Ambassador Kennedy Chats with Students at the Embassy’s Study Abroad Event

Ambassador Kennedy: Welcome and congratulations for having applied for your student visas. Here at the American Embassy we have worked very hard to make the visa process fast and easy to understand, so I hope that we have succeeded.

While the process may seem simple, this is actually a day that is going to change your life. You’re taking the first step in becoming a global citizen in a world that is increasingly interconnected. Today, experiences in other countries, with other cultures and people, is the key to individual success and to solving the challenges that face our planet.

Studying abroad is about so much more than improving your own future. It’s also about shaping the future of your country and of the world we all share. Because when it comes to the defining challenges of our time, whether it’s climate change or economic opportunity or the spread of nuclear weapons, these are shared challenges. And no one country can confront them alone. The only way forward is together.

I spent a year abroad before I went to college, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. It gave me the courage to take more risks in the future, and exposed me to things I’d never been interested in before. Most importantly, I made friends that have been by my side ever since, and I still visit them today.

At the recent state visit, Prime Minister Abe and President Obama agreed that doubling the number of students in our two countries is a top priority. The U.S.-Japan Alliance has been built over the years by our parents and grandparents, who reached across the ocean to build one of the strongest partnerships the world has ever seen. Now it’s up to all of us to continue that work.

So you can take great pride in the fact that you are doing something that is important for Japan, as well as for your own future. You have the chance to change history and you are taking the most important first step today. Congratulations, thank you, and gambatte.

Question: What is your best memory from your university life?

Ambassador Kennedy: I guess when I think back to college I think about getting really interested in the academic subjects and the life of the mind. I thought it was really exciting. I was a pretty big nerd so I love that.

But I also think on the year you’re spending abroad – it’s really important to do as many other activities as you can and to meet as many people as you can, to try out for clubs or sports, to travel around California, which is such a beautiful state.

And for everybody else there are so many different regions of the United States. So I hope that you’ll really make an effort not to work too hard at your school, but to see as much of the United States as you can and talk to as many people as you can and not just stay in the library and study – like I know you’ve all been doing.

Question: What was your dream when you were young?

Ambassador Kennedy: Well, you know, I’ve thought about that because I have children who are your age and I look at them and what their dreams are. I guess if I think back, I always wanted to do something for my country, and something to make the world around me a little bit better, and to spend part of my life abroad. So for me, being the U.S. Ambassador to Japan is actually my dream come true, even though I didn’t ever expect to be doing this.

You never know where things are going to take you, so hopefully you’ll be as open to as many new experiences as possible, and who knows what’s going to happen to you in 35 years?

Question: According to the newspaper, the number of Japanese students who are thinking of studying abroad has decreased. What do you think the cause is? And what do you think should be done to stop this reduction of students studying abroad?

Ambassador Kennedy: Well, it’s really nice in Japan so I understand that people might not want to leave home. And I think there are a lot of bigger reasons as well as individual choices that people have to make. It certainly is expensive to go abroad, and it’s a family decision, but I always try to look ahead, and I think that we’re seeing that change and today is part of that change.

We’ve been seeing more students wanting to study abroad, and I think that your generation understands that you’re in touch with the whole world every day on your phones and computers. It’s so important to get outside your comfort zone and really experience new things. So I think that your generation is really smart and everybody is starting to appreciate how much more exciting life can be if you’re in contact with people who do things differently, think differently, but share your commitment to the future and building a better world.

I think we’re going to see a change, and Prime Minister Abe has absolutely made this a priority, and the Japanese government has made it easier for students to go abroad and providing financial aid, and we’re working on that here too. I hope you’ll tell all your friends to come to the U.S. Embassy, and come to our education fairs, and come get visas, and come to the United States.