Japanese student, Fulbright Scholar, returns
For nearly four decades students in Elberton and Mure-Cho, Japan have had the opportunity to participate in the life-changing exchange program known as Sister City.
While nearly every student and chaperon to have gone will tell you it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it changed the entire course of one Japanese student’s life.
Last week Yukimi Ikeda Kubo — who is now a Fulbright Scholar completing her Master’s Degree in Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. — brought her husband, Takayuki (known as Taka), to visit Elberton 19 years after she participated in the long-running Sister City Program.
Yukimi first visited the United States in 2000 at the tender age of 16 with the Sister City Program, and she says that since then she has devoted her career to cultivating the relationship between her home country of Japan and the United States.
“The program grew my interest in the world outside of Japan,” Yukimi said. “I remember being very emotional during my farewell speech.”
Yukimi, who is now proficient in the English language, also said that the program encouraged her to continue her English skills.
After graduating with a major in Political Science from Waseda University in Tokyo, Yukimi said she was influenced by the Model United Nations activities in her undergrad studies and became interested in working with peace and security efforts with the government in Japan.
She continued her studies and earned a Master’s in Public Policy at Kyoto University in Kyoto, Japan before taking the advanced civil service exam which is required to work for the Japanese government as a policy maker.
According to Yukimi and Taka, who met while working for Japan Ministry of Defense, there are different exams required to be hired and promoted within the Japanese Government’s three ministries — the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Environment. Yukimi passed the legal exam and Taka, an engineer and physicist, passed the scientific exam.
“I really wanted to understand the Japanese government and to create policies for peace and security,” Yukimi said.
Yukimi also worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a concentration in Weapons of Mass Destruction including nuclear issues. After working with the Japanese government for eight years, Yukimi said she left to “broaden her perspectives.”
“I wanted to go to the U.S. to study diplomacy and security issues and to work on my English skills,” Yukimi said.
Yukimi, who has kept in close contact with Twyla, Kip, Kyle and Keri Lovingood — her Sister City host family — since 2000, credits her host mom Twyla with helping her prepare her application for the Fulbright Scholarship.
“We would email back and forth and I would proofread her English,” Twyla said.
“I didn’t think I could get the scholarship,” Yukimi said. “When I got the acceptance letter, I felt so lucky and happy!”
Yukimi’s husband, Taka -- an accomplished scientist who has won awards in France and is internationally famous for his work -- moved to the U.S. to support Yukimi’s dreams. Taka works as visiting professor and researcher in the Physics Department at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia while maintaining his occupation in the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization mext to Tokyo.
Since studying at Georgetown University, Yukimi completed an internship with Under secretary General of the United Nations Izumi Nakamitsu in New York City last summer.
Yukimi said that Izumi, who is also a Japanese woman with strong leadership credentials, is an inspiration to her.
“It’s hard for Japanese women to be promoted in international organizations because of cultural and language differences,” Yukimi said.
Izumi and Yukimi not only share their passion for diplomacy and leadership, but Izumi is also an alumni of Yukimi’s masters program at Georgetown University.
Yukimi said that one of her greatest opportunities during her internship was helping Izumi with the speeches she delivered at ceremonies held at Hiroshima and Nagasaki Peace Parks (where the first and second atomic bombs were dropped) on the anniversary of the end of World War II.
“World War II is very important to the Japanese,” Yukimi explained. “The dropping of the atomic bomb was a very important incident between the U.S. and Japan, the two counties were enemies but at the end of World War II a strong bilateral relationship began between the two. Now, cultivating the long history for more than 73 years, the two are essential allies for each other.”
“For the Japanese, the anniversary of the end of World War II is very emotional and solemn. I acknowledge the importance of the existence of nuclear weapons to secure countries. Actually, Japan has been protected by U.S. extended deterrence. On the other hand, I think disarmament and nonproliferation of nuclear weapons is important as well to reduce future tragedies in which lots of civilians are sacrificed. and that’s why I want to work on nuclear issues for my internship at the UN,” she continued.
With Yukimi’s graduation quickly approaching in May, she wishes to stay in the U.S. after graduation and is hoping for the opportunity at a job working for the U.N. or for a job working for a “think tank” research institute in Washington, D.C. Yukimi’s visa will be extended for nine months after graduation in order for her to find a job.
Right now, Yukimi is most excited for her parents to visit the U.S. for their first time in May, when they come to watch her graduate with her second master’s degree.
Yukimi said she enjoys living in the U.S., even though she feels much of the political “tension” happening right now in the capitol.
Yukimi said that even though she loves the diverse environment in Washington, D.C. there is a “big gap” and that the issues are two sides of the same coin — on one side people are passionate about promoting their own rights, and on the other side people are only interested in their rights and keep quiet about the issues that don’t affect them. “I try to get outside of the university as much as possible to see more of the U.S.” she said.
Yukimi also made mention of another big opportunity she received while studying at Georgetown — the opportunity to meet First Female Secretary of State Madeline Albright.
According to Yukimi, Albright lectured in one of Yukimi’s classes, which is focused on the study of Trump Administration’s nuclear policy (which Yukimi noted as being “very controversial” because the Trump Administration has announced the 2019 Nuclear Posture Review to develop and introduce small nuclear weapons).
“I asked Albright about how Japanese women can contribute to Japanese society because it’s harder for women to be promoted in Japan since the government is male-dominated … I struggle with that,” Yukimi explained.
“She told me about her experience at the U.N. and how she realized it was hard for women to work in diplomacy,” Yukimi continued. “That’s why she invited more women diplomats to work for the U.N. in New York City.”
Yukimi said she’s grateful for the opportunity to meet Albright, who she considers to be a role model.
“Without the Sister City exchange, I don’t think I’d be where I am now,” Yukimi said as she and Twyla reminisced on her time in Elberton 19 years ago.
“He is another element to my story,” Yukimi said of Taka, who visit The Elberton Star alongside his wife. “He’s has supported me mentally and has helped me by taking out a loan for my second-year tuition. My scholarship was only the first year.”
Other than the farewell dinner July in 2000, one of Yukimi’s favorite memories is singing Destiny’s Child with Twyla’s daughter Keri and her friends in the car ride from Papa’s Pizza to the Atlanta airport.
Yukimi said she has fond memories of Elberton, and credits her passion for cultivating the relationship of Japan and the U.S. to her experience with the Sister City Program.
“It changed my life,” she said.