An interview with MSFS second year student Phillip Baumgart about receiving a Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) award to study Mandarin Chinese and take Asian Studies courses.
How have your foreign language and area studies courses and skills enriched your studies at MSFS?
My time at MSFS has helped me connect the dots. Though I gained valuable work experience and language skills while living in Asia, I lacked an academic background in the region prior to coming to Georgetown. My course load has helped me capitalize on my existing strengths as well as develop and round out my regional expertise. Having a definite focus — China and South Asia — has helped me to make the most of grad school thus far.
How has your ability to be multilingual enhanced your experience working abroad and with international communities?
Language-learning, whether it be Mandarin in China and Taiwan, Tamil in Sri Lanka, or a little bit of Russian in Kyrgyzstan, has not only enhanced my experience—it has defined it. Mandarin in particular has offered me understanding and access that has allowed me to grapple with issues facing China and Taiwan. Plus, I find language-learning thoroughly fun.
What drew you to focus on Asia?
I first found my way to Asia via the Princeton in Asia (PiA) fellowship program, during which I taught at universities in China and Kyrgyzstan. I then lived in Sri Lanka and Taiwan via a U. S. Fulbright grant and a language scholarship program, respectively. Despite originally planning to spend a single year abroad prior to law school, I really fell in love with the region, ended up staying there five years, and ultimately opted to pursue foreign affairs rather than law. The region—particularly China— is paramount to American foreign policy, so it naturally became my academic focus at MSFS.
How do you intend to use your language and Asia studies expertise after MSFS?
Ideally, I hope to use my language skills and experience to advance US-China relations, working perhaps as a diplomat or analyst. In recent years, the relationship has found itself in dire straits and is in desperate need of repair. Though China’s trade policies, treatment of ethnic minorities, and overreach in Hong Kong and Taiwan certainly warrant criticism, I strongly believe that US policy should work with China and not against it. I’d love to be part of that.