Monday, February 25, 2013

Student Spotlight: Shanah Lee

This post is the tenth in an on-going series highlighting SAIS concentrations.
As a region, Africa is extremely diverse, and it faces a number of challenges that are unique to this continent.  The African Studies concentration at SAIS is organized organized along three broad themes: governance, development, and security.  Dr. Peter Lewis, SAIS professor and director of African Studies, discusses what makes African Studies at SAIS different from other programs:
You can also hear Dr. Lewis discuss some of the challenges faced by Africa here.
In addition to academic offerings, students in the African Studies concentration have the benefit of a regular seminar series featuring dozens of speakers and covering a wide range of topics, and many students pursue research projects and/or internships in various countries across the continent.
You can learn more about African Studies at SAIS here.
Thanks for reading!
— Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions
To read previous entries in this series, please click here.

Student Spotlight: Shanah Lee

This week, our Student Spotlight is focused on Shanah Lee, a first-year MA student concentrating in Conflict Management and China Studies.  Shanah received her BA in International Development from University of California, Los Angeles, in 2008.  Prior to studying at SAIS, Shanah worked at the Korean Consulate in Seattle, WA, and researched human rights violations and policies in North and South Korea.

Can you tell us about your concentration, and why you chose it?
Graduate school has allowed me to study what I’m most interested in and passionate about: Conflict Management and China.  Having only lived in Korea and United States all my life, I also thought this would be a great opportunity to challenge myself and study a field/area that I am not too familiar with.  I was enticed by the mediation and negotiation aspect of Conflict Management: encouraging students to travel and conduct research in a region of conflict, learning from actual practitioners as well as scholars in the field, and inviting students to real-world mediation and negotiation practices.  In addition, the China Studies program offers diverse classes on China, so students can cater the classes to their interest. My Contemporary Chinese Politics, US-China Relations, Grassroots China classes have been amazing; not only are they taught by renowned scholars, but they also bring together a group of talented and experienced students who offer new perspectives to the discussions.
What language(s) are you studying? How does the language component complement your study of international relations?
I am bilingual in English and Korean, and proficient in Chinese and Spanish.  I’m currently taking Intermediate Mid Chinese and Superior Korean, which is a post-proficiency Korean language course.  I spend five hours a week studying Chinese and two hours Korean.  My fellow classmates are just as enthusiastic and interested in learning new language and culture.  I was first surprised by how small and close-knit these classes are, compared to the large class sized I experienced in undergrad.  Each one of us receives enough attention from the language instructor and we all feel comfortable speaking around each other.  I believe it is your proficiency in a foreign language that will get you the internship and job of your dreams!  I think SAIS does a good job of integrating language to the overall curriculum.
You just began a new internship. Where are you interning, and what type of work will you be doing?
This semester I am interning at an organization called American Academy of Diplomacy, a non-profit organization that promotes and educates American diplomacy to the general public, provides crucial support and assistance to the American diplomatic community.  I found this position through SAISworks, a career-related database offered by SAIS.  During the interview, I learned that the Program Coordinator is a SAIS alum, which made me feel more comfortable speaking about my experience, strengths, and contributions to the Academy.  She also gave me advice regarding my classes and career, and is very supportive of everything, and is flexible with my schedule.  Interns assist with the organization’s outreach effort, by utilizing social media to foster public awareness.  We also manage Academy’s membership, which is composed of former US ambassadors and senior-level government officials.  I had a chance to meet a former ambassador who served in Russia and Eastern Europe; we had an interesting discussion about US and Soviet Union relations, and how this affects US-China relations.  Having learned about the Boxer Rebellion and Truman Doctrine just a week before, I was able to actively engage and apply what I learned with someone who lived through the history!
We’ve already discussed language skills. What are some of the other specific skills you’ve been developing since you’ve enrolled at SAIS?
Coming to SAIS with no extensive background in Economics, I found the classes challenging but rewarding at the same time.  Understanding numerous micro and macro concepts has helped me to understand the world economy with critical and keen eye.  Before SAIS, I read the world news to gain information and learn the ‘what’; I now read them asking myself the ‘how’ and ‘why’, as well as the impact these events have in the region and the global community.  Taking small, discussion-based courses teaches me to organize my views concisely and present in front of peers, something I hadn’t acquired before.  In addition, various skills course and Career Center-sponsored events connect students and alums to ask questions, seek advice, and gain critical skills that we can directly apply in the field.  Building lasting relationships and networking are also important; I think SAIS provides me ample opportunities to attend various events to acquaint myself with fellow students, faculty members and alumni.
What are your post-graduation plans?
Before coming to SAIS, I was pretty set on pursuing a career in US Foreign Service.  Before I graduate, I hope to gain as much experience and skills as possible, so when I finally join the Foreign Service in the future, I will be more prepared and ready to face the challenges there.
Thanks for reading!
— Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions
To read previous entries in our Student Spotlight series, please click here.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Student Spotlight: Larissa Muir

