Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Welcome to SAIS Bologna

Students from the SAIS Bologna class of 2012 have started pre-term and were welcomed to the Center by Director Kenneth Keller at a ceremony on August 29.

For a peek at the students and the ceremony, check out this video:

If you are receiving this blog post through email, click here to see the video.

Tomorrow: Four incoming students give their first impressions of SAIS Bologna.

Amina Abdiuahab

No ivory tower

SAIS Bologna is first and foremost an academic experience. But don't expect an ivory tower.

Erik Jones
Our faculty have their feet on the ground and are engaged in some of the world's most pressing issues. Students benefit from the mix of theory and practice, not least of all when they speak to potential employers who are looking for savvy, plugged-in graduates.

If you have a few minutes, read this newspaper column by Prof. Erik Jones. Many of our readers know already that Prof. Jones heads the European Studies department at SAIS Bologna. He is also in the throes of launching the Bologna Institute for Policy Research.

Yet his head is anywhere but in the clouds, as you'll see from the article. There is no more pressing issue in Europe right now than the future of the euro zone and of the European Union. The kind of issue that is tackled full on by Prof. Jones and students at SAIS Bologna.

If you have a few more moments, you might like to check out contributions by other SAIS Bologna professors to the understanding of global current events.

Nelson Graves

Monday, August 29, 2011

Heat, angst and excitement -- a student's first impressions

Who said SAIS students are all the same?

Jamie Pleydell-Bouverie studied Theology as an undergraduate. SAIS's curriculum, heavy on economics and international relations, was not his bread and butter at Cambridge University. But he's taken the plunge at SAIS in hopes of one day working for an international organization promoting human rights. He has the United Nations, an NGO or the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in mind -- the kinds of organizations where SAIS students find work.

Jamie Pleydell-Bouverie and
Ilektra Tsakalidou
 on the first day of pre-term
(Speaking of being out of the box, some of our readers will remember that the SAIS Bologna Director, Kenneth Keller, is a chemical engineer by education. He teaches a course in science, technology and international relations here. The SAIS curriculum has evolved in many ways since it was founded in the aftermath of World War Two.)

SAIS accepts students from many different backgrounds and nationalities. We feel the diversity strengthens the experience.

Jamie describes himself as a keen sportsman -- he played rugby and cricket at Cambridge, and also skied -- and likes drama, both as an actor and a director. You think Jamie will have trouble finding a cricket pitch in Bologna? Think again. The Bologna Cricket Club has been going strong since 1983.

Here are some of Jamie's first impressions:

The last email I picked up before boarding my easyJet flight to Bologna -- whilst grumbling about my measly 20kg baggage allowance -- was from Nelson Graves, asking if I could write a short piece on my “first impressions” of Bologna. I therefore arrived with a heightened self-awareness of my immediate thoughts and hoping that I would instantly be struck by some profound reflections of this wonderful city.

Alas, not.

From the moment I stepped off the plane all I could think about was how hot it was. OK, I am English -- 15 degrees is usually pretty good for a barbecue -- but it is seriously hot in Bologna at the moment. Arriving in jeans wasn’t the brightest of ideas.

It does not take me long, however, to be struck by some slightly less prosaic impressions. Firstly, Bologna is a very friendly city. My taxi driver finds my completely inadequate mastery of even the most basic Italian phrases amusing rather than rude. This is definitely a good sign. In fact, all the Bolognesi I have come across so far seem to be warm, cheerful and very welcoming.

Secondly, there is the city itself. Bologna is extraordinarily beautiful, with stunning red-brick towers and buildings, fabulous piazzas and charming winding backstreets. The Bologna panorama, which some of the best student apartments have terrific view of, is a truly spectacular sight.

Apart from perpetual angst about being behind on my calculus DVDs, I have been nothing but excited and exhilarated about being in Bologna for the coming year. And having met a good number of my fellow SAIS students already, I get the sense that this sentiment is pretty universal.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bits & Bobs

Today we offer some bits and pieces.

SAIS Bologna is running a month-long contest aimed at alumni. They have been asked to show what they miss most about their year in Bologna. It's a way of sharing memories and drawing the SAIS Bologna community closer together.

If you go to our home page and click on any of the pictures on the right under the heading "Summer Challenge", you will see contributions from alumni. After less than a week, the offerings include photographs, video and an essay from an alumna whose fondest memories will surprise and move you.

