Monday, September 24, 2012

Internship in Japan - A GW Student's Dream Come True

Pictures: Emi with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos

Name: Emi Lea Kamemoto
Grade: Senior, Class of 2013
Major: International Affairs Major with a Concentration in International Development and International Politics
Minor: Sociocultural Anthropology

Summer Internship: The TOMODACHI Initiative ( - a public-private partnership that seeks to create a TOMODACHI (tomodachi means friend in Japanese) Generation amongst youth in Japan and the United States by promoting the pillars of leadership, friendship, and hope through educational and cultural exchanges in the U.S. and Japan.

Where in Asia: United States Embassy of Tokyo, Japan

What did you do this summer (2012)?
I essentially worked my dream job this summer with the TOMODACHI Initiative. I was given the opportunity to help coordinate youth dialogue among Japanese and American students to discuss ways to strengthen US-Japan relations at the people-to-people level. I spoke with students from the Tohoku region, which was hardest hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and prepared the first members of our TOMODACHI Generation embark on their exchange program to UC Berkeley. I utilized my English and Japanese language abilities, as well as my public speaking skills, to assist the amazing young people in Japan and the United States who are dedicated to building a better future.

How did you get the position?
I became involved in the Japanese community in D.C. right from the start by joining GWU’s Japanese American Student Alliance (JASA). Through JASA, I was introduced to all of the wonderful Japan-related organizations, including the U.S.-Japan Council, which I was particularly drawn to because of its focus on fostering people-to-people connections. Right before 2012 summer, I met with two of my acquaintances (and now friends!) from the U.S.-Japan Council for coffee, and it just so happened that the Executive Director of the TOMODACHI Initiative, Laura Abbot, was in the DC office. After rushing home to change out of my flip-flops, I met Abbot-san and spoke with her about how much I love the TOMODACHI Initiative, and a suggestion to volunteer quickly changed into an offer for a full time internship!

What did you learn from this experience, and why was it meaningful?
I think I learned that a small group of people with the right support can truly make a huge difference. The TOMODACHI Team (as we call ourselves) is no more than 5 full time employees yet this summer alone TOMODACHI sent over 500 students from Tohoku to the US on these cultural exchanges that ranged from leadership workshops, city planning and reconstruction seminars, to baseball exchanges. This team, with the help of the US Embassy in Tokyo, the U.S.-Japan Council, private companies and NGO’s has made an unquantifiable impact on these young people from Tohoku. 

What is it like to work in Japan?
Japan is HOT in the summer! I also completely forgot about the month long rainy season so if you are in East Asia over the summer, pack an umbrella, poncho, and boots! Learning polite/formal Japanese was a must, as I ran around downtown Tokyo to big offices like Coca-Cola, Apple, and Google to obtain documents, and every person in Tokyo carries a small towel or handkerchief, so I encourage everyone to buy one immediately upon landing in Japan!

What did you do on your free time?
I spent a great deal of time with my family in Tokyo and in Miyazaki Prefecture. A relaxing cup of delicious green tea and practicing calligraphy with my grandparents was a welcomed change of pace. Also, I was able to enjoy awesome yakiniku (Japanese bbq) and day trips to Kamakura, Enoshima, and Hakone with university students I met through my internship.

What was a memorable moment in your internship?
Preparing a speech to give in front of Secretary Hillary Clinton.
Secretary Clinton wanted to meet with Japanese and American students while she visited Tokyo, so I was asked to prepare some remarks about our TOMODACHI Generation. I spent time with Mark Davidson-san, the Minister of Public Affairs at the US Embassy, to go over my speech, and he particularly liked my metaphor comparing the rush hour Tokyo trains to the closeness I hope Japanese and Americans can achieve.  Unfortunately, a change in schedule prevented me from giving my speech directly to Secretary Clinton, but I was still able to share my thoughts with Ambassador John Roos, and my great aunt all the way in Kyushu was able to see my face on television!

Did what you study in GW help?
If it weren’t for my involvement in JASA and my sorority, Kappa Phi Lambda, I don’t think I would have been prepared to handle the level of responsibility I was given. I was in contact with top-level business leaders and had to manage different projects all at the same time. Having worked as president of JASA during the aftermath of March 11th, I felt prepared for the workload, and Kappa Phi Lambda has taught me everything I know about time management and making lasting relationships. Professor Mochizuki’s International Affairs of East Asia class was also a saving grace as I met many of the key players in the current events we spoke of!

Any last words?
Please support the TOMODACHI Initiative and feel free to contact me about information regarding involvement in the Japanese community in DC or in TOMODACHI.

For this fall semester, Emi will be attending Nanzan University in Nagoya, Japan. 

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