Beyond Imaginations

A week after my last day at CiRA, I finally could settle down a little to write this last WOW blog post. Knowing that I would never be able to include everything that I have experienced in writings, I decided to write down some of the most important personal growths and a few pieces of advice for future WOWers.

Personally, the summer was extremely special and precious to me. The internship turned out to be invaluable in terms of building up not only scientific knowledge but also personal connections. It was far beyond accomplishing everything that I wrote in the WOW application.

Coincidentally, however, this was an unusual summer for the local people in Japan as well. As I wrote in my last blog post, the natural disasters and record-breaking weather conditions made the summer memorable in many senses.

Two Quick Shots from the Gion Festival (Yoiyama, Atomatsuri)I Went There with Some of the Hotta Lab Members


Chance is always there for those who are prepared. I have heard this sentence countless times since I was little. However, the CiRA internship validated it for me for the first time. Looking back, I could clearly see that I would not have gained so much, especially in terms of building personal connections with local professionals, if I do not have either the proficiency in Japanese language and culture or the previous educational and laboratory experience.  Every past effort not only prepared me for this opportunity but also enabled me to fully utilize it.

In the past eight weeks, I have met so many interesting people that I would have never encountered in my daily life. I also had a lot of intriguing conversations with scientists as well as science communicators. Besides the intensive bench works, I was able to get involved in some of the scientific communication works at Kyoto University.

Past Issues Focusing on Research News at KU

Published Twice a Year by the Office of Global Communications at KU

Before the internship, I thought it would be so nice if there was a career that could combine my skills in science, journalism, communication, and languages. Meanwhile, I also found it almost impossible to find a job opportunity like that because such a combination of interests is too rare to be considered or even imagined. Nonetheless, the staff from the International Public Communication Office at CiRA and the Office of Global Communications at Kyoto University opened the door for me and showed me the possibility of having a career like what I dreamed about before.

I am extremely grateful to the Hotta Lab members as well as all the people I have met at and outside of CiRA in the past two months. It is hard to say goodbye to everything and everyone here, but there is always a finale for every story regardless of how beautiful it was. To be honest, I have no idea when and how this summer will impact my future at the moment, but I believe that the experience is and will be life-changing.

Sunset View from the Rooftop of a Ryokan (Japanese Hotel) by Kamo River                                                                                       Taken Before My Farewell Party


After six-year of dreaming and struggling, the actual experience I had in the past two months was, however, still far beyond all expectations and imaginations. Although over 100 pages of lab notes and over 600 raw data files that I have accumulated during the internship period might be able to illustrate something, nothing would possibly represent the experience as a whole. These are the memories and growth that could become part of the foundation of my life and provide me with the enormous courage to further pursue my dream.

So, catch the opportunity and go for a real-life challenge!

Wrapping up at State

 

IO/RPC’s summer interns.

When I write essays, I generally can foresee how they end — with a memorable conclusion that wraps everything up nicely. In contrast, when coding, I cannot anticipate the eventual end of my program as easily. This is probably because I am much newer to coding than I am to writing, which I’ve practiced since first becoming literate.

Similarly, this internship experience has been an unknown, one whose future was not so ascertainable in advance. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and I have tried to learn as much as I can along the way. This was one of the underlying themes behind all three of my academic, professional, and personal WOW goals. I hope I was successful, at least partially, in taking advantage of all of the opportunities presented to me. I loved that I was able to work on my own projects at this internship, and one of my biggest takeaways was probably the amount I was able to learn about R, Python, and some of its many text-focused IR applications. I feel really lucky that I was given the chance to be able to do this.

I also reached out to people in other offices at the State Department, and had some really interesting conversations on their career paths and current jobs. I was often very nervous going into these interactions, but I’m so glad I went through with it — I learned a lot about different career options, just like I’d originally wanted, and I was able to ask as many questions as I wanted. My advice to future interns would be to try and have as many informational coffees as possible. Email people with interesting careers in other offices or bureaus at the State Department; some of them are bound to respond, and the conversations you’ll have will be impossible elsewhere.

