Clinton School [and Bowen law] student Amie Alexander traveled to Tokyo, Japan, to do her International Public Service Project with the Foreign Agricultural Service, which links U.S. agriculture to the world to enhance export opportunities and global food security.
What is the mission of the Foreign Agricultural Service? And how does it execute it?
The Foreign Agricultural Service is an agency within the United States Department of Agriculture. They work to represent the U.S. foreign policy interests involving agriculture overseas.
My work here has been with the Office of Agricultural Affairs, which is kind of the policy arm of the F.A.S. They also work on market access for U.S. companies in foreign markets. We would meet with Japanese government officials or U.S. industry that were hoping to resolve some sort of trade barrier to the market in Japan. We kind of were the middle man between the U.S. government and the Japanese government. Specifically, I researched and developed a lot of briefs for the foreign service officers on agricultural commodities and the market for those in Japan, and some of the issues that those commodities were facing in the industry.
I worked on a database that could showcase violations and import regulations that U.S. products had faced to try to be able to organize and collect those in a way that we could address those problems. I attended a lot of meetings with government officials and learned to talk to the Japanese government as well as U.S. industry and communicate the policy interests of the United States while making sure to push the issues the industry was facing.
Did the work match up with your expectations?
Honestly, I didn’t really know what to expect going into it. My background is in agriculture, but I don’t have a large economic background, so I was a little nervous about that. But it turned out that of the foreign service officers – there are four at this post – three were gone this summer. One was transitioning to a new post, one was on home leave, and the other was working in Washington D.C.
There are two interns here, and the effect that had was it allowed us to do more of the work that the officers left behind, rather than the typical intern work that I was expecting. It was neat to take on those roles in the 10 weeks we were here, because we really got a taste of what life is like in the foreign service and got to do some purposeful work for the United States government.
How did you spend your free time?
It was perfect for experiencing free time and looking around the city. We were able to stay with a family and house sit at the U.S. compound. We were right in the middle of the city, next to subway stops, and so most nights, or at least a couple nights a week, my roommate and I would go to events around the city. Every weekend we had a place to venture or easy access out of the city.
It was a good place for me because I had never been outside of the United States. Tokyo is very foreign but it is also very westernized. Most things were very navigable as far as English goes. I was able to figure out most things for myself.
There was a lot of personal growth that took place. The experience with the cultural differences was easy to navigate but still very noticeable. It meant a lot that every time I was lost, someone was able to tell I was lost and point me in the right direction. I felt like I gained a lot by having to explore on my own, as opposed to my normal routine at home. I really like to keep a strict schedule when I’m home. I like to stay busy and I like to be very planned. Here, I wasn’t really able to plan things, I just had to experience things and deal with whatever came up. I think that was really good for me personally.
Did this experience have any impact on your long-term plans?
My background is in agriculture, and I’ve been searching for something to fill the gap between my background and my current education. I’ve worked in a lot of law firms and I’ve really enjoyed it, but I’m not sure that is what I want to do. So, this job is perfect for showing me what public service can look like in the field I want to work in. Trade policy is exactly the field I want to work in.
One of my first days of work, they were talking to us about diplomacy and what it means to represent the United States diplomatic mission. He told us, “I work for the American farmer, and that is the way I see it.” He talked about his idea of public service and what he does, and that was really cool for me to see someone working on the macro level, but their motivation coming from the micro level. The environment was really encouraging.
Both of our bosses were really interested in professional development and helping us figure out where we fit. This internship program is kind of a feeder program into getting students interested in foreign service. It definitely has done that. But all of our supervisors were very interested in our personal success as well. They made it clear that they were confident in our ability to do the work that we were tasked with, and that meant a lot professionally, to just believe in the work that I was doing, and believe that I was capable and confident to do it well.
Were there any other aspects of the experience that stood out?
I think it was just a really good experience. Particularly in this time, when a lot of things are going on in the United States, it was really neat to take a step back and look at it from across the world. It was neat to be surrounded by people from a completely different culture, and different country, that care about similar things that you do but see things a little bit differently. It’s good to take a step back and see it through a foreign eye.
The way I interpret things every day is obviously through my own lens, so it was neat to put on a lens that was not my own and would not have picked up had I been in Arkansas. It was an interesting time in history to see things from a lens that was not my own. I think it just gave me some good perspective coming home, as far as continuing to work on what I believe and what I want to complete professionally and service-wise. That made it a little easier and more mature.
Written by Patrick Newton, originally published by the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, reprinted with permission.
Photos provided by Amie Alexander.