Wednesday, October 31, 2012

SAIS Bologna's Halloween party: a slideshow

Bologna's venerable Palazzo Gnudi may never have seen such a cast of characters. And members of the SAIS Bologna Class of 2013 may never again celebrate Halloween in such a splendid venue.

Revelers left political correctness at the door but global politics was front and center during the class's Halloween bash, held in the sumptuous 18th century palace in the heart of the city.

Below is a slideshow that captures some of the costumes and glittering surroundings. Apologies to those who took the trouble to dress up but are not featured -- there were simply too many of you.

Thanks to photographers Reneé Wynveen, Ally Carragher, Ann Dailey, Caitlin Geraghty and Meng Meng, and to the organizing committee of Brenna Allen, Stephen Crosse, Ann Dailey, Katerina Lovtchinova, Kate Maxwell and David Payne.

If you are reading this via email, you can see the video by clicking here.

Nelson Graves

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Coming to SAIS after bombarding superconductors

Students pursue different paths on their way to SAIS Bologna. Today Andreas Glossner of Germany tells us how he ended up here after studying Physics at university. In coming days other SAIS Bologna students will tell us how they landed here and why.

In my opinion, what sets SAIS apart is the right combination of breadth and depth in its curriculum: It equips students with a solid foundation in international relations as a political science while at the same time providing an interdisciplinary approach to the field.

After completing a master’s degree in Physics in Germany and Japan, that is what I was looking for in returning to graduate school. While the Energy, Resources and Environment concentration at SAIS means that I can build on my background in science, this does not mean I will have to do an “international relations light” program.

Andreas Glossner
Nuclear nonproliferation, climate change, resources: Some of the predominant challenges in international affairs stem directly from scientific issues. It is impossible to do basic or applied research without being aware of the overarching implications of science and technology.

In a way, I have always been fascinated by both worlds. While I majored in Physics, I started to take political science courses during my first year at university and participated in projects such as the National Model United Nations in New York. Just as political scientists at my university got used to this physicist in their midst, I left for Japan to research and study at Osaka University.

There, I spent the bulk of my time bombarding superconductors with terahertz radiation in the laboratory. But I also pursued interdisciplinary studies by contributing to a series of seminars on sustainability and energy. An internship at the German Embassy in Nairobi convinced me that a career in an international context would be the right match for me -- which is how I ended up here at SAIS Bologna as one of some 200 students eager to study Machiavelli and Mearsheimer.

The diversity of backgrounds that people bring to SAIS is fascinating and has its practical benefits: Have you ever wondered how the financial crisis affected Sri Lanka? Or why the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea has been relevant in the history of Libya?

An expert on such issues is more often than not nearby at SAIS.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Help in transitioning: the MIPP program at SAIS

Jennifer Ottolino is pursuing one of three master's programs offered at SAIS Bologna -- the Master of  International Public Policy (MIPP). Her account below is the last in a series of three posts on these programs.

Why, after more than a decade in the workforce, did I decide to return to graduate school?

A desire to integrate my career in health management, an interest in humanitarian projects in developing countries and a passion for adventurous travel led me to enroll in SAIS Bologna.

I had already finished graduate studies in health science and management, worked for more than 10 years in both the public and private sectors of the U.S. health care system and volunteered on several projects in developing countries.

Jennifer Ottolino
I had a solid base of experience but knew I needed guidance to transition to a full-time international career while preserving professional momentum as much as possible.

The MIPP program at SAIS Bologna allows me to customize a program to build on my past experiences and to meet my needs as an experienced professional with a specific career focus.

Since I am studying full-time, in one year I can complete the eight required courses across the range of disciplines offered at SAIS, while continuing to develop my language skills and learn more about global health care organizations with field operations in developing nations.

I am delighted to be able to solicit feedback about my academic and career development from a range of perspectives: from world-renowned faculty, career services professionals and fellow students.

The faculty are tremendous. They enter the classroom not only as dynamic lecturers and dedicated teachers but as practitioners, policy shapers and thought leaders in their fields.

Being able to learn from them makes me grateful each day that I decided to come back to school.

As an older student, I am humbled to find that inside the SAIS classroom I am often the sorrella piccola,   Italian for "little sister". My classmates hail from different countries, speak multiple languages, have a range of backgrounds --  and often know more than I do about the regions we are studying.

