Wednesday, February 29, 2012

SAIS Bologna signs accord with French "grande école"

SAIS Bologna has reached a partnership with a leading French university that will enable students to receive two master's degrees in as many years, adding to the growing list of dual degree programs offered to SAIS students.

The cooperative degree options allow students to receive two advanced degrees in less time than it would take if they tackled the programs separately. That can accelerate participants' careers, broaden students' horizons and save them money.

Tuesday's signing ceremony in Lille, France
The latest agreement, signed on Tuesday, links SAIS Bologna with Sciences Po Lille, one of France's grandes écoles specializing in political science, international relations and economics.

Both SAIS Bologna and Sciences Po Lille are confident the agreement will stimulate the movement of outstanding students between the two institutions and deepen the already diverse makeup of their student bodies.

The linkup follows an agreement reached last year that allows SAIS students who are admitted to the INSEAD business school outside of Paris to earn both an MA and an MBA in five semesters.

SAIS Bologna has a longstanding dual degree agreement with the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna. More recently it reached similar accords with the University of Bologna.

In the case of SAIS Bologna's agreements with Sciences Po Lille and the University of Bologna, a student can study for one year at either of the partner institutions and one year at the Bologna Center and receive master's degrees from both programs.

In the United States, SAIS has dual degree agreements leading to an MA in combination with:

  • an MBA from either the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania or the Tuck School at Dartmouth;
  • a Master of Science in Public Health from The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health;
  • a Juris Doctorate degree from either Stanford University Law School or the University of Virginia Law School;
  • a Master of Public Administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs of Syracuse University.

I traveled to Lille, France on Tuesday to sign the agreement with Sciences Po Lille Director Pierre Mathiot and Patrick Mardellat, director of international relations at Sciences Po Lille, part of the network of nine publicly owned instituts d'études politiques spread throughout France.

We signed the agreement at the regional prefecture in the presence of U.S. Embassy Minister Counselor Philip Breeden and several hundred high school students aspiring to attend Sciences Po Lille -- and perhaps one day SAIS.

Nelson Graves

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A key to understanding international relations

It is crucial to economic growth, global security and the environment. It has major implications for global affairs in coming decades. In the words of SAIS Dean Jessica Einhorn, it "is key to understanding the foreign policy of nations."


The latest edition of SAISPHERE, the magazine for SAIS alumni and friends, explores the thorny issue of agriculture from a variety of perspectives -- not surprising considering the breadth of expertise at SAIS.

Robert Thompson, a SAIS visiting scholar and rural development expert with experience in the private and multilateral spheres, examines the challenge of feeding the equivalent of two more Chinas between now and mid-century.

Thompson is developing an agriculture-focused curriculum at SAIS, "blazing the trail to restore agriculture to its rightful place in international studies," according to Einhorn.

The 128-page magazine looks at lagging agricultural reforms in India, the reshaping of China's farm output to feed a rapidly expanding middle class, the links between food prices and economic growth -- and between global warming and food security.

Thompson sums up the challenge in his essay: "World demand for agricultural products may double between now and the middle of this century -- but by then there will be at most 10 percent more land and less freshwater available."

Charles Pearson, SAIS professor emeritus, puts it succinctly: "Do biofuels mandates and subsidies disrupt world food supplies and inflate food prices while inadvertently contributing to global warming?"

Important issues and questions for the future of nation states and our planet.

Nelson Graves

Friday, February 24, 2012

A winning photograph from the Sahara

SAIS Bologna student Rilind Latifi was camel trekking in the Sahara during the semester break in January. It was early in the morning. The sun was just over the horizon. Here's what he saw:

With this creative photo, he won the 2nd annual "Show Your SAIS Pride" photo contest.

What inspired Rilind?

“It was early in the morning, actually just after sunrise, and I was taking pictures of other people when I noticed my own shadow," said Rilind, who comes from Kosovo.

"I wrote SAIS on the sand and then waved at my own shadow while trying to balance the camera with the other hand. I like how it turned out as my shadow is super long because the sun was not very high.”

The judges liked it, too.

For more winning photographs from the contest, click here.

