Interview with Byeon Jin Jeong

Interview with Byeon Jin Jeong

The below is an interview I conducted with fellow student Byeon Jin Jeong in late March. I was interested to hear his perspective as an international student living and working in D.C. As you'll find out Byeon has traveled a bit and probably has more experience with D.C. than I do.


Where are you from?
Seoul, Republic of Korea


What school do you attend and what is your major?
I study History at Korea University


How has coming to the U.S. been?
I have been here before so I knew what the cultural would be like. I’ve also already been to D.C., and I knew what to expect from the city. The most difficulty I had was being tired from the jet-lag, and getting to know everyone, since everyone is new. Having roommates has been a new experience for me.


Where are you interning?
The Turkish Union of Chambers. It is officially named the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges in Turkey, which is series of business chambers based in Turkey’s cities and provinces, such as Istanbul and Ankara. Private businesses in Turkey have to be registered to a business chamber, and in turn receive the benefits of the association. The chambers promote business locally and internationally, and they send business missions to other countries. TOBB is the abbreviation of the organization in Turkish.

In addition, the Turkish Union of Chambers promotes social development in Turkey. To ensure that Turkey has a skilled work force, they operate training facilities for Turkish people, especially in the underdeveloped areas in eastern Turkey. They also have their own think-tank and university. They are involved in civil society and international business.


What happens at TOBB in D.C.?
Their work deals with U.S. and Turkish business. They coordinate programs with other U.S-Turkish business organizations. And their focus depends on the wants of Turkish or U.S. partners. In April, TOBB will be working with Turkish bio-medical and pharmaceutical companies.


How is it at TOBB?
Well, I’m the only intern at this place. Additionally, it was interesting for me to be working in the U.S. for a Turkish company. My co-workers are either Turkish or Turkish-American.


How has that been?
It allows me to experience and try to understand two cultures at once. I found similarities between my own Korean culture and the Turkish culture. For example, the treatment of the elderly and superiors (supervisors, bosses, etc.) is similar. When you interact with someone older or your superior, you have to be formal, polite, and courteous. It is not as liberal as the interactions are in the U.S. between youth and their elderly/superiors. It is a more conservative relationship.


When I go to events at Brookings or CSIS, the speakers, especially those at CSIS, are very open to taking questions and giving me information. In Korea, it is more hierarchical, where it can be intimidating to interact with professors. It would be difficult to speak with professionals in a casual way. But things are getting better.


What are your responsibilities as an intern?
Usually, I write newsletters and perform administrative work (i.e. making coffee, sending mail, etc.) I have also been working on several big projects. TOBB has consultative status from ECOSOC (United Nations Economic and Social Council), which requires us to produce a quadrennial report on best practices for developing civil societies. I have been working on the 2008-2012 report that is due this June.


Furthermore, I put together daily briefs that are sent to our headquarters in Ankara. The briefs cover politics or industry updates in the U.S. I monitor news websites and gather information about any events that might affect Turkish policy. I also read state news for additional information for the briefs. I spend a lot of time sifting through database information (i.e. PIERS). I also collect international news information, including news like President Obama persuading Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call and repair differences with Turkey. I also provide updates from news from the EU, which is Turkey’s number one trading partner. Through this, I’ve been exposed to different international countries and areas, their politics and trade.


Has your education helped you with your work?
My studies as a History major have helped some. You have to be sure that information and the source are correct when you’re conducting quality research. I’ve learned how to think critically and check to make sure information is reliable and authentic. These skills have been useful.

I learn something new every day at my jobsite about the region (Turkey/Asia Minor).
Something else that has helped me is my previous experience in diverse cultures. My time in Ireland studying at the University College in Dublin made me a more multi-cultural, more tolerant, and more culturally understanding. There were 1,000 exchange students from Europe, so it was very diverse. 


What are your thoughts about TWC Monday programming so far?
I think it is good to meet successful people and hear about their experiences. It inspires me to work harder. They have been very unique experiences, and it would be hard to meet some of our speakers outside of meeting them at TWC programming.
My only issue is that the speakers aren’t necessarily from the field or career that I want to pursue. It wouldn’t hurt to have some profit-based companies represented. It would be nice to have some more diversity in the fields represented by the speakers.
Regardless, the speakers have been very good motivation for my future work. They have given me a clearer sense of how to succeed. I especially liked the White House Fellows speakers. They stepped out of their comfort zones, worked hard, and were ambitious. Their personal experiences helped me reflect on what I am doing and keep me motivated.

But are the speakers relatable? I mean you can’t be a White House Fellow if you’re a Korean international student.
I can still learn about what they’ve been through to get where they are. So even though I can’t be a White House Fellow, I can still relate to their experiences and draw from their life experiences. Even if they don’t relate to me completely, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet a White House Fellow in Korea.


What class are you in and what work have you done for in it?
I’m in U.S. Foreign Policy. We had two speakers visit our class. One was a TWC alumni who works for an NGO in India. The other speaker was the V.P. of the East-West Institute. He was a friend of my professor. He used to work for the State Department and was very helpful in sharing his experiences and answering questions.
I’ve learned a lot from my class. The professor, who used to work for think tanks, the U.S. government and TWC, gives a lot of reading and info to digest. He really challenges students and breaks down students arguments in class. It is “learning through the struggle.” He is very helpful and hard-nosed.


Have you done any fun stuff in D.C.?
I’ve already been to most of the memorials during my past visits to D.C. I haven’t been to the Jefferson Memorial; I’ll go see that and other memorials when it becomes warmer. I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out with my roommates. We went to the D.C. United home opener and a Washington Wizards basketball game. I’m waiting for baseball season to start so I can go see the Nationals. I am a huge baseball fan.


Who are your roommates?
I have two American and one Mexican roommate.


What are your long-term plans?
I plan to go back to Korea, but I would like to come back to continue my graduate studies. Right now I’m going through information on programs and good schools, and I’m scheduling the application process.


What would be your ideal career?
I’m still looking at different options, but I would prefer to work in the U.S. or outside of Korea, working in a field that has plenty of international exposure.

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