They are generous in sharing their experiences with me and with each other, whether in class, in a local osteria or on the train to Cinque Terre during a spontaneous weekend excursion.

Having Italy as the backdrop to the SAIS experience is the pièce de résistance. It ensures that at the end of my MIPP year, not only will I be well prepared to realize my professional goals, I will have learned a beautiful Romance language, participated in a vibrant culture and created lasting cross-cultural friendships.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A "rare beast" lauds her MAIA studies

Daniela Beyer is pursuing one of three master's programs offered at SAIS Bologna. Her account below is the second in a series of three posts on these programs.

I am one of the “rare beasts“, as one of my professors puts it, who is spending two academic years at SAIS Bologna.

The degree I am pursuing is the MAIA – the Master of Arts in International Affairs. The main difference with the MA in International Relations is that I am writing a thesis while the others take core or comprehensive exams. Also, MA candidates who start in Bologna spend a second year in DC.

I am a European Studies concentrator and plan to write my thesis on Europe's identity and public support for the European Union.

Daniela Beyer
Why did I choose to stay in Bologna for both years?

Among the many reasons, one stands out: I enjoy working on a single topic, examining it in detail over a long time span and probing primary sources, in my case public opinion surveys.

One of the wonderful things about graduate school is that you can choose classes and focus on questions that fascinate you personally. What could be better than to choose a research question for a thesis you will work on for at least a year?

Of course I am also sad to have seen many of the friends I made during my first year at SAIS Bologna leave for Washington, and it is certainly not easy to start all over again for the next year.

But I also appreciate the opportunity to have not only one SAIS family but two and to get to know a new group of people with their interesting personalities and backgrounds.

The diverse mix of students makes for a special class atmosphere and interesting discussions.  Already at the beginning of my second year I can see how the students come from different backgrounds and how informative class discussions will be.

Let me offer some advice to those who would like to write a thesis during their masters studies but who may not be sure whether SAIS is the right school because it is famous for its two-perspective experience: Screw up your courage and talk to a SAIS professor whose research fascinates you.

SAIS is a great place to write a thesis, and I am confident I am getting as much out of it as the “normal beasts”. If you study in Bologna for two years your experience will be shaped by both European and American perspectives -- after all, you are in Europe and studying in an American graduate institution.

You could argue the perspective is truly unique because of the many great international lecturers who come  to Bologna every year.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

SAIS degrees: the MA

SAIS Bologna offers three master's degrees. Today Selim Koru discusses why he decided to pursue a master of arts in International Relations here. Later this week, Daniela Beyer and Jennifer Ottolino will discuss the two other master's programs.

While applying for M.A. programs was a long and arduous process, choosing the right school was relatively easy for me.

I studied history and international studies as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Afterwards, I worked a year as a journalist, then another as a researcher at a think tank in my native Turkey.

Selim Koru
The study of history had given me direction, but I soon became aware that I needed to develop my skills to progress. I taught myself how to write effectively, edit and quickly absorb large amounts of information.

I also took every opportunity to travel across Turkey and a bit in Iran, started reading up on economics and tried to learn Arabic and Farsi. Graduate education seemed like the logical way to deepen my studies.

SAIS's interdisciplinary approach to the study of international affairs made it the clear choice for me. It  emphasized the combination of languages, economics and humanities that I was already pursuing before coming here.

Once in SAIS, I switched around to find the track that best suited my goals. I had entered as a "Global Theory and History" concentrator but switched to Middle East Studies, mostly because it would allow me to write a thesis.

That might sound counter-intuitive to some (eyes usually widen when I tell people), but I feel it's especially important for those who, like me, would not exclude the academic route after an M.A.

at the Middle East club
The Middle East Studies concentration also offers generous summer funding to study Arabic in countries where it is spoken, which I plan to take advantage of.

But talking only about academics would leave out a huge part of the picture. The social aspects of SAIS Bologna are indeed a vital part of the experience and difficult to describe. Something about gathering roughly 200 from different countries who are interested in international affairs seems to accelerate friendships. Most of us felt like we had known each other after a couple of weeks.

