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Our experiences at Georgetown University, SFS

Lieutenant Commander Yusuke Saito
(Master of Science in Foreign Service)

Lieutenant Commander Tomoaki Nakano
(Master of Arts in Asian Studies)

School of Foreign Service,
Georgetown University

    Lieutenant Commander Yusuke Saito and Lieutenant Commander Tomoaki Nakano have been studying at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, (SFS) for two years since the fall of 2016. Our days have been filled with fruitful academic achievement, thanks to all of the support we have received.

Unique Characters of D.C.
    Georgetown University is located in Washington D.C.(DC), the capital of the U.S. As this location is one of the unique characteristics of studying at Georgetown University, we will start from introducing DC.

    DC is a unique city even compared with other cities in the U.S. The city functions not only as the capital, but also as the hub for international organizations, such as the World bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as embassies from all over the world. In addition, there are many powerful think tanks which have a huge influence on those governmental and international organizations. These think tanks host open-seminars and conferences covering a wide range of topics such as development, economy, security and the environment almost every day. We can utilize those seminars and conferences to acquire both expertise and broad knowledge. Another aspect different from Japan is that there are many scholars at think tanks who have experience working as practitioners involved in policy decisions and proposals. The system of political appointees allows those scholars to go back and forth between organizations from different sectors such as the State Department or the Department of Defense and think tanks or universities. As they remain close to real policy, think tanks and even universities in DC are respected more for their contribution to policy making rather than merely on the academic topics.

Outline of the School
    Georgetown University is located in Washington D.C.(DC), the capital of the U.S. As this location is one of the unique characteristics of studying at Georgetown University, we will start from introducing DC.
   Georgetown University was established in 1789 by Dr. John Carol, the first bishop in the U.S., proving that this university has the longest history in the U.S. as a Catholic institution. The School of Foreign Service (SFS) was founded in 1919 as the first American graduate school that focused on developing creative leaders who can actively work in the international community. SFS has also gained a strong reputation in the U.S., which is shown by the fact that SFS has been ranked at the top institute among all graduate schools in the field of International Affairs since 2012. As for its alumni, SFS has produced many practitioners in various fields of the international stage, such as politics and diplomacy across the world, international organizations (the United Nations, World Bank, international NGOs, global private sectors, etc.). Some of these alumni include Bill Clinton, former U.S. President, Sadako Ogata, former U.N. High Commissioner, and Izumi Nakamitsu, former U.N. Undersecretary-General.
    In addition, one of the huge advantages of studying at SFS is the active interactions with practitioners of the U.S. government, military and private sectors due to its ideal location of Washington D.C.. There are a number of eminent think tanks in this city, and SFS has vigorously arranged research exchanges with those institutes, which enables SFS students to participate in state-of –the-art seminars hosted by such think tanks during the weekends. SFS has a particularly strong relationship with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) because this think tank used to be a subsidiary institute of Georgetown University.
    In addition to academic specialists, faculty members of Georgetown University include active staff for the Department of State, Department of Defense, and senior officers from international organizations and the private sectors, which enables students to learn from real life situations based on practical experience.

Master of Science in Foreign Service (MSFS)
~characteristics of the classes (LCDR Yusuke Saito)

    LCDR Saito is part of MSFS, which is a program that focuses on broad topics related to international relations and diplomacy rather than focusing on specific issues. Its curriculum reflects the original goal of SFS to educate diplomats; globalization (world history), international economy, international finance, statistics and ethics in decision making are taught as mandatory classes for MSFS students. To graduate, we have to pass an oral examination for one hour, which can be considered one of the unique characteristics of MSFS. Although MSFS is the flagship program of SFS, there are only approximately 100 students per one year, relatively fewer students compared with other international relations schools. MSFS used to admit only a small number of Japanese students, but for my class (class of 2018), there are seven Japanese people total, and Japan has become the country that sends the largest numbers of international students to MSFS.

