Category: SAIS Profiles

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.

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.

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.

Student Spotlight: Jason Spizer, Documentary Photographer

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The Photographer Jason Spizer at his recent exhibit at Cafe Belmeloro (Photo Courtesy: Kady Hammer)


Sitting down with a professional photojournalist was intimidating for an amateur journalist like myself, especially when that professional happened to be someone whose work I greatly admire. I found Jason Spizer in the right corner of the Mizushi Ristorante & Bar leaning back in his chair with two cups of tea waiting for us. As I sat down, he glanced toward the ceiling before reaching for another cup of red tea. After taking a sip, he rested his hands on the table, turned toward me, and patiently waited for me to begin the interview. Spizer, 27, is a tall, auburn-haired guy from New Orleans. Former stock trader-turned-documentary photographer and student living in Italy, Spizer is unequivocally one of the most interesting people I have had the good fortune of meeting. He has traveled extensively working as a freelance photojournalist and has worked on diverse projects focusing on the Yazidi people in Sinjar, Somaliland, Cuba, Ethiopia and more.

For readers unfamiliar with documentary photography, it is a style of photography used to tell a story or chronicle events that are or will be significant to history regardless of scale. “I consider myself a documentary photographer because images can be a tool that ultimately influences long term thinking and policy formation,” says Spizer.

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SAIS Student Namita Rajesh examining photos of the Yazidi people at Jason Spizer’s recent exhibit in Cafe Belmeloro (Photo Courtesy: Kady Hammer)

Starting a career is never easy, but it is particularly difficult in fields such as documentary photography. Everyone has a story to tell behind his or her passions, and Spizer just so happens to professionally practice his passion. He says, “Photography is a powerful medium to develop a narrative that might impact the lives of my subjects.”

Constant travel is necessary to be a successful international photographer and breaking into the industry is a difficult feat. Spizer elaborates, “It is critical to make contacts on the ground in the countries where one is working and in the industry. Building trust, and making those around me comfortable enough to open up and share a piece of their lives is ultimately what yields the most powerful and truthful imagery. Ultimately, my success hinges on access and credibility.” Spizer recalls his entry into this career. “I was traveling in Kashmir when I met a guy who was a photojournalist and I travelled and apprenticed under him. I was entering some pretty remote and interesting corners of the world, and he encouraged me to get into documentary photography.” From an outsider’s perspective, it is hard to imagine how one brings a story to fruition. When asked, Spizer replied, “Usually, I get an idea and then I start contacting the people I need to.” When asked about the difficulty of getting people to open up about their stories, especially with people in tense or uncomfortable situations, he said, “You have to have a feel for whom you are talking to and what you can and can’t ask. Usually it takes me a couple of trips before I get a really good story.”

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Student Alex Simon examining a photo of a Somaliland resident chewing khat at Jason Spizer’s recent exhibit in Cafe Belmeloro (Photo Courtesy: Kady Hammer)

To continue in this line of work, one must be extremely motivated and passionate, which Spizer is. “I pursue these stories because I believe, in general, Western views are shaped by images that show people in the most desperate and extreme circumstances. I want to portray people in a more dignified way and shine a light on human resilience. Also, too often international affairs are covered in a sensationalist manner that is overly simplistic and present people with moral black and whites. Part of my vision is trying to make images that allow people to develop a more nuanced view on a world event.”

Most aspiring young professionals have role models in their respective career fields.  Spizer says there are two important journalists who have either personally mentored and encouraged him or have inspired him from afar. They are Tim Hetherington and Marcus Bleasdale. Hetherington was an investigative photojournalist who published for organizations such as Human Rights Watch and the United Nations. Bleasdale is a documentary photographer who has collaborated with organizations such as National Geographic and Human Rights Watch.

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Jason Spizer discussing photos of the Yazidi people with another SAIS student at his recent exhibit in Cafe Belmeloro (Photo Courtesy: Kady Hammer)

While many of us were enjoying a relaxing spring break, Spizer was making his way through the streets of Somaliland, learning the stories of the people and their community. One man in particular has had a lasting impression on Spizer’s work. “In Somaliland, I met a guy who left during the civil war, moved to Italy and decided to return. He is determined to revive a music and culture scene that thrived in the ’60s and ’70s. Unfortunately he fears economic hardship and outside influence are taking the country in a different direction.”

