Monday, 28 February 2011

A humbling experience

SAIS has experts in a great many fields. They are leading academics and policymakers. They help set the agenda.

Experts you can know
Events that have swept recently through the Arab world have brought to the fore some of the expertise inside of SAIS. Our Middle East Studies faculty have helped make sense of the developments in articles and interviews. The developments are of keen interest to many other areas, from economics to development.

I thought it was a good time to tap the knowledge of Karim Mezran, who is an adjunct professor of Middle East Studies at SAIS Bologna.

Prof. Mezran also teaches at John Cabot University in Rome and  is director of the Center for American Studies in the Italian capital. His two courses at SAIS Bologna this year are "Political Islam and Change in the Mediterranean Area" and "North African Political Development" -- surely relevant to current events.

I caught up with Prof. Mezran in his office in the Bologna Center. Here are his reactions to the recent events, which he called "a humbling experience" for all those who have studied North Africa and the Middle East.

Nelson Graves

Friday, 25 February 2011

Weekly quiz

First, a nuts-and-bolts update on where we stand in the process for admitting students for the 2011-12 academic year.

If you have applied to SAIS Bologna, you should have received an email from us confirming that your application is complete or, if it is not, what might be missing. In the event you have not received such an email, I'd suggest you write us at as soon as possible.

Many but not all of you have received an email with details of your interview. Those who have not received those details will get an email in coming days.

The Admissions Committee will be spending March interviewing candidates and reading your applications. You can imagine how much time goes into this process. We want to make sure we make the right choices. Several faculty and senior staff are involved in reviewing each application to make sure multiple points of view are brought to bear.

Admissions decisions will be taken at the end of March and communicated to candidates in early April. For those who are admitted, April can be a month of reflection -- the deadline for confirmation of acceptance is May 16. For those who are not admitted, there is a time of stock-taking. I know a thing or two about rejection -- its pain and its benefits -- and will be publishing a post on this in coming weeks.

So, on to today's quiz.

Who is the man in these photographs and what did he have to do with SAIS?

The winner, of course, gets a free lunch at Giulio's.

And just because I cannot resist, here is tonight's view from the webcam on our penthouse terrace:

Next week we are planning posts on the SAIS Bologna student government, the importance of outside speakers to the learning experience, a look at our DC campus and an interview with SAIS Associate Dean for Student Affairs Bonnie Wilson, who is a Bologna Center graduate.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Getting a sense of your future

A SAIS education takes place both in and outside the classroom.

Ours is a professional graduate school, and students start planning their careers well before graduation. Our Career Services offices in Bologna and Washington help them.

Every year SAIS Bologna students have the opportunity to travel to explore career opportunities. This year students went to London and Brussels -- two highly sought after destinations for SAISers. There they visited a mix of companies and institutions: financial services groups, human rights organizations, political risk analysis firms, European institutions, think tanks and media companies.

As we noted yesterday, SAIS graduates go into a range of fields in the private and public sectors, the nonprofit realm and multilateral organizations.

Career trips help students focus on what they will do in the summer between their first and second years, and also on what they might want to do after graduating from SAIS.

Our alumni, who are engaged in an array of careers, help organize the visits and provide advice to students who are in the same shoes they were in 3,5, 10 or even 20 years ago.

Today a panel of SAIS Bologna students who went to London and Brussels shared their thoughts with colleagues who were unable to make the trips.

I spoke to the students before their presentation:

Amina Abdiuahab

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

A smörgåsbord of careers

Where do SAIS graduates go to work?

This report by the Career Services office in Washington answers that question. It is based on a survey of last year's master's graduates. The highlights:

  • 40% went into the private sector, 23% into the public sector, 18% into nonprofit, 10% multilateral, 5% fellowships and 4% further study;
  • in the private sector, the leading destinations were consulting, banking & finance, energy, defense & intelligence;
  • of those who chose the public sector, 87% won jobs in the U.S. government, with 13% working for non-U.S. governments;
  • in the nonprofit realm, graduates favored international development, think tanks & research, education & training, trade & economics, and energy;
  • 58% of those who chose the multilateral sector went to the World Bank, followed by the Inter-American Development Bank and the International Finance Corporation;
  • more than 3 out of 4 graduates participated in summer internships, and during the academic year half of the students participated in internships.

