As part of its ongoing series of spotlighting former scholarship recipients, The Asia Institute recently caught up with 2016 PACIE-Asia Institute Grant Recipient Nicholas Henderson. Nick is currently a Boren Fellow and Masters Candidate at Johns Hopkins SAIS – Hopkins Nanjing Center. The below conversation is edited for clarity and length.
Q: What was your initial inspiration to study Chinese and abroad in China?
A: In my junior year of High School in South Carolina, I picked up some Mandarin from a visiting Chinese student and this relationship compelled me to study the Chinese language at the college level. Additionally, I was a collegiate football player until I suffered multiple concussions and was forced to quit after my third season. After hanging up my cleats, I was able to focus on my language study and planned for a study abroad experience. I applied for and received both the Pacie-Asia Institute scholarship and and the Gilman scholarship, and spent the next eight months studying in Shanghai.
Q: When did you know you would parlay your experience in China into further study/career aspirations? Was there any particular experience or set of experiences that inspired you?
A: After my study abroad experience, I came back to the U.S. to finish my undergraduate degree. Meanwhile, I was accepted into the Princeton in Asia program and returned to China in 2017. The PIA program’s mission is to connect service-minded graduates and partner organizations in Asia through immersive work experiences. During this time, I served as an English as a Second Language (ESL) language writing instructor for an international school in Shanghai. This experience along with coaching youth football really encouraged me to continue to explore continued professional and academic opportunities in Asia.
Q: You are completing your master’s degree in International Economics in the Chinese language at the Johns Hopkins SAIS Nanjing Center. Can you talk a little bit about that experience?
Enrolling at the Hopkins Nanjing Center (HNC) has been a terrific and intensive experience in which I am expected to read academic articles in Chinese on a daily basis. There are also many other like-minded students and faculty at HNC that I have had the good fortune to get to know on a personal and professional basis. Studying in China during the pandemic as well as this time of uneasy bilateral relations between the U.S. and China shaped the core of my thesis, which is centered on the semiconductor industry and U.S. supply chain security. The ongoing trade war and the future of high-tech competition between the U.S. and China will help shape the course of the 21st century.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I am now finishing up my degree in Taiwan due to pandemic-related entry restrictions to Mainland China. It is not clear at this time whether I will be able to return to Nanjing in the coming year. In the meantime, I am exploring work opportunities here in Taiwan and the U.S. in the areas of risk analysis. My long-term goal is to become a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) and to do so, I plan to relocate back to the U.S. later this year.
Q: Do you have any advice for students considering studying in Asia or picking up an Asian language for the first time? What were the biggest challenges? What are some of the biggest rewards?
A: My advice to anyone studying Chinese or any other Asian language is to stick with it and to not compare yourself to others. It’s normal to feel discouraged at times but honing one’s motivation and determination is critical to success in language learning. To me, the biggest reward of language learning is engaging in the local language you are studying, in which you demonstrate respect and interest in the local culture. On a professional basis, as a fluent speaker and reader, you do not need to rely on translations and can more easily interpret research and data to get to the heart of what is really being said.