Most of our readers are not alumni and so would not want to participate in this contest -- even if the first prize is a dinner worth up to $600. But if you are a prospective applicant or an incoming student, you might like to take a peek at the contributions to see what Bologna has meant to our alumni, from the most recent graduates to those from earlier days.

Some of you may have noticed that we recently added some new features to this blog including a search function and a list of the labels or tags that we've used on posts. We'd like to start running occasional polls of readers to promote interactivity and stir ideas.

Our first poll aims to help us focus on what might interest our readers. We are asking you to tell us what kinds of polls you would like to see: polls on international economic issues, graduate study, SAIS Bologna, politics, global security, global social trends or technology.

After one week and with one week remaining, we've received only seven responses. We thank those who have taken the time to register their views; however, seven responses are not enough to give us a clear idea of what readers would prefer.

So please take a minute -- quite literally, a minute -- to vote on this poll so we know what kinds of polls would most interest you.

We watch our readership statistics with an eagle eye. (If you have a blog, I bet you do the same.) In any case, we've noticed a pickup in the number of readers who are shopping around for graduate schools. We know this because they are reading some of our earliest posts which laid out the basics of SAIS.

If you are considering applying to a graduate school in international relations, you might like to subscribe to this blog. It's an easy (and free) way to stay in touch and learn more about SAIS. We would encourage you to submit your email address in the "Follow by Email" section on the upper right hand of the main page. Up to you whether you'd like to become a Follower.

We encourage readers to send in feedback, either by using the comment boxes at the bottom of posts or by sending an email to

In the next few weeks, as our incoming students get their feet on the ground in Bologna, we'll turn our attention to those readers who know relatively little about SAIS. Our goal will be to give readers a sense of who and what we are, how the application process works, what is expected of candidates, how to learn more about us and how best to prepare an application.

We look forward to helping prospective candidates take the right decision as they -- you -- face the future.

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

SAIS Bologna's new offspring: Bologna Institute for Policy Research

Who needs another think tank? Or another acronym?

Well, SAIS Bologna.

In fact the Bologna Institute for Policy Research is not a think tank. According to its director, Erik Jones, it is an organic extension of SAIS Bologna's mission and will help spread an understanding of the work that is done at the Bologna Center.

Prof. Erik Jones,
BIPR director
The Institute -- BIPR for short -- is the brainchild of SAIS Bologna Director Kenneth Keller. "The idea behind the Institute is to take what we do at the Bologna Center and do it a little bit better," Prof. Jones explains in the video below.

That means leveraging research done by SAIS Bologna faculty, both resident and adjunct professors, and making it more widely known.

"We want people to know what is going on in the Bologna Center," said Jones, who is professor of European Studies.

You'll see on our visit of the Institute that it's still in its infancy. Kathryn Knowles, who is helping get BIPR on its feet, takes us on a brief tour. The hope is that the Institute, housed near SAIS Bologna's main building, will begin to hit its stride by the start of the academic year in early October.

What's in it for SAIS Bologna students? The Institute will offer opportunities to learn from some of the world's leading experts. It will promote the name of SAIS Bologna beyond the confines of the Bologna Center. That cannot hurt students when they start looking for a job.

And for those seeking to earn a few euros while at SAIS Bologna, the Institute will offer part-time work.

This year's students have the good luck to observe BIPR spread its wings and to benefit from the opportunities it will make available.

If you are receiving this blog post through email, click here to see the video.

Nelson Graves

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Apartment Hunt

You've heard us say before that one thing you need not to worry about when you arrive in Bologna is how to find an apartment. In previous posts we talked you through the process.

Today we'll show you how it's done.

Students signed up yesterday to visit apartments, and today the first tours took place. Several quickly found their spot for the year.

Soon other incoming students will be able to set their minds to rest, too.

Amina Abdiuahab

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A summer challenge

When John Harper, professor of American Foreign Policy, spoke to alumni last spring, he sought to sum up why he and other faculty have chosen to "tarry" at SAIS Bologna for many years (or decades, in Prof. Harper's case).

"Those who were associated with the Bologna Center -- from library stack attendants to members of the permanent and visiting faculty -- were all part of an intimate academic community such as one rarely finds today," Prof. Harper told the Alumni Weekend gathering, quoting from a 1977 obituary of the Bologna Center's founder, C. Grove Haines.

The word "community" comes up often when alumni talk about Bologna. SAIS Bologna tends to be an intense year that packs academic challenges, career planning and healthy socializing into a few months.

