Thursday, September 27, 2012

Open Day: Gaining Insight into SAIS Bologna

On a warm morning in late 2011 a conversation between two aspiring master's students began like this:

"So Cormac, why are you here in Italy at the SAIS Open Day? Is it because Bologna is a really beautiful city? Is it because the kind folks at SAIS will find you somewhere to stay while you are here? Is it because you get a free lunch and prosecco with the students and staff at the end of the day?"

"All of that and more." 

A year later, Cormac Sullivan (BC13/DC14) reflects on his decision to attend Open Day at SAIS Bologna. This year Open Day will be on Friday, December 7. If you're interested in attending, drop an email to

Coming to the SAIS Bologna Open Day is a great opportunity that I would recommend to anyone considering applying.

Quite simply what have you got to lose?

  • If you decide that the course is not for you, then you've had a weekend away in an immensely beautiful city and will have had a great time hanging out with fun young people who have similar interests.
  • If you decide that the combination of a year in Bologna and a year in DC is just too good to turn down -- and how could you not -- then you will have the added bonus of a ton of useful information about how the course operates and how to go about applying.
  • Throw in the ease of getting here on a budget airline and you’re left with no excuse not to come.

The course at SAIS is unique in several ways: It is taught across multiple locations, it has a strong focus on economics, the Bologna Center is relatively compact and the courses are structured around regional and thematic concentrations.

Most of these details are available on the web, but to appreciate what it all actually means in reality, what it looks like when you put it all together, there is no better way than coming here and actually talking to students, professors and staff. You will also have a far greater insight into the often confusing worlds of financial aid and the admissions process.

This is a truly unique institution and coming to the Open Day will leave you with a clear impression of whether it is right for you.

So the day itself is useful. But is it fun? I can only speak for myself, but I had a great time largely because everyone was so accommodating. I was put up in a great apartment by two of last year’s Bologna students who were happy to tell me about their experience at SAIS over a (delicious) pizza and some wine. The day of the program itself was a whirlwind tour of the grounds followed by opportunities to meet with everyone from the head librarian to professors and language instructors to the director of the center. We had the chance to sit in on some classes.

When the formal program was over, we headed down to Giulio's Bar where my fellow hopefuls and I tried to absorb a wealth of information provided to us over drinks with the current students.

To sum up, there just aren't very many good reasons to miss Open Day. It is a chance to think and learn about a life-changing master's program combined with a stay in the culinary capital of Italy.

So why wait? Get yourself to an airline price comparison website and get over here!

Good luck to you all,

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Meeting our faculty: Prof. Vakil

Sanam Vakil received both her master's and Ph.D from SAIS DC. She is now teaching at SAIS Bologna. She knows both campuses inside and out.


Your degrees?
B.A., Political Science and History, Barnard College
M.A., International Economics and Middle East Studies, Johns Hopkins SAIS
Ph.D, International Relations and Middle East Studies, Johns Hopkins SAIS

Where have you taught?
SAIS DC as an assistant professor 2004-2006 and SAIS Bologna as an adjunct since 2008

What course are you teaching?
This semester I'm teaching "Twin Pillars of the Gulf: Iran, Saudi Arabia and their Gulf Neighbors". Next semester I'll be teaching "Political Leadership in the Middle East".

Anything special about SAIS Bologna?
I studied at SAIS DC and was always sorry to have missed the Bologna experience. The combination of the intimate environment and the dynamic students and faculty make it an experience not to be missed.

Links to recent publications?

Your favorite book?
Too many out there!

Reading, cooking, tennis, skiing, photography and painting

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What is in a name? SAIS Bologna's diversity

We asked a random selection of this year's students to introduce themselves in their native languages.

For a taste of SAIS Bologna's diversity, have a look at this video:

If you are reading this via email, to see the video click here.

Nelson Graves

Thursday, September 20, 2012

How to get to know us better

This post is for those who want to learn more about SAIS Bologna.

Many prospective students have been in touch with us via email, telephone and Skype and have attended our online information sessions this summer.

