Approaching my internship with the Department of State in Chengdu, China, I knew little about what I was getting myself into. I did know I was working for the U.S. government, one of the largest and most notoriously cumbersome bureaucracies in the world, and that I would be working in the Political and Economic section of the Chengdu Consulate.
Knowing little about what my day-to-day life would be like did not mean that I did not set certain goals for myself. I purposefully applied to work in China because of my fascination with the culture and language. China is unique for many reasons: the opaque political system, rapidly evolving economic landscape, and huge population. As a government concentrator, I was initially drawn simply to the politics in question but quickly fell in love with the culture and people after getting a brief taste last summer. After deciding to apply and getting this specific internship, my goal can be simply stated. I wanted to solve the puzzle that was China and bring back that understanding to inform my education at Harvard.
I worked for the first week or so under the assumption that, in one summer, I could succeed in accomplishing what I set out to do. I learned so much but, the more I learned, the more I realized how little I know! My supervisor and I joked daily that, as soon as you think you understand something about China, you need to reconsider. You’re probably wrong. I found this to be true here and feel that the drive to question logic and understanding is an important prerogative I’ll bring back to the classroom and to my future career.
One of my biggest responsibilities in Chengdu was gathering information to inform the reports I wrote for my supervisors. The nature of my job forced me to network constantly on the ground. Unlike a normal internship, I could not simply leave work at work after 5 pm. I went to job fairs, entrepreneurship meet ups, and volleyball open gyms. I worked to create a dense network of people of all ages, fostering a strengthening relationships with Chengdu locals in the hopes that I could get a sense of their perspective and greater understand the Chinese perspective.
Although I made friends, went to bars, and ate meals in part as a job responsibility, it never felt like something I was being forced to. I loved it! I have always loved meeting and getting to know people. Getting to do so constructively and with a goal of providing more accurate information about the Chinese perspective to my bosses and Washington was bonus. I met so many amazing people, heard their stories and ate their home-cooked meals. We shared our concerns about our futures and critiqued our governments and educational systems. What started as something I knew I must do to be able to do my job turned into the highlight of my summer. I truly experienced a culture other than the American one for the first time in my life.
It’s difficult to pinpoint just one benefit of my summer experience. One of the most important things I come away with and know will serve me well in the future is my understanding of the importance of relationships. Building, strengthening, and maintaining relationships is not only rewarding but necessary. It’s possible to go through life just letting relationships happen to you but I come away from this summer with the understanding that you’ll miss out on some of the best ones if you don’t go looking for them. We can learn so much from other people. The only way to really improve is to constantly question your beliefs and where they come from. This is so much easier with others!
Upon returning to Harvard, I plan to continue building and strengthening relationships with my friends. I'm at a critical juncture in my college experience. I’m exactly halfway finished! With friends and responsibilities academically, athletically, and extracurricular-wise to occupy my time, I could stay stagnant and comfortable. After this summer, however, I don’t plan to. I will continue to look for people who will enrich my understanding of the world (hopefully simultaneously providing them the same experience).