It may sound ironic, but the diversity of the student body contributes to the sense of togetherness. This coming year we have 202 students enrolled from 44 countries. That means everyone is in a minority of sorts. Even the 87 U.S. citizens are guests in a foreign country. Diversity in a common, intimate setting: it helps bring people together.

Helped by one of our most active alumni, Tom Tesluk (BC81/DC82), SAIS Bologna has decided to tap into that sense of community and at the same time have a bit of fun this summer.

We are asking alumni to show us what they miss most about Bologna -- and to show it to the world.

Starting this Friday, August 19, alumni can upload content capturing their feelings and memories -- text, photos, audio, video -- onto the SAIS Bologna website. The entries will be part of a five-week contest, or mission, with the content that captures the most votes from registered visitors winning a free dinner for six in the Italian restaurant of their choice.

I bring this to the attention of our readers because you may want to check out the content (by going to It will give those of you who are thinking of applying or even those enrolled for 2011-12 an idea of what our 6,700 alumni consider special about the place. I think much of the material will be imaginative and compelling. It should give a unique perspective on the Bologna Center.

Remember: our network of alumni is regularly cited as an advantage for SAIS students looking to plug into opportunities around the world.

Much is made of social media nowadays. This initiative seemed a natural: to harness the power of technology to bring our community even closer together.

Nelson Graves

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Housing and health insurance

Casa dolce casa

Anxious about finding a room in an unfamiliar country? Luckily, Salvatore La Ferlita is here to save the day.

As most incoming SAIS Bologna students know, Salvatore is the housing consultant who has helped students -- including Nelson Graves -- find accommodation in Bologna for more than three decades. As pre-term approaches, we are receiving more and more questions on accommodation. We'd like to set your minds to rest and reassure you that it will indeed be easy for you.

You can do better than this!
Salvatore will be available to show apartments starting on August 18. Students interested in using his services can sign up for an appointment from the afternoon of the 17th. Raffaella Besola at the reception will direct you to Salvatore's temporary office where you'll find a sign-up sheet. There are normally two tours each day: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. If there is adequate demand, Salvatore will also consider showing apartments on Saturday, August 20.

When you turn up for your appointment, Salvatore will ask you a few questions on your housing preferences: the type of flat you are looking for, the maximum distance from the Center, the number of bedrooms, the price range. Then you will hop on the mini-bus and start the tour. Once you find an apartment you are comfortable with, you will be asked to secure the room by paying the first month's rent and a security deposit of two months' rent. The security deposit is returned at the end of the year provided there is no unusual damage or outstanding bills. If there is, the costs are taken out of the deposit.

As for roommates, if you do not have someone in mind before arriving, you can hook up with other students who are looking just as you are.

In case you find a flat and later realize that you are not happy with it, Salvatore will help you find another suitable apartment.

After you have paid the deposit, Salvatore will hand over the keys to the apartment -- the end of your housing search. In Italy they say: "E' come bere un bicchiere d'acqua." ("It's as easy as drinking a glass of water".)

La salute prima di tutto! 

This is a common phrase in Italian: "Your health comes first." Health insurance should be a priority for you -- during your year in Italy and afterwards.

If you are a citizen of a European Union member state, you do not need to buy health insurance before coming to Bologna. However, you will need to get a European Health Insurance Card. Such a card, which you can obtain from the authorities in your home town, will give you the same access to medical assistance as Italians.

If you are not a citizen of an EU member state, you will need health insurance coverage.

If you were admitted through the SAIS DC Admissions Office, you are automatically signed up for a health plan administered by Aetna. If you already have adequate insurance, you can waive the Aetna insurance, but you will have to prove that you have equivalent coverage. For more information on how to waive out of the Aetna plan, please contact Please note that this applies only if you were admitted through SAIS Washington.

Non-E.U. students who were admitted through SAIS Bologna are expected to arrive in Italy with health insurance. You need not to worry about waiving out of the Aetna insurance because you are not signed up for it. You will need to have a health plan that will provide you with adequate assistance in case you need it. What is adequate? It can depend on your personal circumstances. Please consult with family members if in doubt.

We urge all non-E.U. students, including U.S. citizens, to subscribe to the Italian emergency insurance which will cover you in case of emergency hospitalization.

If you have any questions, you know where to find us!

Please remember, keep the Guidebook for Incoming Students close at hand for answers to questions you might have.

Amina Abdiuahab 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Here are some improvements

Earlier this summer a number of our readers responded to a survey about this blog. We published a summary of the survey last month.

