My journey began after I left the Japanese Ministry of Defense, where I’d worked for nine years, to become a Masters student at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC, on a Fulbright fellowship from 2009 to 2011. I chose SAIS to study international security and to expand my network with security experts in DC, which is the center of politics. This experience opened doors for me to meet esteemed professionals and continues to influence my career.
I have always been interested in international security and wanted to study it in a global environment, in a second language, to learn from a different perspective. Since I didn’t know when I’d ever get to live outside my own country again, I wanted to take advantage of my time in D.C. to get to know many people and their cultures. When I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, I made two goals. The first was to make international friends. The second was to publish at least one article in English before graduation.
An American classmate and Fulbright alum had me over to her parents’ home in Chicago for Christmas in 2009 and 2010. Another American classmate (also a Fulbrighter alum) invited me to her parents’ home in upstate New York to celebrate Thanksgiving in 2010. This was my first traditional American Thanksgiving dinner. Their hearty welcome and friendship definitely made my time in the United States memorable and special.
Cybersecurity began to attract attention in the United States when I was a student. One of my classmates, an editor for a policy journal, was looking for a contributor to write an article about Asian cybersecurity, and asked me if I knew anyone who could write about the topic. I told her that I could, and this marked a turning point in my career. She helped me publish a blog which became my first English piece on cybersecurity.
After graduation from SAIS, I had one more year to stay in the United States on my Fulbright visa to do academic training. Since I wanted to earn more professional and academic experience, I did two fellowships at Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies (now Pacific Forum), a think tank based in Honolulu, to research Japan-US cybersecurity collaboration.
A SAIS colleague who graduated one year ahead of me joined a cybersecurity firm and introduced me to his colleagues who does research on Asia. My publications were helpful to prove my interest in cybersecurity. Since most Japanese news articles about cybersecurity are never translated into English, I started to share English summaries with my colleagues when I was with Pacific Forum.
Right before my second fellowship at Pacific Forum ended, I went to see a friend, an American Fulbrighter alum, to say goodbye. At the time I was thinking about being jobless soon, and I was quite scared. He shared his experience after earning his PhD and encouraged me to aim high and stay positive, even in challenging circumstances. I was reminded of the power of the Fulbright network and was encouraged to persevere not just to find the right job for me, but also to help others through our international network.
It has been almost seven years since the end of my Fulbright fellowship at SAIS. I am still involved in global cybersecurity policy, and write and speak about it all the time. While my career path has turned out to be different than the traditional Japanese path of staying in one organization, it also enabled me to be adventurous, travel all over the world, meet people, and make so many international friends.
A few years ago, I bumped into a woman who helped me with my Fulbright visa process at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo in 2009. She was doing her PhD then and her research focus now includes cybersecurity. This is the beauty of Fulbright: getting to know a diverse group of passionate people and learning from each other.
To those who are interested in the Fulbright Program but are hesitant for any reason, I cannot emphasize this enough: Go for it! Don’t be afraid to be different. Your journey will be full of adventures, Fulbright passion, and friends.