Friday, January 25, 2013

Student Spotlight: Connie Paik

For this installment, we’ve interviewed Connie Paik.  She is pursuing the 5-semester option, which incorporates study at both the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and the SAIS DC campus.  Connie, who is concentrating in China Studies, spent the 2011-2012 academic year at the Nanjing Center and is now working on her MA degree at SAIS.  She received her BA in International Relations from Boston University in 2008, and prior to enrolling in SAIS, spent two years living and working in China.
You’re pursuing the 5-semester option, which combines the Hopkins-Nanjing Center Certificate in Chinese and American Studies and the SAIS Master of Arts.  What specifically attracted you to this option?
After living in China for two years, I knew I wanted to continue pursuing China studies in graduate school. By that time, I felt confident in my Chinese language ability to do graduate coursework in Chinese with Chinese university faculty, but I also liked the idea of going back to DC to finish my degree so that I could have more access to networking and career opportunities. The 5-semester option helped me make the transition from working and studying in China back to life in the States, and it’s the perfect segue to finding work in DC on Chinese affairs. 
What are some of the differences between the two campuses, and what do you see as beneficial about the opportunity to study in both Nanjing, China and Washington, DC?
Aside from the shared major in international economics, the students on the DC campus come from extremely diverse backgrounds spanning seven different functional areas and fourteen different regional studies. In contrast, every student at the Nanjing campus is focused on only China studies. I’ve gained a lot from both environments—I liked that I could really engage my classmates and faculty on detailed issues related to China while in Nanjing, and that we were able to form strong bonds through our shared interests and experiences, but I also like the broader perspective I get from the classes here in DC, which has helped me branch out into different area studies and also develop more technical skills from my quantitative coursework. 
What did you do over the summer?  Did you do an internship?
In the summer prior to my year in Nanjing, I worked for a study abroad organization as a Resident Director for two short-term programs in China. I led one program for a group of journalism students from the University of Texas at Austin, and the second program was for a group of art history students from University of California San Diego.
The summer after my year in Nanjing and before coming to DC, I took the opportunity to travel in China’s southwest Yunnan province and visited the beautiful cities of Kunming, Lijiang, Dali, Xishuangbanna, and Shangri-la. I also took a few weeks to stop by Japan and Korea to visit friends and family there before coming back to DC to start pre-term. 

This coming summer, I’ll be interning at the State Department’s Office of the Special Representative for North Korea Policy before I start my last semester here at SAIS.
In your interview on the Hopkins-Nanjing Center blog, you talked about your extracurricular activities in China.  What activities are you pursuing here in DC?
I was really involved in extracurricular activities in China, but my focus has been a lot more on academics here in DC. Outside the classroom, I attend lectures and events almost every week hosted by various think tanks in DC and also at SAIS itself. There’s Brookings and the Carnegie Endowment right across the street, and also the Peterson Institute, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and many others within walking distance from SAIS. Outside of school, I’m a member of the Washington Flute Choir, and this Spring I’ll be working part-time as a consultant for a study abroad start-up in Korea.
What are some of the courses you’ve taken and specific skills you’ve learned that will help you in your career?
While at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, I was able to strengthen my Chinese reading ability from our course readings. My assignments helped me polish my vocabulary and fluency with academic articles in Chinese on a wide variety of subjects, such as ethnic minorities and rural politics. This will be helpful for my career because a lot of job opportunities on China require language ability.
Here in DC, I really enjoyed Professor White’s Statistical Methods course last semester. By the end of the semester, we were able to work with actual World Bank data to perform hypothesis testing and run simple and multiple regressions in Excel and STATA to analyze relationships between different variables across countries. The quantitative skills are really helpful to understanding the big picture of economic policy decisions, trends, and processes.
For more information about the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and the 5-semester option, please visit
Thanks for reading!
– Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions
To read previous entries in our Student Spotlight series, please click here.