Nelson Graves

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Your interview

Non-U.S. applicants to SAIS Bologna have either heard or will be hearing from us soon about their interviews.

We have published a schedule of face-to-face interviews on our website:
  • Washington, DC: February 29, March 1
  • Vienna: March 2, 3
  • Paris: March 3
  • Istanbul: March 3
  • Athens: March 5
  • New York: March 5
  • London: March 5, 6
  • Lille: March 6
  • Bologna: March 6, 8, 12, 13, 14
  • Brussels: March 9
  • Frankfurt: March 10
If on your application you said you would like to be interviewed in one of these cities, you should have received or will very soon be receiving an email from Amina scheduling your session. Likewise, if you checked phone/Skype, you'll soon be receiving an email with the proposed date and time.

Not everyone can participate in a face-to-face interview. Our candidates this year come from 63 countries spread around the globe. It would not be fair to make them travel long distances to meet a member of our Admissions Committee.

Whether your interview is in person, over the phone or via Skype, it is a chance for you to put your best foot forward and to convince the interviewer -- more often than not a faculty member -- that SAIS Bologna is the right place for you and that it will benefit from your presence next year.

If you are preparing for your interview, a useful starting point is this post featuring Prof. Erik Jones.

What should you expect in the interview?
  • You'll be able to elaborate on your dossier, which the interviewer will have read. Why international relations? Why SAIS? Why Bologna and not DC? What sets you apart from the crowd? What can you bring to SAIS Bologna that is special?
  • You'll have a chance to discuss a current event. It won't be a quiz. It will be on a topic that arises naturally from your background and your application. There will be no right or wrong answer, just a chance for you to express a reasoned opinion.
  • You'll be able to ask questions about SAIS. Not questions, of course, that can be answered by checking our website. But more subtle questions that show that you have thought hard about what it would be like to study there.
By the way, as you prepare for your SAIS Bologna interview, you are developing skills that you will use for the rest of your life. A SAIS interview is not that different from a job interview. In both cases a few golden rules apply:
  • Be honest and straight-forward. Don't exaggerate. Be able to discuss your strengths and to acknowledge weaknesses and how you aim to address them.
  • The more you know about the institution, the easier it will be to convince the interviewer that you belong there.
  • When answering a question, try to find examples from your own experience that illustrate how you have handled situations. Generalities are not as gripping as specific examples of behavior.
  • Stick to the point at hand. If asked a question, answer it and don't wander too much. Keep your answers succinct. If you find yourself reaching for words, you're probably off track. If you don't understand the question, be sure to tell the interviewer.
Finally, a tip my children will recognize: Get a good night's sleep.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a note.

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

57 years young

Happy birthday, SAIS Bologna.

C. Grove Haines and Clare Booth Luce
at the Bologna Center inaugural ceremony
Fifty-seven years ago today, the Bologna Center was inaugurated with a colorful ceremony and procession of dignitaries including U.S. Ambassador to Italy Clare Booth Luce and Italian Education Minister Giuseppe Ermini. The events culminated at the University of Bologna's resplendent Aula Magna, a reminder of the city's nine centuries of academic leadership and renown.

The Center started in borrowed rooms with four (all male) professors and 10 students from Austria, France, Italy and the United States. Six years after its founding, the program moved into a new building at via Belmeloro 11 where it has stayed since.

Today, there are some 190 students from 39 countries, hailing from all of the inhabited continents. At the end of this academic year they will join the more than 6,500 Bologna Center alumni from more than 110 countries.

Students in the early days
There is no shortage of legends about the origins of the Bologna Center. What is sure is the founder, C. Grove Haines, had a strong scholarly and emotional attachment to Italy. Some say U.S. intelligence funds may have supported the Center in its early days.

If so, could it be said that the money was well spent for Johns Hopkins, SAIS, Italy and the global community that the Center serves?

As this magazine commemorating SAIS Bologna's 10-year anniversary so eloquently put it, the early students were "growing up when the New Europe was being born of ashes and a dream; tomorrow they will help to prod the vision to fulfillment."

Is SAIS Bologna still relevant?

Consider SAIS's mission as defined in the magazine: "to prepare the best available candidates for careers in internationally-oriented areas of government, business, teaching, and research."

