High School Diplomats cultural exchange program provides an excellent opportunity for rising juniors and seniors

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Photo credit Photo courtesy High School Diplomats

The 2013 High School Diplomats pose in Princeton's Rockefeller/Mathey college.

Ohayou Gozaimasu! Or ‘good morning’ for those who don’t speak Japanese. This simple phrase marked the start of every morning at the AIU High School Diplomats program I attended this summer. Hosted at picturesque Princeton University, the High School Diplomats program (HSD for short) brought together forty American students and forty Japanese students for the cultural exchange of a lifetime. If you’re a sophomore or junior searching for a summer activity that is both socially and academically enriching, then look no further. HSD provides the perfect balance of lighthearted bonding activities and opportunities to enhance your knowledge of the Japanese language and culture. Whether we were dressing up in Halloween costumes or discussing nuclear non-proliferation, we always managed to have an amazing time. Over the course of ten days we laughed, cried, and made friendships that continue to this day.

What makes HSD so memorable is that one day is never the same as the next. There really is no such thing as a “typical day” at HSD. Yet, certain staples prevented the schedule from devolving into total disarray. Every morning at 7:30 we would awake to a Japanese stretching exercise called Rajio Taiso and head off to breakfast soon after. Meals lasted for about an hour, specifically prolonged for the purpose of giving students more time to interact and get to know each other. Mornings were usually reserved for the more academic components of the program. For the first half of our time at Princeton the Japanese and American students exchanged presentations on specific issues such as government, education, and regional characteristics. Later in the week, a group of incredible Japanese-American women taught classes where we learned the basics of Japanese and traditional Japanese culture. Afternoons and evenings featured camp-like activities such as a field day, a country fair, and color wars. The unanimous favorite, however, was roaming around the town of Princeton during free day followed by date night; the recreation of an American prom.

Whether we were dressing up in Halloween costumes or discussing nuclear non-proliferation, we always managed to have an amazing time”

— Aaron Smith

Asked what the best part about the program is, my response would be the people there, Japanese and American alike. It goes without saying that the program broadens students’ cultural horizons, and it serves as an excellent first encounter for anyone interested in Japan. That being said, I may not remember much Japanese ten years from now. What I am certain to remember are the people whose vibrant personalities made the program come to life. Every American student is paired with a Japanese roommate, and I could not have asked for a better person to live with for ten days than my roommate Hideo. A fortuitous volleyball player with an infectious smile, Hideo stuck with me throughout all of HSD’s ups and downs. Interacting with him conveyed nuances about Japanese culture that I could have never learned from a book, a movie, or even a teacher.  As for the other students in the program, they represented a humbling diversity of talents. There were athletes and singers and dancers—yet most students had so many different abilities that they defied a singular label. No matter our different strengths, we were all unified by a sense of tolerance and understanding, the key to cultural exchange.

Now the part that you have been waiting for: how much a life-changing experience like this costs. In fact, any student admitted to the HSD program receives a full scholarship covering the cost of food, transportation, lodging and activities. You can find the application for next year’s iteration of the program, which lasts from July 29th to August 9th, by going to www.highschooldiplomats.com and clicking the tab that says ‘HSD in America.’ Alternatively you can contact the American director, Celine Zapolski, at [email protected] Keep in mind that applications must be postmarked by January 8th, 2014 to be eligible for consideration. After submitting your application you will be contacted for in interview in mid-March, and receive a final decision in mid-April. The application process certainly demands a lot, but HSD is unlike any other summer program out there. As if ten days at Princeton was not enough, acceptance into HSD also enables you to apply for USHSD the year after, a three-week, all-expenses-paid trip to Japan that expands upon the foundations of HSD. Feel free to stop me in the halls or e-mail me at [email protected] if you have any questions. Good luck!