Category: The Magellan Project

Nicholas Hung: Taiwan

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Nicholas Hung (left) with Ms. Hung Hsiu-chu, a former deputy chairperson of Taiwan’s Nationalist Party.

Nicholas Hung is a first-year student at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC), working towards a graduate certificate in Chinese and American Studies before completing his master’s degree at SAIS in Washington, D.C.

Nicholas spent his summer in Taipei, Taiwan as an intern for the Kuomintang (KMT), also known as the Nationalist Party, in the Republic of China. While interning in the KMT Central Committee’s foreign media and international affairs section, Nicholas completed Chinese-language courses at National Taiwan Normal University. Before embarking on his studies at the HNC, he graciously agreed to discuss his experience at the KMT headquarters with the SAIS Observer.

What were your responsibilities working at the KMT Central Committee’s foreign media and international affairs section?

I worked directly under the section chief, Mr. Eric Huang, who is actually now working towards a master’s degree at SAIS. My primary responsibility was to prepare daily news briefs by condensing information from various news sources into a single document. I also worked on local media outreach for press conferences. Additionally, I was involved in coordinating outreach to representatives of foreign countries and institutions such as Canada, Australia and the American Institute in Taiwan.

Why did you want to pursue this internship?

Personally, I’ve always been interested in politics. While I previously considered going into politics, I thought that the current political environment in the United States might make that quite difficult. On the other hand, I thought pursuing opportunities in foreign service, where I could be involved in political analysis at the macro level, might be more accessible.

What were some of the challenges and rewards of your internship?

It was great to be able to live in an environment where I could learn Chinese and meet a lot of interesting people. I shook the hand of the chairwoman of the KMT at the time, Ms. Hung Hsiu-chu, and I got to meet representatives from the European Union contingency and do some translating. But most of all, I think it was an opportunity to see how a political party works, especially in the context of Taiwan’s unique history, culture and democratically active society.

One challenge was language. While I was in a country I knew somewhat well, I was operating in a language that I was not as comfortable with. I grew up speaking Chinese at home, but did not really focus on reading and writing. But by working in a Chinese-speaking environment and taking language courses, I was able to make improvements and prepare myself for my studies at the HNC.

Another challenge was operating in the KMT itself, which has been around since 1912 and is somewhat set in its own ways. In Chinese culture, many believe that the elders are more experienced and have the right to control the dialogue. So for young Taiwanese people, myself included, it can be challenging to engage with different viewpoints, morals and values, especially on issues like LGBTQ policies. As an older political party, the KMT is not going to “rock the boat,” at least not as much as the Minjindang (Democratic Progressive Party) or the Shilidang (New Power Party). But, I was there to learn and regardless, there will always be similar challenges wherever I go. If the KMT can modernize and take stronger, more civil rights-oriented stances, I think they can make it.

Can you put your internship into an international perspective for us? In what ways was your work relevant?

Taiwan is one of our few democratic allies in the East Asian region. This is especially important in the context of Mainland China and its Belt and Road Initiative, investment initiatives in Africa, and so on. For someone like me who was born and raised in the United States, this was an opportunity to go out and understand a different culture and democratic political structure. The best part was to witness the young people of Taiwan so willing to go out and march for various causes. As an undergraduate, I wrote about the Sunflower Student Movement, which consisted of Taiwanese students who occupied the Taiwanese government’s legislative chamber in protest of the KMT passing the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement with Mainland China. This was so inspiring to me, especially given that in America, the younger age brackets have some of the lowest voting turnouts. If the United States could attain that same level of active participation, imagine the impact we could make! Beyond that, it’s all about comparison. We examine intercultural differences so that we can learn from both the positive and the negative.

How do you think this experience will apply to your studies at SAIS and beyond?