Career options are important. We keep that in mind at SAIS, which considers itself a professional graduate school and which has Career Services offices in both Bologna and Washington.

You might have questions. If so, post a comment or drop an email to

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Relevance and Insight

If you had wandered into the SAIS Bologna Center yesterday evening, you might have bumped into:

Mario Draghi
Italy's central bank governor, who is also on the European Central Bank's governing council; the heads of four of Europe's biggest banks and insurance companies; the chairman of Italy's biggest utility; the international and national press.

Mario Draghi came to Bologna from a meeting of Group of 20 finance ministers and central bank governors in Paris to deliver a lecture to those prominent guests, yes, and above all to SAIS students.

Draghi is considered a leading candidate to succeed Jean-Claude Trichet as the ECB chief. He made time to come to Bologna to deliver a memorial lecture in honor of former SAIS professor Enzo Grilli, whom Draghi knew well.

A press photo showing Draghi
and SAIS Bologna Director
Kenneth Keller
The chance for students to meet such figures is part of what sets the SAIS experience apart. We wrote about this in an earlier post, on a week when U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner spoke at SAIS Washington and  ex-European Commission President Romano Prodi spoke at SAIS Bologna.

For audio of Draghi's speech, and questions by SAIS Bologna students, click here.

Below, students John Ulrich and Jerome Ingenhoff offer their views to Admissions assistant Amina Abdiuahab after Draghi's speech.

Nelson Graves

Monday, 21 February 2011

Seeing how you think

Today meet Erik Jones, resident professor of European Studies at SAIS Bologna. You can read more about his background, accomplishments and interests here.

Our subject today is not European Monetary Union or politics in Belgium, the Netherlands or Italy -- all areas about which Prof. Jones has written.

Rather, we have taken up some of Prof. Jones's time to discuss admissions interviews. We turned to him because he has considerable experience in interviewing candidates. Indeed he will be doing so in the next few weeks in Brussels and Vienna.

We wrote about interviews in a post earlier this month. We also touched on them last week. As you know, we interview all of our candidates, either in person, on the phone or via Skype. Each applicant will be hearing in the next few days about arrangements for the interview.

Erik confirms in his own remarks on camera that the SAIS Bologna interview is not so much a test of your knowledge as an opportunity for you to demonstrate your thinking power. Consider it a chance to put your best foot forward rather than a treacherous minefield.

Erik makes the point that the conversation can touch on current events. But for students of international relations, that should pose no problem, especially if the purpose is to hear you analyse events and trends shaping our world -- as you might like to shape it in the future.

Now, over to Prof. Jones.

Nelson Graves

Friday, 18 February 2011

Weekly quiz

Before the fun begins, a statistic: yesterday this blog received more pageviews than on any other day since we launched it in December. Thank you readers.

These are the 10 countries with the most pageviews -- so far:

Sri Lanka
South Korea
United Kingdom

Is your country on that list?

If there is an issue you would like us to address, please send us a comment or an email. We very much like hearing from you. On several occasions, including yesterday, posts have been suggested by readers. We have 36 followers and would love to have more.

You can subscribe to the blog via email by entering your email address in the box on the right-hand side of the blog's home page.

With some browsers, you can also subscribe by clicking on Posts (Atom) at the bottom of the blog. By doing so, you'll receive a notification on your browser each time we update the blog. As many of you know, we update every weekday at around 5 pm Bologna time. We are also posting the blog on the SAIS Admissions Facebook page twice a week.

Now, the quiz.

But first, I am impressed by the skills several of our readers have used to find the answers to the challenges. They have needed far more than a powerful Internet search engine. Clearly journalists in waiting.

Here's today's stumper:

Where was this picture taken? And why the flowers?

What a nice gesture.
The winner's prize: a free lunch at Giuglio's.

