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Nanjing Feels Like a Second Home

Sam Trizza headshot

Name: Sam Trizza
Home Country: United States
Degree: HNC Certificate + MAIR 2025

Tell us about your background and how you became interested in China.

I started my Chinese studies in 2012 and visited China on student exchange shortly thereafter. With that trip, I was hooked. At that time, I was so interested in China because it felt like Mars. What I mean by that is it was so different than anything I had ever known. As I’ve studied China over the years, I realize my analogy holds true in some areas and has faults in others.

As an American, Chinese culture, history, and policy provide an analytical mirror for me to view my own culture through. For example, comparing the cultural importance and structure of family life in China has allowed me to appreciate and value my own family in new ways and learn more about Chinese history and modern problems China faces. Understanding certain aspects of China sheds light on other aspects of China. This is true when studying any culture, but I find it particularly fascinating given the context of U.S.-China relations in our century. I think working in U.S.-China relations, whether in the public or private sector, is an exciting opportunity and SAIS is particularly suited to continue producing students who want to be engaged in this relationship.

SAIS alumni and students...have been there to provide encouragement, advice, and direction.

Before joining the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, what were you doing? 

I worked for three years between college and entering Johns Hopkins SAIS. For the first year and a half I was in the U.S. Senate covering national security and foreign affairs and for the last year and a half I worked at a marketing start-up. Particularly for me, I needed time to work before entering graduate school. I wanted to develop professional communication skills, work in different industries, and learn more about what I wanted to pursue in my career. I studied business, entrepreneurship, and Chinese language in college. My college studies and time in the workforce all provided me insight into what I should pursue through graduate school and what I could create through the HNC Certificate+MAIR experience.

How was your experience adjusting to the Chinese coursework? Do you have any tips for future students?

The adjustment to Chinese coursework is slow, but I notice improvements every day. My biggest piece of advice may be the most obvious: the better your Chinese ability, the better your HNC learning experience will be, so study up! While all international students’ Chinese language abilities are at a certain minimum level for entry into the HNC, I found myself frustrated when I couldn’t get my point across or express myself fully in the early months of in-and-out of class conversations. While language skills do improve throughout time at the HNC, the better your Chinese is from the start, the richer learning you will have from professors and your Chinese peers.

What has been one of your favorite experiences at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center so far?

For international students, I think class is a highlight of the HNC. No longer am I learning the Chinese language in the classroom, but I’m in the classroom learning about China in Chinese. And in class with Chinese students who add important perspectives to the conversation. Since my language ability is still lacking, class lectures and discussions are an engaging challenge of following along and sharing ideas sometimes through broken and new language.

What is your favorite thing about Nanjing?

I studied abroad next door to the HNC in Fall 2017 and discovered that Nanjing is home to incredible history that is particularly important for students studying modern China, which was a partial draw in coming to the HNC. Nanjing is also a great hub for traveling throughout China since it’s located in the middle of the coast and has great air and train access. Lastly, Nanjing is a big city, but it has a small city feel to me. Perhaps it’s having favorite restaurants close by, often recognizing people in the neighborhood, or me being from a small city in the South, but Nanjing feels like a second home.

What do you plan on pursuing after graduation? Where do you see yourself 5-10 years after graduation?

I am interested in working either in the private sector in international business or consulting or in the government on trade, economic, or national security issues. These are big areas that I’m interested in, which is one reason I like the HNC Certificate+MAIR program so much: I am spending the first year developing my China expertise and learning more about each field so I can spend the second year honing in on the organizations and companies that I’ll apply to. In 5-10 years I’d like to be well established in my career as someone who understands and works in the U.S.-China relationship and have my Chinese language ability as near fluency as possible.

If you could give one piece of advice to future HNC students, what would that be?

This is a fun piece of advice, but one that I think has profound impact on students’ understanding of China and their experience at the HNC: travel with purpose and get a little uncomfortable. Travel to places that have historical significance in China; don’t just go to the inspiring mountains or bustling cities but go to spots where you can learn more about China. If there’s a high-speed train there or an over-night sleeper, take the sleeper train every now and then to talk with locals. No matter your language ability, hearing their stories and their perspectives are fascinating. You can get creative, too, with diversifying your traveling experience. I read Country Driving by Peter Hessler for encouragement in living into this piece of advice.

Whose support has made your journey at the HNC possible?

SAIS alumni and students of similar graduate programs have all been incredible resources that helped guide me to the HNC. Networking with them, learning about their experiences, and deciding what I wanted out of a graduate program were all incredibly helpful in choosing SAIS. Also, when worries came up about finances, classes, or the job search, they have been there to provide encouragement, advice, and direction.
If you are looking to learn more about what it's like to be a current student at Johns Hopkins SAIS, we encourage you to schedule a virtual appointment with one of our Admissions Fellows.

Enjoyed reading Sam's experience? Learn more about our Certificate in Chinese and American Studies + MAIR.

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