Here at the HNC, on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, I plan to study the Mainland Chinese outlook. With the aspiration of joining the foreign service, I want to focus on East Asia through either an international relations or comparative politics lens. Whether I have the opportunity to work at the American Institute in Taiwan or an embassy in China, I am eager to be back in this region. The experience has informed me about what I want to do academically and professionally; it also taught me about who I am as a Taiwanese-American. Even though Taiwan is small, we cannot forget our friends across the Taiwan Strait!

Alex Cowen: China

Alex Cowen is a master’s student at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) in Nanjing, concentrating in International Economics. Before coming to the HNC, he wanted to spend his summer working in China, so he cast a wide net looking for different options. In his search, he found an opportunity to internwith (JD), the second-largest e-commerce company in China.

Tell me about your experience at JD.Picture1

I was part of JD Run, an eight-week internship with JD. There were a total of 65 interns, both Chinese and international, in the program. We were all assigned positions in different departments: I worked in marketing. As part of the Run program, we also had a special project, where a team of interns supervised by a full-time JD employee could choose one of seven different projects. I worked on a project with JD Fresh, a consumer goods service similar to the Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s model that emphasizes freshness and quality goods. It’s a fast-growing market in China: People are more interested in higher quality food. They’re also working with the “workerless supermarket” concept where you scan your face to open the door, you collect your items, and then you scan your face again to exit.

What were your day-to-day responsibilities at JD?

My regular function in the marketing department was to work primarily on international intellectual property and branding, as well as sports sponsorships. I attended meetings with my mentor and contributed to various promotional projects such as, for example, working with artists designing bags for JD or on sponsorships from professional soccer teams in China and Europe. I also did research on “fresh” brands like Trader Joe’s to determine what Chinese brands can learn from them.

What were the most challenging and the most rewarding parts of your internship?

Those two kind of go hand-in-hand. The most challenging was working in Chinese. I knew I wanted that experience before coming to the HNC, but there were growing pains. Often colleagues would not assign me work because they weren’t sure if I would understand what they were saying. I had to figure out how to communicate in their language and meet them in the middle.

The most rewarding thing was the feeling that I made a genuine connection with my Chinese colleagues. Finally, I was assigned meaningful work; it turned out that breaking the ice was all that really needed to happen. By the end of the summer, it was still hard, but I felt like part of the team, and it was really rewarding seeing how much people really appreciated me being there.

What perspectives on China and the world did this experience provide you?

I saw how Chinese businesses and commerce are globalizing. The United States has an existing business model, and Chinese companies like Alibaba and JD are trying to move into that space and learn from them. There’s a lot for both Chinese and foreign firms to learn. In particular, foreign companies often think that they can waltz into China and do business with companies like JD, Alibaba or Tencent, but that’s not necessarily the case, especially in 2018. Moments come and go really quickly in China when it comes to what’s most popular and lucrative. Once upon a time, being a foreign brand in China meant that you would automatically succeed, but now Chinese consumers are more informed. Companies have to understand the nuances of the Chinese consumer and how they differ from region to region.

How has this experience either reinforced or changed your goals?

I don’t know if e-commerce is where I want to work forever, but this internship opened my eyes to the breadth of opportunities available. Companies like Alibaba, Tencent and JD are moving into foreign spaces as global companies, so they have a demand for people with global skills. If you can move around within the company, it’s a good way to get exposure to a lot of different skills and industries. When I first came to the HNC, I was set on studying economics with the intention to work in finance or consulting. This experience helped me realize there’s way more out there. It made me more acutely interested in foreign trade, international business, the international economic system and how firms make the whole system work.

Any advice for students who are seeking internships?

In general, just don’t be afraid to ask — either for help or for what you want. People who are older than you or in higher positions will tell you certain things based on their experience, but it might be different for you. Until you find out what the real situation is, don’t be discouraged. People often get discouraged when people say “no,” but if you ask enough times, someone will say “yes.”


