Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Here is Bologna

Here are some pictures of Bologna taken by current students. We leave these with you to admire while the Bologna Center goes on holiday from December 23 until January 5. The blog will take a rest around Christmas and New Year's, but it never goes into hibernation!

Remember: If you have any questions as you prepare your application or as you consider applying to SAIS Bologna, please write to or to We'll get back to you as soon as possible. Promise.

Thank you for following our blog. We look forward to your comments and feedback. And best wishes for an excellent 2011.

San Luca at sunset
(Elisabeth Mondl)
A new look at an old piazza
(Elisabeth Mondl)

    (Kristen Larson)

Bologna from on high
(Elisabeth Mondl)

Leaves in the park
(Kristen Larson,
courtesy of SAIS BC Blog)
Bologna lights
(Christoph von Toggenburg,
 courtesy of SAIS BC Blog)

Bologna’s annual celebration of chocolate
(Kristen Larson)

(Elisabeth Mondl)
Bologna skyline
(Kristen Larson, courtesy of SAIS BC Blog)
Nelson Graves

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Weekly quiz!

It's that time of the week. Time to take a short break from thinking of statements of purpose, letters of recommendation, transcripts and economics prerequisites. Here is our second weekly quiz. The winner gets his or her name in lights on this very blog. Here we go:

Who is the Director of the SAIS Bologna Center and in which field did he receive his Ph.D?

Here is a hint -- this is a picture of our Director some years ago:

Who is this man and what did he study?
(photo courtesy of U. of Minnesota)
You can send in your answer by commenting on this blog entry or by sending an email to

Reminder: the winner of our first weekly quiz was Ilektra of Athens. And Anonymous won the extra credit. (Anonymous -- please come forward.)

Tomorrow: a photo gallery by SAIS Bologna students showing Bologna and the Bologna Center

Nelson Graves

Monday, December 20, 2010

Getting a (social) life

Kristen Larson is a SAIS Bologna student who serves on the Student Government's External Relations Committee. She is from Seattle and a graduate of Georgetown. She studied in Milan for a year while in college and at SAIS is pursuing a concentration in International Law and Organizations while working on her Arabic. Co-president of the BC Gastronomica club, Kristen discusses the social scene at the Bologna Center. She can talk about prosciutto for hours.

The best part about the SAIS Bologna social life for me is that in 30 years I will be able to open my photo albums from this year and say with nostalgia, “Ah, yes, remember when the Secretary of State dressed up as Santa Claus and serenaded the incumbent Prime Minister of Belgium with a heartfelt rendition of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’?” And other scenes that can be less safely described in a blog.

They say that students who come to SAIS Bologna are a self-selecting bunch: hard-working, talented and prepared to appreciate all that living abroad has to offer. A scan of the library at 10 pm on Tuesday is proof we are committed to our studies. A visit at 10 pm on Friday shows we can also enjoy life outside the Center.

"Bored” is an adjective that I have retired from my vocabulary. Call it “making friends,” “exploring the cultural offerings of Bologna,” “networking” -- my daily planner has never been so thoroughly covered in pencil. This has been true since the first week in August when no one had Internet service or cell phones, yet somehow we managed to show up at the same restaurant at the same time.

 BC Gastronomica at Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Tuscany
Most evenings begin with an email from one student to the entire class with a proposal: a run to the hills outside Bologna, a bar crawl in the centro storico, ice-skating before class, a potluck dinner, a guided tour of prosciutto and mortadella vendors at the central market. And these are just examples from last week.

Group activities -- be it a quiet dinner out, a major concert (Kings of Leon and Arcade Fire are the two most recent bands to descend on this town) or a quick trip to the neighborhood gelateria -- tend to morph into all-school affairs. While it would be a stretch to say that I am friends with everyone, I know the names of all of my fellow students. The gatherings are international affairs. At the last party I attended, I recall speaking English, Italian, Arabic, Spanish and some of my pathetic German. And that is absolutely normal.