I’ve also set a few new goals, based on things I’ve noticed about myself that I have perceived as weaknesses in an office setting like this one. For most of my internship, I had this Anne-Marie Slaughter quote hanging from my computer on a sticky note:

“I continually push the young women in my classes to speak more. They must gain the confidence to value their own insights and questions, and to present them readily. My husband agrees, but he actually tries to get the young men in his classes to act more like the women—to speak less and listen more. If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too. We have the power to do it if we decide to, and we have many men standing beside us… We’ll create a better society in the process, for all women.”

Slaughter was the first female head of the policy planning staff at the State Department, and she’s an all-around excellent role model for women in the workplace.

In any case, I’m proud of myself for holding out for this internship — despite my delayed start date — and for all that I’ve learned along the way. It was an incredibly fascinating, educational experience, and I felt like I was witnessing history take place.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.

Midway Through at State

A statue in a courtyard of the State Department.

Although somehow halfway through, I feel like I’m finally getting adjusted to the swing of things at work. Periods of busy activity appear in bursts, buttressed by lulls. In part, I have been told that this is the nature of work in this office. After all, the G-7 doesn’t occur without prior diplomatic trumpeting, and the UN General Assembly is an annual affair.

As an outsider, it’s been novel for me to see the preparations that precede meetings, speeches, and congressional Q & As. I’d never given as much thought before to the effort that goes into making sure federal figureheads are truly representing the Department’s policies and priorities.

In a process called ‘clearance’, multiple offices sign off on the contents of a document. The offices who sign off on the document are designated to ‘clear’ on that document because they have regional and functional expertise in areas relevant to the document’s contents. In many ways, it’s kind of like a group project. I like the collective nature of it, the idea that every bright person at State is pooling their knowledge to make it greater than the sum of its individual parts. How cool!

Of course, this could also be called a diffusion of responsibility — who, indeed, gets to make policy? These are some of the fundamental questions I have: what is American foreign policy in theory? How is it enacted in practice on the ground? How do these two paradigms differ? Who is making it, in theory and in praxis? I’m encouraged to attend think tank events at work, and these could help shape a response to some of these questions.

Outside of work, I take long walks to the many free museums the city offers. I frequent blogs such as this one on free things to do in DC to see what’s going on. When I have the time, I try to attend meetings for various activist, political, and religious groups, which has given my summer many different — and sometimes competing — flavors.

Interning has vastly differed from university life in that the schedule is set. I walk to work at 7:50 every morning, getting there by 8:15; I get home around the same time each day. At school, I have the freedom — and the burden — to forge my own schedule. Having a life outside of work here means I have to sum up energy around sunrise or sunset. Before work, I try to go on long runs around the Lincoln memorial and ponds, the grass dewy on my sneakers. After work, I often head back to the same place, to read in the grass and watch the summer sun sink into the night. In all honesty, being in the same room for an entire day becomes tiring; I try to be outside as much as I can when I’m not at work, even if that means I’m sweaty and itchy from humidity and mosquitoes.

Perhaps being in an office — in any professional setting — is itself a skill, a learned habit, just like being successful at school is. Maybe it just doesn’t seem that way to most adults because they’ve learned the activity so well already.

I am trying to constantly learn from this environment, which is so novel and fascinating in every detail. I hope to take away both tangible skills — I’m learning data analysis applied to international relations, and teaching myself Python, text and sentiment analysis, and more — and intangible soft skills, like the art of diplomacy in a conversation.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.

Getting Started at State

I’d been thinking about this sticky summer morning for over ten months. After going through the equivalent of airport security, I had finally done it. I was inside the lodestar of American diplomacy: the Department of State.

The main building — called the Harry S. Truman — is even more labyrinth-like than I’d expected. Perhaps it’s the physical manifestation of the bureaucracy it represents: the Department is divided into different bureaus, and within each bureau are different offices. I am interning with the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO), and within that, the Office of Regional Policy Coordination (RPC). This office focuses on the United States’ relationship with a host of international and multilateral organizations, including the United Nations and G-7. It’s also in charge of the Multilateral Moneyball project, which focuses on analyzing international relations quantitatively. This summer, my work will in part specifically focus on this project. I’m really looking forward to seeing how data analytics can inform foreign policy decision-making.