Recently Spizer’s work has been showcased in a local exhibition at Café Belmeloro, just down the street from SAIS Europe. Throughout the evening, a large gathering of SAIS students walked around the café, gazing at the stories of Somaliland and the Yazidi people captured through the lens of a camera. Students from the University of Bologna and other locals were also in attendance. As guests moved from photo to photo, Spizer entertained them by telling visitors the stories behind each photo.

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SAIS Student Matthew van Putten looking at Somaliland photos at Jason Spizer’s recent exhibit in Cafe Belmeloro (Photo Courtesy: Kady Hammer)


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.

What Did You Do This Summer?

We asked a couple of our classmates what they did this summer to see where everyone is coming from and where they hope to go during their time at SAIS:

Shereen Shafi:

This summer I studied Urdu for two months in Lucknow, India through the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program funded by the U.S. Department of State. In addition to exploring the city of Lucknow and seeing the Taj Mahal and other historic sites on a CLS-organized trip to Agra, my friends and I were able to spend weekends in New Delhi, Mumbai, and Dehradun while traveling independently. Most importantly, thanks to our excellent classroom instruction and the benefits of an Urdu/Hindi-immersive environment, my Urdu speaking abilities and vocabulary expanded significantly; upon returning, I passed my proficiency exam at SAIS. I would highly recommend the CLS program to any SAIS student studying a foreign language.

Yael Mizrahi:

Yael spent 6 weeks volunteering with a Kurdish NGO, based out of Erbil, Iraq, advising on the current Iraqi IDP crisis, and influx of Syrian refugees. There she also conducted research for the KRG on the future of the Disputed territories of Northern Iraq.

Christopher Dunnett (Bologna)


I’ve lived in Ukraine for the past two years, first as a Fulbright ETA in the city of Dnipropetrovsk, and later in writing and journalism in Kiev. My Fulbright began just before the start of the political upheaval and lasted throughout much of the early stages of the crisis. Following my Fulbright, I began working as a writer and assistant editor for the country’s main international press center, as well as a writer and producer for an English-language news show associated with a prominent independent Ukrainian media outlet. Later, I also assisted the communications team for Ukraine’s Presidential Administration. I continued to live and work in Kyiv until this August, when I moved to Bologna.  

Ben Kupferberg

This past summer, I interned for the venture capital firm Genesis Partners in Tel Aviv, Israel. I split time between the actual VC office and the accelerator that they own and operate. At the accelerator, where I spent a majority of time, I worked with 4 Israeli startups selected from over 600 companies, to provide American market research and go-to-market strategies. At the VC office I was exposed to investment horizon models for potential investments. Additionally, I travelled extensively both in the North and South of Israel.

Rose Fishman (Bologna)

This summer I was in a small town in Northwestern Ethiopia closing out my two years of service as a Peace Corps volunteer. I sloshed around in my rain boots (summer = rainy season = lots of mud) saying goodbye to friends and pseudo families, finishing up programs at my host school, and packing up my little mud hut.

In Conversation with Prof. Webb

Adam Webb
Adam Webb

 Emily Walz
Assistant Editor at SAIS Nanjing

During his last year in high school, Professor Adam K. Webb got a Chinese textbook and began teaching himself.

In 1997, he came to China for the summer through the ‘Princeton in Beijing’ program. He remembers spending 22 hours on a bus from Shanghai to Anhui, metal eel tanks stacked up in the aisle, the August heat sweltering, water sloshing out of the tanks, and an eel slithering out onto the floor.

Unphased, Professor Webb came back to China to begin teaching at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center six years ago. “I was a bit rusty when I came here in 2008,” he admitted, but since then his Chinese has improved greatly.

“I’m not really a China specialist, which is a somewhat unusual position to be in.”

