2008 Boren Fellowships
When I applied for the Boren Fellowship, I was a first-year student at the Fletcher School pursuing a master’s degree in law and diplomacy. I received funding to spend an academic year in Beijing, where I studied Mandarin at Beijing Foreign Studies University, participated in an internship, and conducted research for my master’s thesis.
Before attending graduate school, I worked for a non-profit that focused on the media and its role in civil society. Therefore, I was very interested in the state of the media in China. In anticipation of the summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008, the Chinese government issued new rules governing the practice of foreign journalists in China, allowing them greater freedom. The sincerity of China’s relaxation of media restrictions was put to the test as foreign correspondents from across the world descended upon Beijing in the months leading up to and during the Olympic Games. The hope was that greater freedom would inspire favorable coverage in the international press. I went to Beijing to obtain first-hand accounts of the experiences of foreign journalists covering the Olympics and China. From these accounts, I built an understanding of the impact of China’s policies on the media's coverage.
As my language abilities improved, the level of my conversations with Chinese people changed dramatically, allowing me additional insight on how Chinese people feel about foreign press coverage of their country. When I first arrived in China, I was able to speak basic Chinese; I could tell cab drivers where to go and ask how much different things cost. Four months later, I was able to discuss the writing, history, principles, and enforcement of Chinese law with the lawyers at the law firm where I interned. After nine months in China, I could hold conversations with Chinese college students about foreign media and the role the internet in their lives. Furthermore, the improvement of my written Chinese gave me some useful insights into the way the Chinese government uses careful word choice to report certain events, such as the Chinese coverage of the protests the torch relay met in Europe.
I was interested in working on issues related to China before I began my Boren Fellowship experience. That interest has only intensified since I returned from China. My experience there was invaluable, and I am only now starting to fully comprehend the complexity and dynamism of China. I am currently in training for my first post as a Foreign Service officer in the State Department. My experience living and working in a different culture will be immensely beneficial to me in my work to represent U.S. interests abroad. Ideally, I would like to return to China in the future to work on issues of economic development and cooperation for the United States.
Written: January 2011