Over the next few months we will be holding more sessions, in person and online, to make sure as many candidates as possible have their questions answered.

We would encourage any prospective applicant to attend any one of these events.

Below is the schedule for this fall. We may add events along the way, so keep an eye on this journal for updates.

October 24 at 1200 Italy time (1000 GMT)
November 28 at 1700 Italy time (1600 GMT)
December 19 at 1200 Italy time (1100 GMT)

London, November 10 from 1300-to-1500
St. Gallen, November 12 from 1800-to-2000
Budapest, November 14 from 1800-to-2000
Paris, November 15 from 1800-to-2000

December 7 - we will open our doors to all prospective applicants. A schedule will be available soon. Please mark the date on your calendars. It is a great way to get to know SAIS Bologna, it's student, faculty and staff members.

In addition to these events, we will be travelling to some European universities.

University of Leiden, The Netherlands 
October 29 - time TBC

University of Gothenburg, Sweden 
October 31 - time TBC

University of Uppsala, Sweden
November 1 at 1915 local time

Sciences-Po Lille, France
November 9 - time TBC

If you're unable to attend the events listed here, feel free to get in touch with us. We have an open-door policy. If you happen to be in Bologna, feel free to stop by. If you let us know a bit in advance, we will do our best to tailor your visit around your needs.

Amina Abdiuahab

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Meeting our faculty: Prof. Alvisi

Matteo Alvisi, who teaches economics at SAIS Bologna, is the latest professor to be profiled in this Journal.


Your degrees?
Laurea (MA), Economics, University of Bologna
M.Phil, Economics, UCLA
Ph.D, Economics, Bocconi University, Milan
Ph.D, Economics, UCLA

Where have you taught?
University of California, Los Angeles; Johns Hopkins SAIS Bologna; University of Bologna

What course are you teaching?

Anything special about SAIS Bologna?
I am sure  other professors have already indicated what is special about studying at SAIS. I will  focus on  two reasons why teaching at SAIS is a unique experience. First, students are really eager to discover new perspectives when interpreting political and economic events; they infect me with their enthusiam. Second, their very diverse backgrounds, both educational and cultural, inspire us to teach using  a multidisciplinary approach and provide a continuous source of new information on how the world turns.

Anything special about Bologna?
Bologna is the home of one of the oldest universities in the world and even nowadays, despite its medieval look, it is one of the liveliest, more liberal and culturally more exciting cities in Italy. With lots of bonuses: it is relatively small so that everything can be reached simply walking under its “portici” (so blessed during rainy days), it is not as touristy as Rome, Florence or Venice -- so more genuinely Italian -- and finally, well, yes, the incredibly tasty food.

Your favorite book?
Just one? Let me cite at least two titles, one European and one American:  “Auto-da-Fé”, by Elias Canetti and “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace. 

Sports, art movies, indie music

A quote?
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” - St. Augustine

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What are SAIS Bologna students proud of?

Like last year, we asked this year's students to cast their humility aside and tell us what they are most proud of. Here is what they told us.

I was the voice of James Bond, M, a corrupt South American dictator, a Bond girl, several CIA agents and all of the extras for several showings of "Quantum of Solace" in Moscow.

I speak six languages; another one is a work in progress: I am proud that this way I can communicate with my family all over the world, especially with my grandparents.

I have had poetry published in 3 languages.

(The poet, when asked to share some verse, offered this haiku:

silly editors,
why publish my poetry
in three languages?)

Last year, I helped develop the curriculum to launch a Student Budget Consultation in Ontario. This was an online platform that allowed high school students from across the province to learn about and provide direct input into the budgeting process.

I testified before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission -- created by Congress to monitor and investigate the United States' bilateral trade and economic relations with China -- on a report I wrote while working for a public policy think tank.

Singlehandedly prepared a Thanksgiving meal for eight, overnight.

My fiancee (who joined me in moving to Bologna) and I completed the NYC Triathlon before packing up for SAIS BC.