A Princeton PhD in Politics and a former social studies lecturer at Harvard University, Webb specializes in global cultural issues, world political thought, modernity and its critics, and rural politics and alternative approaches to development, among other areas.

His course ‘Modernity and World Social Thought’ includes readings from Michel Foucault, Pope Pius XI, Mohandas Gandhi, and Simone de Beauvior, while ‘Politics of Rural Development’ focuses on issues like rural-urban migration, agriculture and land-owning systems, microfinance, gender, and the environment. While Professor Webb now typically teaches only during the Fall semester, previously his Spring semester courses included ‘Perspectives on Globalization’ and ‘Comparative Politics.’

In addition to his other courses, Webb runs the second-year Master’s colloquium and co-teaches the first-year Master’s tutorial. “I have a lot of contact with the Master’s students,” he said.

Of his courses, Webb said: “I think I tend to get more of a mix than most classes here. The rural development class has always been pretty mixed. Modernity and World Social Thought is mostly Chinese.” This mixing between international and Chinese students helps keep the two groups from being isolated in their own worlds, and enriches discussion. “Hopefully we can expand more at the Center to make it more truly integrated,” Webb added.

One platform for interaction between international and Chinese students outside the classroom is the Philosophy Non-Club, organized by Professor Webb and his colleague, Professor Thomas Simon. The club provides “an integrated venue for talking about a whole range of issues.” One recent discussion centered on feminism and China and another on the role of language and identity.

In his time away from the Center, Professor Webb has done library research in England and fieldwork in Egypt and Peru. “I try to get off the beaten path a bit,” he said.

Two of his more recent research topics have focused on the global connections among people not usually considered globalized, and on how activists in the Arab Spring see the rest of the world.

His forthcoming book examines alternative cosmopolitanisms and encounters between civilizations prior to the era of modernity and global consumer culture. “Liberal globalization tends to focus on how people can coexist despite their beliefs,” said Webb, rather than examining the common ground within diverse traditions.

Looking forward, Webb is enthusiastic about the proposed ERE concentration as “something we can tap into, particularly in the Chinese context,” and is hoping for more international conferences, including one next year in Nanjing about interactions among China, the West, and the Muslim world.

As Professor Webb pointed out, looking at the world as a division between “the West and China” highlights some issues but obscures others. Additionally, since half of the international students at the HNC can be from outside the US, there may be potential to increase recruitment from other countries and further diversify perspectives in the classroom.

Professor Webb sees the HNC as a good base for looking both at China and the rest of the world. Due to the rapid social, political, and economic changes in recent times, “the spiritual crisis of modernity is particularly vivid in China,” he said.

SAIS Europe Professor Profile: William Belding

Professor Belding teaches a course on weak and failed states at SAIS Europe. (Rachel Finan)
Professor Belding teaches a course on weak and failed states at SAIS Europe. (Rachel Finan)

Assistant Editor at SAIS Europe

Each year, SAIS Europe draws on experts from all over the world who bring a wide range of personal and professional experiences to bear on academics in Bologna.

This year Professor William Belding, on loan for a semester from the School of International Service at American University, is one of them.

Belding, a self-described “recovering lawyer,” is teaching a class called Weak and Failed States this semester. He has taught the class several times before and says it each time it garners more and more interest.

In fact, the course at Bologna was so popular that to avoid having it go to bid Belding volunteered to offer two sections of the class — both at 8:30 am, no less. He thinks the issue is so important that anyone interested should be allowed to study it.

“I don’t want to deny anyone the opportunity to understand this critical issue,” he said. “The concept of weak states is an

important reality. There are some nations that can’t protect their borders, that can’t provide their citizens with basic health, social and economic infrastructure. So do we leave these states to figure it out on their own, or do we jump in and try to understand it?”

Over the years, Belding has become increasingly committed to understanding the origins and implications of state failure and educating students about the issue. But just how did a former Navy SEAL and real estate lawyer cultivate an interest in international affairs?

As a young teenager in California, Belding was consumed with baseball, surfing, friends and writing and was not exposed to the world beyond Mexico.

