Tuesday, October 30, 2012

If a Fellow is working without supervision, is she really working?

Most of you know that Jason and I are both doing fellowships in Japan, but may wonder what that entails. I'll let Jason tell you about his program. I am participating in the Mansfield Fellowship, which sends federal employees to Japan to work alongside their counterparts in the Japanese government.

CBO does not have a true counterpart in the Japanese government, but I am focusing on economic and budget issues, where we have a lot of unfortunate similarities: high levels of debt, aging populations, insufficient revenues to support the promises made to the aging population, and broken political systems that seem ill-equipped to address the issues. Japan is even facing its own "debt ceiling" crisis if the Diet fails to act before late November. It's as if I never left DC, except that it's all in Japanese!

Minister of Finance Jojima delivering the toast at the Prime Minister's (third from left) IMF/World Bank reception
Since I'm clearly not here to give advice on how to fix their problems, what am I doing?

I am currently assigned to the Ministry of Finance (MoF), historically the most powerful of Japanese agencies, but that is slowly changing. I help prepare English-language speeches and other documents, attend relevant meetings (including the recent annual IMF/World Bank meetings), and do research on various requested topics. Imagine if someone with limited language skills was placed in your office and you had to find work for them to do! I'm quickly learning that I have be to self-motivated and willing to make my own work when necessary.

After MoF, I am scheduled to spend time at the Diet, but that will be shortened by my maternity leave. Then I will spend time at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), working with the office that manages the US-Japan bilateral relationship, before moving to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which manages Japanese foreign assistance. I'll finish the year with a non-government assignment at Keidanren, which I've heard described as the Chamber of Commerce on steroids.

Even before the baby, it promised to be a very full year. Now, it will be interesting to see if I remain self-motivated and engaged after the baby arrives!

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