Tough question, but I'll go with winning gold at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta.

I am mentoring a Nepali boy named Sering Sherpa, the first in his village to pursue a college education. Sering and his family, who herd yaks, were living deep in the Khumbu region of the Himalayas in a one-room dirt house. First I provided funds for the family to rebuild their aging hut and be more physically secure in their son's absence. Then some friends and I arranged for Sering to relocate to Kathmandu and enroll in college, where he is studying environmental science. Sering was my sherpa on a difficult 90-mile trek in Nepal. Now I am his as he climbs from a subsistence livelihood into the modern world.

I am happy with who I am.

Together with German and Romanian delegates, I participated in a 5-day workshop in Germany, funded by the EU Commission, to train Ireland, Hungary, Italy and Croatia on how to lobby ministries to set up a "Youth Delegates to the UN Program" in their countries.

At age 23, I co-authored an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal about a Nigerian sovereign wealth fund. Not a single edit was made to the original text. I'm told that the chances of a WSJ op-ed author being a woman are only one in five.

Shortly before the passing of my friend Joseph in 2009, we thumbed through National Geographic and read a piece about Angkor Wat. We shared a passion for the temples and a respect for the kindness and generosity of the Khmer people. In December 2011 I volunteered with an NGO in Cambodia and had the privilege to visit the well that had been built in Joseph's memory with funds donated by Joseph's sister and which serves the people of Pursat. Cambodia is a detoxification for the soul, and I thank Joseph from the bottom of my heart for inspiring me to take that journey.

I am most proud of having assembled and coached a basketball team of former street children in Mexico City.

I'm proud that I had the courage to go to Brasil right before my graduation, against the advice of my parents and career planners. I found happiness and professional ambition there. The best moment was when I was accepted to SAIS, my Dad said I had made the right choice after all.

I negotiated and operationalized a management agreement worth $2.4 million annually to bring all student life buildings and services under the control of the student union at my undergraduate institution.

I successfully trained and completed a "Tough Mudder" with a team of close female friends. I completed a nine-mile course with almost 30 obstacles, including running through fire, swimming through a tank of ice water and getting electrocuted. If you can believe it, it was a lot of fun and I would do it again.

I climbed Bolivia's Huayna Potosí (6,088 meters) in a snow storm. This was probably the physically most exhausting thing I have done in my life.

My first publication (co-authored with another SAIS alum) was widely read by relevant officials and was cited in several publications of think tanks including the SIPRI yearbook and Chatham House; IAI and FRIDE papers, and books.

Nelson Graves

Friday, September 14, 2012

SAIS Bologna students know how to have fun

SAIS Bologna students study hard. They also know how to have fun.

The Bologna Center Class of 2011 only recently graduated from SAIS. But as you'll see from this video, they are already around the world -- and having fun.

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

Nelson Graves

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Our new application is up and running

Our new application is now online.

Why a new application?

SAIS is a global institution with a foothold on three continents; in fact it is the only graduate program of its kind. It is natural that our three campuses -- Bologna, DC and Nanjing -- should use a common application.

To achieve such convergence, we had to make some changes to the application. A word on those later. But first, what remains the same?

- An applicant can start the application, save it, close it down and come back later to edit it and flesh it out. This gives candidates more time to tie up loose ends and to fine-tune the dossier. We hope the flexibility encourages candidates to start their applications early. As we wrote in a recent post, the early bird ...

- Almost all documents can be submitted online. These include the statement of purpose and analytical essay. Referees can upload their letters of reference -- which remain confidential to the applicant -- to the site. Standardized test scores can be sent directly from the testing institution to SAIS. The only documents which have to be sent via post are undergraduate transcripts.

So, what is new?

- The new deadline for applications for all candidates who want to study at SAIS Bologna is January 7, 2013.