Some of the most fun I have had at SAIS has been at official functions held at the school: guest lectures followed by receptions, an Austrian-style Christmas party held at the SAIS caffè, a 14-turkey Thanksgiving dinner in the lecture hall. Many other activities are led by students: driving to Chianti to dine at a famous butcher shop, grape-picking and lunch at a local winery, watching fireworks in Piazza Maggiore on the feast day of Bologna’s patron saint. In February most of the class will bus to Vienna to attend the annual Austrian ball hosted by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Turkey time at SAIS Bologna
It can be equally fun to explore on your own. Every Monday and Wednesday night I don a heavy white robe and attend a judo class with fifteen Italian men. My roommate attends free Italian classes around the corner from our house. In September, a crew of SAIS students headed to nearby Parma for the International Festival of Prosciutto. In October, several students rented a car and drove to Turin for the Salone del Gusto, the biannual food festival of the Slow Food movement. Last weekend, I took the train to the Italian Alps for a conference where I made dozens of contacts in Italy, Europe and the U.S. government, not to mention several other graduate students in my field from around the world.

Kristen enjoys prosciutto
in Parma
We have already developed certain habits that will be difficult to shake next year. We greet each other with “Ciao!” and prefer “Va bene!” to “OK.” We have grown accustomed to the coffee break in the middle of our two-hour classes when we  forget for a moment about International Law and trade gossip and sports stats with our professors. We Americans note that we are talking about American football when we are not talking about soccer. We are all wondering with some concern where in DC we are going to be able to gather with our classmates for a glass of prosecco at 4 pm on Wednesdays.

As for sleep, I can do that in two days when I go home for the holidays.

Kristen Larson (BC11)

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Economics requirement (gulp)

The application puzzle is coming together. You’ve hammered out your CV, your statement of purpose is almost ready, you've contacted your referees, your university is sending us your transcripts. Now you're thinking: "There is something missing. What could it be? Oh, I know! It’s Economics!"

Most of you are considering applying to SAIS because the master's program is unique. There is the opportunity to study in Bologna and Washington on campuses that complement each other. There are vast opportunities to learn languages. And there is Economics, truly one of SAIS's distinguishing features.

I studied law, not "the dismal science", at university. It was not until I listened to Çiğdem Akin, resident professor of Economics at SAIS Bologna, that I began to grasp the importance of this subject to an understanding of international relations. Put simply, it is difficult if not impossible to appreciate how the world works without understanding Economics. Economics permeates all areas of study at SAIS and, more broadly, provides the context and even the motivation for countless decisions by individuals and policymakers.

Here is an explanation of the importance of Economics at SAIS. "Whether you are interested in pursuing a career in international finance, public policy, business, or economic development, our program provides students with the knowledge, skills and abilities to succeed in both the public and private sector."

An example: my Admissions colleague Nelson Graves had had little if any Economics before coming to SAIS Bologna. In his first journalism job after graduating, he covered international finance from Washington and had a front-row seat on Latin America's debt crisis in the 1980s.

You may appreciate why you will be studying Economics at SAIS and how you will benefit. You should also know that to start classes, you will need to grasp the basics of both micro- and macroeconomics. You can satisfy this requirement through introductory courses, either as an undergraduate or independently. SAIS offers an online course during the summer before classes start to those without the basics. The choice is yours, and it's best that you consider as soon as possible how you will meet the requirement.

If you are not sure whether the course you plan on taking is right, send us an email with the course syllabus and we will let you know whether it meets the requirement.

There are also Economics requirements for graduating from SAIS. But that will be discussed in a future post by Professor Akin. So stay tuned.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Follow us

Thinking of attending a graduate school in international relations? Perhaps interested in the SAIS Bologna Center? Or maybe you have already decided to apply?

If so, this blog is for you. We try to give tips on applying and an idea of what SAIS Bologna is about. We welcome comments and feedback. We understand a decision about graduate school is a big one, and we would like to help.

Bologna under the snow
In earlier posts, we gave background on Johns (with an "s") Hopkins University, explained the differences and similarities between SAIS DC and SAIS Bologna, provided some tips on starting an application and on your statement of purpose and launched a weekly quiz. (Ilektra of Greece was the winner.)

If you'd like to stay in touch with this blog, why not click the "Follow" button on the upper right-hand side of the home page and register? That way you will be alerted when it is updated.

