Thursday, March 27, 2014

Swapping spoons for chopsticks: the advantages of SAIS's global footprint

Sixteen students from SAIS's three campuses traveled to Beijing and Shanghai earlier this month on a study trip highlighting the program's international scope. Brian Fox was one of the SAIS Europe students who joined up with counterparts from DC and Nanjing, and he writes about the experience below.

As a European and Eurasian Studies (EES) concentrator at SAIS, I thought I would become more familiar with TARGET2 systems and eating spaghetti with a spoon than with the Chinese Communist Party and having noodles with chopsticks.

Nonetheless, a grant from the Starr Foundation enabled a group of EESers from both Bologna and DC to learn more about a changing China through a 10-day study trip to Beijing and Shanghai earlier this month. The logic is that, whatever our regional specialization, the transformation of China will have important global implications over our lifetimes.
SAIS delegation with Prof. Yiping Huang of Barclays Capital and Peking University
After four months of preparatory work, the Bologna and DC delegations left behind their quattro stagioni and Chipotle to better understand Chinese development. Accompanied by two students from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC), “One SAIS” was ready to take on the “One World”.

We spent five days in each city, meeting academics, journalists, officials and business people. The sessions were structured to give us a holistic understanding of China’s development. From economics to human rights, from the role of civil society to the environment, we built up our knowledge of how internal and external forces are transforming China and the impact this transformation is having on the world.

Viewing this change through an EES lens was very illuminating. My highlight was a talk given by Prof. Yiping Huang of Peking University on the future of China’s economic development in the context of a new reform program. I was responsible for writing a background report for the group on Prof. Huang and found his arguments very interesting. China’s current “slowdown” is part of its transition from a middle-income to a high-income country, which will render Europe even more exposed to its upturns and downturns and vice versa.
"One SAIS" roommates on the trip (L to R) Jace White (HNC),
Sam Rizzo (DC) and Brian Fox (Bologna)

An important Eurasian theme throughout the program, punctuated by ongoing developments in Crimea, was China’s relationship with Russia. Leading the SAIS contingent, Prof. Bruce Parrot of Russian and Eurasian Studies compared and contrasted Russia and China’s development experiences with Prof. Shaolei Feng of East China Normal University. Distinguishing between “managed” democracy and “managed” capitalism highlighted the separate approaches taken by respective national leaders in dealing with 21st-century challenges.

Personally, this experience was very fulfilling. I had been learning a lot from my Chinese roommate in the first semester (who had completed a year in Nanjing and is now at SAIS DC) and the rest of our impressive Chinese contingent. Rather than being an outsider peering in, I felt more like an insider looking out as I learned about Chinese thinking and culture.

The trip was a nice example of the opportunities offered by SAIS’s global footprint and its interdisciplinary and holistic approach to international relations. The linkages between Chinese development and European and Eurasian politics and economics are fascinating.

I even picked up some chopsticks along the way. Although tagliatelle al rag├╣ may still be easier with a spoon.

Brian Fox

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