Sakura Scholar Report: Tommi Meyer pitched a successful event with the U.S. Consulate General Osaka-Kobe

A Sakura Scholar junior Tommi Meyer pitched the event named “A Consular Conversation: Exploring Diplomacy with the US Consulate” by inviting Mr. Akash Suri, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Consulate General Osaka-Kobe. We are delighted to introduce a report by Tommi and share the fruitful outcome of the event!

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Left: Tommi Meyer   Right: Akash Suri

As a Joint Degree Program (JDP) student, I, like my classmates, am studying Global International Relations. Many want to go into completely unrelated fields, some into the private sector, and others into government, one of the most popular destinations being the US Department of State. I myself am considering the latter path, and therefore was delighted to visit the Japanese Embassy in DC during my freshman year. After studying in Kyoto for a year and a half, however, it occurred to me that perhaps hearing from US diplomats would be useful to experience as well, in an event with the US State Department in Japan. 

Thus, on May 15th, I, in tandem with the IR Office of Ritsumeikan University, had the pleasure of inviting Public Affairs Officer Mr. Akash Suri and Locally Employed Staff member Mr. Ryuji Sakata from the United States Consulate General Osaka to speak at Ritsumeikan University’s Kinugasa Campus. This event was geared towards undergraduate and graduate students with interests in diplomacy, the US State Department, and a potential career in either, to serve as an introduction for those unfamiliar with the State Department, as well as a way to learn more about how to get involved in diplomacy.

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The event was split into two different sessions, with the first covering Mr. Suri’s career experiences during his various postings in India, Malaysia, and Japan, as well as an explanation of the State Department’s mission and activities. The second session was structured as an open discussion in which participants could hear about potential careers in the State Department and international relations in general, and were able to ask questions related to their own interests and circumstances. I had the honor of serving as the moderator for both sessions. 

Here I would like to share some highlights from the event, as well as a bit about my experience executing a student-pitched, student-planned event at Ritsumeikan, something I am told is rather rare. 

The Event

An interesting highlight for some of the undergraduate students, and something I’d like to share with any undergraduate readers, was Mr. Suri’s encouragement to keep an open mind about work experience versus graduate school immediately upon finishing our bachelor’s degree. A master’s degree certainly opens doors and can be a great experience, however, Mr. Suri shared that having the opportunity to make money, and perhaps even more importantly gain experience working in an office, can be a huge boon in working effectively with colleagues later on. With most State Department entrance examinees failing several times before even making it to interviews, working can also serve as a way to gain experience and provide for oneself while waiting for the next cycle. Mr. Suri mentioned that his experience working in public relations in the private sector at Silicon Valley helped build skills that have been useful for his current career. He reiterated that a graduate degree can be quite fruitful and open doors, but reminded us it is an opportunity that can come later in our careers as well -- sometimes with funding from an employer.

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“[The State Department] is not just a job,” Mr. Suri stressed. Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) move countries every 2-3 years, which can have massive impacts on critical life choices, ultimately creating a State Department lifestyle. Mr. Suri shared that this way of life can have influences on family, such as a spouse’s career, even more so when kids enter the picture, bringing with them considerations of consistent social environments and education. However, having the ability to explore a new country so frequently is also a privilege. The life-warping characteristics of being an FSO truly constitute a “lifestyle” rather than just a job, and both myself and the other participants walked away from the session with a greater understanding of the tough challenges this can pose, but also the wonderful delights it can offer as well. 

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The notable participation of graduate students, and the questions they asked, was a particular highlight and surprise for me. Despite not being from the US, one graduate student participant shared that as a direct result of the event, they intended to explore a career in their own country’s foreign ministry, or perhaps as a locally employed staff at the US embassy there. Several students, both graduate and undergraduate, also reached out to me or the IR office staff to inquire about Mr. Suri’s contact information to continue the conversation. I am overjoyed that students were able to get something out of the sessions, whether in the form of a short-term interest or a long-term career goal. 

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The Background

Planning a university event at Ritsumeikan as a student, I am told, is a rather rare occurrence. In light of this, I thought I might briefly share my experience in doing so. I had a previous connection with the consulate, but even without one a simple phone call or email would likely have sufficed to get the ball rolling. I visited the consulate to meet Mr. Suri to hear about his experience and gather career advice in November of 2023. There, I mentioned the possibility of doing some sort of event at Ritsumeikan, to which Mr. Suri responded favorably. Next, I asked the IR office about the possibility of such an event. After an expression of support from them, I followed up with a proper proposal to the consulate to begin the planning process. Once the details began to be refined, I coordinated with the IR office again to determine a venue and how we might go about promotion. When the time and place were decided, the sign-up form was created and a few weeks later, we hosted the event itself.

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Although planning the event certainly took some time -- about 6 months between my initial visit and the actual event -- it was a relatively painless process. The consulate was open to my ideas and made suggestions as they saw fit, and the IR office was continuously supportive and allowed me to guide the process in the direction I wanted. Thanks to all of their support, the planning was smooth, from brainstorming to promotion and everything in between, and I was able to learn skills, such as how to make a good promotion, or how to write a proposal, that would be beneficial for other students to experience at this stage in their life. I believe my being a student helped to ensure that the event and its content would be beneficial for the participants, and more than anything else sincerely hope that my experience might encourage other Ritsumeikan students to pitch their own ideas, for events or otherwise. 

Finally, one last heartfelt thank you to Reiko Toyoshima-san (JDP administrative staff), Dr. Thomas French (Vice Dean of the JDP), Mr. Akash Suri, and Mr. Ryuji Sakata for their wonderful support and work for this successful event. 

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