Friday, March 1, 2013

Student Spotlight: Anne Gilman

For today’s installation of the Student Spotlight series, we’ve interviewed Anne Gilman, a first-year M.A. student concentrating in Southeast Asia Studies. Anne graduated from University of Southern California in 2010 with a BA in political science, and prior to coming to SAIS worked as a communications associate in Hong Kong.

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You’re studying Burmese language at SAIS. What did you find appealing about the SAIS language program?
First of all, that SAIS even offers Burmese. SAIS is one of the few schools in the country where one can study Burmese. The novice class has 8 students and the intermediate 2 students. Our Burmese teacher is fantastic, and also teaches at the Foreign Service Institute. He has invited us to cultural events at the Burmese Buddhist Monastery near Washington D.C. and the class went to a Burmese restaurant together to try the food. It is a very supportive program, and the teacher and school go above and beyond to put the students in a position to succeed with the language - from sending us sound files so we can hear the vocabulary, to helping sponsor a language intensive over the winter break.
Can you tell us about the Burmese language study trip you took during the winter break?
Six students in total went on the trip, 4 novice and 2 intermediate students. The novice students studied with 2 different teachers for 5 hours a day, 4 days a week, for 3 weeks in Yangon, Myanmar. We studied with one teacher named Daw Phyu Phyu Win and also Ko Htoo Htoo who is the tutor for the diplomats at the US Embassy in Yangon. We stayed in apartments of expats who are working in Yangon. We progressed as much as we would in a semester in Washington D.C. in just three weeks and we really took advantage of the opportunity to focus our attention purely on the language. It was a great feeling to utilize the vocabulary and grammar we had been studying all semester - and realized, that hey it worked! We could bargain in the markets, direct taxis, order in the restaurants, and make a few friends while we were at it.

Some students traveled around the country on the weekends, to Bagan, Bago, and Nay Pyi Taw (the capital), and also conducted independent research. I conducted a series of interviews investigating the effects that international business can have on the dual economic and political transition in Myanmar, and to what extent economic diplomacy would be a viable channel to pursue U.S. interests int he country. We were very grateful for a grant from the Southeast Asia Studies which enabled the learning experience. It has really refreshed my motivation and given me a renewed energy to vigorously pursue my Burmese studies this semester.
As a Student Government Association officer, you’re very involved in student life at SAIS. How does the student life aspect compliment the academics and professional preparation at SAIS?
I was fortunate to be elected one of the First Year Representatives for the Student Government Association in the fall and I have really enjoyed being the link between the student body and administration (in fact, I just submitted my video to run for President next year!). It has been amazing to experience how responsive the administration is to student suggestions and ideas, and the ability that we have on the SGA to support student initiatives and implement student ideas.

Student life is the perfect compliment to the academic and professional preparation at SAIS because every time I am doing research for a paper or project, or exploring what industry I want to pursue a career in, there is a great chance that one of my peers is specializing in the area I am researching, or has worked in the profession I am considering. For example, I have a presentation coming up on Thai-Myanmar relations, so I plan on speaking with my classmate who is in the Thai foreign ministry, and a teacher who was a former foreign service officer for Myanmar. Being a part of the Student Government Association has given me the opportunity to meet a wide range of classmates that I might not have gotten to know otherwise.
What has been your favorite class so far, and why?
This is a hard one, because even though it is just my second semester, there have been so many great classes!! I think I’ll have to go with the International Relations of Asia - the Policy Process - by Professor Karl Jackson. Our task as a class was to come up with policy recommendations for President Obama for US Foreign Policy towards Myanmar for the next 5 years. We were each assigned a topic area ( I was civil society and political movements) and encouraged to go out in the DC community and speak with authoritative people on the subject. Individually we came up with an analysis of the current framework and policy recommendations, and then through a few “policy-making” sessions, combined them into one comprehensive document. While the class may seem like it was about Myanmar, it really was about experiencing the policy process and it gave me an appreciation for how difficult it truly is to be a policy maker. Maybe it is from his personal experience in the White House, but there is something special about the atmosphere that Prof. Jackson creates that enabled our class to truly feel like policy makers.
What are you planning on pursuing professionally after graduation? What are some of the specific skills you’ve learned that will help you in your career?
After graduation, I plan to pursue a position in business development for a multinational company in the private sector in Southeast Asia. Some day down the line I plan to apply that experience as a professor of International Business. I’ve gained an unbelievable amount of regional knowledge that will prepare me for my career and I am starting to explore the nexus of international business and public policy, which I believe will be an asset in business development in Southeast Asia. I’m further developing relevant skills in the Management Challenges in Emerging Markets Practicum led from Frontier Strategy Group at SAIS that is giving me the framework to identify trends, and potential disruptors across industries and regions.
And this coming summer, I have accepted an offer with the Economic Department of the US Embassy in Bangkok, where I will be working for two SAIS graduates!
Thanks for reading!

— Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions

To read previous entries in our Student Spotlight series, please click here.