On Aug. 1, I walked alongside my 39 fellow Americans through the Princeton campus. Apprehension hung in the air, and as we finally approached the two charter buses, we hoisted our welcome signs and broke out into various spirit chants. As soon as the doors opened, our Japanese counterparts came running out of the doors frantically searching for their roommates paired. Soon, the air became filled with enthusiastic shouts as the Americans and Japanese found each other.
For many high school students, the summer is an opportunity for work, research internships at the National Institute of Health or George Mason University, and local volunteering opportunities. However, there are many other options for summer activities before going back to school in the fall. One such activity of that I discovered is the High School Diplomats Program.
High School Diplomats is a summer program giving 40 American sophomores and juniors from all across the United States the opportunity to spend two weeks building cross-cultural relationships with 40 of the brightest students from all over Japan. The unique activities coupled with the high caliber of all the students create an environment that allows you to expand your horizons and learn about the world in a way you could never have imagined.
Personally speaking, HSD is the most unique summer program I have ever attended. The environment there is not only friendly, but also so accepting that you get to be yourself and discover untapped facets of your personality. Before HSD, I never even imagined stepping in front of an audience and dancing, much less singing. However, after just three days, I found that I was able to confidently step up on stage and perform a song. While this might seem trivial, students at HSD get the opportunity to move out of their comfort zones and take part in previously unimaginable activities.
Each day at HSD has its own unique theme that can range anywhere from Olympics Day to Bunka No Hi Day of Culture to Halloween. The most inspirational and eye-opening day, however, was the Diplomat Talks day in which the American and Japanese students spent hours engaging in discussions about issues around the world. The opportunity to hear perspectives from people half-way across the world on highly controversial topics like the War on Terror and Nuclear Disarmament is a remarkably refreshing experience. Furthermore, firsthand narrations of those afflicted by the Fukushima Meltdown left us all tearful and wishing we had more time to talk.
What makes HSD even more incredible is that you are paired with a Japanese student who you spend every waking moment with. My roommate is now like a brother to me; we video chat and text each other on a weekly basis. I have never formed such a rich friendship before in such a short period of time and the amount I learned from him is remarkable. The experience to learn about the life of a complete foreigner and get a taste of Japanese culture is irreplaceable, and made for a summer that will not soon fade from memory.
For more information and access to the 2014 HSD Application, please visit www.highschooldiplomats.com. Feel free to email the American Director, Celine Zapolski at [email protected] Furthermore, if you want more information from an alumnus, please email me at [email protected]