Sam Smith: China

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 3.51.05 PM.pngEnergy, Resources and Environment concentrator Sam Smith spent his summer in Beijing as an intern for International Rivers, a nonprofit organization advocating for the sustainable development of global water resources. Through his work with International Rivers’ China program, Sam researched and visited Chinese hydroelectric development projects while organizing local NGOs to promote indigenous rights and sustainable development.

Sam learned about the organization through a class at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) called “Water Resources and Development,” taught by Professor Wang Zhijian. He emailed an International Rivers representative to inquire about internships and soon found himself a member of the team. As a self-proclaimed “river kid” who grew up along the St. Croix in Minnesota, Sam shared with TSO his highly meaningful experience protecting rivers.

How did you become interested in water resource development in China?

My initial application to the HNC was predicated upon studying the environmental impacts and security issues around Chinese-built dams in Southeast Asia. Chinese hydropower became my key area of interest when I took a river cruise along the Salween River along the Thailand-Myanmar border and learned about the Myitsone Dam project, which was to be built there by a Chinese state-owned firm. The dam threatened the river ecosystem and therefore the livelihood of the local Karen population (an ethnic minority in the region), who have been fighting the central government for almost half a century. I wanted to learn more about large-scale dams and how they impact local communities, including their contribution to conflict situations.

What were your responsibilities?  

My job was to educate Chinese firms and Chinese NGOs about the potential negative effects of hydroelectric power development, particularly dam projects. Day-to-day, I researched and translated Chinese environmental policies for my team. I also interviewed academics and activists about Chinese dam projects for the International Rivers blog. Most importantly, I helped to produce the latest version of the “Hydro-Scorecard,” which is a benchmarking report that assesses the environmental and social impacts of Chinese hydropower projects built all around the world. It will be published this fall.

Congratulations on such an accomplishment! Tell me more International Rivers’ vision.

Dam projects are becoming more significant as China expands its influence with policies like One Belt, One Road (now known as The Belt and Road Initiative), with adverse ecological impacts usually following right behind. China has built over 80,000 dams domestically, and as a result, half of China’s rivers have disappeared within the last three decades. Chinese firms are expanding with over 40 dam projects in places like Cambodia, Pakistan, and Africa, often to the detriment of the peoples living there. International Rivers’ goal is to work with indigenous populations and Chinese NGOs to minimize or eliminate the degradation. Some of our campaigns also focus on protecting remaining Chinese rivers, like the Yangtze River and the Yellow River. We try to encourage China to use best development practices when they expand abroad. I’ve learned a lot about issues with development through site visits.

Site visits?

The most notable visit was to a UNESCO World Natural and Cultural Heritage Site in Chengdu, China called Dujiangyan, which is the world’s oldest operating hydrological system. It’s nearly 3,000 years old –  it takes a fierce river, splits it into two, and uses the water to provide flood control and irrigation to the Chengdu Plain. Our work brought us to this site because there was an illegal dam built 300 meters away from the main feature of Dujiangyan. Corrupt local officials had built the dam to sell electricity back into the gridillegally, of course. We were fighting to protect the integrity of Dujiangyan, so our local partners helped organize protests and worked with provincial- and national-level governments to get the dam removed. We recently found out this dam was totally dismantled in July after a long battle.

What was the most rewarding part of the internship?

This experience taught me what modern environmental and social activism looks like it’s surprisingly decentralized, and we rely on social media and independent research to build momentum around issues. My bosses were impressively organized, coordinating on projects from offices located in Melbourne, Oakland, and Costa Rica respectively.

Did SAIS help you prepare for you work at International Rivers?

Of course! In January 2017, I went on the SAIS Frontiers in Energy, Science and Technology (FEST) research trip. Fellow SAIS students, SAIS faculty and I spent two weeks in Vietnam researching the effects of Chinese hydropower on the integrity of the Mekong River. This proved to be very effective during my time at International Rivers.

How will this internship impact your future career?

Hydropower will always remain one of my core interests. However, this internship made me realize I’m interested in analyzing the macro-level policy decisions the Chinese government make regarding energy development. I want to study how powerful institutions like governments and state-run firms impact the developing world.  

