Mansfield Fellowship (i.e. ‘why am I in Japan?’)

It was a pleasant November afternoon in Washington DC when 16 strangers took the elevator to the 11th floor and gathered expectantly just outside the lobby of 1156 15th Street NW, Suite 1105. We were all ‘suited up’ and looking around at each other, Hunger Games style, trying to make pleasant conversation. We had all made it to the interview stage of the selection process for the Mike Mansfield Fellowship, and now just had to survive the group interview. Only ten of the 16 would be selected, hence the slightly awkward evaluation of everyone standing genially in the circle. I looked around the group and thought “oh boy, I might be out of my league,” but so I expect, did most everyone else.

What followed was a bizarrely stressful group interview. As we entered the DC office of The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation we were each assigned to one of two tables. Whatever meager alliances had been formed in the lobby were dashed. We were then given a number of written scenarios to choose from as a group, and then 30 minutes to discuss and work through how our group would respond. Cooperatively. As we discussed the scenarios and debated our potential responses to each point, the selection panel walked around with clipboards and listened in to our discussion, scribbling away and nodding occasionally.

Then we presented our conclusions in front of the room (both groups chose the same scenario: awkward!), made a brief round of thank yous and good-byes, and that was it. Thank you for your time. You’re free to go. You’ll hear from us soon.

And what were we vying for so pleasantly? A chance to spend a year in Japan, embed in agencies, organizations and companies close to our given specialties, further our Japanese skills, and, hopefully, help to increase the cooperation and understanding between Japan and the United States. I had been a Japan-o-phile for years, so this was a dream opportunity. Fortunately my agency also valued the chance to build bridges between Japan’s sister agencies and our own, and endorsed my application.*

The panel wasted no time, and on Monday morning I received an e-mail saying I’d been selected. Soon an e-mail went out introducing the entire group of 10, the 21st class of Mansfield Fellows, and we began organizing our first happy hour (thank you Jocelyn!).

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MFP21 during our March orientation in DC with Ben Self and three members of the Mansfield staff

We are a diverse group career-wise, with the following agencies represented: NOAA, NASA, FDA, SEC, Department of Labor, FAA, Air Force, State Department (2), and FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).

The first week in Japan was spent in Tokyo with orientation meetings and working with housing realtors and furniture lessors, setting up what will be home for 10 months. Then we took the shinkansen to Kanazawa in the Ishikawa Prefecture. We’re spending 7 weeks here, taking language classes at the Ishikawa Foundation for International Exchange and participating in homestays. We are also undergoing a crash-course in Japanese culture, and have had a tour of a national garden (Kenrokuen), a pottery class, a calligraphy class, a visit to a local elementary school, and an audience with the Governor of Ishikawa. Tomorrow we’re doing seal engraving (no, not the animal, the name sign).

 

What started as 10 strangers sussing one another out in the hallway of a DC office building is now a pretty tight-knit group of people who genuinely enjoy one another’s company. Two of our group are expecting the imminent arrival of the(ir) next generation, and so aren’t able to join in the Kanazawa portion of the Fellowship, but they have visited once and we look forward to seeing them and their families soon! While my main goal during this year is to foster relationships with our Japanese colleagues, I’m also continuously impressed by the other fellows and hope to learn a lot from them in the coming year. I’ll also say that while we differ in specialties, I think we are fairly similar in our drive and motivation. And when you take 10 over-achievers and place us in a situation where we lose a degree of autonomy, it leads to repeated …‘learning moments’, and a good deal of bonding.

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When we return to Tokyo we’ll have another week of orientation, this time for our ten months of placements, and then the work begins! (…or continues).  My placement schedule is as follows:

Fisheries Research Agency (8 weeks)

National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries (5 weeks)

Fisheries Agency, Resources Management Division (MAFF) (9 weeks)

Zengyoren, Japan Fisheries Cooperatives (9 days)

Yamashina Institute for Ornithology (2 weeks, including a trip to Ogasawara)

Nature Conservation Society (2 weeks)

Diet (4 weeks)

Kanagawa Prefecture Fisheries Technology Center (2 weeks)

Tokyo University of Marine Science (1 month)

Ministry of the Environment (1 week)

University of Tokyo (2 weeks)

 

I think I’ll sleep sometime in the fall of 2017.

 

*The Mansfield Fellowship is only offered to federal employees.

 

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