Matt Schrader graduated with an M.A. in Asian Studies in 2019. He currently serves as a Research Analyst at the Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC), a Congressional-Executive body charged with monitoring human rights in China and supplying both branches with appropriate policy recommendations. He joined the commission earlier this year to build out a new portfolio monitoring the ways China shapes the human rights environment in the United States and other places outside China. In a given day he works on anything from potential approaches to WeChat regulation, to recommendations to the FBI to better serve Uyghur and Tibetan communities in the United States, to monitoring BRI investment patterns in Africa.
Before joining MASIA, Matt lived and worked in China from 2007 until 2015. He worked in a number of industries in China, including finance, management consulting, social enterprise, and translation.
While a MASIA student, he interned or worked at the Global Taiwan Institute, the Crumpton Group, Jamestown Foundation, and the German Marshall Fund.
Please tell us about yourself. What led to your interests in Asian Studies?
I spent a good chunk of my early adulthood discovering all the things I didn’t want to be when I grew up (see the long aforementioned list of industries I worked in during my time in China). Throughout that time I always had one eye on the policy space; even when I was working in finance I would always inhale all the news I could get on everything China-geopolitics related.
Ultimately, the policy space was where I wanted to be. It was just a matter of finding the confidence to set aside all of the other potential futures I might have doing other things, and fix myself on a course of action I was sure about. Once I knew what I wanted to do with myself, and I heard about the Asian Studies Program, it was pretty obvious that was the place where I needed to be.
How did the Asian Studies Program at Georgetown University prepare you for the challenges and opportunities you face today?
MASIA opened doors. I’m not sure I really appreciated until I got to the program how the words “Georgetown University,” “Michael Green,” and “Victor Cha” can help open up opportunities around D.C. That in and of itself illustrated something important that I learned in the program: D.C. is a reputation-based town. And even beyond D.C., the policy world is small, and people all know who each other are. You make your own reputation through the quality of your own work, but it also matters very much with whom you associate. You need to be thinking of the second—and actively seeking to build networks of good people around you—almost as much as the first.
What specific skills and knowledge did you gain from Asian Studies courses at Georgetown?
As someone who spent a lot of time in China, my favorite part of the program was the chance to broaden out to other parts of Asia. Professor Christine Kim’s class on colonialism in Asia was a particular highlight in this respect. I came out of it with a much deeper appreciation of the history that backgrounds the present lack of trust across major East Asian nations. Incidentally, Professor Kim’s class was also my introduction to another important skill I learned to cultivate at MASIA: how to triage your time when you know you’re not going to be able to finish all the reading!
What advice would you give to prospective/current students in the Asian Studies Program?
Take a deep breath, slow down, and realize that you’re going to be ok. Many of my classmates were ten years younger than me, and I could see them struggling through a lot of the same things I struggled with in my early and mid 20s. What am I going to do with my life? Who am I going to be? Are these two years I’m committing to this program going to take me to where I want to be?
Even folks who were pretty sure about the “what” of what they wanted to do hadn’t always answered the “why.” And that can cause a lot of anxiety, especially since D.C. is a place where everyone seems very sure of themselves, and very sure of what they want out of life.
Ultimately, though, most everyone who comes through the door at MASIA is a really talented, intelligent individual, who will have the chance to contribute to the betterment of the world in a way that feels meaningful to them. It just may not happen as quickly as they expect! But with some patience, and a lot of hard work, it will eventually happen.