Student Highlight: Stephen Dutton

(This post was originally written for Asia on E Street, The Sigur Center for Asian Studies blog.)

Living in Shanghai

I’m writing this from my first class cabin on the T110, Shanghai to Beijing overnight train, 15 hours of the low rumbling bliss typical of trains here. I’ve taken dozens of trains in China in the past; I’ve never taken first class before. A special treat as a result of poor, last minute planning. I’m here with my girlfriend, we’ve got a couple cups of noodles and some playing cards. The cabin is cozy: four beds, two bunks on either side of a small dining table under the window and a door for privacy. Our cabin mates are a young Chinese woman from Shanghai, a Fudan scholar as it turns out, on her way to Beijing to collect materials from the National Library in preparation for her visiting scholar trip to Oxford University next month, fluent in English, and her mother accompanying her. I’m going to heat up my bowl of extra spicy instant noodles soon, and mix some instant coffee into kaishui (开水), water from the samovar.

My name is Stephen Dutton. I am a graduate student in the Asian Studies program at the Elliott School. I have been in Shanghai since February, studying as an exchange student in the Chinese Politics and Diplomacy program at Fudan University. I’m staying in Shanghai for the summer however to enroll in the university’s intensive language program. I’ll be refocusing my efforts here from English language masters classes and an English language internship, to full time Chinese. I intend to study, live, breathe Chinese until I get back to DC in the fall (these blog posts are an exception).

My classes start soon, just after this mini vacation to Beijing, so I wanted to offer an overview of my time so far in this incredible city and to introduce the program a bit. Shanghai is unlike any other city I have seen thus far in China. I lived and studied in Beijing in 2007 as an undergraduate student. That city is dominated by politics, the government, CCTV, Tiananmen. Old Beijing and the hutong offer insight to local Mandarin culture. The English speaking expats there are mostly students and diplomats. And I was also studying and living in Chengdu, in China’s western Sichuan province, in 2012. That city resembles the older, slower pace of Chinese culture, ancient even, tea houses along the river banks, pandas, and mahjong. Foreigners are few and far between.

Shanghai is a completely different city entirely. It is an ultra modern, financially driven, economic powerhouse of a city, socially forward leaning, and there are English speaking foreigners everywhere (as well as loads of other languages, particularly French which dominates certain neighborhoods). A walk through parts of the French Concession makes you feel like you’ve almost left China completely, and the foreigner and local communities have blended so thoroughly that it’s truly unique for a city here on the mainland, something more similar to Hong Kong or Taipei perhaps. The city is a sort of east meets west microcosm, it’s livable and pleasant. The smog is mostly a non-issue, nothing at all as serious as it is in Beijing.

Since I’ve been here starting in February, I have had the pleasure of traveling around the city and around the neighboring cities and I think I have a reasonable impression of the city so far. One thing I have noticed though is that it would take a much longer time for me to really understand the subtlety of the local Shanghainese culture. The local dialect is a challenge to understand—actually I think it’s nearly an entirely different language. Locals switch between Mandarin and Shanghainese, depending on who they are talking to. And they are used to accommodating foreigners with at least Mandarin if not some English.

Fudan University is a bit outside the city center in the northern Yangpu district, fairly local, meaning there aren’t many foreigners apart from the foreign exchange students at Fudan and Tongji, another large university nearby. Apart from Fudan, Yangpu is well known in the city for the Hongkou soccer stadium, hosting one of the city’s Chinese Super League soccer teams, and Wujiaochang, a large shopping center with some interesting architectural points of interest. The recent Spike Jonze film,Her, was filmed in around Wujiaochang’s Wanda Plaza (as well as Shanghai’s Lujiazui financial zone in Pudong, and Taipei and LA). The university is ringed by streets of local shops and residential buildings and are bustling with activity: street food stalls, pedestrians intermingling with a chaotic blend of electric scooters and bicycles that ignore traffic rules, and buses and taxis that play chicken with pedestrians and that honk incessantly, delicious and cheap noodle shops, a few foreign student-accommodating cafes, and some cheap bars.

I’ve finally finished my long spring semester of Chinese politics classes and will begin my Chinese language program this week. I’ll be taking full time Mandarin language classes for the summer. Classes are 8-12am each day and cultural classes are offered in the afternoons. They’ll be teaching mahjong and how to cook Chinese dishes (if someone could teach me how to make proper yuxiang qiezi, (鱼香茄子) fish-flavored egg plant, I’d be very grateful, I’m truly obsessed), tai chi and calligraphy, etc. And I think we are taking a weekend trip to the beautiful neighboring city of Hangzhou.

I’m really excited to get started and to improve my Chinese. Knowing some Chinese really helps unlock some of the more subtle cultural points of interest that often go unnoticed to those that have to rely on English. A little Chinese goes a long way and the more I learn the more I want to continue.

I’ll be posting periodically through the program (including some video blog posts which will be new for me) and I will be letting you know about my progress as well as any trips I take. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of my time in Shanghai so far. Enjoy and see you next time…


Student Highlight: Graham Vickowski

Today, we highlight incoming student Graham Vickowski.  Graham will join the Elliott School for the fall 2014 semester as a Political Psychology graduate certificate student.

