Anna Scott Bell has graduated with an M.A. in Asian Studies in 2016. While at Georgetown, she focused her research on Chinese politics and security with a particular interest in human rights, religious freedom and democracy. This led Anna to a variety of internships including stints at the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the East West Center in Washington, and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. She has published in the Georgetown Journal of Asian Affairs, where she previously served on the editorial board. Anna is a Program Associate at the Global Taiwan Institute, a new think tank in Washington, D.C focused on Taiwan, US-Taiwan relations, and cross-Strait relations. She has lived and worked in Seattle, Boston, Beijing, and Vancouver, Canada, where she received an M.A. in theology from Regent College, completing comprehensive exams on church-state relations in post-Mao China.
1. Please tell us about yourself. What led to your interests in Asian studies?
I grew up in Seattle, Washington, a city with a vibrant Asian community. As a child, my best friend invited me to Chinese School, which began a lifelong love of the Chinese language and culture. I studied Chinese as an undergraduate student and moved to Beijing after graduation to teach English with an international NGO. Living in Beijing during the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics convinced me that the historic changes occurring before my eyes in China were the most significant story of my generation, and I wanted to remain connected to this larger story. While studying religion in graduate school, I returned to China and began to research the intersection of religious movements, civil society, and governance in China. Following this experience, I discovered that I wanted to transition my work from a focus on academia to policy. As a result, I decided to come to Washington, D.C. and to the SFS Asian Studies Program to learn from the top scholars, practitioners, and policymakers.
2. How did the Asian Studies Program at Georgetown University prepare you for the challenges and opportunities you face today?
After graduation, I began working at the Global Taiwan Institute, so have had to learn a new specialty (Taiwan) on the job at an incredibly critical time for US-Taiwan relations. The Asian Studies Program prepared me for this challenge by providing a strong foundation in the whole sweep of Asia policy issues ranging from history and culture to political economy. This meant that I did not have to start from scratch and could plug new information into the web of knowledge that I had already built at MASIA. More importantly, my time in the Asian Studies Program taught me to approach new opportunities and challenges boldly; to believe that I had the tools at my disposal to do well in a new job and context. By working closely with professors who are academics and former policymakers, like Dr. Victor Cha and Dr. Michael Green, I gained the knowledge I need to contribute to the Asia policy conversation and the confidence to navigate the intricacies of what once felt like a very unfamiliar foreign policy establishment.
3. What specific skills and knowledge did you gain from Asian Studies courses at Georgetown?
I learned four specific skills while at MASIA: First, I learned from Dr. Yuhki Tajima, in his seminar on ethnic conflict and negotiation how to evaluate proposals, deals, and outcomes, in order to determine whether they are worth pursuing. From my daily life to my work, this has been an invaluable asset. Second, my comparative politics course with Dr. Kristin Looney taught me to work with Chinese primary sources, a skill that I will almost certainly use throughout my career. Third, Dr. Green and Professor Dennis Wilder taught me the skill of writing a concise and informative memo on topics as diverse as health pandemics, multilateral institutions, and nuclear submarines. Finally, the emphasis that Robert Lyons placed on professional development, networking, and skill-building encouraged me to become a better professional.
4. What advice would you give to prospective/current students in the Asian Studies Program?
I would encourage prospective and current students to join organizations that match their interests and build upon their skills, go to events and ask questions, get to know your professors, and do as many internships as you can. Georgetown University is an incredibly unique place, and just being here is a huge and incomparable asset. The people I met at Georgetown are people I interact with across my field and throughout my career. The professors and practitioners I met are now mentors who I turn to for advice. Moreover, being in Washington allowed me to intern with the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which I have admired for years, and to meet personal heroes like Chen Guangcheng and Li Tingting. Soak it up!
I would also suggest taking courses that build upon specific skills like: quantitative analysis, negotiation, memo writing, presentations, demographics, research, etc. The more concrete skills that you can gain, the better equipped you will be for a challenging job market and the better prepared you will be to embrace new opportunities.