Recent Hamilton Lugar School graduate John McHugh (BA ’18) has been awarded a Marshall Scholarship, one of the most prestigious scholarships for US students, to pursue graduate study in the United Kingdom. Created by the British government in 1953 to strengthen ties between the two countries, the scholarship provides education to “distinguished young Americans” and the “country’s future leaders.” Past awardees include two current Justices of the Supreme Court, several members of Congress, and many accomplished professionals in the arts, business, and foreign service, including William Burns, who spoke at Hamilton Lugar’s fifth conference on America’s Role in the World® and has recently been nominated to head the CIA.
The Oxford-bound McHugh is currently a research associate at Harvard Business School, where he studies Chinese business and political economy, including their intersection with US trade, foreign policy, and national security. Companies he’s been particularly interested in recently are Huawei and TikTok, which have made a significant impact on worldwide trade and politics.
As part of Harvard Business School, McHugh thinks a lot about management and leadership as he works with executives, researchers, and students to better understand organizations that some outside China are deeply suspicious of due to security issues.
As concerns grow about these companies, McHugh says, “We’re trying to figure out what’s real what needs closer investigation.”
These types of investigations can have a large impact not just on China’s tech sector but also American companies, which McHugh says made tens of billions in sales to Chinese companies that have now mostly been shut out of the American market.
“What are the costs and benefits here and [how can we] find the balance that leads everyone to a more sustainable equilibrium?” McHugh says.
His interest in political economy, innovation, and how international policy can affect business relationships started at the Hamilton Lugar School. Professor Gardner Bovingdon in particular got McHugh interested in this topic as it relates to Central Eurasia and the Belt and Road Initiative. To pursue this interest further, he studied abroad in Kyrgyzstan and then China multiple times as part of the Chinese Flagship Program, which gave him a first-person perspective on how these dynamics play out in the day-to-day lives of regular people.
“For me economics isn’t about money. It’s about people and power and who has it and who doesn’t,” he says.
His time in China has been foundational to not just his understanding of China but also to his experience as part of a community of researchers and scholars.
“They’ve become colleagues,” he says of those he’s studied abroad with, mentioning friends who now work at the State Department, in the Navy, and at Harvard.
“I recommend doing it to anyone who gets the opportunity,” he says of HLS’s Language Flagship program.
After graduating with a degree in East Asian Languages and Cultures and two minors in Political Science and Central Eurasian Studies, McHugh worked for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. There he continued to study the Belt and Road Initiative, immersing himself more deeply in Chinese trade and politics.
At Oxford, he plans to continue this research, although he is keeping his options open about what to do once he has a graduate degree in hand. He could become a policy analyst, enter the private sector, or continue down an academic path.
The fact that he will pursue graduate studies abroad is also important to McHugh, both because the Marshall Scholarship encourages a cultural and intellectual exchange between the US and the UK and because his grandmother is from the country.
McHugh says he is grateful to Dean Feinstein and HLS for putting him on this path and for giving him the resources to explore his interests as deeply as he has.
“I think that the education in area studies Hamilton Lugar offered me was invaluable to competing for these positions and succeeding,” he says.
Sincerely and humbly, he adds, “If I can do it, many others can, too.”