Life-Changing Cultural Exchange Program

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Life-Changing Cultural Exchange Program

 Last breakfast at Princeton with two Japanese students

Last breakfast at Princeton with two Japanese students

Last breakfast at Princeton with two Japanese students

Last breakfast at Princeton with two Japanese students

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Almost exactly one year ago, my mom encouraged me to apply for a program called High School Diplomats that some former Maggie Walker students had participated in a couple of years ago.  I didn’t think much about it but agreed to apply.  Somehow, a couple months later, I got a letter in my mailbox telling me that I had been accepted to the program.  I didn’t know what to expect at first, but after experiencing what this program has to offer, I am so grateful that my mom convinced me to apply for what quickly became the ten  best days of my life.  

 

High School Diplomats (HSD) is a cultural exchange program that brings together forty Japanese students and forty American students from all across the nation for ten days at Princeton University.   Although I only had ten days to spend with these amazing people, it was more than enough time for me to figure out that they were seventy nine of the best people I may ever met.  I spent every minute of these days with them and by the end, all I wanted was 10 more days.  I learned so much about culture, friendship, and myself that I would not have been able to learn in a typical classroom environment and I wish that every other high school student could have the same experience I had.

 

Going into Princeton, I knew very little about Japanese culture and even less about the Japanese language.  After just the first day, not only did I know the basics of the Japanese language, but I also had a sense of what a normal day was like for Japanese teenager.  However, I think the most important thing I learned about Japanese life was that even though these people live halfway across the globe, they face the same hardships at home and at school that I face.  It was so relieving to be able to talk and relate to people that I knew I could trust after only spending a couple of days with each other.  Although I am by no means claiming to be an expert on Japanese life or culture, I have a newfound interest and respect for it and am eager to learn more about the country and the people who I love so much.  

 

From diplomatic discussions about international issues to late night talks in the dorm room about which boy was the cutest, I will never forget the conversations I had with the people at this program.  At times, the language barrier was hard to face but it helped me learn how much effort I should put into friendships to make them work and last.  Ever since I got home, I’ve been trying to put the same amount of effort into my friendships as the Japanese students put into ours; even though it can be exhausting, I know that it will pay off in the end.  I’ve kept in contact with almost all 79 people from HSD and still talk to them on a daily basis.  I know that they’ll always be by my side, no matter how far away they live.

 American girls dressed up for Japanese Day of Culture

American girls dressed up for Japanese Day of Culture

One of the most valuable parts of this program, without a doubt, is how it gave me the chance to discover myself.  I always thought I was an open-minded person but I realized that I was easy to subject people to my first impressions.  Being surrounded by the same people for 10 days forced me to really get to know them on a level that I haven’t even reached with a lot of people I’ve known for years.  As I learned more and more about their culture, I gained a new perspective that I’ve applied to my daily life and it has made me a better person.  

 

Looking back, I’m surprised that I changed so much in 10 short days.  I know it sounds cheesy, but I’m a more open-minded, respectful, and overall happy person than I was before and I owe it all to HSD.  These people have inspired me to do good in this world and to work hard to bring our two countries together.  Although I’ll never be able to experience these 10 days ever again, if I had a chance, I would do it again in a heartbeat and I wouldn’t change a thing.  
If you are currently a sophomore or junior, and have any interest in learning about Japan, meeting 79 of your best friends, or just having a great time, and  I highly encourage you to apply for the 2017 High School Diplomats Program which will be last from Tuesday, July 25th – Saturday, August 5th, 2017.  The application is due January 8th, 2017 and can be found at www.highschooldiplomats.com.  If you have any questions, contact Celine Zapolski at (571)-234-5072 or [email protected].

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