- Candidates who want to pursue the two-year M.A. at SAIS are given three choices when asked to select a campus:

  • Washington
  • Bologna
  • I am open to either campus for my 1st year

With respect to one's chances for admission, there is no statistical advantage in choosing one answer or the other. Applicants' choices of campus help guide our work in admissions. In the case of candidates who are undecided, more work needs to be done to establish which campus would be the best choice; uncertainty at the application stage is not necessarily a problem.

- The test codes that determine where TOEFL, GRE and GMAT results are sent have been standardized across SAIS's three campuses. Here are the codes:

TOEFL - 5610-0000
GRE - 5610-0000

- We have standardized the wording of the explanation of who needs to take an English competency test as part of the application process. It now reads:

You must submit an English competency score if (1) English is not your native language and (2) you do not hold an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution in a country where English is an official language and where English is the language of instruction.

Please note that candidates who are not native English speakers and who did not do their undergraduate work in an English-speaking country must take one of the competency tests. So if your undergraduate studies were in English and the institution was in a country where English is not an official language, you must  take an English competency exam.

If you are in that category, then our advice is to go out, take one of the competency tests and sweep away any uncertainties.

- Consistent with the increasingly widespread practice in academic admissions, we have added a section on candidates' disciplinary history. Candidates are given a chance to explain any disciplinary issues they have faced in the past. Here is the introduction to the section:

Johns Hopkins SAIS receives applications from a diverse pool of candidates. The following questions ensure we have the clearest possible understanding of each candidate's background. Your answers will be kept confidential.

We realize that candidates put a great deal of effort into their applications and they will have many questions. That is why Amina and I stand ready to answer your questions. You can reach us:

  • By email at
  • By phone at +39 051 29 17 811
  • By Skype at jhubc.admissions

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Next information session: Tuesday, Sept 18

Our next monthly online information session is set for:

Tuesday, September 18 at 4 pm Italy time (1400 GMT).

These sessions give prospective applicants a chance to learn more about us and to ask any questions they like. We're happy to discuss our academic program, living in Bologna, financial aid, career opportunities, application procedures -- whatever participants want to discuss.

To participate, all you need is an Internet connection, plus a phone line to make a local or toll-free call for the audio portion of the session.

For details on how to connect to the  session, click here. Please read them very carefully.

In next week's session we'll focus on standardized tests: the English competency exams, the GRE and the GMAT.

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

We'll be holding these sessions each month, at different times to accommodate different time zones. Here is our schedule looking ahead and the proposed themes:

October 24 at noon Italy time (1000 GMT) - letters of recommendation
November 28 at 5 pm Italy time (1600 GMT) - statement of purpose
December 19 at noon Italy time (1100 GMT) - analytical essay

We will send reminders of these sessions via email and also on this Journal.

Nelson Graves

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

First impressions: La vita è bella

Born in the United States to an Australian mother and Scottish father, Ian Muir is a triple citizen. He grew up in Washington, DC and Paris, and graduated in 2006 from Trinity College Dublin with a degree in chemistry. Ian spent the last five years working in the energy and climate change field, first as a consultant in Paris and DC and more recently as a Junior Fellow at the German Marshall Fund and with an education-focused nonprofit he co-founded with friends.

Ian will be concentrating on Energy, Resources and Environment at SAIS.

We asked Ian, who arrived for SAIS Bologna pre-term later than most as he attended pre-term in DC, to share his first impressions with us.

I may have spent the last five years at an international consultancy based in Washington, DC, but SAIS and the Bologna Center had already started feeling like old friends, even family.

My former office was at one point home to some 20 SAIS graduates who regaled me with tales of their bolognese experience, which they commonly referred to as the “best nine months of my life.” Living vicariously on these years of first-hand reports of this historical and beautiful city, I arrived in Bologna with nothing but the highest of expectations. Despite this grand failure of moderation on my part, I’ve faced disappointment only while learning that word’s Italian equivalent from my Neapolitan teacher, who, yes, has a penchant for wild gesticulation. (Hint: the word in Italian is nearly the same as in English.)
Ian Muir
Rambling on endlessly about my newfound love for la vita quotidiana in Bologna would be easy, but I had better segue into the real reason I’m attending the SAIS Bologna Center: academics and community.