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Activists protest an illegal dam built upstream from the Dujiangyan UNESCO World Natural and Cultural Heritage Site.


Yongjia Luís Du: Kyrgyzstan

41784482_339258666818467_2800469194120888320_n.jpgThere is a tradition in Kyrgyzstan. When families have guests, they make a big meal no matter the time of day. Yongjia Luís Du experienced this firsthand this summer while working—usually on a full stomach—for a consulting firm in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. After studying international law at SAIS Bologna, he returned for his second year with compelling stories and a glowing sense of optimism about the future of China’s relationship with Central Asia.

Where were you working and what was your official position?

I worked for an export-import consulting firm in Kyrgyzstan that imports tea from Fujian, China, called the New Horizon Consulting and Investment Corporation. As a manager’s assistant for this Kyrgyz firm, I was the liaison between the Chinese partners and our office in Bishkek.

I worked with 10 people—all of them Kyrgyz—and my manager, who was a friend from college. When I was in Bologna, I spent so much time searching for jobs that eventually I just decided to call my friend and ask if he had any opportunities for me. He was working for this firm in Bishkek but was having difficulty attracting young Chinese workers to Central Asia, and he said that my native proficiency in Chinese would be very valuable.

What were you doing on a day-to-day basis?  

I was in charge of taking meeting notes and writing daily reports for our Chinese partners. Most of my job was participating in negotiations, but I also had to sift through economic data and do research on current events in Kyrgyzstan, our Chinese partners and new policies to follow up on.

There were a lot of interesting issues that came up while working in Kyrgyzstan. For example, the country is very divided between the north and the south, where the country’s Muslim culture is much stronger. They don’t drink alcohol in the south and a lot of shops and restaurants refuse to sell it or tobacco products. We worked with a company whose main products were alcohol and tobacco, so in order to reach markets in the south, this company wanted to start importing Chinese tea. In Kyrgyzstan, families drink tea four times a day, but there is still very little tea from China coming into the country. This is one of the ways that Kyrgyzstan, one of the first countries along China’s Belt and Road Initiative, is growing much closer to China.

What was one of the most difficult challenges you experienced?

One was economic. Because Kyrgyzstan is still not very developed, the infrastructure is still poor. The roads are very bad, so it’s difficult for other countries to invest in the country. Infrastructure is one of reasons why Kyrgyzstan is a much less attractive investment environment compared to neighboring countries. The other problem was political. Until recently, the country has not been very stable. Since electing a new president two years ago, it has become more stable, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty. Foreign investors still think that the future is too risky.

Is there a story that stood out during your time there?

Once, when I was travelling to Uzbekistan from Bishkek, I got on a bus that I thought would take eight hours, but two hours into the ride everybody got off to cross a border. When soldiers checked my visa, I showed them my visa for Uzbekistan and they replied, “Yes, but where is your Kazakhstan visa?” At that moment I realized where I was! I thought the bus would go directly to Uzbekistan, but it passed through Kazakhstan. Keep in mind, Central Asians can go freely throughout the region without a visa because all the former Soviet Union countries share a visa-free policy.

The soldiers asked me if I could call my Kyrgyz friends and discuss it. In the end I had to go back to Bishkek, so I paid for a taxi and a bus back. I stayed there for another five days and then eventually flew to Uzbekistan.

Is Central Asia a region that you want to continue to focus on?

I am very interested in the region because I think that it has a lot of development potential. Historically, this region has done quite well, but it was one of the most affected victims of the breakup of the Soviet Union. Central Asian economies lost one of their biggest trading partners, and they were too far away from European markets to recover. They were also still using the ruble, so when the ruble collapsed, Central Asian countries were hit very hard, and their economy struggled for the next 20 years. Some people say time stopped there after the 1990s.

