveyed Learner’s personal sociopolitical standpoints. A particularly alarming instance displayed a question that read, “Which country is not one of the four civilized countries?” The choices: China, Egypt, Japan, India—India being the answer. The very next question referred to ‘Taiwan Island’ as the answer to “China’s largest island is…”. Another question indicated that given the options blonde, yellow, and white, it was ‘negro’ that stood out.

While such examples may be viewed as inherently controversial from countries where English is the native tongue, such is the problem with language acquisition lead by non-native speakers; although earnest attempts are made to reflect syntax, grammar, and meaning, often times the way second-language speakers phrase sentences or thoughts directly reflects their worldview or ideology. In the case of Learner, an entire company of non-native speakers is producing language learning materials and programming. That is to say, the contest and the method in which non-native speakers teach a given language may actually perpetuate a systematic misunderstanding of the finer intricacies of language acquisition, or may fall prey to implanting personal prerogatives in language learning.

All in all, these few disconcerting instances did not ruin the experience for us—the kids definitely enjoyed themselves, and their English abilities were surprisingly very good. Such an experience lent to our understanding of how cross-cultural conceptions of controversial issues are a particularly difficult issue to assess; with regard to the competition we judged, Learner did not intend to push a malicious agenda (sans the Taiwan question, possibly). Rather Learner projected their understanding of a foreign language by interspersing components of their personal experiences. Although such a practice can bring about considerable issues, it was undeniable that they had, in some regards, effectively taught those 28 students English.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Author’s name Logan Pauley was corrected at 14:00 GMT on 22 November 2015.

Harry Potter Unites: Bridging the Cultural Gap in Nanjing


Photo Courtesy: Susan Wang
Photo Courtesy: Susan Wang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halloween Festivities a Hit in Bologna

Photo Courtesy: Kyle Potaneic


Why wait to celebrate tomorrow when we can celebrate today? This year’s Halloween festivities in Bologna kicked off a day early on October 30th. Organized by the SGA, SAIS Europe danced the night away at the exclusive Casalunga Golf Resort located outside of Bologna’s city walls. In a matter of three days, the SGA, along with their planning committee, sold 186 tickets to interested partygoers and even a few faculty members. Students were dressed head to toe in full character and costume, and the dancing continued on late into the night.

Photo Courtesy: Kyle Potaneic
Photo Courtesy: Kyle Potaneic

Since their election on October 1st, the SGA has worked to prepare for this year’s event. Halloween at SAIS Europe is an annual tradition hosted by the SGA, which up until 2015 has always featured someone American – where Halloween is most-celebrated. But the dearth of American SGA members didn’t hinder the festivities.

In addition to SGA representatives, a Halloween Party organization committee worked to organize the festivities. This planning committee included Fatima Nanavati, Mike Khayan, Alex Nelson, and Kady Hammer. Under the supervision of the event planner and SGA member, Elisa Bettelli, the committee was involved in selecting the venue, creating advertisements, selling tickets, shepherding students to and from the venue and decorating.

Photo Courtesy: Kyle Potaneic
Photo Courtesy: Kyle Potaneic

Being that the venue was a 20-minute drive outside of the city walls, the SGA arranged for bus rides to and from the location. SGA member Riccardo Alfieri coordinated with a local bus company to rent two buses that would transport all of the students in four trips. This required an immense amount of coordinated on behalf of the SGA and their organization team in staggering departure times and maintaining the proper time schedule.

It’s safe to say this year’s class embraced the Halloween spirit, as each student in attendance was decked out in a costume of some variety. Costumes ranged from animals, comic book characters, Disney characters, the cast of Alice and Wonderland, a horde of lumberjacks, political figures and even a couple of dictators. As to be expected, central to any Halloween party, there was a costume contest. So who stole the show?

In a catwalk/runway-style costume contest, several students strutted through the dance floor showing off their attire. Some of the costumes included cat women, a housemaid, Zoro, and more. The winner of the individual costume contest, Edmund Ruge, dressed as SAIS Professor John Harper. When asked about his inspiration, Ruge said “I’m auditing his class and I was running out of time. I ran out and got a yellow sweater because he tends to wear that with a button down. I found a white wig, even though his hair is more salt and pepper, and just started cutting. I had a mustache too but that fell off so I had my friend draw it on with a sharpie on the bus ride there.” Dressing up as a professor could fare poorly for Ruge but this week will be the test of his luck. “I’m buckling down on the readings this week because I’m pretty sure word is going to get around to him and he might pick on me all class if he wanted to. I’ll make sure to have my notes out and readings covered” said Ruge.