I’d also like to better understand the workplace environment at the State Department. I’m very interested in a career in public service, but I’m not sure where my values, interests, and skills are best suited. I’d also like to better understand how State Department staff enact policy under administrations whose politics they may or may not agree with. What are the lines between personal politics and public duty?

The interactions I’ve had with the very kind and hardworking people in my office have already been illustrative and invaluable. Everyone in my office is friendly and approachable; I’m lucky to have multiple mentors here. After a few days in the office, the learning curve still seems steep: there are more acronyms than I’d ever imagined could exist. I’m still getting into all of the systems — receiving my own email, setting up my own phone, making up passwords for all of the accounts I’ll need access to. I have my own cubicle, and, thankfully, there are two other interns in my office who have been here longer than I. They’ve been instrumental to my smooth on-boarding process.

I’m thrilled to start my internship. It was a longer process to finally walk through the doors of the Department of State than I’d even anticipated. The process started at the very beginning of my fall semester, when I applied through the federal website with a few essays and the selection of three bureaus. I had phone interviews with several potential supervisors, and by early November I accepted a preliminary offer, dependent on the approval of my security clearance. The security clearance process was another application — with hundreds of pages of online paperwork — and I was given mine only right before I started work. I also, of course, applied to the WOW, to be able to do an unpaid internship.

Many thanks to the benefactors of the WOW fellowship, who have made this whole experience possible through funding  — without them, I would not be here.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.

Do the Best to Enjoy the Moment

The early morning following the day that I submitted my first blog post, an earthquake happened in the northern area of Osaka City, a region right south to Kyoto. The magnitude 6.1 earthquake hit Osaka and Kyoto was significantly affected as well. Japan is known for frequent earthquakes, but it was my first time experiencing an earthquake at this level. The earthquake itself lasted approximately 30 seconds, and it took me about 10 seconds just to realize that it was an earthquake.

I was at home while the ground suddenly started “jumping” up and down, and then, moving horizontally. In fact, some of the lab members and I were planning on heading to Hiroshima for an annual genome editing conference at around noontime that day, but all available public transportation  in the region was completely stopped. I managed to get to the lab on foot as usual to meet up with the other members. I did not observe much panics from the faces of people passing by me on the streets. While the lab members were in the lab waiting for the updates on public transportation, we were even talking about staying over in the lab and leave for Hiroshima the next day as it was unknown when the transportation will return normal.

On the Platform of Hiroshima Railway Station
Arriving in Hiroshima in the crowd after 8pm on the day of earthquake

The Materials and My Name Tag for the Conference

The 3-day conference was shortened into 2 days due to the earthquake


The earthquake was not the end of the story, a heavy and constant rainfall hit western Japan beginning on July 6th. Kamo River and Katsura River in Kyoto were severely flooded and so did many other rivers in western Japan, especially those in the south-western region. A significant numbers of people lost their lives due to the flood and the sequential sediment disaster. According to the news, it was the most devastating rainfall and flood since Japan entered the current era, “Heisei period,” which means it was the most severe flood on record in the past 30 years.

Flooded Kamo River Next to CiRA on July 6th


While I am writing this blog during this long weekend, the famous Gion Festival is going on just outside of the window despite of the record-breaking high temperature these two days.

Besides the busy laboratory work, all these unexpected or expected events have become the spice of a monotonous daily routine. Though I have felt the significant personal growth in a lot of dimensions because of the laboratory part of this experience, the other parts were also the essence. They certainly added diverse colors and flavors to this unique cross-cultural and cross-field internship experience.

For every day I am at work, I tried my best to enjoy and make the most out of it. Indeed, I started my independent works last week after only a month of “intensive training.” Still, I cannot believe that half of my internship has passed already. I am definitely going to miss my life here in Kyoto and at CiRA a lot.