But these countries now have their own industries as well as so many educated people, so I see a lot of potential for future growth. China is investing money abroad and Central Asia has been a primary recipient of the Belt and Road Initiative. Russia also has interests in developing the region. Uzbekistan’s gross domestic product, for example, has grown seven percent each year for the last two years. Growth is already happening and I forecast that it will continue, and that means more opportunities for Chinese people in the future.

Mende Thuji Yangden: Bhutan


Mende Thuji Yangden is the first student at SAIS from Bhutan. Over the summer, she returned home for an internship in the capital Thimphu, where she helped manage civil society organizations (CSOs) overseen by Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck. Despite juggling a full-time job, hectic visa applications and family responsibilities, Mende speaks calmly about the historical culture of CSOs in Bhutan, the role of international partnerships in its development and the importance of making time for family and friends.

Where were you this summer and what were you doing?

I was back home in Thimphu, working for a CSO called the Gyalyum Charitable Trust (GCT), which is one of the queen mother’s organizations. I was a research consultant for two months primarily doing strategic planning for the organization, but, as with any job, I got the chance to branch out.

The GCT was formed to coherently manage all the organizations that enjoy the patronage of the Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck. For example, one of the organizations she formed is called RENEW, which stands for Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women. She works with women’s issues, scholarships for higher education, children from poor socioeconomic backgrounds as well as the textile industry and Bhutanese culture.  

What did you do on a day-to-day basis?

For the first few weeks, my job was to come up with a strategic plan for the organization and present it to the Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck and Her Royal Highness Ashim Eeuphelma Choden Wangchuck. Most of my time was spent doing research, understanding problems within the organization and thinking about how to make it financially sustainable. After that, I was carrying out my recommendations in the presentation. A coworker and I also worked together to organize a fundraising event, which was interesting because financial sustainability is one of the major obstacles to CSOs in Bhutan. My work also ventured into creating memos and talking points for the queen mother when she attended conferences on various issues.

I was initially only hired for one thing, but that’s the work culture in Bhutan. You don’t only wear one hat.

What is the CSO environment like in Bhutan?

In Bhutanese culture, the idea of a CSO has always existed—helping communities and the less fortunate, giving away what you don’t need and growing together as a community—but I don’t think anyone has ever conceptualized it as such. The term “CSO” came to Bhutan in the late 1990s, but our first king had this idea of kidu, which means “helping hand” and it’s an ongoing tradition. If you have a problem, the king is supposed to help bear that burden. Historically, it was very uncommon for you to see beggars in Bhutan because you could be homeless but your neighbors would take care of you.

So the culture has always been there, but the problem is financial sustainability and management. The CSO culture is very rich, but there are issues when it comes to financing and regulation.

What was the most difficult challenge?

It was having a full-time job, trying to figure out financial aid for my second year at SAIS and keeping up with my family and friends. The balancing was very difficult. There was so much I had to do constantly—go to the bank or the foreign ministry, visa applications, work full-time, seeing friends—but at the end of the day, family matters in Bhutan.

Did it change or confirm your goals at SAIS?

Experiencing the CSO culture in Bhutan firsthand really helped me better understand international cooperation. I realized that CSOs are a staple of Bhutanese culture, but what’s changing is the international environment. Bhutan is starting to realize that international partnerships and dialogues are increasingly important. I’ve been focusing primarily on grassroots domestic issues within Bhutan, but the internship showed me that understanding the international arena, particularly in regards to international funding for CSOs, is going to be incredibly important.

Do you want to work in Bhutan eventually?

Yes, definitely. I feel like it would be a waste of an education for me to study at SAIS and not take what I’ve learned to Bhutan. There aren’t a lot of us. I have to support my country.

Sebastian Dannhoff: Germany

Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 10.59.55 AMAfter spending his first year in the Strategic Studies program at SAIS Bologna, Sebastian Dannhoff moved to Berlin, Germany for a summer internship with The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). A departure from his business background, working for the think tank ultimately shaped Sebastian’s concentration and unveiled the rewards and particularities of nonprofit work.

