Feb 20

JET and the Rotary Peace Fellow connection: William Nealy, Jr.


By Mark Flanigan (Nagasaki, 2000-04), Program Director at the Japan ICU Foundation in New York City and former Rotary Peace Fellow in Tokyo.

As a Business Development Manager at Impact Japan, William Nealy, Jr. (Oita, 1994-97) works with mainly ‘gaishikei’ (non-Japanese) companies in Japan to understand their leadership and team development needs. William works in partnership with these companies to design effective solutions to “future-proof” their operations in Japan. He’s passionate about finding ways to help Japanese and foreign clients to align their people development strategies with their overall business strategy, and he loves the rush and satisfaction of helping clients achieve their goals. He is also multilingual- speaking English, Japanese and Spanish. In the Q&A below, William explains more about his own JET and Rotary Peace Fellow experiences in Japan, and how they have literally changed his life.


1) Thanks for answering our questions, William! Where and when were you a JET?

Sure thing! I was in Oita City from 1994-97.

2) What was your role? (ALT, CIR, SEA)

I was a Ken ALT, mainly based at Oginodai High School, with regular visits to a few junior high schools.

3) Did you have any previous background in Asian languages and cultures?

I had studied Japanese at university for four years, so I had a decent head start. But realized pretty quickly when I actually got to Japan that I had a lot of room for improvement in my Japanese skills. But living in Oita, as opposed to a place like Osaka or Tokyo, I was relatively immersed in the culture and language.

4) What did you do following your JET service?

Although I had traveled within the US before JET, my time on the JET Program was my first time abroad. It really opened up a whole world for me, and was the catalyst for me wanting to live, breathe and experience more of the world. Living in Japan, in relatively rural Oita, triggered my curiosity for seeing the world. I also felt deeply that I wanted to continue to develop a career with a global scope and somehow contribute to developing people. So after JET, I set out on a kind of journey, not really knowing the destination, but with an idea of the skills and experience I wanted to continue developing. I spent a year in my hometown of Kansas City working for a community-based NGO in an elementary school. I wanted to experience living in Europe – Spain was the natural choice because I had some Spanish skills – so I spent a year living and working in Barcelona (teaching English and hosting a radio show). After Spain, I moved to San Francisco and worked at a tech start-up during the internet bubble, then lived in Las Vegas and Los Angeles for about a year each. I was kind of a gypsy wanderer in the years after JET, learning about different parts of the world and where I fit in it. My Japan experience started to come full circle when I took a position at the Japanese consulate in Kansas City, working in the Cultural Affairs section.

5) How did you first find out about the Rotary Peace Fellowship?

While working at Japanese Consulate in my hometown, Kansas City. Consul General Shibata, a graduate of International Christian University (ICU), told me a Rotarian acquaintance of his was looking to recruit nominees for the Rotary Peace Fellowship, and asked if I would be interested. That same year, I joined a Group Study Exchange delegation to the Seoul area of Korea, and then pushed forward with my application to RPF.

6) Did you choose ICU as your first educational option? If so, what led to your decision?

Yes, ICU was my first option. I had traveled and lived in a lot of places, but my Japan connection remained very strong. I briefly considered applying to one of the centers in Europe or South America, but it was rather clear to me that Japan was the right direction. I had already lived here, Japan has an interesting relationship with the concept of “peace,” and I had a personal connection with the conflict between Japan and the US as my grandfather was a Pearl Harbor survivor and served in the Navy in WWII. So it was very intriguing to think about spending two years studying peace and conflict resolution in Japan. Also, I wanted to build on the experiences I’d had up to then, and I recognized the Rotary Peace Fellowship as a great opportunity to return to Japan, develop more focus in global leadership and people development. The Rotary Peace Fellowship at ICU would give me the chance to tie all those experiences together, strengthen my professional abilities and qualifications, and continue to be a bridge between the US and Japan in my own way. ICU was the clear choice for me.

7) What kinds of things did you focus on while a Rotary Peace Fellow in Tokyo, both academically and socially?

About six months before going to ICU, I met the author Iris Chang at a book reading she gave in Kansas City. I happened to have just read her book about Nanking (which somewhat ironically I had found on a bookshelf at the consulate), so was really tuned in to the issue of reconciliation, simmering issues that remained after the war, and how people and societies are able apologize and forgive. I spent a lot of my time studying the issue of the “official apology” – but over the two years, my thesis gradually shifted to the community of asylum seekers in Japan, people who had made their way to Japan to try to be recognized as political refugees. I got to know a lot of asylum-seekers, people working in related NGOs, the Japanese Ministry of Justice, etc. The refugee issue led me to ask questions and research things related to conflict, race, education, immigration and international law. I spent a lot of time going to conferences on social issues, playing tennis, made some very good Rotarian friends, and I met my wife at a symposium on the death penalty.

8) Sounds great! What was your post-graduate plan and how has it worked out thus far?

To be completely honest, I did not have a clear post-graduate plan. I knew I would get good experience, develop a strong network of like-minded people, and would see what direction my studies and those experiences would take me. I was not planning to stay in Japan after graduating, but life happened, I met my wife, and started developing a career in learning and development, leadership training, with the overall focus of inspiring and educating next generation leaders. I work for the Japan office of a British company, Impact International. Our expertise is developing leadership capacity in individuals and organizations and helping people work together effectively.

9) What specific advice would you have for current/former JETs who might be interested in becoming Rotary Peace Fellows (especially at ICU)?

The RPF program was an outstanding experience. Although I didn’t have a clear plan when I embarked on the fellowship, and it is generally working out for me, I would encourage future Peace Fellow applicants to think clearly about how they will apply what they’ve already learned and experienced to their masters studies and career after they graduate. Make a plan, set some goals, and know that they may change, it’s important to be flexible. But charting a course will give your studies some direction and help you take charge of your career during the two years and after you graduate. Also, Tokyo in itself is an amazing learning opportunity. Immerse yourself in your studies at ICU in Mitaka, but also take advantage of what Tokyo has to offer – it’s truly a world class city.

10) Thank you so much! Any last words?

The Rotary Peace Fellowship changed my life, literally. I have made lifelong connections here because of the privilege of being a Rotary Peace Fellow. I learned a lot from my RPF classmates, and some of them are like family now. I’ve also built relationships with several outstanding Rotarians in Tokyo who continue to be a part of my life. There is a strong Rotary network in Tokyo, Rotary Fellows Tokyo, and I am impressed by the commitment and passion of fellow Rotary scholars (besides Peace fellows, there are Ambassadorial scholars, for example) who all continue to make a difference in their own, diverse ways. The Rotary Peace Fellowship will bring you into a dynamic, diverse, and positive community, dedicated to being part of the solution to the challenges facing Japan and the world. We can definitely use more people like that, and I encourage people with the passion to make a positive difference in the world to check out the Rotary Peace Fellowship.


About the author: Mark Flanigan (Nagasaki, 2000-04) is a Program Director at the Japan ICU Foundation in New York City. Mark was also a Rotary Peace Fellow at ICU from 2010-12, during which time he volunteered for a tsunami relief mission in Ishinomaki after the terrible 3/11 tragedy. In addition to his JET and Rotary service, Mark has also been a US Army Officer, Presidential Management Fellow (PMF), CSIS Young Leader, Eisaku Sato Memorial Essay Contest prize winner and Aspen Institute Socrates Program Seminar scholar. His interests lie in international education, disaster response and post-conflict peacebuilding. He can be contacted at: mflanigan@jicuf.org

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