As one of the few students able to attend pre-term in DC, I arrived in Italy with an already strong sense of SAIS’s academic rigor and its keen focus on relationship-building.

Back Stateside, my Intermediate Microeconomics pre-term course could only be described as a tour-de-force, particularly for someone with scant background in economics. After the first class, I quickly realized that my original intention of “easing” back into academia was perhaps wishful thinking.

The course, taught by a former SAIS Bologna grad, was a personal boot camp, guaranteed to tune me up for some serious transfers of knowledge. It was just what the doctor ordered -- and introduction to what I expect to be two years of advanced learning of the highest degree.

In tandem with the academic side, I am already sensing the importance of SAIS’s approach to community building -- the bringing together of talented students from every corner of the world. Invitations to lunch events, guest lectures and happy hours are helping me and my classmates become fast friends. It is exciting to imagine the quality of discussion that our diverse backgrounds and experiences will lead to over the next couple of years.

Attending DC pre-term meant I had to fly to Europe soon after sitting my microeconomics exam, arriving in Italy just in time for the welcome ceremony at the beginning of Bologna pre-term. In DC, SAIS owns a series of imperious structures along the busy Massachusetts Avenue thoroughfare; here in Bologna students and faculty congregate in an attractive building sitting quaintly on a quiet side street. Despite the normal high-tech security measures, the atmosphere at the Center is uncommonly warm, with students and faculty alike livening up “Giulio’s Bar” at nearly all hours.

Ian's homework spot
Having gotten some economics out of the way in DC, I was able to reward myself with four weeks of “Intensive Italian” classes in Bologna. And when they call it intensive, they are not kidding!

My already multilingual classmates and I have been spending five hours a day, five days a week, interacting non-stop with a rotating roster of wonderfully energetic Italian ladies. Honestly I doubt there’s a better, faster way to learn a new language. Except perhaps "sur l’oreiller", as my French colleagues would suggest. Fortunately, I know that at SAIS I can expect much of the same rigor and passion from all my future professors.

Since settling into my new apartment on Monday, my days have become increasingly routine. "Routine" might have a negative connotation for some. But if your routine is anything like mine, you’d understand otherwise.

A morning stroll through Piazza Maggiore, under the arches and down winding, bustling side streets to via Belmeloro. A delicious cappuccino and brioche. Two hours of banter in Italian with some of the brightest, motivated people you could ever expect to meet. Time for a caffè macchiato. More Italian banter. Lunch surrounded by chatty classmates, friendly faculty and curious bolognesi. Two final hours of Italian. Soon there’s talk of l’aperitivo, the little pizzeria just off the piazza, and most certainly a drop of vino rosso.  Oh and yes -- there is that homework to do. Perhaps it can wait until domani.

Even the spot for doing my homework is not exactly the worst in the world.

La vita è bella!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Bet you can't solve this puzzle

Any chess players out there?

Last year Marijn Willem Otte, then a student at SAIS Bologna, responded to a call from our Admissions Office for photos, magnets and mementos with a chess problem, pictured here.

The problem has remained on our bulletin board, and no one has yet solved the problem. Marijn put the solution to the problem in an envelope, which has remained sealed ever since.

Here's the challenge: A game begins with 1.e4 and ends in the fifth move with knight takes rook mate.

"With only five moves deep, the solution is simple, elegant and stunning," Marijn said. "Some of the greatest chess minds of the century could not solve it, yet there have been cases of amateurs solving it overnight."

For some amusing anecdotes about the puzzle, including one about a stumped Garry Kasparov, click here.

Marijn, who is studying at SAIS DC this year, has a distinguished record in chess. He is a FIDE Master with two international master performances; he participated twice in the world university student chess championship.

Think you have the answer? Send it to and if you're the first, you win a SAIS Bologna tee shirt.

