Thursday, March 24, 2016

What's It Like to Concentrate in Latin American Studies at SAIS?

MA students at Johns Hopkins SAIS have the opportunity participate in a variety of study trips, extracurricular activities, and internships during the course of their studies. For this week's student spotlight, who better to interview than Jiawei Li—an MA student from Shanghai who has leveraged his SAIS education to intern and travel abroad. Read below for insights into why he choose to concentrate in Latin American studies, and how he met the President of Costa Rica.

Jiawei's Profile:
Program: Master of Arts
Concentration: Latin American Studies
Specialization(s): Emerging Markets and International Finance
Hometown: Shanghai & New York
Fluent Languages: Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and French

Can you tell us about your concentration, and why you chose it?
My concentration is Latin American Studies and I am one of the few Asians in the program. The reason why I chose it has to do with my previous living and working experience in Mexico, the opportunity the program currently offers and my long term career positioning.

Before I came to SAIS, I was an exchange scholar between the China Scholarship Council and the Mexican Foreign Ministry, which allowed me to develop strong connections with the local culture by studying Anthropology, the Azteca language Nahuatl as well as conducting field trips to pyramids. Given that I am fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and French, the LASP program offers a great chance to pursue further professional and academic development. This choice also aligns with my career goal of becoming an expert on emerging markets, diversifying my knowledge and experience base so as to always bring new perspectives on global issues.

Where are you interning, and what type of work do you do?
Currently, I am interning as equity analyst at a DC-based hedge fund specialized in institutional investment as well as researcher on fiscal management at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). I closely monitor energy policies, assess macro risks and evaluate the energy equities and projects in Asia and Latin America for the hedge fund. At IDB, I analyst the balance sheets of state owned enterprises (SOE) in Latin America, usually natural resources exporters, evaluate their fiscal management and make policy recommendations for to reduce SOEs fiscal risks and improve their competitiveness.

What do you hope to do after graduation?
When making plans for professional life, I always take into account the difference between the SAIS, MBA and JD programs. In addition to the strong SAIS alumni network, SAIS provides a combined skill set of economics, finance, regulations, policies and languages, which diversifies our knowledge base. With three campuses around the world and extensive regional studies programs, SAIS education provides truly global perspectives. Hence, SAIS education and networking prepares me for jobs in economic and financial research in international organizations or multinational corporations with focus on emerging markets.

Coolest trip you have taken with your peers?
The coolest trip I have taken with my peers is the Costa Rica trip organized by LASP. This is because we were received by the President Luis Guillermo SolĂ­s and all the cost related to the trip was covered by LASP. In addition to that, we conducted intensive group research on political, social and economic issues regarding Costa Rica and attended quite a few workshops organized by LASP on those topics. During the trip, in addition to the official meetings with the ministers, vice presidents, the president and other business and public opinion leaders, we were given 2 days for team- building exercises. We were taken to the forest and volcano and had a great time with the nature.

Latin American Studies team picture with the president of Costa Rica, Guillermo Solis & vice-president Ana Helena Chacon Echeverria
2015 Spring break LASP Costa Rica trip - Team building exercise in the forest

What do you see as beneficial about the opportunity to study in Bologna, Italy and Washington, DC?
I spent my first year at SAIS Bologna and I am currently at SAIS DC for my second year studies. I believe that there is difference between two campuses. Given that almost all the students are new to the environment and do not speak much Italian, people tend to hang out with each other and develop closer ties. It is also fairly convenient to travel around Europe from Bologna. On the other hand, Washington DC has a lot to offer in terms of professional development, given that so much think tanks, NGOs and multilaterals are based in DC. This keeps people busy with their professional development. As a result, people are not able to bond as much as at SAIS Bologna. Now that I look back, my life at SAIS Bologna was filled with travelling, attending events, studying, learning new languages, gelato, prosciutto and wine, whereas I spend more time studying, interning and networking at SAIS DC. 

Therefore, I consider it highly beneficial to study in Bologna and DC, which offers a unique opportunity to gain more international exposure, academic strength and professional depth.