Behind the Scenes at the G-20

By Thao Anh Tran

Working at the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh. Photo: Thao Anh Tran

My internship at the State Department’s China Desk this past summer, an incredible experience in itself, led me to an even more amazing opportunity: the chance to participate in the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh from September 24th to September 25th. After my frequent interaction with the management and protocol staff at the State Department in the process of planning for the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, I was asked if I would be interested in serving as a Spouse Liaison Officer for the G-20 Summit. Though I initially had no idea what this job would entail other than being involved in some capacity with helping a spouse of one of the leaders attending the G-20, the thought of being able to attend the Summit made it impossible for me to resist the offer.

By early September I was notified that I had been assigned Mrs. Kim Yun-ok, the First Lady of South Korea. I jumped with excitement upon hearing the news, as I had just visited South Korea in the past month and am currently learning Korean. As a Spouse Liaison Officer my responsibilities included participating in conference calls and keeping myself informed of details of all activities that the spouses of leaders attending the G-20 Summit would participate in, as well as maintaining frequent contacts with the Principal Liaison Officer for South Korea and the staff at the South Korean Embassy. While these duties were not particularly difficult to execute, the fact that I was in China and had to deal with the 12-hour time difference made it particularly challenging for me to keep up with my responsibilities.

When the week of the G-20 Summit finally arrived, I took a 7-day hiatus from my Fulbright research in China to fly to Pittsburgh, where I joined the rest of the Spouse Liaison Officers. By the time of my arrival, Pittsburgh, which was selected as the host location for the G-20 Summit for its remarkable economic recovery over the past thirty years and its commitment to building a sustainable future through the employment of green technology,  buzzed with excitement. The David Lawrence Convention Center, which hosted meetings and discussions between leaders of the world’s major industrialized and developing economies and relevant organizations and is recognized as the first “green” convention center in the world, was still under heavy construction with workers rushing to put the final touches to the meeting rooms in time for the opening of the Summit.

Although memories of being a few feet from Mrs. Obama or being part of Mrs. Kim’s motorcade as we traveled to the Phipps Conservatory for the opening reception of the G-20 Summit or having dinner at Mrs. Heinz’s Rosemont Farm or being able to see Yo-Yo Ma perform at CAPA Pittsburgh will stay with me forever, it is the hard-working ethic of the staff behind-the-scenes and the extreme precision and perfection that they sought for everything that impressed me most. These are qualities that I hope to emulate as I work hard to become a successful diplomat in the near future.

While the Spousal Program for the G-20 did not have any direct relevance to the success of the policy-making process of the Summit, its success demonstrated the United States’ eagerness to spread goodwill to the world. For this reason, despite the incredibly tight schedule, from making site visits to the locations where the spousal activities would take place to participating in meetings with the South Korean Embassy staff which made me quite exhausted, I felt incredibly honored to have been a part of a very dedicated team whose work exuded professionalism all-around the clock.

Thao Anh is a recent graduate of the Elliott School of International Affairs, where she double majored in International Affairs (with concentrations in International Politics and Asia) and Asian Studies. In 2007, she studied abroad in Hangzhou and Beijing, China and is currently on a Fulbright grant in Yanji, China conducting research on the role of the ethnic Korean community in facilitating Sino-North Korean relations. Upon her return to the U.S., Thao Anh will pursue a Master’s degree in Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.


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