    One year has been passed since I started studying at MSFS, and I have one more year left.
I will introduce my impression of some classes I took, and how my experience in the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) could be utilized in my classes.
    First and foremost, what I learned and am still learning here is not only academic knowledge but also something directly related to my work in JMSDF such as how international relations and international law are related to security.
    Next, I was impressed by the variety of perspectives from my classmates because of their vastly differing experiences and backgrounds. As many graduate schools in the U.S. require extracurricular and working experience for their admissions, including MSFS, most classmates have working or interning experience at NGOs and governments not only in the U.S. but also in countries like Africa and Europe. In addition, there are many international students and even American students who have a parent originally from a foreign country. This variety brings many different and insightful opinions on one topic. Moreover, in class, we try not to judge any values or ways of thinking. For example, when it comes to “peace” or “history,” we dig deep with questions like, “What condition can be referred to as peace?” or, “From what perspective and by whom was history written?” MSFS respects the skill called critical thinking. Therefore, almost all classes focus on discussion with relatively small class size (18 is the maximum per class). I have learned hear that viewing subjects from many angles and thinking deeply about their essence through discussion with intelligent and experienced classmates.
    On the other hand, my opinion as a person from Japan is also highly respected by other students as one of these different values. Especially, as there are no other classmates who have experienced service at sea, when I shared some of my experiences, all classmates listened intently. When I wrote a paper for an exam that analyzed issues by using the process of drafting operational tactics in JMSDF and introduced the Five Reflections (Gosei) used at the Officer Candidate School of JMSDF, which were inherited from the Imperial Naval Academy, the paper was graded 99 out of 100 by the professor as it included precise analysis and unique and convincing viewpoints. There are many opportunities like this to impress other classmates with typical skills and viewpoints JMSDF officers possess.
    The MSFS program’s emphasis on the importance of as logical basis and theory also impressed me. When we discuss some topics about international relations, we must know empirical data and history by reading assignments as the basis of our arguments. In one class, Dr. Victor Cha, who used to work for National Security Council, taught us the importance of learning the theory of international relations as a practitioner, which was very convincing.

    As a student from Japan, introducing Japanese culture and perspectives to my classmates is as important as learning as a student. At MSFS in particular, many classmates do not have any relation with Asia, let alone Japan, and this tends to lead to indifference toward the region. Middle East and Africa are closer in distance than Asia, and this fuels the tendency to ignore Asia as well. As one of the students from Japan (2/3 are government sponsored), I hosted an event to introduce Japanese culture and took some MSFS classmates to the Japanese Embassy and the Asia-related office of the State Department to make the best use of this opportunity.

Performed Soran-bushi at an event introducing Japanese culture

Visited the Embassy of Japan , and heard a lecture from Rear Admiral Sekiguchi,
the Defense and Navy Attaché (at the time)

Visited the Department of State, and heard a lecture from Ambassador Joseph Yun,
the Special Representative for North Korea Policy

Master of Arts in Asian Studies (MASIA)
~The combination of my experiences and knowledge learned in DC, the center of politics (LCDR Tomoaki Nakano)

