Networking with Dignitaries and Researching Economic Development in Thailand
With the entire world at my fingertips, I was faced with one question: Where to go?
While looking to find a summer internship to fulfill my graduation requirement as a Master of International Affairs Candidate at SIPA, a classmate informed me of a unique opportunity to work for the overseas trade promotion arm of the U.S. government. Having a keen interest in international trade and public service, I was intrigued. As I navigated through the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service (FCS) internship website in the Lehman Library on a cold February afternoon, I soon realized that FCS had offices in over 60 countries, each with its own unique internship program. So the question remained: Where to go? And then it hit me: Thailand.
Why Thailand? I had spent most of my pre-graduate school years working in Asia, often quite closely with colleagues in the ASEAN countries. I had seen first-hand the rapid development taking place in Southeast Asia as well as the potential for future growth. In my opinion, it is one of the most dynamic regions in the world. In the international trade arena, Southeast Asia is front-and-center, with regard to both the Trans-Pacific Partnership and ASEAN Economic Community integration in 2015. While ongoing reforms in neighboring Myanmar have huge implications for global economic relations, Thailand continues to be a driving force. The choice was easy.
As an intern at the Foreign Commercial Service in Bangkok, I had many responsibilities in FCS Bangkok’s four markets—Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar (Burma). One of my greatest tasks was updating the Doing Business in Burma guide, one of the flagship publications at FCS. For the guide, I extensively researched all aspects of the Burmese export climate, from trade regulations to banking reform to due diligence processes. It was a fascinating exercise to examine a country in the throes of such massive reforms. It was also an interesting counterpoint to my work on Thailand, a country that has climbed to middle-income status and now struggles with moving up the value-added chain of global production. On behalf of U.S. firms, I monitored the Thai market for business opportunities in niche fields such as education, IT, innovation, and sustainability. In particular, I searched for ways U.S. firms might tap into the booming arena of social media marketing in Thailand.
During my time in Bangkok, I also gained invaluable exposure to the diplomatic side of international affairs. During the FCS annual Importer Appreciation Night, I served as Master of Ceremonies to introduce our esteemed Thai business partners to the U.S. Ambassador. I also volunteered at a reception at the Ambassador’s residence, mingling with important guests from Thai ministries and corporations. During these experiences, I had ample opportunity to engage with U.S. embassy staff from a wide range of offices including the Economic, Political, Consular Affairs, and Agriculture sections, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Through these interactions, I gained precious insight into life as a Foreign Service Officer, encompassing both the positive and challenging aspects of serving in a U.S. mission overseas.
I also took advantage of my time in Thailand to travel extensively around the region. I spent a weekend in Chiang Mai, visiting ancient Buddhist sanctuaries and temples, where I received a special blessing from a Buddhist monk who, after reciting a long hymn in Thai, summed it up succinctly in English by saying: “Happy happy, good luck!” I took my good fortune with me on trips to neighboring Vietnam and Laos, expanding my cultural horizon to the broader ASEAN community. I learned to appreciate the contours of national boundaries in Southeast Asia, which highlight important cultural, religious, linguistic, and gastronomic distinctions. When I now read about Southeast Asia in the news, I can visualize the national identities involved and appreciate the implications of regional integration.
I am incredibly thankful to the Tokyo Foundation and Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund for giving me the opportunity to spend such a fruitful and educational experience in Thailand this summer. As my internship with FCS was unpaid with no housing or stipend, SYLFF was my only source of summer funding. My experience at FCS stands out as a highlight of my graduate school career and has provided much-needed clarity to the daunting task of choosing a post-graduate profession. I now look forward to pursuing a career in public service, bringing together my passion for international trade, development, and cultural exchange between the United States and Asia.