It was his military tour during the Vietnam War that first ignited his curiosity about foreign affairs, international conflict and the dynamics that cause states to weaken and fail.

“It started during my first military tour in Vietnam,” he said. “It was such a different culture, with different languages, social structures, there was poverty, conflict, which gave me insight into the state — it was tremendously exciting, and even though we were there fighting a war, I developed a good relationship with my Vietnamese counterparts.”

Belding’s involvement in the war sharpened his interest in examining the nature of conflict, insurgencies and factors that weaken states and make them susceptible to failure and further conflict.

“I realized after my military career that we had forgotten the lessons we’d learned in Vietnam and in international relations, and that was my biggest drive toward teaching; I wanted to pass on the information to anyone who would listen.”

Decades later he headed the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, an international non-profit organization that conducts humanitarian work in support of war victims in Africa and Asia. He also co-founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, an organization which won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

Eventually, Belding went on to teach graduate courses on weak and failed states at the New School and American University. Now at SAIS Europe, after just two classes, he is convinced that this semester will be exceptional.

“The quality and the enthusiasm of the students is something I’ve never seen before. Without a doubt, the students in Bologna are some of the most interesting and are at the top tier in terms of intelligence.”

“The staff is also amazing,” he added. “Everybody works tirelessly to make sure that the academics are supported.”

In academia, the concept of failed states is controversial and many question the validity and implications of applying that label to certain countries. But Belding maintains that recognizing and examining state weakness and failure is critical to cultivating a rich understanding of conflict.

“States that look as though they’ve failed now, in twenty years may look a bit different; so we have to look at it in a grand scale and understand what causes a state to fail, why are they that way and what we can do about it. And that’s exactly what we are doing in this class.”

In addition to the 10 to 12 hours a week Belding devotes to preparing for classes, he is currently engaged in research on insurgency in Russia and throughout Europe and fills his remaining hours traveling around Italy on the weekends and writing a military thriller.

“I’m excited to be at SAIS,” he said, “the dedication of the staff and the enthusiasm of the students are remarkable. I’m enjoying the experience.”

SAIS DC Student Profile: Shahed Ghoreishi

Shahed Ghoreishi
Shahed Ghoreishi

Associate Editor at SAIS Washington

It is difficult to find an average profile among SAIS students. Our classmates come from a variety of backgrounds, spanning across a variety of nationalities, religions, academic fields and interests. You might chat with the soldier from Nebraska who just got back from his second tour in Afghanistan in the elevator, then bump into the German physicist-turned-diplomat in the library.

That diversity makes it hard to find a representative profile of the student body. That was not lost on Shahed Ghoreishi, a first year in Middle East Studies in DC.

“Why me?” he asked. I told him he was interesting. “Interesting, as in special? Do you mean to say I’m special?” That didn’t sound right. “Everyone is special and nobody is,” I said. Ghoreishi didn’t buy it though. “Why do you have to be all philosophical, man? Whatever, let’s just do this.”

Ghoreishi grew up in a Seattle suburb. He went to the International Community School, which, as the name suggests, is serious when it comes to international affairs.

“Instead of calling history class ‘history,’” he said, he took five years of “international studies.” After four eventful years of Model United Nations (MUN) his classmates voted him “most likely to become ambassador to the UN.” He graduated to go to the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington.

Through much of high school and college, Ghoreishi worked in technology retail. He says he liked the interaction with people over the counter and was part of a team launching a Microsoft store. I can picture him speed-talking customers through problems and sending them off with a smile.

Having dealt with technology, Ghoreishi is more comfortable with quantitative classes than the usual IR buff. He dabbled in computer science classes in college at first before IR pulled him back into its dark embrace. He had a hunger for books about the Middle East and took classes mostly on international political economy. At SAIS, he wants to deepen his knowledge of economics and history to go beyond an intuitive understanding of the world.

But why the pull towards international politics in the first place? Ghoreishi is clear about it — it’s his Iranian heritage. Both of his parents are Iranian immigrants to the US, and

he has been to the country of his ancestors many times as a child. As he grew older, the sense of Iranian history began to take shape in him. “I’m very, very American, but I’ve

got this Persian side to me too,” he said.