My Last Month at Columbia

Towards the end of my time at Columbia, a lot of my boss’ and my energy was put into a paper that she was working on for an academic journal that is based in Cuba. It was focused on International Relations and Cuban Studies in the United States. In order to best depict the essence of the work, the abstract is as follows: “This essay examines the development of the field of International Relations and the major analytical frameworks and paradigms employed, together with their influence in Latin America including Cuba.   The paradigms most commonly employed are realism, liberalism, constructivism, Marxism, feminism, The English School, and non-paradigmatic constructs.  The most influential universities and scholars in the US and Latin America are noted, as are major debates, including the role of International Relations in analyzing foreign policy related to Cuba.”

 

My last couple of weeks at Columbia were absolutely bitter sweet. I worked a lot of extra hours at my boss’ home, sorting through her personal library. The first photo below was taken one evening at my “desk”, (her dining room table), where I spent a lot of my time.

The second image is a screenshot of a page of data that I put together that was ultimately put in the final publication that was mentioned above. I was so happy and excited to see my name at the bottom in the fine print!

 

I will miss my boss terribly and am forever grateful for this experience and for the wealth of knowledge she has given me. Thanks to Hiatt and the WOW/EL fellowship, this experience has truly solidified my desire to pursue a career in academia and specifically, a PhD in Latin American History or Politics with a focus in Cuba. Although I have done several internships in different cities and across different fields in the past, this summer has most definitely been the most instrumental to my personal and professional growth. It was incredible to work solely on projects that I am passionate about and can see myself pursuing in the future.  I would recommend applying for this fellowship to anyone and everyone who has a passion! Many thanks to Hiatt!

4: Law as an Instrument for Change

During my time at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, I have learned a tremendous amount. I have expanded on my knowledge of the legal system, and have learned a great deal about myself and others. In working at the Bureau, I have interacted with many individuals, of varying backgrounds and in diverse situations. I have gained perspective on the realities faced by many of those who are in need of legal aid, and have realized just how significant the need for legal aid truly is. My firsthand experiences with our clients’ difficulties and frustrations has taught me how to be persistent, yet patient and kind while helping others.
Through conversing with and assisting student attorneys, I have gained valuable insight into the legal field and what law school entails. Ever since I was a little girl, I have always dreamed of attending law school and becoming a practicing attorney one day. Up until this summer, I had never really understood the significance of my childhood dream. My limited exposure to law and the legal profession created a vague and unclear understanding of what it meant to be a lawyer, and as a young undergraduate student, I had yet to figure out what it meant for myself. While I have always viewed law as an instrument, a catalyst for change, and a means to protect and improve the lives of others, my perspective was still limited. Through my work at HLAB, I have finally come to understand what it genuinely means to be a lawyer.
In many forms of media today, whether it be a movie or a classic television show, it can be observed that lawyers are commonly portrayed to be bossy, pushy, aggressive and elitist. Some of the most infamous stereotypes of lawyers suggest that they are power hungry emotionless beings who thrive on pointing fingers and arguing for argument’s sake. Despite these negative portrayals, I was fortunate enough to see the rare and scarcely highlighted attributes of a lawyer, the honest ones that media is not clever enough to feature. The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau displayed a very different image of a lawyer. At HLAB, our practicing student attorneys and attorneys engaged in law from a client-centered stand point. Quality legal representation is frequently a privilege, only accessible to those who are fortunate enough to afford it. At the bureau, individuals of all socioeconomic backgrounds were given access to quality legal representation. The organization presented legal services in a different light, one which assured that quality legal representation was accessible to all, and given in a manner which supported and empowered our clients.
I have assisted student attorneys with various tasks on numerous cases. I have seen clients go through the process at HLAB from start to finish; from seeking legal aid, to eventually going to trial and receiving a judgement or reaching a final agreement. Whether it is a mother regaining custody of her child, or a family who was about to be homeless regain tenancy, I have seen for myself how law can be used to change lives for the better.
My time at HLAB has highlighted my passion for pursuing a career in the legal field. It has confirmed my desire to go to law school and eventually pursue a profession in public interest law. Until I had first-hand experience with cases and clients, and had witnessed how lawyers can use law to change the lives of their clients, I had not understood the true potential or depth of law as a means for change. One day, I aspire to take an integral role in using law for such positive change.

Post 5: What I Have Learned

What have I learned about social justice work?