Also a part of the contest was the group costume whereby the most adorable “old” ladies stole the show. Sarah Golden, Becky Chanis and Julia Saenz were dressed as old ladies as they hobbled down the impromptu runway. As the judges concluded by their costume choices, getting old isn’t so bad if you’re winning contests! Culminating the night’s festivities was a surprise flashmob dance of Michael Jackson’s Thriller coordinated by SAIS Bologna’s Dance Club.

An Interview with the MA SGA Representatives

Hengrui Liu (left) and Nathasha Soon (right)
Hengrui Liu (left) and Nathasha Soon (right)

A discussion with new 1st year MA SGA representatives, Hengrui Liu and Nathasha Soon:

Could you tell me a little bit about your background prior to coming to SAIS and what you plan to study here?

Hengrui: I come from Chengdu, China, but got my BA from Brandeis University. During my time at Brandeis, I served as a research assistant to a Chinese history professor. I later returned to China where I interned with the US-China Business Council in Beijing and analyzed government policies related to US companies operating in China. I study ERE here at SAIS.

Nathasha: I’m from Seattle, WA, and attended the University of Washington where I majored in Economics and Psychology. After graduating in 2013, I worked for a year in consumer banking, and then decided to apply to graduate school. I also used this time to travel to Southeast Asia, where much of my family is from. I am pursuing a dual-concentration in International Law and Conflict Management, and also hope to complete the Infrastructure and Finance specialization.

What first inspired you both to run for SGA office?

Nathasha: I really wanted to be more involved with SAIS and get to know the community better. I’m learning to appreciate all that the SAIS community has to offer to students. I hope to bond the students more closely to their administration and build greater cohesion in the community.

Hengrui: I used to be the VP of the Chinese Students and Scholarship Association, so I have some prior skills and experience. I wanted to contribute these skills to my new community at SAIS. More importantly, I want to make SAISers’ lives and studies easier.  

What is it that you hope to achieve within this first year as SGA representatives?

Nathasha: I want to increase student attendance of SGA events and build more community. There are many different students at SAIS, such as MAs, MIPPs, MIEFs, Nanjing students, Bologna students, etc., and I’d like to bring those minds together.

Hengrui: Going off what Nathasha said, not too many students are aware of SGA’s role in SAIS. I want students to become more cognizant of how we can help them. I want SAIS students to be content and comfortable during their time here, and I’d like to be a channel for students to express their thoughts and concerns.  

You asked students to express their concerns on the SAIS 2017 Facebook page. Among those that were expressed, which do you think are actionable?

Hengrui: Many students expressed concern over bike racks. Many do not know, myself included, however, that there is one underneath the BOB building. Hence, there may be some lack of communication between students and administration regarding the extent of facilities available to them. This is what I am trying to work on. Students also expressed an interest in a bike pump, which is something we are working on and hope to provide soon. Students have provided many great suggestions. Some we can act on quickly, whereas others will take time. Finding solutions will require support from both students and administrators.

Nathasha: Personally, I [want to] collaborate with Career Services in being more responsive to students and giving feedback to Career Services of the needs of the student body. I want to bring to Jean-Amiel’s attention that the professional development courses are not efficient for the diversity of students we have at SAIS, especially in terms of course length and excessive assignments.

What have you found to be most enjoyable about your new position?

Nathasha: It’s great to meet with other members of the SGA and learn more about how things are operating.

Hengrui: The most exciting thing for me is the interactions with students. The Facebook example is a good one; I was able to get a lot of input on how to make improvements to student life in SAIS, which is important.

How would you characterize the role of SGA?

Nathasha: The role that we have in student government is very fluid. We solicit opinions from students, many of which we also share, and bring them to administrators, all to build community. We all only have two years here, and we want to make sure students can make the most of their time.

Hengrui: I think the role of SGA is to be an intermediary between students and administrators. This requires clear communication to and from both sides. I think this communication is the most important task of SGA.

What has been the most difficult part of your taking on SGA responsibilities?

Nathasha: I don’t think it’s been difficult at all! When I have more responsibilities, I become more efficient. This has made me more sharp, actually.

Hengrui: I agree with Nathasha regarding efficiency. We are in graduate school, where the curriculum is much more rigorous. It’s all about time management. I’m very excited to be elected, but I am also more aware of the responsibilities I now have.

What would you say are the most important qualities for an SGA representative to have?

Hengrui: I would say passion. You have to have passion in order to make changes.

Nathasha: You have to be very sociable. You need to be able to connect with people and share perspectives fluidly between students and administrators.