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    ACLS Fellow Rian Thum presented his research on Islamic China at the 2018 ACLS Annual Meeting 

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    Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow John Murphy leading a tour of his exhibit

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Beyond the Academy

Cable from Tokyo: A Public Fellow’s Work Supporting US Public Diplomacy


Originally placed on the US Department of State’s Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board in DC, ACLS Public Fellow Erin Evans-Walker made the move to the Public Affairs Section at the United States Embassy in Tokyo in June 2015. She sent ACLS a brief report on her work representing the Embassy and fostering educational and cultural exchange between the US and Japan. 


Evans-Walker_100x100Over the course of my ACLS Public Fellows placement with the Department of State in Washington, DC, I was fortunate to have the support of my supervisor to pursue a unique professional development opportunity: a secondment to the Public Affairs Section at the US Embassy in Tokyo. What started as a 10-week move turned into four months, over which I was involved in the full spectrum of projects in the cultural side of this major US Mission. President Obama and Prime Minister Abe have supported a drive to double the number of exchange participants between the United States and Japan, and the US Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, is also dedicated to encouraging educational and cultural exchange, so the Public Affairs Section supports a wide range of activities. My role ranged from acting behind the scenes, drafting messages and remarks for the Ambassador and other high-ranking Embassy representatives, to being the representative of the Embassy myself at events with hundreds of Japanese youth. The work was varied, fast-paced, and consistently engaged with the community. As a small sample, I helped coordinate a binational, bilingual youth poetry slam with appearances by the Vice Governor of Tokyo and the mayor of New York City; a panel encouraging innovation, entrepreneurship, and diversity in video game design with prominent women from USC Games and Sega; and a speaking event with Bill Nye (the Science Guy) encouraging youth to study STEM. One day I would be working on a trilateral conference on energy security between the United States, Japan, and South Korea, and another I would be at a school visit alongside the Embassy’s social media character, Tom, encouraging high school students to study in the United States.

For the record, Tom is an orange-flavored Jellybean, selected to represent American diversity. He also raps adorably about study abroad options.


ACLS Public Fellow Erin Evans (front row right) with high school students in Suginami, Tokyo and US Embassy mascot Tom the Jellybean.

The skills I developed over the course of my PhD were invaluable to this work. Research, writing, and public speaking were all major parts of the job——not to mention flexibility, such as the time I was given less than 24 hours to acquaint myself with policy about gender and education in the United States in order to participate in an international academic conference!

My initial impetus to become an ACLS Public Fellow was an interest in the Foreign Service. This opportunity provided direct experience of Foreign Service life that would not have been possible in Washington alone. I am deeply grateful to my supervisor and mentor in Washington, as well as the Country Public Affairs Officer in Japan, all of whom are female Foreign Service Officers and have provided strong support and encouragement to pursue this career.


Find out more about the ACLS Public Fellows program here.


Beyond the Academy

This series highlights the diverse work of our fellows as they explore new directions for humanities scholarship. See the series.