Originally from Dusseldorf, Germany, Sebastian speaks fondly of life in Berlin and shares advice for students hoping to build careers in the capital.

Tell us about your position at the German Marshall Fund.

I was a Berlin Program Intern in the second largest office the fund has after Washington, D.C.. The GMF works on transatlantic issues like US-European relations, migration, NATO and security, but the Berlin Program mainly focuses on holding events and expanding the constituency of the organization. I was responsible for a target group analysis, so my job was to sift through event data— number of invitees, the invitees’ sector, time of day, topic of event, etc.—and then analyze it and put it all in a comprehensive presentation for the management. I went beyond just data analysis and suggested things that could be improved or done differently in the organization.

My priorities for the summer were being in Berlin to network and seeing whether the think tank atmosphere was for me. If you’re German and you want to go into politics, chances are you’ll end up in Berlin at some point.

What kind of events were you organizing?

There’s a whole different range, from small, off-the-record meetings to large, public events. The most interesting one I saw had 150 people in attendance and was about Trump, the new conservatism and how to understand American politics from a European perspective. We invited German and American stakeholders, including Michael Stumo, an American economist who strongly supports Trump’s economic policies.

From an economic perspective, Germans are flabbergasted by Trump, so we tried to get Trump supporters to give a better understanding of his policies. The goal was to get European and German politicians, journalists and professors discussing the topic and devising ways to work with his policies.

There was also a very interesting event with Lecia Brooks talking about racial tension and diversity in the U.S. and the resurgence of nationalism.

What was the most challenging aspect of your internship?

The most difficult things were due to my background. All of the internships I’ve had before were in business or finance, so this was the first time that I worked in a think tank and nonprofit. The internships I did before had a bottom line, a tangible result and profit figures. I could pat myself on the back when those were good. In a think tank, the results are much more distant. You put together an event and you feel good about it, but what comes of it in the short- or medium-term? An event might affect policy one year down the road, or a paper that your organization puts out might influence new legislation later on. There’s no instant gratification and you need endurance to see your work through, because what you spent days and days on might not immediately translate into tangible results.

What was life like in Berlin?

Berlin is such a cool city. All the multiculturalism translates to a really interesting nightlife. In Berlin we call the different parts of the city kieze and every different kiez is like its own city.  

There’s something for everyone. If you want to go party on Tuesday at 1 p.m. in Berlin, you can. There’s every kind of restaurant you could possibly imagine and weird twists on every bar. The city also has posh and nice areas if everything becomes too much. You can take public transit outside the city into more scenic, natural areas.

The one thing I tell people is that Berlin is not Germany. Berlin is its own thing. You can hop on the subway, hear six languages and none of them are German. People love it, but don’t take it as your standard of what Germany is like.

Were there any SAIS classes that proved helpful during your internship?

During my internship, I wasn’t doing research that was thematically related to my concentration, but I got to attend events that concerned themselves with NATO or the Bundeswehr. Those events confirmed that I chose to go into the right field, because they were the things I found most interesting.

The experience probably pushed me more towards geopolitical and geostrategy courses as opposed to the more nitty-gritty operational, tactical analysis. Whereas after my first year in Bologna I was fascinated by all the tactics and policies, I came to realize that I have to prioritize issues that I’ll be working on later in life.

Maria Gershuni: Russia


Maria Gershuni, class of 2019, spent her summer working for the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) in Moscow as an intern for the Euro-Atlantic program. She is a European and Eurasian concentrator at SAIS and found the internship through her department, which sent out a list of available opportunities in Europe. Upon receiving an offer, she replied with a definitive “Absolutely.”

A native of New York, Maria grew up speaking Russian with her parents and was thrilled to share her experiences living and working in Moscow.

Could you briefly describe what the RIAC does?

