The idea of missing commencement ceremonies on May 12 didn’t seem like it would be a big deal.
But Billy Lewis, who recently graduated with a degree in international studies and a minor in Japanese, says is it was hard not to feel wistful when he began seeing photos of the event posted to social media.
“I started seeing the pictures my friends were posting,” he says. “A lot of them graduated, but I didn’t get to be part of the group. I had to stay here in D.C. to work on my internship.”
But any sense of regret is overshadowed by that prestigious internship opportunity, which found him spending his final semester at Missouri Southern working in the Embassy of Japan in the nation’s capital.
“I had a wide range of duties, mostly revolving around helping with logistics for events,” he says. “The public affairs section of the embassy does a lot of event planning this time of year. The embassy works closely with organizers of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.”
The annual spring festival celebrates the friendship between the United States and Japan.
“I also helped with a teahouse tour at the Japanese ambassador’s residence, researched a historical timeline for the cultural center run by the embassy and worked on a blog post,” he says. “I also worked on fact sheets for each individual state about their Japanese economic connection such as imports, exports and jobs.”
While the internship with the embassy was something of a crash course in how slow things can work in government, Lewis says he learned that the often slow and heavily structured process can also prevent mistakes from being made. It also gave him a new perspective on the use of soft power and cultural influence.
“I got to see my studies in international relations play out in the real world,” he says.
With the internship behind him, Lewis has embarked on another adventure, having been accepted into the competitive Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) program.
“I’ll be teaching English overseas for the Japanese government,” he says. “I’ll be an assistant teacher for a native Japanese speaker. I’ll be assisting with pronunciation,
grammar, accents and immersion. It’s a prestigious program and the application process is highly competitive.”
He will be teaching in Seika, Japan, in the Kyoto prefecture. It’s a region with which the recent grad already has some familiarity.
“I did an exchange program to Japan through Missouri Southern and lived for a year in Kyoto,” says Lewis. “I studied at Ryukoku University, mostly Japanese language, culture and international relations.
“What got me interested in living there was watching YouTube videos by foreigners sharing their experiences living there. Japan is an incredibly peaceful place. I really enjoyed my time there. The landscape and architecture are beautiful as well.”
The Vinita, Okla., native is excited for the experience he will get through the JET program.
“It’s for a minimum of one year, but it could be up to five years if I decide to stay with the program,” says Lewis. “I’ll try to apply for grad school while I’m there and continue studying international relations. My ultimate goal is to be a professor or assistant professor. I’d love to teach overseas.”