That kind of atmosphere fuels other on-campus activities as well. I, for example, currently help organize the events of the Middle East club, work as a research assistant for the Bologna Institute for Policy Research (BIPR) and write for the SAIS Observer, our student newspaper.

As with academics, the limiting factor with the social aspects of SAIS is not the school's resources, but time.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Next online session: October 24

Reminder: Our next online information session is set for Wednesday, October 24 at noon Italy time (1000 GMT).

Here are instructions for connecting, including local and toll-free numbers.

Application deadline: January 7, 2013
This month we will pay special attention to letters of recommendation -- one of the key elements of any candidate's dossier. Participants will be able to ask questions either over the phone or by chat.

To participate in the session, a participant needs to take two steps:

- connect to the Adobe Connect platform via one's computer
- connect to a teleconference number using a phone

The second connection ensures quality audio.

If you have any questions about the session, feel free to write to or call us at +39 051 29 17 847.

We will be holding subsequent online sessions on November 28 (5 pm Italy time) and December 19 (noon Italy time). In addition to these virtual sessions, Amina and I will be meeting prospective candidates in various European cities in coming weeks, as detailed in this post.

All of this with the deadline for 2013-14 applications in mind: January 7, 2013.

Nelson Graves

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Clubs at SAIS Bologna: from the academic to athletic

Students play a major role in shaping their experiences at SAIS Bologna.

Most students are in Bologna for a year and then spend the second year of their MA studies in Washington. There are no upperclassmen on campus to show the way.

The variety of student clubs that spring up each year reflect the wide range in interests and the students' desire to make the most of their time in Bologna.

Some clubs are hardy perennials; others are specific to one class. This month about 100 students -- more than half the class -- showed up for the annual Club Fair. A total of 18 clubs emerged and have been proposed to the newly elected student government, which controls a pool of resources drawn from student fees to underwrite club activities.

Below MA candidate Kelsey Soeth writes about the fair and the multiplicity of clubs.

As if academics don't keep SAIS students busy enough, this month's club fair enjoyed an impressive turnout.

Kelsey Soeth in Ravenna
After a long day of classes, the fair got started alongside the Halloween party planning committee's bake sale. The committee peddled all manner of homemade baked goods, including seasonally appropriate pumpkin muffins, throughout the event to raise funds for the upcoming Halloween party.

While some people may have come only for the brownies, they stayed for the upbeat dance music provided by the Dance Club and the enthusiastic spiels of club founders making their pitches.

Clubs represented at the fair showed the tremendous diversity of student interests at SAIS. They ranged from academic to athletic and covered the full spectrum in between.

Finance & Consulting Club

Some are focused on a particular region of the world, such as the Middle East and North Africa Club, Africa Association and Latin American Studies Group. Others have a professional focus, like the Development Career Club and Consulting and Finance Club. Still more are centered on broad issues of relevance in today's world, including Energy and Climate Change, Gender and Power, and Defense and Intelligence.

Of course, SAIS students do value sunlight occasionally, and plenty of clubs are based outside the lecture halls of Via Belmeloro. Among those primed to take advantage of our wonderful location are Gastronomica and Outside Bologna.

Dance Club
Students who join Gastronomica -- and who as a result enjoy the local cuisine a little, too -- have many options for working off all the extra calories. In addition to the outdoorsy activities arranged by Outside Bologna, students can also join clubs devoted to running, soccer and even skiing.

It seems that whatever your interests, at SAIS Bologna there's a club for that.

Alas, the preponderance of interesting clubs led to dilemmas for many attendees of the fair. They had to make tough choices about how to spend their most precious resource, time, and avoid signing up for an unmanageable load of activities.

It was a battle more often lost than won, as evidenced by the number of clubs reduced to squeezing in names and emails on random scraps of paper.

It looks it will be a busy year for students in Bologna, but a whole lot of fun.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How my internship supports my research at SAIS

Bouchra Ibn Chakroune is in her second year at SAIS Bologna. A UK citizen, she is a candidate for a Masters of Arts in International Affairs (MAIA), a degree awarded by SAIS Bologna that requires a thesis in the second year. Below she discusses her recent summer internship and how it related directly to her studies.

I’d never done an internship before last summer, so I didn’t really have a clear idea of what to expect.