In coming days we will post:
- Tips on letters of recommendation
- A gallery of photographs of Bologna taken by current students
- A rundown on student social life
- Examples of student publications at the Bologna Center
- A note from the head of the Student Government Association
- An explanation of our Career Services office and alumni network
- A description of the economics and language programs at SAIS Bologna
- A note from the director of the Center for Constitutional Studies and Democratic Development
- Tips on standardized tests, CVs and financial aid

What do you think we should write about? Let us know. You can either comment directly on the blog, or write an email to me ( or to my colleague in Bologna Admissions, Amina Abdiuahab (

This blog is for you, and we'll tailor it to your needs.

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Window on Yourself

Just what counts most in an application to SAIS?

There are many elements -- an academic transcript, a CV, letters of recommendation. In the case of non-Americans who apply to the Bologna Center, we require proof of English proficiency. All of this contributes to the picture of you that will be seen by the Admissions committee.

One of the most important pieces, because it offers you a chance to distinguish yourself and to put your mark on the application, is the statement of aims.

We receive lots of questions about this document. That's in part because it is not such a widespread practice in some countries outside the United States. But also because candidates quite rightly wonder what it is that they should squeeze into the 500 to 600 words making up the statement.

So what makes a solid statement of purpose?

Porticos - by Laura Moens BC'11
First, put yourself in the shoes of an Admissions committee member. Typically this person -- an Admissions Office expert, a SAIS administrator, a faculty member, perhaps a SAIS student -- will be reading a number of applications. They will want to know what distinguishes you from the pack. We are not talking about grandstanding. How would you stand out at SAIS? How would you make a difference afterwards in a career?

The statement of purpose is a window on you -- your formative experiences, values, character and promise. That's a lot to express in such a tight space. But you can save space by ensuring that the statement is not:

  • a list of accomplishments
  • a repeat of your CV
  • an essay on how to save the world
(I was tempted to say that the writing should not be full of flourishes, but now remember that on the application to the college I ended up attending, I wrote a poem. Lucky Admissions committee. In your case, you might consider a tightly written, well crafted essay that has no extraneous words, no grammatical or spelling errors and stands on its own two legs.)

In Monday's post, we discussed the first steps in preparing an application, and they were to ask yourself two questions: Why am I interested in SAIS? And how would a SAIS education benefit me?

The good news is that the answers to those questions will make up the backbone of your statement of purpose. You'll be in a better position to say:
  • what makes you special
  • how you would contribute to SAIS
  • what you might do with a SAIS education
Finally, as a former wire service reporter, I can't resist these tips:
  • It's harder to write tight than loose; make sure each word counts.
  • The length limit is there for a reason; use it to your advantage by saying all you have to say, and saying it well, in that space.
  • Use your voice, not someone else's; make sure you are sincere.
  • This is a personal essay, not an academic paper; you can be creative.
Obviously there is no one way to write a statement of purpose. If anyone would like to discuss the essay, feel free to send me an email. I'd be happy to discuss it.

(Yesterday we posted our first quiz. Your answers are still welcome. Hint: the right answer is not hard.)

Nelson Graves

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Enough lecturing about applying to SAIS Bologna. Time for a break. So here is the first of periodic quizzes we'll run on this blog. If you have the answer, simply send it in as a "comment" along with your name. We'll publicize the name of the person who sends in the first correct answer and give the correct response the next day.

So here we go:

What was the name of the founder of the Bologna Center and in what year was it founded?

Don't be afraid to be famous -- we look forward to your answers.
The founder is in this picture. Extra credit: Can you name the other person?

Monday, December 13, 2010

First Steps

So you’re considering applying to SAIS Bologna. You’ve had a peek at our website. You’ve asked around, spoken to your friends, family, maybe a professor. Seems a good move. What now?

"I better get started with that application," you might say. "It's a lot of paper work." In fact, the paper work is not that hard.

Before you embark on the application, you might consider asking yourself two questions -- simple but important questions: Why are you interested? And how would a SAIS degree benefit you?

Your future could depend on your answers.