Activism is the keystone of social justice work, but there are so many layers to being a good activist. You have to be patient. You have to be open-minded, motivated, hard-working, sociable, emphatic, and organized. You have to be good at communicating. These are the characteristics I knew I had to have to be a good activist before I started working at Interfaith Worker Justice. I did not, however, have the chance to see if I had them and if not, work on them before.

Sarah, my supervisor, thinks that there are a few skills and qualifications that are important for this job: ability to motivate and persuade people, particularly people of faith to join the fight for worker justice and motivational speaking skills.

I saw my capacity to be a good activist at Interfaith Worker Justice. I acknowledged my weaknesses and strengths.

I acknowledged the power of religion in mobilizing people. I saw the option of having religion and religious people in the action space and the conversations. I saw how significant religion and its message could be.

What kind of impact did I have on IWJ in the time I have been there?

At IWJ, I constantly engaged in conversations about activism with my colleagues and my supervisor. What I believe I added to the conversation is the experience I had in Turkey. Pointing out the differences between the two practices and explaining how and why activism is the way it is now in Turkey was what I brought to the table at IWJ.

This I believe was also important to show and highlight the peculiarity of  practices in the action space in the United States–almost like a reminder to the people with whom I engaged in conversation.

What do I know now that I wished I had known when I started? 

I wish I had known how difficult it would be to travel in Boston using public transportation. I wish I planned better and payed less to UberJ

Boston’s public transportation is neither fast nor easy to manage but planning ahead of time would definitely help.

What advice would I give to someone else who wants to pursue an internship or career in my organization or field?

It will sound cliché but learning and getting the most out of IWJ is up to the person who is working. IWJ provides you with opportunities and it is up to you to get something out of it. My suggestion for the next intern would be solely “do and learn as much as you can!” Educate yourself, go to talk to people, ask questions, read and think about the power dynamics!

On top of preparing intellectually, I would recommend preparing mentally and physically. Be ready not to have a fixed schedule. Be aware that you will not be able to make spontaneous plans. Keep in mind that you will travel a lot to go to meetings and congregations. Thus, organize and schedule your time wisely. Prioritize your health. Know that IWJ prioritizes its workers health.

– Ece Esikara

Post 5: Reflection

This summer internship was extremely eye-opening and rewarding. From meeting with TriMet leadership to grassroots organizing to arranging and managing events to raise public awareness, I’ve learned where resistance in social justice issues can arise and I have learned the dependency of these issues have on big decision-makers. Many social justice issues involve educating the public, as many people may not be aware that these issues exist in the first place, and education is the first step in almost any issue. People must be aware or admit that it is a problem before anyone can start the first steps to move forward to make change.

I have seen the power that education can have on a community, as my internship revolved around discussing the problems of diesel in Portland to individuals, writing Letters to the Editor to educate news-readers, testifying in front of the committees of TriMet to discuss their role in leading Portland to reach ambitious climate goals, and in return, others educated me in many ways.

My internship was essentially a cycle of spreading awareness — educating individuals, gaining support, and then educating TriMet leadership of this support for electric buses and decreasing diesel emissions in Portland.

While no final decisions about committing to battery electric buses will be made until this coming year, I know that more people are aware of the diesel pollution issue in Portland. It is rewarding for me to know that there is a movement in the minds of Portlanders, and individuals are able to make a difference in their day-to-day lives as well.

The only advice that I would give to someone who is pursuing an internship in this field is to learn. Do your own research until you understand front-and-back whatever it is that you are campaigning about. When teaching business owners with businesses located along bus routes about diesel emissions, I received a multitude of varying responses and questions. I realized, sometimes the hard way, how essential it is to be prepared. Sometimes I didn’t know how to answer questions. Having straightforward and clear answers to each question or concern shows that you really care and in turn leads to more confidence, which is essential in grassroots campaigning and any discussion with people who are working with you. It is essential to speak up when leaders may attempt to work around answering the question instead of being straightforward, and that takes knowing what you’re talking about front-and-back to be able to speak up in front of others and have the confidence to know what you’re talking about.

People can see through you if you don’t care about your campaign, and no social justice issue can be ameliorated unless you really throw yourself into it and are passionate about it.

– Mahala Lahvis