My experience as a student policy analysts at the G20 in Hamburg

By George Ashley, BA Chinese Studies

GLI Team in Hamburg

Early this July, I took part in the Faculty of Social Science's Global Leadership Initiative programme along with several other students and academics from the faculty, including our very own Head of Department, Professor Hugo Dobson. We travelled to the German city of Hamburg for the G20 summit that was being hosted there, a small group of policy analysts in the sea of journalists and delegations that descended on Hamburg for the summit weekend.

After arriving in the city, we met up with a group of students at the University of Hamburg, who took us to a local restaurant and showed us their campus and some of the city centre. Though our hosts were welcoming and friendly, the atmosphere in the city more generally was rather tense at this point, as there was little local support for the summit being held there. Several shops we passed were displaying posters opposing the G20, and there was a heavy police presence everywhere we visited, anticipating the large protests that came to characterize much of the international press coverage of the event. In characteristic German organizational fashion, the protest leaders had even produced slick brochures and websites detailing the various protests by ideology and where they would be taking place. This contrasted with previous summits that were held in less populated areas and countries with a much lower tolerance of democratic dissent such as China and Turkey. While the high level of security was an ever-present feature of our time at the summit, we avoided any direct confrontation with opposing protestors.

Angela Merkel at the 2017 G20Due to the range of subject specialists our group included, we were examining different areas, both related to the core aims of the summit and tangential to those, in the initial stages of planning our research articles and collaborative blog posts. Arriving in the media centre was an unexpectedly effective boost to productivity in this regard, especially considering the large array of free food and alcohol that was on offer for most of the day. Once the summit was underway, we began the hectic but entertaining process of writing our articles and blogs, as well as attending a variety of press events, such as Angela Merkel’s press conference. Sitting just a few meters away from the new leader of the free world as she engaged with journalist questions in real time was an electrifying taste of the sort of media environment one usually only sees on television. For someone who is as interested in international politics as I am, it was a unique opportunity and one that I will not forget soon. Hannah, our media officer from the university had also brought along a high-tech video selfie stick for filming our experience, and I had the honour of being selected for some vlogging (by acclimation, I promise), probably on the strength of my neckties. The GLOSS twitter feed soon became a repository for my forays into video journalism and attempts to get on camera by any means necessary.

The whole summit process was unlike anything I had done before – I had no idea that twenty hour days could be so enjoyable, but the presence of like-minded people working towards shared goals made it so. Without a doubt, the most rewarding aspect of my G20 experience was the opportunity to write an article related to both my degree studies and the events of the summit: specifically, linking Sino-US relations, global leadership, and high-profile summitry. Producing a piece of academic work that was not specifically geared toward a credit requirement or module outline opened my eyes to the possibility of future postgraduate study, helped by the encouragement of the postgraduate students in our group. It was also fascinating to be one of the first people in the world to have access to direct material from the summit and then quickly incorporate that into a wider analysis of a relevant issue.

I would strongly encourage any current and prospective SEAS students, and others in our faculty, to apply for future summits or programmes with the GLI. Not only is the experience entertaining and academically useful, it also sets one in good stead for future opportunities in media- and international relations-linked fields. We are very fortunate at Sheffield to have this programme, and very fortunate as language studies students in the department to be eligible for it due to our position in the faculty. I hope that some people reading this will be on a plane to Buenos Aires this time next year for the 2018 G20 summit, and that the attendees will have as comprehensively rewarding an experience as I enjoyed.

Read George's policy brief "A Chinese Leadership Role in the Age of Trump"
Read all the team blogs and policy briefs on the Global Policy Journal website