Notes from the Field: Andrew Heo '19

Andrew Heo '19 interned at the US Dept. of Commerce in the Beijing Embassy for the Fall 2017 term. In response to this internship, Andrew wrote a memoir detailing his experiences. The following is an excerpt from his memoir.

China came to me as a bit of a paradox. Growing up in Korea, I inherited many cultural values shared by Chinese society. Yet although these two nations share a cultural root belonging to an ancient antiquity, they certainly developed distinct cultures, and have taken radically different trajectories in modern history. Thus China is to me at once a familiar society as well as an entirely foreign one. This, perhaps, is the appeal of China to me. As I explore its foreign culture and learn of its long history, I learn more about my own Korean culture.

These days, it’s hard not to read about China. It’s been a hot topic in debates throughout society, from the recent presidential election to the waning of democracy in the world. And there’s a good reason why China makes the headline for so many issues: it’s huge. There has never been a country of this size to modernize so quickly and efficiently on its own terms. In a century, China has risen from its semi-colonized weakness to a global power of increasing importance. China’s rise should come as no surprise; even Napoleon called it when he said, “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world.” It is indeed a country on the rise in a global stage led by an increasingly inward-looking United States.

Most Americans, however, have not been to China. Most Americans also don’t have passports or go abroad. Even the few who keep up with global politics only have a limited knowledge of China, mostly through its political or economic dimensions. The fact is, most of us know precious little about this country whose activities will likely be the defining story of the 21st century.

In this memoir I attempt to share my experiences with five particular aspects of Chinese society. The five metropolitan districts of Beijing fortunately offer great vantage points to explore each one. In Dongcheng, one can see the historic sites of Beijing and their role today. Xicheng is the seat of the government of modern China. Haidian is home to most of Beijing’s universities. Chaoyang is home to many regional headquarters of the world’s largest multinational corporations, as well as all of the embassies of Beijing. Finally, Fengtai is home to many migrants from China’s outer provinces.

Working in the US Dept. of Commerce in the Beijing Embassy this fall, I had the opportunity to explore China from the intersection of foreign affairs, international commerce, and cultural exchange. This memoir will provide an account of my observations and experiences as an intern in Beijing, as well as draw upon my three previous visits to various parts of China. Rather than providing a rigid research paper about Chinese politics and economics, however, I will provide a product that freely documents my personal process of understanding and experience of this city and country. I hope that the readers can join me in exploring a foreign place through the pages, and that they can gain a similar appreciation and understanding of Beijing and China. 

As a disclaimer, I would like to add that most of the facts stated in this memoir are from both my personal observations and interviews with various people, from local Beijing's to foreigners living in Beijing. As a result, some people may have interpreted the city differently, or may disagree with what I have written. This work is to present my perceptions and cultural analysis as a student exploring a new city, not a product of intense research.

I would like to thank the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy at Dartmouth College for providing both financial and academic support for my trip to China. I would also like to thank my supervisors at the embassy for guiding me through a successful internship. Last but not least, I would like to acknowledge my new friends in Beijing, who made my stay absolutely unforgettable. 

Click here to read Andrew's full memoir.