Nelson Graves

Thursday, September 6, 2012

And here's the winner of our photo contest

She runs marathons and speaks Mandarin. She graduated from Skidmore College magna cum laude with honors. She practices Krav Maga.

Meet the winner of our photo contest: Megan Rhodes.

Here is the picture that drew the most votes:

A picture might be worth a thousand words but it rarely tells the whole story. The photo captures Megan, an MIPP candidate at SAIS Bologna this year, running a half marathon on, yes, the Great Wall of China. She finished top of her age group and was the first American across the line.

"The race was mostly run in a surrounding village, replete with adorable children giving you high fives and giddily chirping 'Hello!' in English," she said. "There was a small goat path, and we formed a single line to use a rope to get off the wall."

Megan ran the Beijing marathon in 2010 and has also run the 42.2-km race in San Diego and New Hampshire. To train for the Beijing run, because of heavy air pollution Megan trained mostly on a treadmill, including a 3-1/2 hour run on the machine. Ouch.

Never one to shun a challenge, here is Megan bungee jumping at the Long Qing gorges outside Beijing, where she lived for 5 years before coming to Bologna last month:

What is Megan's mystery prize? A free lunch with Amina and me in a Bologna restaurant. (Please don't say second prize is two free lunches with us.)

The contest involved photographs by incoming students that were included in this slideshow.

Here are the runners-up, all students at SAIS Bologna this year:

by David Gorgani
by Leslie Yun
by Marwa Abdou

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Meeting our faculty: Prof. Taddei

Filippo Taddei is the new full-time junior economist at SAIS Bologna, succeeding Çiğdem Akin, who is teaching at SAIS DC now.

Prof. Taddei will be teaching two courses that most students take while at SAIS. Worth getting to know!

Have a look at his latest work, published in the Journal of International Economics: "International capital flows and credit market imperfections: A tale of two frictions".


What courses are you teaching?
Macroeconomics and International Monetary Theory

Your degrees?
Ph.D, M.Phil and M.A. from Columbia University; Laurea, University of Bologna

Where have you taught?
I have taught at a few places. I started at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University, where I worked for two years. Then I moved to the Collegio Carlo Alberto in Torino, a new research center established in 2005, where I taught Macro and International Economics for 5 years.

How long have you been teaching at SAIS Bologna?
I taught International Monetary Theory last year, but my real start is this term.

A link to a recent publication by you?

Anything special about SAIS Bologna?
Like many of our students, I'm new to the place, but so far it's all very interesting.

Anything special about Bologna?
It's a good representation of Italy. It has a lot of potential, but it's not clear whether it will take full advantage of it.

Your favorite book?
It's an Italian novel by Calvino: "Il cavaliere inesistente" ("The Nonexistent Knight").

Soccer. Definitely soccer.

A quote?
"Intelligence is one of the most overrated virtues in human history."

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What is unique about SAIS?

What makes SAIS different?

That's a question we want every prospective applicant to ask. And you should expect an answer.

There are lots of excellent graduate programs in international relations. Some will suit candidates better than others. It's important if you're checking out universities to find out what makes them tick, how they are similar and how they differ.

We have taken a stab at defining what differentiates SAIS in a 20-page brochure that you can see here.

Here is what we think makes SAIS unique:
  • A permanent foothold on three continents with campuses in Bologna, Washington and Nanjing
  • Interdisciplinary depth and solid training in economics
  • An intimate, supportive and diverse learning community
As SAIS Dean Vali Nasr put it: "SAIS is unique in that its academic mission straddles the boundaries of intellectual discourse and the professional world."

The brochure will give you a taste of SAIS's academic options and requirements, its different degrees, the dual-degree possibilities, the breadth of our faculty's expertise, student life and the many types of careers that graduates choose.

Some of our readers may recognize the woman in the blue blouse on the cover of the brochure. It is Chidiogo Akunyili, a SAIS Bologna graduate who was featured in this post as well as this video.

After she graduated from SAIS in May, Chidiogo joined strategy consultants Roland Berger and is currently on assignment in Nigeria.

Nelson Graves