Today we’ve interviewed Larissa Muir for our Student Spotlight.  Larissa is concentrating in Energy, Resources & Environment; she spent her first year in SAIS Bologna and is completing her second year in Washington, DC.  Larissa received her BA in International Relations from Simon Fraser University in 2009, and she completed a graduate certificate in International Relations at Tufts University in 2010.  Prior to attending SAIS, Larissa worked as the Director of Marketing and Development at Kendal Lighting Inc.
What made you want to pursue a graduate degree in international affairs?
I chose to pursue a graduate degree in international affairs due to my experiences of living and traveling abroad. This inspired me to build on my time spent outside of Canada by engaging more actively with the various regions I had visited. I could think of no better way to achieve this than by starting a career in the international field, but first I wanted to learn more about the places I had been to and I needed a more nuanced understanding of the key issues that affect these regions. I felt studying I.R. would be the best path to achieve these professional goals.
What are some of the differences between the two campuses, and what do you see as beneficial about the opportunity to study in both Bologna, Italy and Washington, DC?
I think the best thing about studying at both the Bologna and D.C. campuses is getting the benefit of not one, but two perspectives. Although it’s all under the SAIS umbrella, you’re still dealing with two different campuses with different faculty and courses in two very different countries. A large part of international affairs has been shaped by transatlantic relations and the opportunity to study American and European perspectives in both continents was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In Bologna, I was challenged by a non-American perspective I hadn’t received before, whereas I think in D.C. you’re getting more of the status quo.
Do you have a favorite course so far?  Can you tell us about it?
One of my favourite courses was with Prof. Hafner in Bologna, “The Politics and Economics of Energy.” He’s an expert in the subject matter who also works in the field, which made the classroom discussion more interesting due to the variety of perspectives he offered.
Can you tell us about the professional development opportunities at SAIS?
SAIS provides a multitude of opportunities to pursue skills development courses, both online and on campus, as well as having its own student-focused Career Services department. There are also career trips across the various concentrations (either regional or functional) to develop the skills and knowledge you’ll need to work in that particular field.
What are you planning on pursuing professionally after graduation?  Are there specific skills you’ve learned that will help you in your career?
I don’t know if many SAIS students know exactly what they’re going to do after graduation! Personally I would love to work in the energy sector, either as a consultant or for an international energy company. I’ve completed several ERE courses here of course and SAIS’s strong emphasis on economics in particular has given me access to sections of the job market that I couldn’t have considered before my graduate studies.   
Thanks for reading!
— Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions
To read previous entries in our Student Spotlight series, please click here.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Student Spotlight: Pongkwan Sawasdipakdi

For this installment of the Student Spotlight series, we’ve interviewed Pongkwan Sawadipakdi, a first-year M.A. student concentrating in Southeast Asia Studies.  In 2011 she received her B.A in international relations from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, and prior to coming to SAIS she worked as a journalist.  Pongkwan, a Thai citizen, is a recipient of the Royal Thai Government Scholarship.
Prior to SAIS, you were working as a reporter in Thailand. What prompted you to study international relations?
I have always been fascinated by current international issues and historic global events. After receiving my B.A. in international relations, I started my career as an international desk news reporter at a news station in Thailand.  For more than a year I reported on international headlines like the disastrous earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the death of Muammar Gaddafi, and the assassination of Bin Laden. I loved my job as it allowed me to explore new and interesting stories every day. However, my just knowing what happened is simply not enough for me. I want to be able to explain causes of these events, make comparisons, and draw connections between different events and issues. Therefore, when I won a scholarship from the Thai Government, I knew that the next step in my education cannot be anything but international relations.
Can you tell us about your concentration, and why you chose it?
My concentration is Southeast Asia Studies. While growing up in the region, I observed many disputes and misunderstanding among Southeast Asian countries. Southeast Asia is unique in a way that it is so diverse in terms of ethnicity, languages, cultures, and religions. Politically, Southeast Asia is comprised of some of the most unique political systems in the world ranging from Singapore’s partial democracy, Myanmar’s military-controlled-civilian government, to Thailand’s constitutional monarchy.
Ironically, there is limited number of experts on Southeast Asia in Thailand. I feel that Southeast Asia Studies will improve my understanding of both my country and neighboring countries. This, I hope, can help prevent future conflicts.
What is the Royal Thai Government Scholarship? How will this scholarship impact your professional career?
The Royal Thai Government Scholarship is an education scholarship sponsored by the Thai Government. Each year, thousands of applicants compete to win an opportunity to study abroad. A handful of applicants will be selected based on written and oral exams. Of course, there is nothing such as a free thing in the world. These scholarship recipients must be committed to go back and work for the government. The service requirement is twice the number of years spent studying abroad. After graduation, I will return to Thailand to be a lecturer at a public university. There is a high possibility that I would like to pursue a PhD. However, my ultimate goal is to join a political or policy-making career.
What are some of the courses you’ve taken and specific skills you’ve learned that will help you in your career?
I have taken a number of Southeast Asian courses and international economic courses. My favorite so far is International Relations of Asia: Policy Process. In the class I learned to design U.S. foreign policy towards Myanmar. I could not imagine where else I could learn this practical policy-making skill. In addition, the economic classes are very useful for international relations analysis and my academic career.
What advice would you give to applicants coming from Thailand, or from other countries in Southeast Asia?
I do not think I have any special advice for other applicants from Thailand or Southeast Asia. SAIS is already a well-known graduate institution in the region. But if you do have a number of offers and are deciding where you should attend, SAIS should be top on your list. SAIS is known for its rigorous academics and is also located in a very advantageous location. Living and studying in Washington D.C. will give you an absolutely worthwhile experience with a little flavor of American politics. Within six month of living here, I have experienced the presidential election, the inauguration, and even Hurricane Sandy. The weekly free luncheons with the Southeast Asia Department is definitely a plus too!
Thanks for reading!
— Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions
To read previous entries in our Student Spotlight series, please click here.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Student Spotlight: Byron Sacharidis