The end goal for him is to help rebuilding the US-Iranian relationship. He talks slowly now, the way you do when experience condenses into simple truths. It’s about “walking in other peoples’ shoes,” he says, “from there you can break down the problems.”

That didn’t sound too uncommon for a SAIS student. Maybe we have more in common with each other than it appears.

SAIS Alum to Read Autobiography at Local Czech Café

Eric Steiner
Eric Steiner

The SAIS Observer Staff

SAIS students will be afforded a treat this coming Sunday when Eric Steiner, SAIS Europe ’95, SAIS DC ’96, will read from his self-published autobiography, On Moon Square, at Bistro Bohem in the Shaw neighborhood of DC.

Steiner’s book, part of his series of works, My Life: What Not to Do, takes readers through a SAISer’s first-hand experiences of the Velvet Revolution in Prague, an American’s perspective on a nascent post-Cold War Eastern Europe and his time at SAIS.

Steiner, who currently lives in Baltimore, Md., and is the founder and owner of his company, EarthBrew: Compost with a Kick, describes his autobiography as “a true narrative about a “normal” guy on a “normal” path [and] journeys to abnormal places, not just geographical.”

“The journey,” he writes for the book’s jacket cover, “back to peace of mind is the true odyssey with the usual stops along the way: sex, drugs, rock & roll, politics and religion.”

Given the significant time devoted to the Czech Republic in the book, Steiner is reading at Bistro Bohem, a café and restaurant that serves Czech food and drink and is owned by Czech immigrants to Washington, DC.

Eat the District reviewed Bistro Bohem in July 2012: “Overall, Bistro Bohem is clearly one of the better restaurants in its neighborhood (and in my opinion far ahead of its across-the-street neighbor Shaw’s Tavern) and states its case as a must-visit spot for people from all over the district.”

Food critics from The Washington Post and The New York Times have reviewed the chicken schnitzel as the must-have dish of the restaurant.

The reading will take place at Bistro Bohem (600 Florida Ave NW) at 7 p.m. on Sunday, October 13.  All SAIS students with a valid ID will receive happy hour discounts at the event.

Steiner will also be signing books for sale at the event.

Excerpt from On Moon Square (p. 82):

“In came a shaggy local with a cast on his arm—he spotted the empty space at my table and with a nod he sat opposite me. We both looked at his cast lying on the table.

“Auditor. That was my State work, taking shop inventories. But now we’re supposed to fine the businesses not paying the tax. In one shop they broke my arm. Right there in the back room. I just lay there on the floor.” He shrugged, his eyes comically sad. The waitress brought him a whiskey. I asked, “So you’re on leave?”

“Leave?—what kind of leave? I’m unemployed. And what are you, Polish? You talk funny. What do you sell? I haven’t met a Pole who isn’t selling something.”

I shook my head. He said, “Or your parents were from here? They escaped and now you’ve come back to cash in? Makes sense.”

I shook my head again. He asked, “Then what? Why the fake accent? Who are you?”


“You’re no spy, that’s all gone. What’s there to watch?”

“The happenings.”

The auditor smirked. I asked, “No point?” He answered, “Of course not. There’s no point watching this.”

“A waste of time?”

“Complete,” he said.

“And you understand it?”

“Completely. We were full of proud Bolsheviks, now we’re full of proud Capitalists. The Bolsheviks grabbed it all up, and now the Capitalists take it. They’re the same person, same heart. You’ve learned something here, spy.” Night had dropped down on us. The new neon buzzed through the city. The auditor melted off into the streets. My own tired feet took me past the New York combat-video gambling bar, where each machine was patronized by western clothed youngsters, though not from any west but this. A white mountain-bike passed me going the other way, its rider spinning calmly. Two men wearing ties stepped from their western sedan and entered past the fatigues-wearing bouncer at the Malibu Klub. Had any of them been there on the square on those cold nights? Where was everyone who had?

Or maybe it was me, maybe I had the problem.