It is a Russian international affairs think tank that was set up in 2010. They’re a little different than the way Americans think of think tanks because they don’t have a lot of their own scholars. I think in Russia the concept of a think tank is relatively new. The way they’ve adopted that model is by prescribing a platform for established scholars, writers and academics to post their work and give lectures. The majority of their work is project-based; they have scholars write about Arctic issues for the Arctic project, but don’t necessarily have in-house scholars in the way that Americans generally imagine a think tank environment.

They also set up a lot of events with other organizations abroad. In my time, we set up an event with the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), and the European Union Experts network. It’s really interesting that the RIAC doesn’t have its own scholars that can only publish if they represent the organization.

What were some of your daily tasks and responsibilities?

As the Euro-Atlantic project intern, I dealt with Europe, the United States and Canada. My daily tasks were a wide range of things the project needed. For example, a lot of it was editing and translating—standard intern stuff. Some of the cooler things I got to do was to participate in the events that they hosted. I met the former Secretary of Energy in the United States, Ernst Moniz, through the NTI, and got to go to press conferences after the Trump-Putin summit this summer, for which I had to do a lot of research. I was basically their research person for that because I could read English and Russian language news sources.

What do you think was the most difficult challenge working at RIAC?

With any organization you are going to work at, especially abroad, you have to adjust your way of thinking so that the U.S. isn’t the center of the world. A lot of things that get published, a lot of things that they organize and a lot of the speakers they invite have perspectives you’ve really never heard before. You have to adjust really quickly to that. You don’t think “That’s not right!” You just have to learn to understand the way these people think, the way people interpret events, and you have to put it in the context of a larger global network.

What was your living situation like?

I loved living in Moscow. I speak Russian so I think that helped, but the public transportation there was wonderful—really quick and so much better than the metro. One of the highlights for me was being able to get to where I needed to go quickly in a huge city.

I was there during the FIFA World Cup for a month which was one of the best months of my life. It became a very international city, but not in the sense of New York. There were a lot of people from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Peru and a lot of other places who were all very excited to be there. The city was a huge party. People were walking around with beers and music was playing all the time. Whenever Russia won a game we would walk around and cars would be beeping at each other, honking their horns. The atmosphere was really wonderful.

Were you living in an apartment? How did you find housing?

I have family that’s Russian, so I lived in an apartment that was a little bit far from the city center, but like I said the public transport was great. It was a very old, Soviet-era apartment with lots of homeless cats in the basement and there was an older lady, who was basically a concierge, but she just sat in the front of the building making sure no one sketchy came in. We became friends because we both love cats.

Too many cats does not sound like a problem at all.

Absolutely not.

During your internship, did you draw from any SAIS classes in particular?

I did. I took a class called “Nuclear Nonproliferation in the 21st Century” in spring 2018, which was a really fascinating class. The final paper that I wrote was about post-Soviet denuclearization, and one of the articles that I wrote [during my internship]—the first one in my cohort to get published—was on how Kazakhstan could act as a model for North Korean denuclearization. That came right at the time of the Trump-Kim summit, so it got a lot of traction. It got retweeted by the Russian mission to the U.N. and was published in two languages. I want to credit that class because without it I wouldn’t have the technical knowledge or the background. I wouldn’t even have thought of that topic, but it became really popular and I’m proud of that one.

The second article I wrote was about the way that memes have become political messages. I wrote about Brexit and about the 2016 election, comparing the two and how memes have evolved from rick-rolling to hate symbols. That wasn’t really a class, just my teenage years.

How did the internship change or confirm your goals after SAIS?

I really enjoyed my internship a lot. I love the idea of working at a think tank not being a scholar, but giving scholars a platform. But I think the biggest takeaway, for sure, is that I really want to spend significant time abroad. I like traveling. I managed to travel to Estonia when I was there, I managed to travel pretty much all around Russia. I like being in different environments. So I think it definitely confirmed my desire to get out of the United States. See as much of the world as you can while you’re still young and free.