Monday: An Interview on Interviews with Prof. Erik Jones

Nelson Graves

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Admitting the proficient

I promised a post today on interviews. I've already filmed Prof. Jones speaking about why we do interviews and what to expect. I could just press the button...

But we've received two comments in the past 24 hours that convince me we need to diverge from plan.  "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." (Who wrote that?) So we're going to be big-minded,  change horses in mid-stream and offer the interview post next week.

Both David and Carlos have asked about English proficiency exams. And David asked for an update on the admissions process. I think both deserve answers, and the timing is excellent.

We've got applications.
First, the admissions process. Here is where we stand: we've received a very solid number of applications -- enough, we believe, to ensure a quality class for the 2011-12 academic year. We are impressed by the diversity of the applicants, their accomplishments and their promise.

It is exciting to encounter the candidates, even if at this point mostly through paper, email and phone calls. In my case, the satisfaction of helping to mold a class of young people confirms I took the right decision to return to education after a fulfilling career as a foreign correspondent.

Amina and I are sorting through the applications to make sure they are complete. If you have applied, you know very well how much work goes into an application: the CV, statement of purpose, proof of undergraduate degree, transcript, the English proficiency exam for non-native speakers, letters of recommendation. Those who request financial aid have more work. We need to tell candidates if something is missing.

(The accompanying photo shows that the application process is not fully digitalized. But we're getting there. By next year we hope to have it almost fully online. For those who have applied this year, thank you for your understanding and patience.)

In the next couple of days, anyone who has applied will have been told if their application is complete or, if it is not, what is missing.

At the same time, we are organizing the schedule of interviews. As many of you know, we interview all of the SAIS Bologna candidates who apply to our office, either in person or over the phone/Skype. Amina is booking rooms, and informing interviewers and candidates. Here is the tentative schedule of interviews (with the interviewer in brackets):

Feb 25 - Brussels (Prof. Jones)
Mar 3 - Washington (Graves)
Mar 4 - Bologna (Prof. Cesa)
Mar 5 - Istanbul (Prof. Akin)
Mar 7 - New York (Graves)
Mar 8 - Bologna (Prof. Harper)
Mar 10 & 11 - London (Dr. Pye)
Mar 11 - Paris (Graves)
Mar 12 - Frankfurt (Prof. Gilbert)
Mar 18 & 19 - Vienna (Prof. Jones)

Soon you will receive, if you have not already, an email with the details of your interview. Those not interviewing in person -- and they make up most of the applicants -- will be interviewed on the phone or via Skype. Those details, too, will be communicated soon.

Faculty and senior staff will read all of applications before the Admissions Committee, made up of interviewers and readers, meets in the second half of March. Decisions on admission and financial aid will be communicated to candidates in early April. Applicants who are admitted will be invited to an Open House at SAIS Bologna on May 5-6. The deadline for decisions by admitted candidates is May 16.

I hope that gives a good idea of the timetable over the next few weeks. As you can see, we have our work cut out for us.

Now, on to English language proficiency and standardized tests.


Here is the message that Rebecca Hopkins was trying to get across to non-native English speakers in her post yesterday:

SAIS is a challenging, English-language graduate program. To benefit fully from the opportunity, a student needs to be able to operate full-steam ahead in English from day one. There is no room for playing catch-up while at SAIS. It's only fair that applicants know that and that they take stock of that reality before applying.

Because all classes are taught in English, reading is in English and papers are in English, it's essential that we have a very good idea of a candidate's English proficiency before admission. The TOEFL, Cambridge and IELTS tests can give a good idea. Any passing grade on the Cambridge test is acceptable. Scores below 100 on the TOEFL and below 7 on the IELTS generally count against admission. 

We don't fix a black-and-white threshold for the TOEFL or IELTS because, well, life is not always black and white. But in our experience, a student who scores below 100 on the TOEFL or below 7 on the IELTS will have difficulty thriving at SAIS. (Who invented acronyms? Don't worry, you don't have to answer that.)

By the same token -- I said life is not black and white -- there is no guarantee that a student who scores above those thresholds will not have language challenges. That is one reason why some students take English in pre-term (Carlos -- yes, at an additional cost).

