HNC Alumni Profile: Matt Ferchen

Matt Ferchen, HNC Certificate 2001, reflects back on his time at the HNC and his experience working as a Professor of International Relations at Tsinghua University.

Tell us about your current role.
I was the first foreign professor to join the International Relations faculty at Tsinghua and am still the only foreign professor there. I am also a resident scholar at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, where I run the China and the Developing World Program. My own research focuses on governance of China's urban informal economy, debates about the "China model" of development, and relations between China and Latin America.

How did your experience at the HNC prepare you for this work?
Something that I think a lot about in my own teaching and research is that, when I was at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, there was an emphasis on US-China relations and that's still important. But in the past 15 years, China's role in the world has expanded dramatically. I think for a program like the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, but also others including my own program at Tsinghua, this expansion from a primary focus on US-China relations needs to continue, and I think this has been recognized. This requires that faculty, students, and administrators all think about the complex world that China increasingly influences and is influenced by.

What was your most memorable moment when you were at the HNC?
I had a lot of interesting discussions with my Chinese roommate at HNC...I remember that he came back from class one day and said...."Today we learned about different theoretical perspectives in international relations: realism, liberalism, Marxism and constructivism." So then we had a really interesting discussion about how these different perspectives could be used to understand some current event, and he said "But, Matt, which one of them is accurate? Which one is correct?" My roommate's search for a correct answer was, I think, a sign of a cultural difference between the Chinese and American students. This can still be a challenge for me in some of my teaching today, as I often have both Chinese and American students in my class at the same time.

Do you have any advice for current or future students at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center?
The Hopkins-Nanjing Center provides a natural environment for American students to interact with their Chinese classmates and teachers, and to understand Chinese perspectives--whether it's history, relations between the US and China, or domestic challenges in China. It's a mix of students learning from each other and their teachers, on substantive topics. And you're learning from them in their native language...It's difficult to reproduce that kind of interaction, even in the many other programs proliferating around China. This is something that the Hopkins-Nanjing Center does in a way that is still unique after all these years and it's really important for both Chinese and international students.