I suppose I thought I would spend most of my time making cups of tea or trying to swim my way through masses of paperwork. So I was pleasantly surprised when I finally arrived in Beirut to start my internship with a small NGO called Right to Nonviolence.

Right to Nonviolence (RN) has quite a broad remit, focusing on non-violence, constitutional reform and judicial accountability. I joined the Middle East Constitutional Forum team, which focuses more narrowly on the Middle East revolutions.

Bouchra Ibn Chakroune
My surprise came when instead of receiving a list of duties on my first day, I was told I was free to conceive and design a project that was of mutual interest to myself and RN. The only other criterion was that I was to think out of the box! And so the Tunisia Constitutional e-Forum was born.

I am an MAIA student starting my second year in Bologna. I will be writing my thesis on the Tunisian Revolution, analyzing the transition taking place with a particular focus on the constitutional developments. As it turns out, my internship directly supports my academics -- a symbiotic relationship that is familiar to many SAIS students.

I started my research last year while working for the the Center for Constitutional Studies and Democratic Development. But working on the Tunisia Constitutional e-Forum gave me an opportunity to focus my research. It is in essence an information-sharing platform. I wanted to collate content on the Tunisian constitutional process and build a “one-stop shop” for information on the constitutional developments taking place in the North African country.

A number of Tunisian and International lawyers, academics and researchers agreed to submit articles, videos or audio podcasts to the e-Forum. They included Bsili Adel, Legal Advisor to the National Constituent Assembly, and Nathan Brown, Carnegie Scholar and Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.

I have been struck by the generosity of the contributors who dedicated time and effort, without any compensation, to provide content for the e-Forum, which was launched on 2nd October and is now available online.

This research will underpin my thesis and help others follow the Tunisian Constitutional process.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

SAIS Bologna's new catalog

Courses, concentrations, degrees, student life, admissions requirements, our host city: a new catalog touches on each of these aspects of SAIS Bologna.

Even in the digital age there is something nice about a single, tidy document that answers most of your questions.

Wondering about the various degrees that are offered in Bologna? Turn to page 20 of the 2012-13 catalog and read about the MA, MAIA, MIPP, Diploma, Ph.D and dual degree programs.

Biographies of our resident faculty are scattered throughout the 45-page volume. Recent students, including Judit Vásárhelyi-Kondor from last year's SAIS Bologna class, comment on their experiences in Bologna:

“I looked at the best programs in international
relations and SAIS was my top choice. I always dreamed of living in Italy, and I really like
the global dimension of SAIS’s Bologna program -- one year in the U.S. and one year in Europe.”
Judit Vásárhelyi-Kondor
Budapest, Hungary
M.A. Candidate (B’12) European Studies
Henry Tesluk Fellowship Recipient

You can learn about the Bologna Center's history, student life, our campus, the city of Bologna and student services.

You might like to look at the list of internships that SAIS Bologna students landed last summer. They included jobs at Booz Allen, CSIS, JPMorgan, the OECD, UNESCO, the U.S. State Department and the World Bank.

Finally, for chapter and verse on admissions procedures, turn to page 17. A key date -- the deadline for applications for 2013-14 -- may stick out: January 7, 2013.

This new catalog focuses on SAIS Bologna -- one of three campuses in the global orbit of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Last month we ran a post on a new brochure that spells out what makes SAIS unique, including its global footprint.

Nelson Graves

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Next online information session: October 24

Our next online information session is set for Wednesday, October 24 at noon Italy time (1000 GMT).

This is a good chance for anyone interested in graduate study to learn more about SAIS Bologna. All you need to participate is a computer with an Internet connection, plus a phone to make a local or toll-free call.

Here are instructions for connecting, including local and toll-free numbers.

This month we will pay special attention to letters of recommendation -- one of the key elements of any candidate's dossier. Participants will be able to ask questions either over the phone or by chat.

To participate in the session, a participant needs to take two steps:

  • connect to the Adobe Connect platform via one's computer
  • connect to a teleconference number using a phone

The second connection ensures quality audio.

If you have any questions about the session, feel free to write to or call us at             +39 051 29 17 847.

We listed other coming information sessions, including some in other European cities, in Tuesday's post. The next online sessions will be:

- November 28 at 5 pm Italy time (1600 GMT)
- December 19 at noon Italy time (1100 GMT)

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"This is what we came here for."