Please keep in mind that non-native English speakers must pass the English proficiency exam while at SAIS. This exam is not the same as the standardized exams that students use to prove proficiency before matriculating.

Carlos -- Not to worry. The language proficiency exams at SAIS are definitely aimed at allowing students to prove their ability to communicate and to understand. No trickery here. And keep in mind that all SAIS students, whether native or non-native English speakers, need to pass at least one language proficiency exam to graduate. Some push themselves and pass more than one.

I hope all that helps to explain the admissions process and the language requirements. Feel free to comment or to send us an email with any questions.

Tomorrow: Weekly quiz

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Being lingual -- and speaking English

You've heard us say it before, and it bears repeating: languages are important at SAIS.

They are important partly because they help make up the diversity that sets SAIS apart. We are proud of the international character of our student body, faculty and alumni. Our alumni come from 110 different countries and our current students from 34: that's a lot of languages.

We teach a great many languages because mastery of a language can open a door onto a culture, a society, a political system, in short a foreign realm. It's not absolutely essential to speak many languages to have an impact on the world, but learning another language will surely help you better understand the workings of the world and of other societies.

We've posted on languages before. Our most loyal readers will remember that we teach 8 languages at SAIS Bologna and 16 at SAIS Washington. Every student must pass a proficiency exam in a foreign language to graduate.

Still, it's worth remembering that the language of instruction is English. Whether in Bologna or Washington, you'll hear a variety of languages spoken in the corridors, the courtyards, Giulio's caffè or on Embassy Row. But the courses, aside from the non-English language classes, are conducted in English.

It's important that a candidate be proficient in English to thrive in the demanding academic environment. Fluency is no guarantee that one will excel, but a student who struggles to read, write or listen in English will surely have difficulty making the most of the experience.

As our candidates know, we require a certain proficiency in English for entrance to SAIS. Non-native speakers must pass an English proficiency exam to graduate. Below, Rebecca Hopkins, who heads the English  language program at SAIS Bologna, discusses the importance of mastering English at SAIS.

If anyone has any questions about languages at SAIS, you know how to reach us. We'll do our best to answer your questions -- although we can't promise we'll be able to speak your language.

Nelson Graves

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

From post-war Bosnia to democratic transition in Chile

Meet Justin Frosini, who heads the Center for Constitutional Studies and Democratic Development in Bologna.

In his post below and then an embedded interview, Justin explains what the Center does, how it is associated with SAIS Bologna and why it is relevant to SAIS students.

The Bologna Center is proud of its ties to the CCSDD, which is working in areas of keen interest to many SAIS students.

The CCSDD was jointly founded by the University of Bologna's Faculty of Law and the SAIS Bologna Center. The Center runs research projects, seminars, study trips and summer programs that all mainly focus on countries undergoing a process of democratic and constitutional transition. Every year about 10 SAIS students intern at the CCSDD.

It has been an intense fortnight for the CCSDD. During the first week of February, a group of students went on the tenth study trip to Sarajevo during which they met, among others, the US and Italian Ambassadors to BiH and SAIS alumnus Marco Mantovanelli, now head of mission of the World Bank in BiH.
A CCSDD seminar
at SAIS Bologna

This year students got a poignant reminder of the tragic events of the war when they visited the town of Srebrenica, where the worst atrocity in post World War Two Europe took place.

There they had the chance to meet with Snaga Zene, an association founded by Branka Antic Stauber who courageously keeps the memory of what happened alive by witnessing the story of the women of Srebrenica. Local and international institutions based in Sarajevo also opened their doors to SAIS students, as for example the Constitutional Court of BiH and OSCE.

With no time to recover from such an intense experience in the Balkans, the CCSDD offered a new chance for students to go from transition “in the books” to transition “in action” by inviting Javier Couso, a Chilean professor of Political Science and Constitutional Law, who witnessed, first, Chile’s move to authoritarianism in ‘70s and ‘80s and then the transition to democracy of the 90s. This represented a unique opportunity for students to listen to a first-hand account of what is one of the most important events in Latin American history.

