Commentary: Program Bridges Cultures

Commentary: Program Bridges Cultures

The two Japanese characters are pronounced “wa.” In English, they translate to cooperation and harmony. Harmony defines the High School Diplomats program that brings together 40 American and 40 Japanese youth at Princeton University every summer for an intensive cultural exchange program. These 89 youth come together and learn how to form bonds with peers from differing cultures. I was one of the American students in the summer 2015 program. Each American participant is paired with a Japanese roommate. My roommate, Yusako, an ebullient girl from Mie prefecture, and I were not sure how to interact with each other at first. However, over the course of 10 days, through conversations ranging from track and field (we are both runners) to international affairs to favorite movies to Japanese cultural traits, we became incredibly close. Even now, we still talk with each other almost every day to continue our long discussions.

At Princeton, students take language and cultural classes, ranging from beginners courses to advanced seminars. I did not know the Japanese language before the program, and consequently was placed in the beginner Japanese course. I was so inspired to learn Japanese that I am enrolled in a Japanese course at Montgomery County College. The program was very effective in integrating cultural experience into every activity. Every single day had a special theme, often involving elaborate costumes. One day I wore a yukata, a summer version of a kimono, and learned how to act in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. The next day Yusako was decked out in red, white, and blue as we had a typical American picnic. Some other themed days included Thanksgiving, sports day, and Halloween.

The application for this stimulating experience is available right now and due Jan. 8. All that is required is an online application, including three brief essays, a teacher recommendation, and an interview. If you are interested in applying, you can contact Celine Zapolski at or go online to the program’s website From running around the Princeton campus on a scavenger hunt to learning how to read Katakana to creating bonds with Japanese teens, this program was truly a once in a lifetime experience that I hope more from our community can enjoy.

The writer attends Winston Churchill High School.