In response to readers' comments, today we've introduced two gadgets:
  • You can now search the blog using the search function on the right-hand side of the page.
  • We have tagged all posts, and you can search by clicking on the labels, also on the right-hand side of the page.
We hope these gadgets mark an improvement. We will make other changes, hopefully for the better, in coming weeks.

Remember there are various ways to keep in touch with the blog. I'll mention two in particular:
  • Subscribe by email by typing your email address in the box on the right-hand side of the page and pressing "Submit".
  • Set up an RSS feed (how you do this can depend on your browser).
  • We are also on the SAIS Admissions Facebook page.
We like to receive feedback, so don't hesitate to send in a comment at the end of a post or drop an email to

We hope a new group of readers -- prospective candidates -- start to tune into the blog in coming weeks. Already we've noticed that we are receiving more hits from individuals who may not know much about SAIS. We'll be glad to throw a spotlight on SAIS Bologna in coming months as these readers decide whether it's the right graduate program for them.

In the meantime, you know we love maps, so here is one showing the 10 countries which have generated the greatest number of pageviews. If you click on the placemarks, you can see the name of the country and its ranking.

View Readership rankings in a larger map

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bert Koenders: From SAIS to the Ivory Coast

Bert Koenders attended SAIS Bologna in 1979-80 and received his master's from SAIS DC in 1981.

Yesterday he was named Special U.N. Representative to the Ivory Coast.

Koenders's path from SAIS to the Ivory Coast is unusual -- each of us carves out a unique place in the world -- but he shares much in common with other SAIS alumni.

Here are some of the courses he took at SAIS Bologna before moving on to SAIS DC where he concentrated in African Studies:
  • International Monetary Theory
  • Core Course: Evolution of the International System
  • Modern Italian Politics
  • Core Course: America and the World since 1945
  • Postwar European Political Economies
Bert Koenders
Those courses, or adaptations thereof, are still taught in Bologna. Generations of SAIS Bologna students have benefited from these courses. Three of his former professors still teach here.

You can get a feel for Koenders's achievements here. He has been a cabinet minister in the Dutch government; worked on peace initiatives in Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan; served with the European Commission, and chaired parliamentary groups tied to the World Bank, the IMF and NATO. I've left a lot out in the interest of brevity.

Closer to our home, Koenders taught conflict management at SAIS Bologna between 2000 and 2002. You can read a profile of him here in La Rivista, a SAIS Bologna magazine.

“We cannot be an island of wealth when there are poverty and conflict-stricken countries like Sudan. We cannot be environmentally irresponsible when environmental destruction and degradation go hand-in-hand with poverty," he told the magazine.

Candidates often -- and rightly -- ask what kinds of jobs they might get after finishing SAIS.

How about politician, professor, peace negotiator and diplomat?

Nelson Graves

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Connecting to Bologna: "It keeps the Center very lively"

I've heard many explanations of why SAIS ended up in Bologna. There's no dispute that C. Grove Haines chose Italy because of his longstanding love of the country, and it is said he selected Bologna because of his close association with the then rettore ('Il Magnifico') of the University of Bologna.

There is doubtless more to it. One student wrote a titillating thesis several years back that linked the Bologna Center in its infancy to Cold War cloak-and-dagger intrigue.

But let's not go there today. Instead, imagine a U.S.-style graduate institution in an Italian city. What to do?

From the start, the Bologna Center has sought to knit ties to its host city. SAIS Bologna is unique for sure, but it has not sought to be an island unto itself. Haines himself and then his successors have recognized that to thrive, the Center needs to be an active and responsible member of the Bologna community. Think of the Center as a plant and Bologna as the soil.

In 1964, Luciano Finelli founded L'Associazione di studio et cultura italo-americana to strengthen ties between the medieval city and Americans living here. It organized cultural events and courses in American English that to this day are attended by Bolognesi and foreigners living in Bologna.

Twenty years later, Giuseppe Gazzoni-Frascara started L'Associazione Bologna - Johns Hopkins University. For 17 years the group provided the Bologna Center with grants and student scholarships.

Today, these two organizations are joined in the Associazione italo-americana 'Luciano Finelli'. The association is housed in the Bologna Center and attracts large numbers of citizens from outside SAIS to its wide-ranging cultural events and English courses.

I had a word with Association Director Lisa Gelhaus, who was born in Wisconsin and has lived in Bologna for more than 23 years. In the video below she talks about the Association's work, its plans for the coming year and its habit -- wake up, incoming students -- to hire SAIS Bologna students from time to time.

As Lisa says of the Association: "It creates a community."

Nelson Graves