Justin Frosini

Here are some photographs submitted by Francesco Biagi, who coordinated the Sarajevo Study Trip:

Nelson Graves

Monday, 14 February 2011

A stately tradition

Every academic institution has its traditions. Some involve pomp and circumstance -- convocation and commencement come to mind. Others are less grandiose. Some, well, we just should not mention.

One of the Bologna Center's best-known traditions has withstood the tests of time and indeed radical changes in Europe and  international relations. The Austrian Ball remains a fixture on students' calendars.

The annual Ball reflects the Center's longstanding ties to Austria, which has provided us 367 alumni, punching well above the relative weight of its population. The winter social event illustrates the cohesiveness that tends to characterize classes here.

Below are some photographs by Bologna Center students of this year's Austrian Ball, which they attended in Vienna on February 5 during the break between the first and second semesters. The annual ball is hosted by the International Atomic Energy Agency's staff association.

Most students took an all-night chartered bus to get to Vienna -- and yet by evening looked every bit the part in the stately Hofburg Palace.

by Nicolo' Lanciotti
by Megan Holt

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano
by Edna Kallon

by Rachel Salerno
by Jennifer Crawford
by Nicolo' Lanciotti

by Elisabeth Mondl
by Rachel Salerno
by Annabel Lee
by Megan Holt
by Elizabeth Mondl
by Britt Sylvester

Friday, 11 February 2011

Weekly quiz

Steven Arjonilla won our seventh quiz last week. He was followed closely by Góes and Nilshan, all of whom correctly named the United States, Italy and Germany as the three countries that have sent the most students to SAIS Bologna.

This week I was tempted to run this photo:

... and ask you to identify the subject.

But that would be too easy. Everyone knows Giulio.

I could ask how many countries are represented by this year's batch of applicants. But you could simply go to yesterday's post and count the arrows on the map.

No, we have to raise the bar while staying within the confines of the SAIS Bologna community, writ large.

So here we go.

SAIS Bologna has a great many famous individuals among our 6,511 alumni.

Which alumnus was recently named to lead an important international body that sets closely watched bookkeeping standards?

Need a hint? The alumnus is in this photograph -- and he is not the Sesame Street-like creature on the right:

The winner, of course, gets a free lunch at Giulio's. With our famous alumnus, if he's in town.

Nelson Graves

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Your assumptions challenged

You won't find it in the curriculum, the library stacks or the course catalog. But it's very much part of the SAIS experience: the diversity of the student body.

The multiplicity of nationalities, languages and cultures makes for a special experience, wherever you are from.

The diversity enriches life inside and outside the classroom, as students share their experiences, opinions and knowledge. Beware: even your most deeply ingrained assumptions can be challenged.

As Amina and I sift through the applications that have arrived at via Belmeloro, we are impressed by the number of nationalities represented among our candidates. We are confident the SAIS Bologna class of 2012 will be as global in background and outlook as its predecessors -- if not more so.

Below is a map showing our candidates' countries of origin. Consider that many of them have lived in several countries or are currently living overseas. It makes for a dynamic mix.

View Applicants in a larger map

Our more alert readers may have noticed that yesterday we did not offer up the post we had promised on democratic development. Instead we focused on the next steps in the admissions process.

But next week we do intend to publish the post on the Center for Constitutional Studies and Democratic Development, one of SAIS's partners in Bologna.

Tomorrow: Weekly quiz

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

What now?

Right off the bat I should make it clear this post is aimed primarily at those who have submitted applications to SAIS Bologna.

Very little in life is simple, and SAIS is no exception. Some candidates file their applications to our Admissions Office in Washington, DC, while others send them to us in Bologna.

If you are neither a U.S. citizen nor a permanent U.S. resident, and you want to spend your first year studying at SAIS Bologna, you will have filed your application with us in Bologna.

View SAIS Bologna Center in a larger map

If you have applied to our office, you should have received an email from us telling you we have received your application. If you have not received such an email, please get in touch with right away.

Here are the next steps in the process:

1. Amina is busy checking each application to make sure they are complete. This is a painstaking process but it aims to make sure everyone is on a level playing field.

