Andrew Chen, Master's in International Studies '16

An Exploration of Identity

Andrew Chen ‘16 is Taiwanese American. His parents immigrated to the U.S. in the ‘80s and settled in Ohio. He grew up in a community that didn’t have a very large Asian American population, let alone Taiwanese, so he’s always been a bit outside, in one respect or another — has always wondered about how he fits in, in the grand scheme of things.

"The Taiwanese Americans’ struggle with identity is a bit of a balancing act," Andrew said, "always having to triangulate the Taiwanese identity they are born with, the Chinese identity imposed upon them, and the American identity gifted to them."

It’s a question he hasn't been able to shake. First, it shaped his undergraduate studies, and he earned a BA in International Studies from Miami University (Ohio). But that wasn't enough, so he looked further, and found USF’s Master’s in International Studies (MAIS) program in San Francisco. And now, as an alumnus, he’s continuing his exploration of that question in the international community, at the U.S. embassy in Zagreb, Croatia.

As a Political Economic Intern, he works directly with Foreign Service officers and embassy staff to promote, implement, and maintain U.S. foreign policy — which involves assignments designed to enhance U.S. understanding of Croatian culture, politics, and economics — all in order to promote stronger bilateral and regional relations. Specifically in his section, Andrew identifies and analyzes macroeconomic data to convey the importance of certain issues and their effect on U.S. interest.

It’s a far cry away from his hometown in Ohio.

Why MAIS?

When choosing his master's program, he was looking for an opportunity to focus his studies on what he was most interested in: migrant narratives. More specifically, Asian American migrant narratives.

I was drawn to MAIS not only because of its location in San Francisco, but for the interdisciplinary nature of the program.

“It gave me the chance to learn about five different subjects (I chose Political Science, Anthropology, Economics, Language, and History) and let me discover how they were all interrelated,” Andrew said. "Plus, based on the work the alumni were doing, I knew that this program would let me explore the subject that I wanted and would let me be as creative as I wanted to be with my work.”

The San Francisco Advantage

Studying international studies in Ohio didn’t offer a whole lot of access to the type of narratives he was interested in: the Asian American immigrant stories. It’s part of the reason he was interested in extending his education with a master’s degree.

In contrast, San Francisco, though it has a checkered past with immigrants, is now a city that opens its arms wide for immigrants.

For a very long time now, San Francisco has been a hub for immigrants, especially of Asian descent. So going there gave me the chance to explore and learn more about immigrants and their stories, particularly those that bore a lot of similarities to mine.

Internship Experience

Andrew was able to gain access to San Francisco’s abundance of migrant narratives in many ways, but one of the most powerful was through a program-facilitated internship with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a global humanitarian aid, relief, and development NGO that offers emergency aid and long-term assistance to refugees and those displaced by various reasons, but especially by war or persecution. He worked as a Resettlement Intern, helping refugees resettle in the Bay Area.

Every family has a different migration story.

And interning at IRC was a great way for him to learn about those journeys.

There is a lot that goes into making a family feel safe and supported, Andrew said.

For instance, IRC will help families find housing, ensuring it meets basic requirements, such as a proper lock on the door, and will give them a new bed, and take them to buy necessities or to various appointments, and most important of all, help them in their dealings with social services.

“There was this one Burmese family,” Andrew said, “who needed help getting their baby son his social security card. They didn’t speak any English, just Mandarin. I grew up speaking Mandarin, so I was able to help them give their caseworker the appropriate paperwork for their son.”