2009 PFIG Recipient Stephanie Hull
College of Arts & Sciences
Foreign Affairs and Public Policy
2010 Graduation Year
Internship: US Consulate in China
Notes on the first week
This summer, I am working for the Department of State at the US Consulate in Shenyang, China . Shenyang is the largest city in the province of Liaoning , located in northeast China and about four hours northeast of Beijing by train. Shenyang ’s consular district is comprised of three provinces: Liaoning , Jilin , and Heilongjiang . If taken together, this area would be the 11th largest country in the world in terms of population! Most westerners are only familiar with Beijing, Shanghai, and perhaps Guangzhou, and they would likely consider Shenyang to be a smaller city. However, "small" is a relative term in China , and even the smallest towns often have one million people or more. For comparison, consider that Shenyang has a population of about 9 million and that the population of New York City in 2007 was 8.2 million.
During my internship, I will be working primarily in the Political and Economic Sections. The Political Section report s on a variety of issues, including human rights and political changes in leadership. This section also work s with visiting U.S. government delegations and contacts in Chinese government and government-affiliated organizations. The Economic Affairs Section monitors economic, trade and investment trends in Northeast China , manages U.S.-China economic relations, and deals with issues of environmental science, technology, and health. Recent efforts have been focused on developing Shenyang as a financial and commercial center, improving port facilities in the Northeast, modernizing Liaoning ’s steel production, and mechanizing agriculture. For both of these sections, I will be writing cables and sending them to DC and Beijing . I will attend meetings and lunches with government and business representatives from around northeast China and will help to report on those meetings. Occasionally, I will travel to other areas in our consular district for meetings or to learn more about the area.
Additionally, I will be doing some work for the Public Affairs section. The Public Affairs Section is responsible for promoting a better understanding of American life, society, economy, politics and culture, and it does this through speeches, cultural exchange events, seminars, interviews and other programs. I will help with the preparations for the July 4th events, both in Shenyang and in Dalian , and then I will travel to Dalian for the event itself. Also, I will serve as a representative for the consulate at various public affairs events sponsored by the other consulates here in Shenyang - except for the North Korean consulate.
During my first week on the job, I have already gotten to experience more than I ever would have thought possible for someone who is just interning. On my first day, after getting my clearance badge, I went to lunch with the Consul General and the mayor of Panjin. Already, I was getting the chance to work on improving both my Chinese speaking and listening skills. Afterwards, I went to a cultural event sponsored by the Chinese to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival. They asked for a few foreigners to participate in a zongzi-making contest, so I volunteered and won the prize for "most creative" zongzi (read: "most unlike what a zongzi is supposed to look like). Zongzi, by the way, are sticky rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves. Following the test by North Korea , I made a trip the next day with my boss to Dandong on the North Korean border. Needless to say, North Korea ’s actions will make my internship here even more of a learning experience.
I have loved my first week here. Shenyang is the "real" China, the people I am working with are fantastic, and my work is more interesting than I could have imagined. I cannot wait to see what the coming weeks will bring.
Thanks to this internship, I will have a new perspective whenever I open up CNN.com and read the top world stories. In the past, whenever I saw a headline like "Ethnic unrest in China leads to mass arrests," I thought that surely the Embassy and Consulates put other concerns on hold to focus on the issue at hand. Hardly. Instead of dropping what they are doing, the officers and staff deftly add another object to those that they are already juggling.
With everything else going on, we managed to pull off our two biggest public events of the year within a three-day window. During July 4th week, we hosted an event in Shenyang for 500 people and one in Dalian for 250 people. Despite being called "America Day Celebration," these events are not so much about independence, freedom, and democracy as they are about mingling with Chinese contacts and lauding Chinese-American relations. Still, vice-governors, officers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, mayors, and business contacts got to enjoy pieces of American apple pie – although the chefs did insist on topping it with dragon fruit.
In addition to helping with those events, I have been writing report cables on ports and industry in Northeast China . For example, after meeting with AnSteel representatives, we sent out a cable analyzing production figures, evaluating merger prospects, and outlining the economic outlook. In writing similar cables on the development of the railroads and automobile industry, I have been able to learn a lot about the relationship between the central government and Chinese businesses, as well as American involvement and interest in the region. I hope to expand on this knowledge during the second half of my internship.
Lately, my attention has been focused on migrant workers in Northeast China . Most of the material that I have been working with has come from Chinese newspapers, so I know that meeting with a local NGO next week will give me a new perspective. Part of that will include going to see how a migrant worker’s case against his employer plays out in a courtroom. That material will also go in a cable to Beijing.
I have learned that the summer months are typically the most chaotic because nearly all of the Foreign Service Officers take leave or move to another post. Our Pol/Econ chief just left post yesterday for a short period of home leave before taking a new position in Seoul . He had the ability to manage the entire consulate workload and still was able to find the energy and initiative for new projects. The State Department would be lucky to have more like him. Of all the officers and staff here, he has most influenced my opinion of what a public servant should be.
While being understaffed has been challenging, it has also been an incredible opportunity for me to do things that interns do not typically have the chance to do. Since we are without a Public Affairs Officer for the next month or so, I have taken on sending the reports to Beijing and coordinating public diplomacy programs. We will make two presentations here in Shenyang to Chinese students who are about to go study in the US, and we hope we can take those presentations to Harbin and Changchun . Since movie nights in the past have always been over-attended, we are planning to host more of those as well.
In this second half of my internship, I hope that I can show that I am capable, flexible, and trustworthy with everything new that I’m being asked to do. It is hard to believe that this internship is already more than halfway over – Shenyang is already special to me, and I know I will be sad to leave. In the meantime, there are issues to research, markets to explore, and Chinese friends to make.
Though the biggest public events of the year were over, business at the consulate hardly slowed down after the midway point. In the Public Affairs office, we made several presentations to Chinese students, both around Shenyang and in the consulate. A consular officer made a presentation on the visa process, but the students were most interested in hearing about college and high school life in the US. Just like American high school students, they are worried about their majors, their SAT scores, and how they will manage their time in college. Although it was challenging, the other intern and I decided to make our presentation on college life in Chinese. Afterwards, I received e-mails from some of the students who said that they said they had never met a Westerner who spoke Chinese and how much it meant to them, so I was glad that the other intern and I had made the effort. To finish my work in the Political Section, I was able to meet with NGOs like Xiao Xiao Niao that help migrant workers and work with them to make them aware of their rights. I also wrote a summary report on the situation in Xinjiang – an issue where it was challenging to be objective and concise.
In the week before I left, I was able to round out my experience with a brief stint in the consular section. All Foreign Service Officers have at least their first or second tour as a consular officer, so it was important for me to get a sense of what that might be like. Managing their portfolios on fraud, special issuances, and American citizen services is mostly extracurricular. During the work day, the consular officers conduct hundreds of visa interviews. The skills they use cannot be learned from the Foreign Affairs Manual; it mostly comes down to good judgment, so I appreciated the opportunity to watch the interviews and get a feel for how they make the calls.
My internship ended a week ago, and as I travel around China, I am glad to have this time to reflect back on what I have learned and what we have accomplished this summer. This internship has helped me to grow both personally and professionally. While many students consider the possibility of working overseas, I am thankful to have had to opportunity to see first-hand what the lifestyle is like for Foreign Service Officers and their families. The experience taught me how to be more self-reliant and independent in a place where the only other Westerners were those working in the consulates, and it has helped me to outline my future career goals. This internship has convinced me that I do want to work for the State Department, either for the Civil or Foreign Service, and I will take the Foreign Service examination this October. However, if I am not able to get either post right out of college, I am still committed to taking a job in the public sector.