Amina taking a break
 from applications
Eventually each candidate will receive an email either detailing what is missing or informing the applicant that their dossier is complete.

If something is missing, we would recommend moving quickly to get the necessary document to us so that you would not be at a disadvantage in the process.

2. We will then arrange interviews with each candidate. (Please remember that those who apply through our DC Admissions Office will not be interviewed.)

Some interviews will be face-to-face: the candidate with either a SAIS Bologna faculty member or myself.

Because of the number of candidates and the geographic spread, we cannot interview each candidate in person. In fact most will be conducted over the phone or via Skype.

We will be in touch with all candidates to set the date and time of the interview.

3. Our Admissions Committee, which includes those who conduct the interviews as well as those who read the applications, will meet in the second half of March to take stock.  (Each application is read by at least two people. An interviewer will not be a reader for anyone they have interviewed.)

Applicants will be informed of the Committee's decision in early April.

4. We will be holding an Open House at SAIS Bologna in early May for those who are accepted. This gives admitted candidates a chance to visit the Center before the May 16 Admissions acceptance deadline.

After that, it's a big sigh of relief for all involved. And eyes turn to the summer online economics course for some and to pre-term.

Nelson Graves

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Getting a solid start

It's dry, sunny and comfortably warm. You're more likely to take your dinner outside than in. The bolognesi have returned from summer holidays. The city's pulse picks up.

It's pre-term at SAIS Bologna.

The Bologna Center's academic calendar traces that of European universities, which generally start their school years in October. Historically the late start relative to the U.S. system stemmed from the need for students to help with the harvest before beginning class.

Bologna intra muros
But the corridors of SAIS Bologna begin to fill in late August when most incoming students come to Bologna to get some work under their belts before the full Fall term begins.

I don't know the origins of pre-term, but it existed when I attended the Bologna Center 30 years ago. I showed up on a hot August afternoon, had a picnic lunch with my girlfriend in Giardino San Leonardo next to the Center and then went with Salvatore La Ferlita to find what would end up being my home for the next nine months -- an apartment in a tidy brick building just outside one of the city's medieval gates.

(Salvatore, as some of our readers know, still finds apartments for our students. When I returned to the Center this fall after nearly three decades as a foreign correspondent, I could not remember the address of the flat I had lived in. "Via Brevantani," Salvatore quickly remembered.)

Pre-term in Bologna lasts four to five weeks, depending on one's choice of subjects, and offers courses in Italian, intensive English, microeconomics and macroeconomics. Here's a mini-scoop for those hoping to come here for the next academic year: pre-term is tentatively scheduled to start on August 25 and end on September 27. Subject to change.

About four out of five students enroll in at least one of the pre-term courses:

- Microeconomics (intermediate level)
- Macroeconomics (intermediate level)
- Intensive Advanced English
- Intensive Italian
- Survival Italian

First, a word on economics. The pre-term courses are at the intermediate level and not geared to someone who has had no economics. Students with no background in micro- or macro- are required to take and pass the SAIS Online Principles of Economics course or an equivalent course outside of SAIS before taking the intermediate level courses.

Also, the intermediate pre-term economics classes do not carry credit towards the 16 courses required for the M.A. degree, but they satisfy the respective economic theory requirements.

Intensive Advanced English is geared towards those who, despite having a sound basis in the language, want to increase their fluency in writing, listening and speaking.

Intensive Italian provides a foundation for students new to the language. I'm living proof that after some 100 hours, a student can go out and take full advantage of life in Italy. Who knows, you might end up back in Italy years later and still be able to make yourself understood.

Survival Italian is reserved for students taking a pre-term economics course and involves about 40 hours of classes.

For more detailed information on pre-term, click here. Keep in mind that the schedule was for the last pre-term, not the coming one.

Beyond allowing students to get their feet on the ground academically, pre-term is a chance to get to know the other students and to settle down in Bologna. Many students spend weekends exploring Bologna or nearby destinations such as Florence, Venice or Cinque Terre.

In my case, my roommates and I set up house, I had a good laugh in Mili's intensive Italian class while getting a solid grounding in the language and my girlfriend of the time became my fiancée (and later my wife -- she still is).