It's much the same today, 57 years later.

Class of 2011 in front of via Belmeloro 11

Nelson Graves

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Food for Thought: "We bring the bread..."

Today we turn over the journal to SAIS Bologna students who have launched a discussion group called Food for Thought. The founders, Hanns Koenig, Elizabeth Alonso-Hallifax and John Cheng, tell us about the origins of the group. In the video, Talha Jalal delivers a presentation on "Silence as the Perfect Language."

Towards the end of last semester, we had an idea. Since the Bologna Center has such an impressive and diverse student body, there should be a forum where students can talk to each other about the topics they are most interested in and passionate about.

John Cheng, Hanns Koenig and
Elizabeth Alonso-Hallifax
This is how Food for Thought was born: a weekly lunchtime discussion group that is entirely student-led. Each session starts with a 10-15 minute presentation by a student, who then leads a discussion for another 45 minutes or so. It's over lunch, pot-luck style. As our tag line goes, “We bring the bread, you bring the toppings!”

After receiving positive comments from students and funding from the Student Government, and allaying some lingering concerns over excessive bread crumbs, we were off.

Our first discussions were about the euro zone crisis, chess as a means of analyzing risk and, as you can see below in the video clip, “silence as the perfect language”. The diversity of topics makes the discussions interesting and reflects the students' many areas of expertise. Sometimes the subject is completely unrelated to foreign policy. As Talha Jalal says in the video, "This has nothing to do with international relations". In the next few weeks we will continue the mix with talks on U.S. cultural diplomacy in Afghanistan and Iraq, the "genius" of Richard Nixon and Rawlsian justice.

Feedback from the BC community has been terrific. Members of staff have started "crashing" the events. One of the best things about grad school is learning from fellow students: this series has allowed us to do that in a gratifying way.

We plan to export the concept to DC next year and would of course be delighted if some of next year’s bolognesi chose to continue it on this side of the Atlantic as well. After all, almost every international relations graduate school student should be a strong supporter of the principle of free food ... and free speech.

Hanns, Elizabeth and John

If you are reading this on email, you can view the video here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"It has been a fantastic experience"

"Whether my application is successful or not, it has been a fantastic experience applying to study with you."

That was written by a candidate for admission who participated in a survey we ran earlier this month. Of all the feedback from the poll, that sentence perhaps meant the most to me.

The poll was anonymous, so I know nothing about the person who wrote those words. I don't know the individual's name or where they are from; whether they are male or female; whether they have a strong or modest academic background.

But I do know the author has an admirable attitude that will provide them spiritual buoyancy no matter the outcome of the candidacy.

Our more loyal readers know my favorite dictum and will understand what I mean when I say, "It is not the destination that counts but the getting there."

SAIS is a professional school and so career opportunities do matter. You won't hear me say that getting a job after SAIS is not a top priority.

But the ability to extract the most out of the challenge, starting with the application and ending with that last examination, is important, too.

Some might see an application to graduate school as drudgery, toil, time wasted. I suspect the anonymous respondent to our poll saw it as a process of self-discovery. The strongest candidates look within themselves to understand why they want to study international relations, how it can change them and how they can contribute both to SAIS and afterwards to the world.

For the lucky few, a mere application to graduate school can help them better understand their place in the world.

Reading the comment in the poll, I was reminded of a note I received from a candidate who failed to win entrance to SAIS Bologna last year. "As you know I was not admitted to SAIS," the applicant wrote. "But I am not disappointed at all. On the contrary, I am proud because I was a part of the application procedure and I had an opportunity to be in contact with you, Amina, Prof. Jones and some of the candidates."

This individual will spend the next year bolstering his profile by working, traveling and studying English, and then re-apply for 2013-14. Whether or not he gains admission, he has the pluck that will carry him far in life.

I hope other candidates derive as much fulfillment from the application process as these two insightful applicants did. If so, whatever the outcome, it's all been worth it.

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What's next?

You've submitted your application to SAIS Bologna. (What a relief, you say.)

What are the next steps for non-U.S. applicants?

First, Amina is going through the dossiers to make sure they are complete. If something happens to be missing from yours, we will be in touch with you. If you do not hear from us, all is OK.

