Thursday, May 28, 2015

Meeting SAISers in Vietnam

One of the things that sets SAIS apart is the close-knit community students become part of when they start their SAIS studies. In the post below, Ben West, an alumnus from the U.S., tell us about the SAIS network in action. 

I am a recent SAIS graduate and earlier this spring I moved to Vietnam’s capital Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).  After only ten days in my new home, I experienced first-hand the power and reach of the SAIS network.

I made contact with the head of the SAIS alumni network in the city, Chuong Tran (DC ’86) who invited me to take a tour of a new development project just north of town. SAIS economics professor and resident Vietnam expert, Jim Riedel, was in town and came along on the tour. Coincidentally, I met a future bolognese, Sarah Piccini, who is currently living in Ho Chi Minh City.

Just like that, the four of us, representing the faculty and three different classes of SAIS came together for a day of “economic tourism” in southern Vietnam.

From Left: Sarah Piccini (BC ’16), Ben West (BC/DC’15), 
Prof. Jim Riedel and Chuong Tran (DC ’86)
The four of us, plus other associates of Chuong, went to Binh Duong province, about a 45-minute drive north of Ho Chi Minh City. The provincial government there is pushing development hard (click here to see a video) and is trying to attract people to the area.

Despite all of its hard work, it was obvious that the area was having trouble attracting residents and I suppose they hoped that we would buy some apartment blocks or something.

During a meeting with some of the developers, Professor Riedel highlighted the fact that the development was completely government funded. Later, over lunch, we discussed the shortfalls of relying too heavily on central coordination for development projects; without outside investors, there was no guarantee that there would be demand for the new residential and commercial properties. The government had provided ample supply, but the demand was lacking. All those pages of supply and demand curves during my years at SAIS came flying at me as we walked through a shopping mall full of stuff but without customers; or as we passed million dollar villas surrounded by empty lots.

 Tran and Riedel at the impressive Binh Duong City Hall
Running in the background of all this, of course, was the fact that it was bringing together us four SAISers: past, present and future. It was great for me to get acquainted with people in my new home (as well as get to see some areas off the beaten path) and I think it helped Sarah, the future SAISer, get an idea of what it meant to be joining this new community before she starts this fall. 

I had seen the SAIS network in action in Bologna and DC, and this certainly isn’t the first time that it’s helped me, but this past month, I felt the huge geographic reach of the SAIS alumni network. 

So, for all of you out there who have already been accepted or are thinking about applying to SAIS, whether in Bologna or DC, look up your local SAIS alumni chapter and go see what they’re up to. You might find yourself off an adventure before you even step foot in the classroom. 

Ben West

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What will SAIS Europe students do over the summer?

The academic year at SAIS Europe ended last week. Today, students who are completing their studies at SAIS in DC will be attending the graduation ceremony and are about to put their SAIS studies behind them.

Time flies, or so the saying goes; but each year when graduation arrives, we realize that as far as the academic year at SAIS goes - this is not just a saying.

Every year we welcome students in August and wave goodbye to them in May. Saying goodbye is not easy, but we find comfort in the fact that when our students leave us, it will be to embark upon an exciting and rewarding summer followed by another challenging and enriching academic year in DC.

So where will SAIS Europe students be this summer? Fortunately, there is no single answer to this
question. To give you a sense of the diversity of locations and activities, below is a video in which several students tell us what they will be doing over the next few months.

The vast majority of students use the summer vacation to work an internship. These internships take them to various parts of the world. In the video, you'll hear from students going to Indonesia, Peru, Tanzania, UK, France, Belgium, the U.S. and many other places.

The fields in which they’ll be gaining experience are extremely diverse, ranging from renewable energy to corporate responsibility, and from political and economic risk assessment to investment consulting.

Some students use the summer to strengthen their language skills –they know that a very good way to learn a language is to spend time in a country where that language is spoken. In spending the summer abroad, students get the opportunity to learn about a new culture as well as to use the language on a daily basis.

Click on the video below to hear for yourself what exciting things await our students.

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

Amina Abdiuahab

Thursday, May 14, 2015

SAIS revolutionized my way of thinking

The academic year at SAIS Europe will end tomorrow, May 15. Students have been busy doing exams and writing papers before they take off for their summer internships and travel. Below, Carlotta Munini, a first year student from Italy, tells us about her experience at SAIS Europe. 

I started my M.A. degree at SAIS Europe only nine months ago and I would have never thought that my brief time here would have had such a lasting impact on me. As an Italian national and recent college graduate, I wanted to pursue graduate studies at a top ranked academic institution in International Relations.

Today, as I conclude my first year of study in Bologna, I realized that my year at SAIS not only deepened my conceptual understanding of world affairs, but, more importantly, as a life changing
experience, it broadened my global perspective.

I came to SAIS with a degree in Finance and a “Business School” way of thinking.  I initially believed that knowledge of the world could only be acquired from reading Economics textbooks or by solving a mathematical formula. SAIS revolutionized my way of thinking.

While a student in class, I became blown away by how my professors transmitted their passion for the subjects they teach. From them, I learned how important it is to debate issues, to be curious and above all, to question. My combined courses in Energy, American Foreign Policy and Risk illustrated the interconnectedness of today’s world and how important it is to develop an understanding of the “global picture”. (This was quite a learning curve for me, as I was previously used to books filled with numbers!)

Learning about the Cold War’s containment strategies, financing biomass plants and risk in political economies was a day-by-day discovery process for me. Upon reflection, as I attended my last classes at SAIS Europe , I can finally say with confidence that I am better able to interpret and understand world issues and the complexities that lie beneath the surface.

When I began my studies at SAIS, as was one of the younger students, I felt quite intimated by my peers. (With an average class age of 26, the majority of my classmates had CVs with interesting professional experiences.)

As a professional school, SAIS gave me the needed support, coveted advice and provided me with an extensive alumni network to prepare me for the job market. Following an intensive interview process with 15 employers, I was offered two great internships. I chose to spend this summer in London working for a risk advisory firm. Landing this internship was proof that I am now ready to apply theory to practice in the work place.

Final exams have arrived and we are all preparing for our fall transition to Washington DC. As I say goodbye (or arrivederci) to Bologna, I look forward to continuing my journey on the other side of the Atlantic next fall.

Carlotta Munini
(SAIS Europe '15)