A lot can happen in pre-term.

Tomorrow: democratic development

Nelson Graves

Monday, 7 February 2011

"Now I get it!"

Economics is one of the academic pillars at SAIS. We wrote about this in December and have come back to it from time to time. All SAIS students take economics as part of their course of study; understanding of economics is essential for anyone wishing to play a leadership role in the international arena.

Today our guest blogger is Çiğdem Akin, an assistant professor who this year is teaching Macroeconomics and International Monetary Theory. Prof. Akin received her Ph.D from George Washington University, her master's from the International University of Japan and her undergraduate degree from Bogaziçi University in Turkey. She has worked at both the IMF and the Asian Development Bank Institute in Tokyo.

Economics is not a simple field of study. It requires logic, an ability to grasp abstract problems and the capability to simplify real issues and to isolate key concepts. Because economics is analytical in nature, it can be a difficult subject to teach and learn.

Over the many semesters that I have been a professor of macroeconomics and international monetary theory, I have often encountered students professing at the beginning that they are "not an economics person" or even that they "hate economics".

Slope is no issue for
 Çiğdem Akin
Yet they are willing to confront "the economics monster" at SAIS because they know that rigorous economics training is one of the unique characteristics that sets SAIS apart from other graduate programs in international affairs.

As a teacher, I face the challenge of converting a room full of students from varying academic backgrounds and with different levels of enthusiasm and confidence into a collection of people who can reflect positively on their economics education at SAIS.

So how do I approach teaching economics at SAIS?

First, combining theoretical concepts with real-life examples and policies has helped me keep the class materials relevant to students at SAIS.

For example, in the Macroeconomics course this past semester I used the subprime mortgage market crises in the United States as a case study.

Using cross-country comparisons, our students applied theoretical economic models and analyzed a wide range of topics: the functioning of financial markets; patterns of international interdependency; governments' fiscal policies and their implications for debt sustainability; deflation; monetary policies such as quantitative easing, and unemployment in the context of the current global recession.

Light reading for Prof. Akin
In the coming semester, students will deepen their understanding of open economies in the International Monetary Theory course. They will write research papers on the recent debt crises in the euro zone; the emergence of BRIC economies; the changing pattern of global economic balance of power, and the implications for growth of global financial integration.

The students will conduct hands-on research using macroeconomic data, read academic or policy-oriented research papers from the IMF and follow current policy debates through publications such as the Wall Street Journal or the Economist.

When students integrate theory into their own experiences, they gain the intuition, inter-disciplinary skills, critical thinking and curiosity to understand economic problems.

Learning is a cooperative experience at SAIS. A crucial component of teaching economics at SAIS is to encourage our students to work in study groups for assignments and problem sets. Students from diverse backgrounds learn to cooperate, apply their analytical and quantitative skills, manage their time and use available resources to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

At SAIS, we take pride in one-on-one education. I make myself available for students after class and often outside of office hours. Students appreciate this supportive and welcoming attitude and overcome any initial fear of economics.

I am always full of pride when a student I am helping tells me, “Now I get it!” 

Students appreciate the relevance and the strength of our economics training when they apply for internships or jobs in international finance, public policy, business or economic development in the public or private sector. During summer vacation, many of my former students have sent me thank you letters indicating that what they learned in economics helped them succeed in positions with organizations as diverse as the U.S. Treasury, an investment bank in London or an NGO working to alleviate poverty in Latin America.

At the end of the day, making a difference in the lives of generations of students by expanding their understanding of global issues and helping them become better world citizens is what makes teaching economics so rewarding at SAIS.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Weekly quiz!

First, welcome to friends of the Johns Hopkins SAIS Admissions Facebook page. We hope you'll come back often to visit.

As the subtitle above says, this blog aims to inform and entertain readers interested in studying at the SAIS Bologna Center. The Bologna Center is part of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, which has two campuses -- in Washington, DC, and Bologna, Italy.

We launched this blog in December and have used it to provide a window on the Bologna Center and the SAIS experience. We've provided information on how to apply, on what it's like to study at SAIS Bologna, on the kinds of careers SAIS graduates choose.