Our application process is not unusual: we require transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose. SAIS Bologna encourages applicants to take one of two standardized tests, either the GRE or the GMAT, but does not require them. For non-native speakers of English, there is a language requirement. Here are more details on the application process.

The strongest applications come from those who have stepped back and taken the time to consider what they can bring to the institution and how their studies relate to their goals in life.

Here are some questions that can help any candidate:
  • How does SAIS fit with my personal development?
  • What makes me special as a candidate?
  • What would I want to study at SAIS? How could that help me in a career choice?
For most of us, these are not easy questions to answer. It can help a lot to speak to people before committing your thoughts to paper (or a digital file). We encourage prospective candidates to contact us – via email, the phone, Skype, our website, this blog – so they can get to know us better and vice versa.

We can put you in touch with faculty, alumni and SAIS students to help you focus your thoughts. Our ultimate goal is to help individuals find their way in an interconnected world – and ultimately to have an impact. Please don't be shy -- get to know us so we know one another better.

With answers to those simple questions, you'll have more confidence in your own application and you'll be even more committed. The paperwork will then be a piece of cake.

Friday, December 10, 2010


In yesterday’s post, I explained the names of our two different campuses and noted that SAIS is part of The Johns Hopkins University. So you might ask: What are the differences between SAIS Washington and SAIS Bologna?

First, some crucial similarities:

  • On both campuses, graduate students undertake a challenging English-language course of study in international relations.
  • A common interdisciplinary curriculum emphasizes economics and requires proficiency in at least one foreign language.
  • SAIS provides a professional education that allows students to concentrate in either a region of the world or a functional area such as international development.
  • Graduates from both go on to a wide variety of jobs; many take advantage of SAIS's global network of alumni.
  • Both campuses are self-contained and independent units, with SAIS DC on Massachusetts Avenue (also called Embassy Row) in the U.S. capital, and SAIS Bologna in its own building next to the University of Bologna.
  • Both campuses are very international, with students and faculty coming from dozens of countries.

We often say that SAIS is one school with two campuses. About half the students start in Bologna and the other half in DC. When they leave, they are prepared for a host of professional challenges.

The main differences relate to geography and administration.

Bologna is a medieval city with a long academic history – the University of Bologna is believed to be the oldest continually operating university in the world. Washington is the capital of the United States. For many students, the opportunity to be exposed to a European and Mediterranean perspective in Bologna for one year, with another year in Washington, is a unique educational experience. We believe it is one of the key differentiators for SAIS.

Each campus has its own Administration. As the admissions requirements and procedures differ somewhat, both campuses have their own Admissions Office, reflecting mainly divergent educational traditions in and outside of the United States. Please keep in mind:

  • U.S. citizens and permanent residents of the U.S. apply through the SAIS DC Admissions Office, whether they want to attend SAIS DC or SAIS Bologna.
  • Other nationalities apply through either DC or Bologna, depending on the campus they wish to attend during their first year.

For more information on applying to SAIS Bologna, click here. For SAIS DC, click here.

Beyond the differences and similarities, we remain convinced that SAIS Bologna and SAIS DC offer experiences and outlooks that complement each other for the betterment of our students.

Nelson Graves 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What is in a name?

Confused over our name? Don't worry, you are not the first.

Our graduate program is part of The Johns Hopkins University, which is based in Baltimore, Maryland. Johns Hopkins, or JHU, opened in 1876 as a research university and remains one of the world's top centers of learning.

(We are often asked: Why in the dickens is there an "s" at the end of "Johns"? The simple answer is that Mr. Johns Hopkins's first name started as a surname. The great-grandmother of the inventor and philanthropist was named Margaret Johns, and hence his first name. Hopkins arranged for the incorporation of both JHU and The Johns Hopkins Hospital, but he died three years before JHU opened its doors.)

The School of Advanced International Studies, widely known as SAIS, was founded in 1943 in Washington, DC, and became part of JHU in 1950. Paul Nitze, a prominent U.S. government official who helped to shape defense policy over the course of several administrations, was one of the founders of SAIS, and the graduate school is named in his honor. So SAIS's full name is a mouthful: The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

The Bologna Center was founded in 1955 by a small group of scholars as the European component of SAIS. C. Grove Haines, a diplomatic historian at SAIS, came to Europe in the early 1950s determined to establish an American graduate school on the continent. He conceived of a school where students from Europe and the United States could learn from each other how to bring about a new Europe devastated by war.