Second, we soon will be arranging interviews. (Remember, only non-U.S. candidates to SAIS Bologna are interviewed.) A few words on them:

Interviews are conducted by members of the Admissions Committee. The Committee is made up of SAIS Bologna faculty and staff. Each candidate is interviewed by one member of the Committee.

If you have applied, you will soon be receiving an email proposing a date, time and venue for the interview. We base the choice of venues on the candidates' preferences as expressed on the application.

Some of the interviews are done face-to-face but by no means all. There is no disadvantage to doing your interview over the phone or via Skype. We do not expect candidates to travel long distances to participate in an interview. And a candidate can make every bit as good an impression on the phone or via Skype as in person.

The interview is a chance for us to learn more about the candidate and vice versa. It is not knowledge-based -- that is, it is not a test of one's knowledge. It is an opportunity for the candidate to say why SAIS Bologna is the right match. It is also an opportunity for the applicant to ask questions about SAIS.

The best way to prepare for the interview is to understand why you want to go to SAIS Bologna, how it would benefit you and what unique characteristics you would bring to SAIS.

It's likely that at some point the conversation will turn towards a current event that is relevant to you. There is no way to prepare for this except to know in advance that there is no right or wrong in such discussions, just the opportunity to show that you can think on your feet and express a reasoned opinion.

Prof. Erik Jones
(If you come to Bologna, be sure to ask me about my interview at the college I ended up attending. Very memorable but not something I'll put in the Internet.)

One other way to prepare for the interview: Get a good night's sleep.

Finally, one of the most watched videos that we have posted since we launched this journal shows Prof. Erik Jones discussing what he expects during an interview. Here's a link to the post.

Nelson Graves

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Travel postcards: guess where

Last month we highlighted some of the far-flung destinations SAIS Bologna students visited during the semester break.

Below are some photographs taken by two of this year's students, Jace Han and Rilind Latifi, during their travels this year.

Can you guess where the photos were taken?

Jace Han

Jace Han

Rilind Latifi
Rilind Latifi
Rilind Latifi

Rilind Latifi
Jace Han

Jace Han
 Nelson Graves

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What's next?

Before we look to the next few days and weeks, we'd like to thank our applicants.

All of you have put in a significant amount of time and energy to complete your applications. It's a major endeavor. You may not realize it now, but the very act of filling out and submitting an application is a significant learning experience. The best applications reflect honest introspection and critical thinking -- meaningful acts in and of themselves.

Some of you had problems with our new online application system and showed great patience and even grace. Thank you for that.

Earlier this week we sent all those who had started an application a link to a survey. The goal of the poll is to help us understand the application process better from the candidates' perspective. It's entirely anonymous and will have no impact on the admissions process. We would invite you to participate -- your feedback will help us improve.

So what's next?

We're in the midst of processing and sorting out the applications. If you've submitted an application to SAIS Bologna and you are a non-U.S. citizen, we'll contact you in the next few weeks if anything happens to be missing from your dossier. If you do not hear from us, your application is complete.

In the next 10 days we'll be contacting applicants to set up an interview with a member of the Admissions Committee. Interviews will be conducted in person, on the telephone or on Skype. There is no advantage or disadvantage in choosing a face-to-face interview over one on the telephone or on Skype. We'll publish a post with the locations where we'll hold face-to-face interviews. Keep following this journal for updates.

The interview is your chance to put your best foot forward. What does that mean? Here is a post we shared with last year's applicants. In the video, Prof. Erik Jones, who has years of experience interviewing SAIS Bologna candidates, explains what he looks for in an interview.

The Admissions Committee will gather in late March. Admissions and financial aid decisions will be communicated in the first half of April.

On May 3 and 4 there will be an Open House for admitted students. And from there, we'll all look to the 2012-13 academic year.

Amina Abdiuahab

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Books by SAIS Bologna professors: Perspectives on the world

In an earlier post, Kathryn Knowles of the Bologna Institute for Policy Research mentioned a series of faculty book presentations in the Spring semester.

Yesterday, Mark Gilbert, a history professor at SAIS Bologna, kicked off the presentations by launching his new book, European Integration: A Concise History, at Feltrinelli International, Bologna's top international bookshop.