There is also a weekly quiz that is mostly just fun. It so happens to be today.

Before this week's test, we'd like to repeat something we've said several times before but which merits emphasis: some SAIS Bologna candidates apply to the DC Admissions Office, others to the Bologna office.

If you want to start your studies at SAIS DC, you apply to the Washington office, no matter your nationality. About one half of SAIS students start in Washington, the other half in Bologna.

If you'd prefer to start at the Bologna Center, where you apply depends:

- if you are a U.S. citizen or a U.S. permanent resident, you apply through Washington;
- if you are not a U.S. citizen and not a U.S. permanent resident, you apply through Bologna.

Clear? Good, now for the week's fun.


Last week, Ilektra intrepidly tackled the Internet in Italian to find the answer to our weekly quiz. It was no easy task, but she had already proven herself up to the challenge by winning our very first test in December.

Giulio himself
This is our seventh weekly quiz, which adds up to a lot of free lunches at Giulio's bar. For our newcomers: that's the prize -- a free lunch at Giulio's bar on the ground floor of the Bologna Center. But it's for a good cause, the host is yours truly and the food is buonissimo.

So with no further ado, today's quiz:

SAIS Bologna students come from a great number of countries. Our alumni represent 110 nations, and this year we have 34 different nationalities.

What are the three countries which have sent the most students to SAIS Bologna? Please rank them one, two, three.

Got the answer? Drop us a comment below.

View The World in a larger map

Next week:

- Monday, Feb 7: Economics -- Theory and Real Life
- Tuesday, Feb. 8: Pre-term and waiver exams
- Wednesday, Feb. 9: Democratic development
- Thursday, Feb. 10: What next with your application?
- Friday, Feb. 11: Weekly quiz

Nelson Graves

Thursday, 3 February 2011

A photographer's paradise

Since we launched this blog in December, the most viewed post has been a selection of photographs of Bologna entitled "Here is Bologna". It's clear that you enjoyed the views of this medieval city and the surroundings, which are a photographer's paradise. No use prolonging this introduction -- below are some more pictures, including several of Florence and Venice, which are short train rides from Bologna.

Piazza Maggiore
Christoph Von Toggenburg

Bologna from on high
Aurelien Billot

A shy photographer

Christoph Von Toggenburg

Emilia Galiano

Kristen Larson

Aurelien Billot

San Luca
Nelson Graves

Duomo - Firenze
Christoph Von Toggenburg

Ponte Vecchio - Firenze
Christoph Von Toggenburg

Fantasy in Venice
Nelson Graves

Tomorrow: Weekly quiz

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

All walks of life

Our guest blogger today is Meera Shankar, who is head of Career Services at SAIS Bologna. She is also director of Alumni Relations. It is no coincidence that we link careers and alumni: there is a close relationship between students and alumni, who serve as mentors, guides and sounding boards for our students as they explore the wide variety of job opportunities that await SAIS graduates.

SAIS students are curious and have a genuine interest in such a variety of subjects, regions, cultures and languages that one of the most difficult things is to decide what to do professionally.

The program at SAIS starts people on paths that lead them around the world. In Career Services, we work with students as soon as they set foot on campus to help them understand what their options are and think through how they want to manage their careers.

I have just concluded a trip to London with a group of students. We visited a mix of think tanks, political risk companies and human rights organizations. I am on my way to meet another group in Brussels to visit public relations and lobbying firms, consultancies and European institutions.

During our meetings, students have a chance to speak to people who are doing the work that they themselves might want to do. The idea is to enable students to make informed choices about their careers.

The multidisciplinary approach to studies at SAIS enables graduates to be successful and effective in careers that vary as widely as their interests, and for this, nothing illustrates the point better than our alumni. Our graduates go into all walks of life -- you can find them in top positions in government around the world, banking, consulting, journalism, grassroots development and conflict management.

Not only are they leading people in their fields, but they are also extremely generous with their time and advice in helping students define their own career paths.

Meera Shankar

For more information on some of the career services we offer, click here.

Tomorrow: Photo gallery