For our spotlight today, we’ve interviewed Byron Sacharidis.  Byron is a second-year MA student concentrating in Energy, Resources and Environment, and he is a recipient of the Niarchos Foundation Fellowship.  Byron received his BA in business administration from University of Piraeus in 2004, and his LL.B (Juris Doctorate) from University of Athens in 2009.  Prior to coming to SAIS, Byron practiced as a freelance attorney-at-law.
When considering graduate school, what was appealing about SAIS?
I started my research for graduate schools by visiting the APSIA site. SAIS became my top choice, not only because of its reputation and strong alumni network, but also because it offered the opportunity to study in three different campuses. As a European, I was particularly interested in starting out at the Bologna campus, before smoothly transitioning to Washington DC, which is the center of the policy world. When I later visited the Bologna campus during an Open Day event I only had good impressions by the faculty, the administration and the students alike. The Niarchos Fellowship and the advice I received from my mentor, a former US Commercial Counselor, in combination with my discussions with alumni, made my choice a no-brainer. I eventually chose SAIS over a number of other US graduate schools that offered me admission. 
Tell us about your concentration and why you chose it.
Being an attorney-at-law with a business background, I chose a concentration in Energy, Resources and Environment because I was looking to enhance my understanding of the field. By studying international relations I wanted to integrate my previous academic and professional experiences into a comprehensive skill set and ERE looked ideal in my eyes, because it dealt with topics, which currently constitute distinct priorities throughout the policy world. Regardless of concentrations, the course selection is great and it is further enriched with skills courses and workshops. Seeking advice and examining all options is part of the game here at SAIS, but there are always people with clear-cut objectives.
How do you see the economics component complementing your concentration/IR studies?
The economics component is indispensable. While one can go almost as much in depth as he or she desires with the economics courses at SAIS, there are mandatory ones, but also opportunities to waive a couple of the requirements. Any approach, debate or argument made in an academic paper can become more complete with a good knowledge of economics and this is something I very soon discovered myself. Some professors favor the ability to conduct quantitative analysis and I surely cannot imagine becoming a professional of the field without studying economics. 
You’re a recipient of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Fellowship. Can you tell us a little bit more about the foundation and the fellowship?  How has the support of the Niarchos Foundation helped realize your dream of studying at SAIS?
Coming from Greece, I was facing some borrowing constraints due to the debt crisis that perturbed the country. I did have some savings and support from family and friends, but the Niarchos Foundation fellowship I was offered has been an important form of aid and a great honor. I have met with people of the Foundation and as a recipient of a named fellowship I have also expressed my gratitude to them with a thanking letter. Without their support, realizing my dream of studying at my dream School would have been extremely challenging. I feel privileged to have joined the community of the Niarchos Fellows; there is a sense of belonging and a personal motivation to give back. I do expect more initiatives in the near future, by both the Foundation and the small but growing community of the Niarchos Fellows.
What are your plans for your career post-SAIS?
I am highly committed to becoming a policy expert, who will assume challenging roles with Governments or International Institutions. At some point, I would like to help both my country and Europe to overcome their difficulties and I also hope to be able to give back to the community of SAIS, which has been very supportive.
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Fellowship was established in 2004 by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. It supports students undertaking their first year of M.A. study in Bologna, Italy and second year in Washington, D.C. Preference is given to students from Greece, with back-up authority for those from the European Union. For more information about the Niarchos Foundation Fellowship as SAIS, please visit
Thanks for reading!
— Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions
To read previous entries in our Student Spotlight series, please click here.