Prof. Gilbert's was the first of six book presentations by SAIS professors from now through October. The other professors releasing books are John Harper, Karim Mezran, Richard Pomfret, David Unger and David Ellwood. Stay tuned for more details on their presentations.

Before his book launch, I sat down with Prof. Gilbert and asked a few questions.

Professor Gilbert discusses his book
Q: In a few words, what is your book about?
Gilbert: It's the story of how European countries pooled their national sovereignty first in the European Community, and since 1992, in the European Union. It is an attempt to look at the complexities of this historical process as far as possible objectively.

Q: How did the book come about? What inspired you? 
Gilbert: I was curious. This book is a revised and updated edition of an earlier work I published in 2003. At the time I was living in two countries, Italy and the UK, which had very contrasting views on the European Union. Italy was very positive about European unity whereas the UK was not. I wanted to research in more detail to understand what could lead the two nations to have such different views on the European Union.

Q: How does this book differ from your earlier works?
Gilbert: It's more complex and it has a broader scope than my previous books, which concentrated on specific moments of Italian history and politics. This edition of the book is also very different from the first edition. It is more dubious about the European Union's prospects and to some extent can be read as a "revisionist" account of the EU's history.

Q: Who would read your book?
Gilbert: This book will mostly interest students of European politics and contemporary European history. That said, I think it's a book for anyone who wants to learn about the European Union and the policies of integration. I would like school teachers to read it.

Q: Why school teachers?
Gilbert: Too often school teachers come to a halt in 1945 and treat more recent times as current events.

Q: In your introduction you thank a SAIS Bologna alumna. What role did she play?
Gilbert: Marijn Hoijitink, was my research assistant last year. Her diligence and competency were a great contribution to the book. She helped me improve a couple of chapters by finding published sources I hadn't used in the first edition and by updating the chronology at the beginning. She proof-read several chapters.

Q: And finally, what will your next book be?
Gilbert: The next book will be about "Europe in the Cold War." The idea is to give an overview of the main phases of the Cold War as it affected European countries, but to concentrate on the intellectual debates generated by the conflict. It is still in its early stages, however. I have about 60,000 words, and a detailed road map, but have a tendency to go off the route set for me. Still, I usually get to my destination in the end!

Amina Abdiuahab

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Discovering Ethiopia

Last week SAIS Bologna students enjoyed a week-long break between semesters. Jullion Cooper and Jacqueline Foelster traveled to Ethiopia. (Jacqueline gave us a heads-up before their trip in a recent post.) Here is Jullion's account of their trip.

When I told people I was going to Ethiopia, more than one person skeptically replied, "Why?" When I asked my partner in crime, Jacqueline Foelster, if a trip to Ethiopia would interest her, she told me it was a place she (like myself) had always felt attracted to and would love to see.

Jullion and Jacqueline inside the
old African Union headquarters
Coming here with Jacqueline was not a decision I doubted for a second. Our love of laughter, willingness to try new things and language skills (seven between us) always make for a good time. More fascinating is the amount of knowledge and insight we were able to share in conversations with locals and international relations professionals after a mere semester of classes at SAIS.

Our experience here was at the same time very Ethiopian and not all. While we can boast of having eaten a variety of traditional food, seen (and participated in) traditional dances (it’s all in the shoulders!) and toured Addis Ababa and Lalibela (a UNESCO world heritage site known for its monolithic rock churches), our language skills allowed us to get first-hand knowledge and opinions of some of Ethiopia’s newest immigrants, the Chinese. The Chinese are not only residents in increasing numbers in Ethiopia but their government has invested heavily in Ethiopia -- from new roads to the impressive new $200,000,000 African Union headquarters commissioned as a gift.

New African Union complex
Our language skills and knowledge of international affairs (plus a touch of luck) won us entrance to the African Union building. Who would have known that the week we were in Addis Ababa coincided with the annual meeting of African heads of state at the African Union headquarters? So when representatives of a California-based company that serves as a government consultant asked if either of us spoke French fluently after having their local translator cancel on them, our trip transformed from tourism into profit and education as well. Jacqueline proved a magnificent translator, and they practically begged her to stay! While she translated, I learned about ways top advisors could help the First Ladies of their respective nations make a difference during their husbands’ presidencies.