Felix Amrhein is a SAIS Bologna student from Germany. He offered us these thoughts as the fall term got under way:

We knew this day would come. Pre-term is over; now the real thing starts.

The fall schedule has kicked in, readings are taking up more and more time and there are so many essential things to do: readings for classes, statements of motivation for classes or student government applications, choosing paper topics, setting up resume-formatting sessions, internship research, organizing the club fair and heading to the supermarket to make sure there is food in the fridge should I get the chance to head home for a snack.

There is no way to be bored.

Felix Amrhein
I  realize something I had not yet fully grasped: This experience is not just some nice readings on a few subjects combined with lots of travel and a vibrant social life, but hard work that requires determination and time-management skills.

We have been told about the three S's: Study, Sleep, Social life. Now we have to juggle these three demands while being acutely aware that we have only one year here. Others have succeeded, and so we will too!

But there is more to this than just hard work, sleep deprivation and desperate efforts to have a life outside the library and the classroom. There is the knowledge and anticipation that once this challenge is met, we will look back on this experience with a feeling of accomplishment that is going to be more rewarding that anyone can imagine today.

Considering the hard work we put into this program, we should not forget that we were given the chance to study in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, with opportunities to travel through Italy, and are part of the most amazing group of people I have ever met.

This is what we came here for and this is what we will do. Today I can finally say I am ready for this amazing experience.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How to learn more about SAIS Bologna

In the next few weeks Amina and I will be meeting prospective candidates to discuss SAIS Bologna and answer questions.

Here is a program of events (Italy time):

Oct 11 -  Dickinson College in Italy (1515)
Oct 23 -  Athens (1600)
Oct 24 -  Online information session (noon)
Oct 29 -  Leiden University (time to be confirmed)
Oct 31 -  University of Gothenburg (noon)
Nov 1 -   Uppsala University (1915)
Nov 6 -   Università di Bologna, Forlì campus (1100)
Nov 7 -   Università di Bologna (1500)
Nov 9 -   Sciences Po Lille (tbc)
Nov 10 - London (1400)
Nov 12 - St Gallen (1700)
Nov 14 - Budapest (1800)
Nov 15 - Paris (1700)
Nov 28 - Online information session (1700)
Dec 7 -   Open Day at SAIS Bologna
Dec 19 - Online information session (noon)

We will be circulating details on how to connect to the online sessions both on this Journal and via email. If you are interested in attending any of the in-person sessions, please send a note to, and we will send you the details.

Some prospective applicants will know very little about us. They might want to take a look at our brochure.

Others will know a great deal and will have questions about application requirements and procedures. We will strive to answer all questions.

If you cannot participate in any of these sessions, you can always contact us directly:
A word on Open Day: Every year we throw our doors open to prospective applicants. This year it is set for Friday, December 7. It's a great opportunity to meet students, faculty and staff, and to get to know both the Center and the city of Bologna. We try to offer accommodation in students' apartments to all visitors.

To register for Open Day, click here.

Nelson Graves

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Taking the GRE or the GMAT

Applicants who are not U.S. citizens do not have to take either the GRE or the GMAT to apply to SAIS Bologna. But we strongly recommend that candidates take one or the other.


Because these tests can provide important signals to both the candidate and to our Admissions Committee. A relatively strong score can help a candidate; a relatively weak score can send up a warning flag -- again, to both the applicant and Admissions.

What is relatively strong or relatively weak? Here are the ranges of scores attained by the middle 50% of SAIS MA candidates who enrolled this year:

GRE                                                                      GMAT
Verbal: 158-165                                                    Verbal: 34-42
Quantitative: 154-161                                            Quantitative: 38-49

Keep in mind that 25% of this year's entering students scored above those ranges and 25% scored below.

A few points to emphasize:
  • A GRE or GMAT score will generally not make or break an application. We look at the entire application -- undergraduate transcript, CV, statement of purpose, analytical essay, letters of recommendation -- and we interview all candidates. We recognize that these standardized tests do not paint a complete picture.
  • Like the English proficiency exams, the GRE and GMAT can give candidates an idea of whether they are ready to tackle the SAIS challenge. Graduate school is a major investment of time, energy and money, and it's important that a candidate be confident that it will be worth the effort.
  • The earlier you sign up for one of these exams, the better. That way you leave yourself the possibility of taking it a second time to improve your score.
  • Also, be sure to have your scores sent directly to SAIS. The GRE code for SAIS is 5610-0000; the GMAT code is KGB-GX-99.
We asked two of this year's SAIS Bologna students, Antonio Skarica and Markus Wilthaner, to discuss their experiences taking these tests.