Haines was able to open the doors of the Bologna Center in 1955 to 10 students who gathered in a borrowed building. He served as director until 1972, when he retired to a Tuscan farmhouse. The Center has since expanded considerably, extended its curriculum and greeted students from all continents. SAIS Bologna has graduated more than 6,000 alumni from more than 105 countries.

Today nearly 800 students study international relations at either SAIS Washington or SAIS Bologna. The easiest way to refer to to the two campuses is SAIS DC and SAIS Bologna. ("SAIS" is pronounced as "sigh-e-s".) But if you refer to us as the Bologna Center, we will understand. And in much of the city of Bologna, home to what is believed to be the oldest continually operating university in the world, SAIS Bologna is known as "la Johns Hopkins".

Tomorrow: SAIS DC and SAIS BC

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Debate Displaced in Time

It has been a captivating first few months for me at SAIS Bologna after more than two decades as a foreign correspondent. This week we opened our doors to several dozen prospective candidates, and the day-long event was a reminder of what makes this job and the Bologna Center special.

A total of 39 students from 13 countries came to our annual Open Day this Monday. I had my share of secret worries before the day started. We had flagged the event on our website and even in an advertisement with a major global publication. But would those who registered show up? Wouldn’t many choose to stay home rather than travel to Bologna, which is unique all year round but more difficult, shall we say, to appreciate in the December cold?

My fears eased as candidates filed into the lobby of via Belmeloro 11. Some had travelled from London, others from Sofia or Athens. Introducing themselves to Amina and me, our guests showed the poise that is typical of SAIS Bologna students who tackle graduate school with the confidence and gusto that set them apart.

The purpose of Open Day is to give potential applicants a chance to get to know SAIS Bologna better. Compared to when I attended SAIS in 1981-83 – before Internet and email – so much more information is at a candidate’s fingertips. But we understand that the human element is an important part of our program, and Open Day is a chance to connect with the people who make up SAIS Bologna and embody its values.

Ken Keller, our director, greeted the students gathered around a large table in the 4th floor penthouse overlooking Bologna's centro storico. A chemical engineer by training, Ken is an example of the different paths that can lead to SAIS Bologna. “The Bologna Center opened 56 years ago with the aim of promoting the trans-Atlantic dialogue in its classrooms and its student life,” he said. “With the U.S. and Europe each facing a host of global challenges that can only be met by working together, that dialogue is more important than ever.”

Over the course of the day, our guests met faculty, staff and students, and asked questions about the curriculum, student life, tuition, the nuances of applying and career opportunities. Our visitors stayed with students in their apartments, ate lunch and shared an aperitivo in Giulio’s caffé, then ventured into the covered streets of this medieval city.

A word on the values I mentioned: the candidates’ diverse backgrounds reflect SAIS’s commitment to a  global outlook. The interchanges gave candidates an apt foretaste of the cohesiveness that characterizes the SAIS Bologna community. The contrasting points of view expressed at the end of Prof. John Harper’s lecture on the first Gulf crisis 20 years ago captured a crucially unique aspect of SAIS: the opportunity to study for a year in Europe and a second in Washington, and in so doing to participate in what Ken Keller calls “a debate displaced in time.”

In coming posts we’ll try to communicate what makes SAIS Bologna special while engaging with prospective candidates over the application process. I welcome your comments. Tomorrow: What is in a name?

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Welcome to our new SAIS Bologna Admissions blog. Our goal is simple: to explain the admissions process and answer questions from prospective candidates. We'll start regular posts next week when we hold our annual Open Day at the Bologna Center. We will address questions about application procedures and explain why SAIS can be the right choice. We'd like to connect to applicants, and so encourage you to sign up as a follower and to send in comments.

Thank you for visiting this blog. We look forward to keeping in touch.

SAIS Bologna Admissions team