When I opened my mailbox to discover my High School Diplomats decision letter, my heart pounded with anxiety. But those fears soon turn into unbridled joy when I discovered that I was accepted to attend the ten-day program hosted at Princeton University that allowed American and Japanese students to live and interact with each other.
HSD is sponsored by the AIU Insurance Company of Tokyo and the Freeman Foundation, and each selected student is offered a fully paid scholarship to participate in the cross-cultural exchange. More than simply a means to practice diplomacy, HSD is a way for students to be leaders in their community.
Before traveling to Princeton, I participated in homestay, which allowed me to host two other Japanese students for three days and introduce them to a typical American lifestyle. We also had fun cycling, swimming, and playing laser tag.
Each day at Princeton had a special theme that roommate pairs, one Japanese student and one American student, participated in. My personal favorite was Great Gatsby, which allowed students to enjoy a night filled with games, karaoke, and prizes.
However, the Diplomat Talks also provided a more serious outlet for discussion. Topics revolving around the power of global citizenship and the necessity of war to keep peace allowed me to actively engage with people from around the United States and Japan. I was surprised when I heard that one of the Japanese students sees armed US soldiers from a nearby base on the train she takes each day.
In culture classes, I made origami, experienced a traditional tea ceremony, and prepared sushi, all while learning new words. I remember pretending to enjoy the tea that my classmate prepared for me despite the fact that he threw in clump of matcha powder into my cup and forgot to mix it.
On the last night, I participated in the candle ceremony that signified the end of our experience. Despite our language barrier, my Japanese roommate and I had become good friends because of our similar interests and humor. Watching him audibly struggle to keep his candle burning as the wind threated to puff it out, all while everyone else solemnly continued on with the ceremony still brings a smile to my face.
It is through this program that I learned the importance of communicating in more ways than just language, and the simplicity of forming relationships with people who are both similar and different to me in so many ways. I am truly thankful to be part of such an enriching experience and wholeheartedly recommend that anyone else interested should apply.
To be eligible for High School Diplomats US, students may apply during their sophomore and junior year of high school. The application process includes an application with essays, an optional creative work, a teacher recommendation, a passport photo, and an in-person interview. The program contact for HSD is the American Director, Ms. Celine Zapolski. After American students successfully complete HSD in America, they are eligible to apply to travel to Japan for 3 weeks during the following summer on a full scholarship.
Applications are currently open until January 9, 2019. All materials must be received by the application deadline in order for an application to be considered complete.
To learn more about HSD, visit http://www.highschooldiplomats.com/