Antonio Skarica (Croatia)

The best advice I can give to students who are thinking about taking the GRE is to start studying early and to take a few practice exams. The material on the GRE exam is not very difficult, and most college students are familiar with the topics they are going to be tested on.

People with different academic backgrounds can find some of the sections a bit more challenging. However, by starting studying early and using some of the GRE preparation books, you can help yourself.

Antonio Skarica
Before doing any studying, I would recommend taking a practice exam to see what your strengths and weaknesses are. Once you do that, you can make an outline of all the topics that you need to familiarize yourself with and spend a few weeks doing some of the practice questions.

Make sure to take the whole exam in one sitting. While most of you are great at writing essays, doing reading exercises and solving math problems, doing all of these tasks in less than five hours can be extremely challenging. Imagine writing an English essay after taking a two-hour math exam. Sound difficult? Well, that is essentially what you will be expected to do on the GRE. Taking the whole exam at once is the real challenge.

Be sure to start early. Most non-native English speakers find the verbal section somewhat challenging. That is because many of the vocabulary words are not necessarily part of colloquial English.

While it is nearly impossible to learn 2,000 vocabulary words in just a few weeks before the exam, getting a set of vocabulary flash cards and learning a few new words every day is quite feasible. You won’t necessarily remember every single word, but your vocabulary will definitely improve and you are more likely to do better on the exam.

Also, give yourself enough time to “figure out” the exam. I personally think the most challenging aspect of preparation is figuring out how to approach different types of questions. The only way to do this is to answer as many practice questions as possible. It will help you get used to the format of the exam and test your knowledge of the material.

Markus Wilthaner (Austria)

The GMAT can be helpful in applying to graduate schools. While SAIS Bologna does not require non-U.S. candidates to take the GMAT, it can complement your application nicely. The GMAT tests your logic, some fundamental math and your English skills. If you are good at these, you should have no problem achieving a high score -- but be aware that you need to prepare for the test, no matter how good you are.

Markus Wilthaner
I prepared with the “The Official Guide for GMAT Review”, which provides the background you need for the test, a diagnosis test as well as plenty of examples.

When you work through these exercises, make sure you don’t tackle only the first few and then move on to the next chapter because the questions tend to become more difficult the further you are into the section.

If there is an area that is particularly challenging, there are numerous additional resources out there -- more books from GMAC, websites, forums, etc. These resources are great, but make sure the ones you use refer to the current version of the test. The test has changed significantly over time, and some websites and books still have questions from old sections that are no longer on the test. Also recently a completely new section called “integrated reasoning” has been added.

All in all, the GMAT is nothing to worry about too much. If you spend two to three hours a day for two to three weeks, you should be well prepared.

You can check available test times and how far ahead you should book them on the official website by simply starting to register and then cancelling the transaction. The tests are not cheap and moving the date after registration costs extra.

You can also take the test multiple times, but in that case you would obviously have to pay multiple times. Different schools have different policies for multiple GMAT scores, so that’s something to be aware of.

Last but not least, you can save a few dollars by designating schools that should receive your scores before the test. If you do that afterwards, you again have to pay for each score report.

All the best for the tests and don’t stress out. If you look at the tests as an intellectual game it can be actually quite fun.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Exploring his new home -- in running shoes

Jogging was not big in the Middle Ages.

That explains in part why Bologna -- whose first settlements date back 3,000 years -- is not at first glance a runner's paradise. Delicious food, stunning architecture, fascinating history, yes. Also cobblestones, narrow streets and traffic -- anathema to joggers.

Tristram above Bologna
As Anna Ottani Cavina, professor of art history, can explain, medieval city dwellers sought protection in numbers and so built compact cities that brought citizens together inside walls. Outside was nature -- equated in the medieval mind with danger.

