Though she has always loved to travel, when Rachelle Johnson (BA 00) took a job in Senator Thad Cochran’s Jackson office 10 years ago, she probably didn’t envision herself traveling to Japan for a year of intense study to enhance her foreign relations skills.
At the time, she was a senior Communicative Disorders major answering phones for a summer job while living with her parents. But a year later, she moved to Cochran’s Washington office. She eventually worked her way up to a senior legislative assistant. Along the way, she earned a graduate degree in International Affairs from Georgetown University and became the Senator’s foreign policy adviser. Now, she has been awarded a prestigious Mansfied Fellowship.
The fellowship will take her to Japan for a year where she’ll work closely with the Japanese government, gaining practical experience in foreign relations policy. But first, she’ll undergo intensive, immersion-style instruction in the Japanese language at the U.S. State Department. She’ll follow that training up with a year of working with the Japanese government in a specific agency or ministry.
Johnson is one of just five government officials to receive this year’s fellowship, now in its 15th year. The fellowship was established in 1994 to help develop U.S. government officials with Japanese language proficiency and experience working with Japan. Other participants this year come from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of State and the Department of Treasury.
Johnson was chosen from a field of more than 30 applicants. As part of the extensive application process, she submitted a detailed proposal of what she intended to do while in Japan. “I want to understand the political process and analyze the security relationship and cooperation with regional neighbors, specifically China,” said Johnson, who hopes to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Mansfield Fellowship is operated by The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, which was established in 1983. Mike Mansfield is a former U.S. Ambassador to Japan, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader and former U.S. Congressman from Montana.
“Mike Mansfield was very instrumental in building the relationship with Japan during that time when we didn’t have any real relationship with them after the war,” explained Johnson. “This fellowship is an honor because it helps to bridge the gap just as Mike Mansfield did.”
“Rachelle Johnson has demonstrated a strong interest in increasing her understanding of the U.S.-Japan relationship and her knowledge of Japan’s legislative process,” said L. Gordon Flake, executive director of The Mansfield Foundation. “She has shown a commitment to using the skills and contacts gained through the fellowship to benefit the U.S. Congress.”
While there will be real-world applications of her training once she returns to work in the Senate, Johnson also looks forward to learning more about Japanese culture on a personal level.
“I’ve always loved to travel and learn about different cultures,” she said. “The foreign policy door opened from working with Senator Cochran and being on Capitol HIll. But my love of Asian culture from traveling to China, South Korea and throughout Asia—that’s why I was interested in this particular fellowship.”