Melissa Pilgrim – My experience at the Hangzhou G20 Summit

By Melissa Pilgrim, BA Chinese Studies, SEAS

My name is Melissa Pilgrim and I’m a final year Chinese Studies student in the School of East Asian Studies. On 31st August 2016, a team of seven students, myself included, and two academic staff from the Faculty of Social Sciences travelled to Hangzhou, in China’s Zhejiang province, to work as policy analysts for Global Policy Journal at the 2016 G20 Summit. We had been given this opportunity through the Global Leadership Initiative, which is part of the Global Learning Opportunities in the Social Sciences (GLOSS) program at the University of Sheffield.

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We were each tasked with producing a policy brief and a blog during our week in Hangzhou, as well as continuously tweeting summit outcomes and breaking news. As we boarded our connecting flight in Beijing we were all eager to experience a major international summit, and were excited at the prospect of attending press conferences with heads of state such as Xi Jinping. The unique experiences began when we stepped off the plane in Hangzhou – we were greeted by some G20 volunteers whose helpfulness and positivity, as we would later realise, played a key part in our enjoyment of the summit.

Our first couple of days in Hangzhou were spent registering ourselves, exploring the scenic West Lake and visiting the official media centre to get our bearings and relax, before what our academic leads had assured us would be two long days of researching and writing! We particularly enjoyed collecting our media passes, which came with a backpack full of G20-themed gifts including notebooks, a fountain pen and a beautiful silk scarf.

The real work began on the first day of the summit. We arrived early at the media centre and got to work researching the topics we had chosen for our policy briefs and blogs. We were also constantly monitoring the big screen in the media centre which was broadcasting live summit coverage, in order to learn about any summit outcomes as soon as possible. As well as writing our policy briefs and blogs, we were eager to attend as many press conferences as possible. Due to the fast-paced nature of the media centre, information about registration and timings for press conferences was often only available at very short notice from the central desk in the media centre. As a result, it was not unusual to see any number of our team running from one end of the media centre to the other in order to register for or get a seat in the next press conference!
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A highlight for many members of our team was the opportunity to attend the press conferences of Chinese Premier Xi Jinping and the Managing Director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde. Another unique experience for many of us was the numerous press interviews which our team gave to local and international media. Many media outlets, especially Chinese media, wanted to know about our impressions of the city and our opinions of Xi Jinping’s many summit speeches. By the end of the summit, we had each perfected our answers to the question, “What do you think of Hangzhou?”.

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On our final day in Hangzhou we were invited to have lunch with Professor Yu from Zhejiang University who had helped us to navigate the numerous pitfalls and difficulties associated with obtaining a Chinese visa. We discussed the outcomes of the summit and the Hangzhou communiqué, which had been published overnight, with the Professor and some of his colleagues before being treated to a feast of local Zhejiang specialities.

Attending the G20 summit was amazing. We were able to see what the life of a journalist and an academic researcher would be like, as well as develop our research, writing and teamwork skills. Despite only working at the summit for a few days, the entire experience of being a policy analyst was incredible, and the significance of the trip was certainly not lost on our team. The University of Sheffield is the only university in the entire world to have a fully-funded program like this which allows students to attend global summits! It is an incredible opportunity which I will never forget, and I fully encourage any student in the School of East Asian Studies to apply to the GLI for the next summit.

You can read Melissa’s Policy Brief from the summit here
Read all the teams blogs and policy briefs on the Global Policy Journal website