    LCDR Nakano is part of MASIA, which provides various kinds of classes from remarkably wide approaches, such as foreign languages, law, diplomacy, history, culture, policy, economy and business. MASIA is a comparatively small program among the SFS programs with less than 30 students per year and with around only 10 students per class. Nearly 80% of MASIA students are American, most of whom have strong interests in and connections with Asia through their working experiences as language teachers and NGO staffs in Asia or through their family roots. Also, they sometimes surprise me by their plentiful knowledge about Japan, such as a level of familiarity with Japanese politics that can surpass that of an average Japanese person.
    The MASIA faculty includes many forerunners of U.S. policies on East Asian issues. For instance, Dr. Michael Green, former senior director in Asian affairs for the National Security Council (NSC) and presidential advisor on East Asia, who is currently a senior vice president at CSIS, and Dr. Victor Cha, who was also the director of Asian affairs at the NSC. A large number of classmates told me that they applied for MASIA because of those two professors. There was speculation in particular that Dr. Cha would participate in the new administration when Trump took office. In addition, at the time that I am writing this article, the media has been reporting that Dr. Cha will be the next U.S. ambassador to South Korea.
    The requirements for master’s degree from MASIA are 36 credits, three core courses, and passing the second language proficiency examination. Native speakers of Asian languages, however, are exempt from the language requirement. Furthermore, students have the ability to decide whether to write master’s thesis.
    This program also strongly encourages students to do internships and research on or off campus. This emphasis iso combine knowledge, which students learn through classes, and practical experiences, and to create an essential network. My classmates are interning for the government, international organizations, think tanks, and in the private sector, even during the semesters. During summer break, students go abroad to pursue overseas work experiences.
    I myself have served as a research assistant for Dr. Green on his new book and worked during the summer as a research intern at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which is a think tank located in D.C., It was the first time in 13 years for me to engage in “job hunting” and a precious experience to have an interview in English.
    The job of interns varies from planning and executing events hosted by CSIS to assistance for its scholars on their research projects and presentations to creating draft memos for researchers’ interviews with the media. During my internship, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, who was visiting the U.S., came to CSIS and gave a speech. (CSIS is also known as the venue where Prime Minister Abe gave a speech right after he was elected prime minister for the second time.)

    One of the biggest benefits of this internship as well as learning in D.C. was the number of opportunities to directly talk to eminent scholars and practitioners. For instance, when I greeted Dr. John Hamre, the President of CSIS and former Deputy Secretary of Defense, he kindly said to me, “I want to talk with you,” and took the time to exchange opinions about the U.S.-Japan alliance and leadership. As for his leadership, Dr. Hamre told me, “When senior people face young people, they tend to focus on ‘talking’ such as bragging and lecturing. But, what is truly necessary for leaders is not ‘talking’ but ‘listening.’” I thought that he himself was really exemplifying what he said by listening to a junior officer like me.
    In many occasions, in addition to the scene above, there is surprisingly easy access to eminent researchers and practitioners in the U.S. compared with Japan, which makes me realize this is a culture of openness”. When I attended a seminar on innovation, Air Force General Selva, the Vice Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “Whether or not military organizations can survive depends on whether or not they can listen to young people, who are not used to standards and customs, without belittling them.” I realized the strength of the U.S., which has always explored the frontier and led the world as the forerunner, is trying to eliminate borders both between senior and junior in positions and experiences and between organizations through this atmosphere, which enables anybody to frankly exchange their opinions.

    Additionally, as we wrote in the beginning of this article, D.C. is the center of American politics, and the biggest merit of learning in this city is the opportunity to directly meet key figures from both inside and outside U.S.
    Above all, studying in D.C. in this very time gave us the chances to witness big political events such as the 2016 presidential election and the birth of the Trump administration. While Japanese people tend to avoid talking publically about politics, I think that American people feel closer to politics than their Japanese counterparts. During the presidential campaign period, many classmates watched the presidential debates while drinking at bars as if they were watching some sports game . It was quite striking to witness the quiet and, in some sense, tragic atmosphere on the day after Trump was elected because majority of Georgetown students were critical of him. Then, in January, I witnessed a number of Trump supporters who gathered at the inauguration from all over U.S. And, on the contrary, I also saw an overwhelmingly large crowd that participated in a protest against the new president. Thus, I have directly experienced these dramatic scenes, which are genuinely precious opportunities gained by living in D.C., the capital of the U.S. which has a strong influence over the world.

With professors and classmates of MASIA
With Congressman Joseph Kennedy III
at a U.S.-Japan academic exchange event
With classmates, at the Inauguration Ceremony

    Studying at SFS has dramatically changed our lives. As naval officers, we sincerely appreciate the chance to focus on studying in this outstanding environment for these precious two years. We will continue to do our best in the U.S., and after returning to Japan, we will exert ourselves to the utmost for the JMSDF and our country.
    We conclude this short essay by expressing our deepest gratitude for the past and present assistance we have received from anyone involved in granting us this opportunity.