On a closing note allow me to mention Ethiopian hospitality and the passionate discussions of homophobia and politics in Kenya and their opinions of U.S. foreign policy -- with top Kenyan government officials, no less.

Having coffee in Lalibela with shopkeepers
The picture I've painted of our trip is a fraction of an intricately complex portrait we experienced in Ethiopia, but I believe it to be more than enough to justify coming.

As I sit in a cyber cafe in Ethiopia's capital (just hours before we board a plane back to our beloved Bologna) and reminisce about our adventures over the past few days, it couldn't be any clearer to me that not only is the world more international than ever, but if anyone were to pursue a degree in international relations, NOW is the time to do so.

Jullion Cooper

Monday, February 6, 2012

Where our applicants come from

Wondering where the SAIS Bologna class of 2013 will come from?

We certainly are. We suspect many applicants for the 2012-13 year are curious as well.

The map below shows the applicants' 62 home countries. (These include 5 countries listed as second nationalities for applicants carrying dual passports and not included among the 57 countries listed as first nationalities.)

This geographical spread underscores the diversity of SAIS Bologna's program and its global reach. Our students and alumni tell us over and over that the breadth of experiences and perspectives of their classmates constitute one of the Bologna Center's distinguishing characteristics.

View SAIS Bologna applicants' countries in a larger map

Nelson Graves

Thursday, February 2, 2012

We will overcome!

A quick post from SAIS Bologna as this city digs out from one of its biggest snow storms in years.

Yesterday was the deadline for applications to our 2012-13 program. However, many candidates have had difficulties with our new online application system. We beg your forgiveness for any inconvenience.

A bow of apology
It would not be fair for us to turn away applications from candidates experiencing technological problems. If you are in that category, please do not worry. We will still accept your candidacy.

A reminder on what to do if you are unable to upload documents:

  • Please send your documents via email to Venkata Gadde ( and to We will make sure they are uploaded. (If you had sent them already to Deborah Grandval, they are being taken care of.)
  • Try to submit your application. If you cannot do so because the documents have not yet been uploaded, please wait a day and try again. If you still cannot submit, please drop a note to
  • Please remember that non-U.S. citizens applying to SAIS Bologna do not pay an application fee. If you are asked to do so, please send an email to, and we will manually waive the fee so that you can submit.

If you have not faced any technological problems but still intend to submit an application, could you please send an email to explaining? Perhaps we can help.

If you are among those who have successfully submitted your application, congratulations and thank you very much. If anything should be missing from your dossier, we will be back in touch with you. We'll also be contacting you to set up your interview.

Like many of you, we look forward to when the application process is over and we can turn our sights to assembling the 2012-13 class.

In the meantime, we will overcome!

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The finishing touches

Today is the deadline for applications to SAIS Bologna from non-U.S. citizens.

Quite a few candidates have already submitted their applications. Thank you very much. We know how much work an application demands. You are to be commended.

If you are among those have not yet quite finished, a few things to consider:
  • While our new online system is an improvement over the previous, paper-based system, some applicants have had difficulty uploading documents. If you are unable to upload your documents, please attach them to an email and send them to We will make sure your documents are uploaded properly. Once you have sent us your documents, you can finish all the other elements of your application and submit it.
  • Non-U.S. citizens applying to SAIS Bologna are not required to pay an application fee. You should not be asked by the system to make any payment if you are in that category. If you are asked to make a payment and cannot submit your application unless you do so, please send a note to and we'll take care of it.
  • If you have mistakenly made a payment, send us an email at and we'll handle your request for a refund.
  • The online system will not close down at the end of today. We do expect candidates to submit their completed applications by today, but we realize some elements are beyond an applicant's control. If there is something missing from your application and you cannot meet the deadline, please drop us an email at, and we'll discuss it with you.

SAIS Bologna's entrance this morning
Today there is a major and very unusual snow storm in Bologna.

Thanks again for your interest in SAIS Bologna. In coming weeks we'll be exploring other steps in the admissions process, including the interview.

Nelson Graves