Maria Scarzella Thorpe

Maria Scarzella Thorpe

Program Associate, Asia Society of Northern California

Maria Scarzella Thorpe earned her degree (B.A.’10) in International Relations with a minor in Global Peace Studies, Human Rights and Justice Studies. After graduation she was accepted to the London School of Economics (LSE) where she completed the M.Sc. program China in Comparative Perspective. Maria’s desire to live in San Francisco brought her back to the City and she now works for the Asia Society Northern California in downtown San Francisco. As a Program Associate, she is responsible for assisting the Program Director with the development, coordination, and implementation of public programs and private events. As an Italian national living in San Francisco - having studied in London and now working with U.S. – Asian educational programs - Maria’s life is International Relations in its essence.


Why did you choose SF State for your undergraduate studies?

“There were many reasons why I picked SF State: It has a very international campus and is one of the few to be in the city. SF State is also quite unique since its International Relations Department is freestanding and not a subclass of the Political Science Department.”

What were the highlights of your SF State experience?

“I participated in the SF State-BSS China Summer Program at Peking University’s School of International Studies. We were a group of seventeen students from San Francisco State who went to Beijing that summer to study. I had been interested in China for a long time and the Summer Program inspired me to focus my studies on China even more. During the Program I learned to relate to Chinese culture and the country found a place in my heart. It was an unforgettable experience.”

During her undergraduate studies, Maria interned for one year at Amnesty International and interned at the Center for U.S.-China Policy Studies led by Professor Sujian Guo from the Political Science Department and Professor Blanchard from the IR Department. Maria was also a Teaching Assistant for Professor Guo and for IR 432 Model United Nations with Professor Aviel. She wrote her capstone thesis in IR 550 w/ Ellis on labour issues in China.

Accepted to top-ranked universities in Europe and China

“I applied to a number of graduate schools in the U.S., Europe and China and was accepted to most, some even offering me close to full scholarships. In the end it came down to a choice between Peking University and the London School of Economics or a joint program in international affairs at both institutions. I chose the one-year China in Comparative Perspective at LSE. I believe what make me a preferred candidate at these renowned institutions was my grades, my experience, and the fact that I had studied Mandarin and the SFSU China Summer Program. Five professors from the IR and Political Science Departments recommended me for these graduate schools.”

Volunteering at an orphanage in Kenya

Before moving to London for graduate studies, Maria went to volunteer at an orphanage in the Kibera slum in the Nairobi Area, Kenya. “I wanted to volunteer with a local organization and found an organization in Kenya that placed me at an orphanage. It was a life-changing experience.”

San Francisco in comparative perspective…

"I appreciate the close relations I built with my SF State professors."

“All professors in the IR Department are great. They are passionate about teaching, have diverse backgrounds and are very knowledgeable. They are a tight-knit group.” Maria found San Francisco and SF State to be very different from London and LSE: “San Francisco is more relaxed with a less competitive atmosphere than London. It’s a friendlier city that has a very high quality of life. At times, it does lack the hectic-energy and enthusiasm in comparison to London, but this said, it is here that I feel at home. When times were tough at LSE, I could reach out to my professors at SF State for support. I appreciate the close relations I built with my SF State professors. At LSE, the distance between students and professor was much greater.”

What would be your advise for incoming students?

"I would say that picking a track and figuring out your focus area is very important. Study abroad and do as many internships as you can – they provide valuable experience and contacts. Another tip is to try to publish your papers in the Department’s International Relations Journal, something that will look good on your resume."

You can read more about the China Summer Program, and Maria’s experience in it. More information on the Center for U.S.-China Policy Studies can be found here.

Find out more about the Asia Society Northern California.