More recently, Bologna's civic leaders have gone to great lengths to preserve both the medieval city center and the green outskirts. So while there is not much grass or many trees in the historic heart of the city, the surrounding countryside is protected by tough zoning laws and offers impressive vistas just a few minutes from the center.

Tristram Thomas has discovered as much. A student this year at SAIS Bologna, Tristram is an accomplished runner. He did not let traffic, pollution or cobblestones get him down.

Off and running
"If running is a passion, the apparent dearth of running routes can be discouraging," he writes in a compendium of running routes he has already traced. "However, moving to Bologna is an adventure. And like any good adventurer, I set out to explore my new home -- in running shoes."

Tristram's trails wind through parks and streets into the hills, or colli, that flank the city to the south or onto the Po plain that stretches north. Some are short, others longer.

He and some fellow enthusiasts are starting a running club -- one of a host of associations run by students. Tristram's club will cater to all levels.

His ability to adapt and and spirit of adventure will carry him far.

Nelson Graves

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Clearing the English-language hurdle

SAIS Bologna is an English-language graduate program and so requires a solid grasp of the language if a student is to benefit fully from the experience.

We are in Bologna, and so the linguistic backdrop is naturally Italian. We have three dozen nationalities among our 200 students this year, so you hear many languages in the halls. Our faculty teach eight languages.

Still, English is the lingua franca. It's imperative that every student be able to operate, all cylinders pumping, while reading, speaking, writing and listening in English.

That is why candidates for admission submit the results of an English language test if they are not native speakers: it's a way of ensuring both the applicant and the Admissions Committee that the candidate's English is up to snuff.

We receive loads of questions about our English language requirements (I was in Australia last week and so could write "heaps of questions"). For chapter and verse, click here.

We asked three of our students this year to write about their experiences taking the tests we accept: the TOEFL, the IELTS and the Cambridge Proficiency Exam.

Helga Kalm (Estonia)

Passing the TOEFL is probably the easiest part of preparing your application to SAIS.

It reminded me a lot of my high school graduation exam in English: the level of vocabulary required to pass the test does not mean you have to be an expert in all fields.

Helga Kalm
Still, there are a couple of things to keep in mind in taking the test:

  • Register in time. Depending on your location, the test dates may not be that numerous and the spots fill up rather quickly for the tests in November and December. Additionally, if you are not sure how well you are going to perform, it might be wise to leave yourself a buffer zone in case you need to retake the test.
  • Do a couple of practice tests. Even if you are confident about passing the test with a high score, familiarizing yourself with the general outline of the test and the type of exercises typically used will save you time during the test and you might be able to raise your score by a couple of points. It also helps you to understand what weaknesses you might have.

Overall, don’t worry and good luck!

Greta Butaviciute (Lithuania)

Greta Butaviciute
My experience in taking the IELTS was positive.

Since I was pretty confident about my language level, I did not feel the need to prepare a great deal for the exam. However, I wanted to make sure I understood the requirements -- the format, what each section is about and what the examiners expect from you in the written and oral parts.

My most important tip is to take a close look at sample exams. This will give you an idea of what kind of questions or exercises you should be prepared for and what the assessment criteria are. The amount of preparation really depends on how confident you are. If you speak, read and write in English every day, you probably should not worry about it. But if not, you may need a bit more practice.

Finally, my last bit of advice is to have a good rest the night before your exam. You will be more attentive, focused and calm, which will help you achieve a better result.

Angelos Angelou (Greece)

Before I write anything about the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE), I should first say that it was one of the main things, in terms of entry requirements, that helped me get into SAIS.

Angelos Angelou
My only concern before applying was whether I would have the time to meet the deadlines (a demanding task indeed). The fact that I had obtained CPE before applying allowed me to focus on the other numerous application requirements. This helped a lot.

The CPE is one of the most demanding tests you could take. It’s not just about learning vocabulary and grammar. You have to dive into the mechanism of the language and essentially into English culture.

The CPE demands a year of intensive preparation, from essay writing to grammatical exercises. This way you can understand the language and why it has become our modern-day “lingua franca”.

The CPE demands dedication, effort, sweat and maybe some tears, but it gives you the chance to boast that you passed a really demanding test and that you met one of the entry requirements for one of the best MA’s in IR.

Now isn’t that the biggest possible “bang for the buck”?