B.A. (Hons) M.Phil. (Modern Chinese Studies)
Policy Analyst, China-Britain Business Council
I studied A levels in History, English, and Classical Civilisation and AS levels in Music and Biology
at Collyer’s from 2010-2012. During my time at Collyer’s, I made my first trip to China with teachers and some twenty other History students. I hadn’t given China much thought before then, but the country took up a good proportion of the AS history syllabus, sparking a broader interest in the Asia-Pacific region. After completing my A-Levels, I travelled around Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam and then made various other trips around the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East while studying history at Royal Holloway. I remember thinking on that trip to Beijing in 2012 that China was unlike anything I had ever experienced before; all the other things that I was studying at Collyer’s, I had learnt about previously. What was going on 6,000 miles away from Horsham was new and exciting!
After leaving Collyer’s I went to the Royal Holloway to study for a B.A. (Hons) in History. While in London I undertook two Mini-Pupillages, one at a barristers’ chambers specialising in criminal law (Argent Chambers) and another specialising in common law (Lamb Chambers). I followed my BA with an M.Phil. at the University of Oxford in Modern Chinese Studies and at Peking University I undertook Chinese Language Study as a British Council: Generation UK scholar. While in Beijing I also interned for an environmental protection organisation, focussed on maintaining the ecological diversity of the Sanjiangyuan Area in China, which is home to snow leopards and a whole host of other rare fauna and flora.
I make a difference in my work as my job sees me advise government ministers, diplomats, and leading businesspeople from Britain, the European Union, China, Japan, and countless other countries on everything from climate policy to public health, defence and security, and local job creation. And it is very satisfying when a policy suggestion you made gets adopted!
In my work, there is a heavy emphasis on ensuring that UK trade with partners in the Asia-Pacific region is creating or sustaining jobs across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland or creating opportunities for young people through engaging with these countries and cultures. As one British trade diplomat once told me, “In trade negotiation, there are only winners and losers.” Every country wants whatever deal they strike to see more of the jobs, money, and opportunities it creates going to their people—and competition is fierce. I do not think people realise how much international trade deals affect their everyday life, nor how much they stand to benefit from engaging with the world. I am not a natural language learner, so I totally understand people’s hesitancy about language study, but I encourage everyone to try and pick up at least one foreign language to an intermediate to advanced level.
Working in Beijing is very different to working in London. For a start, working in a different time zone means that as soon as you wake up, you need to check the headlines from when you were asleep to see if anything has happened in the UK that could need responding to in China. Cities in China are also more densely populated than in the UK, people live on top of each other and far closer to their place of work, so I usually join the thousands of cyclists making their way to work and hope I don’t get too sweaty on my way to wherever I’m going! Most of my meetings are either at the British Embassy or the offices of a British company, where I advise on the latest political or economic developments in the UK or China.
What’s great about my job is I get to meet all sorts of people from all levels of society: MPs, diplomats, CEOs, entrepreneurs, academics, journalists, all cross my path. To fulfil my role language skills are key. You don’t necessarily need to be fully fluent, but you must be able to have a good idea of what is going on around you in the media and be able to make yourself understood, what is known as ‘in-country experience.’ You need to have a sense of how these countries and cultures work and appreciate just how different they are from the U.K. and how that affects their point of view and how they do things.
For someone looking to get into a similar role I would say take a gap-year before or after undergraduate study to pursue an intensive language programme in the country or region you think you would like to work with. The British Council offers a variety of scholarships enabling young people to go and study all over the world. Try to travel to a variety of different places. You might think you’re interested in the Middle East, for example, but get there and find it is very different to how you imagined, whereas Latin America chimes with you in ways you did not expect.
The advice I would give to my younger self is read more books. Articles can teach you a lot about a particular topic, for sure, and I know that lots of people also turn to social media to gain an insight into how something works, but this cannot compare with reading 300 or so pages on a topic in terms of really understanding it. Reading professionally edited texts – as opposed to tweets, etc. – also helps people to write more clearly, which is very important in my work.
What next Joe? I like writing and explaining foreign affairs to people, so I could imagine becoming a journalist or a diplomat. I want to continue travelling the world and living and working in interesting places; it would be great to spend some time in Japan, Vietnam, or Jordan, for instance.