Graham graduated from Northern Arizona University with a B.A. in International Affairs and a B.S. in Psychology in December 2013.  During the summer of 2013, Graham had attended the Elliott School’s U.S. Foreign Policy in a Global Era program.

After graduating, Graham held an internship at the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.  He then traveled to Georgia (the country) before starting his Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) for Urdu in Lucknow, India after a quick trip to DC for CLS orientation.  Along the way, Graham took many pictures that he wanted to share!  Check them out below along with a map of his travels!

Travels of Graham


Student Highlight: Nanda Ruiz

Ruiz, Nanda- PhotoNanda Ruiz is a graduate of the University of New Mexico with a B.A in Political Science and a B.S in Sign Language Interpreting.  She is currently abroad in Peru as a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) and is looking forward to start the M.A. in International Development Studies this fall!

She will be finishing up her Peace Corps Service in rural Peru July 15th. Nanda is saying good bye to her small Andean community as she heads to Lima to close her service and begin her next adventure back to the States. Over the past two years Nanda has worked as a youth development volunteer in a small community of 6,000. The States will offer a pretty big culture shock.

After ending her Peace Corps Service Nanda will spend some time saying good bye to other PCVs, camping on the beaches of southern Peru and eating copious amounts of ceviche and enjoying some good Pisco. Then a short trip to Guadalajara, Mexico to visit family before she finally re-enters the United States of America via San Francisco to catch the Beyonce/ JayZ concert. (Hey, what better way to get reintroduce to the States than Beyonce!) After a week in San Francisco Nanda will go home to New Mexico to spend some much needed time with family and friends before she makes her move to D.C. At some point during all this, Nanda plans to do some light reading to prepare for her first semester at the Elliott School, along with keeping up with her economics courses, its going to be a whirlwind! Nanda can’t wait to get settled in D.C and start this new adventure! And we cannot wait to welcome Nanda to the Elliott School!

Check out some of the incredible pictures Nanda has captured throughout her Peace Corps service.

Student Highlight: Eric Daugherty

This week we are highlighting incoming student, Eric Daugherty.  Eric will be starting the M.A. in International Development Studies this fall.  Eric graduated from Bowling Green State University (Ohio) with a degree in International Studies and a minor in International Business.

In Eric’s current position, he has had significant opportunity to travel throughout Africa managing loan facilities to microfinance institutions in Tanzania, Uganda and other nations.  Eric also spent over two years in Egypt working in development and microfinancing.

This summer, Eric took a break from one of his work trips and headed to Madagascar to visit a friend and submitted the pictures below to share.  The pictures were taken in Antananarivo and Nosy Be.  Check out the beautiful views!

We look forward to welcoming Eric to the Elliott School this fall!

Student Highlight: Lindsey Spanner

Throughout the summer, we hope to highlight some of the incredible work our students (incoming and continuing) are doing this summer!  I am happy to start this series with Lindsey Spanner, an incoming M.A. in Global Communication student from Ohio.  Check out Lindsey’s profile below! (Originally written for the National Alliance to End Homelessness Blog.)

Lindsey Spanner, communications and digital media intern


Lindsey atop the Elliott School Building on the City View Room balcony

Hi there! I’m a proud Ohio University alumna (home of the Bobcats, not the Buckeyes!) and soon-to-be graduate student in the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University beginning this fall. I am so excited to be spending the summer in DC, but more importantly I am happy to be working with the Alliance. Growing up and going to school in various Appalachian Ohio counties meant that I saw the effects of homelessness first-hand, but it also gave me the chance to volunteer with local organizations aimed at helping people without homes. After these more localized experiences, I am excited to be working for a national organization on the same issue. In my role at the Alliance, I will help create, monitor and maintain the Alliance’s internal and external communications. I will also have the opportunity to understand how homelessness is portrayed to the public by popular media outlets and other sources. I have played the part of tourist in DC many times, but can proudly say that I have since abandoned the embarrassing backpack and white sneakers (I still have to carry a map, though). Now, I am looking forward to trying new restaurants, checking out less-touristy sites, and becoming more like a local!

Crisis in Iraq

In the latest installment of the International Affairs Inbox, Professor Stephen Biddle discusses the crisis in Iraq, its underlying causes, and long term implications for the region.  Check out the video below:


Stephen Biddle

Professor Biddle also appeared on The Diane Rehm Show to speak on the same topic.  Check out the audio and transcript of that interview on the program’s website.

You can also find more resources as on the subject through the Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS) and in a Washington Post blog co-authored by Elliott School professor, Caitlin Talmadge.

International Women’s Day at the Elliott School

SwaineLast week, people around the world celebrated International Women’s Day.  At the Elliott School, we have many faculty that study women and gender related issues and policies, including Aisling Swaine.  Professor Swaine recently sat down with Elliott School staff to discuss the state of global approaches to gender equality.

Check out the full interview after the jump!

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