High School Diplomats: The Experience of a Lifetime

Junior Cordy O'Connell shares her eye opening experience with an intercultural program over the summer

Cordelia O'Connell, Contributing Writer

Last summer, I had the opportunity to be a participant in the High School Diplomats Program. This program, sponsored by AIG and the Freeman Foundation, allows 40 American high school students from across the United States to come together at Princeton University and participate in a unique, ten-day cultural exchange with 40 Japanese students of the same age. During the program, participants immerse themselves in both Japanese and American cultures through academic and social activities, while also learning about what being a true diplomat entails. The experience of HSD U.S. has completely changed my life. I never anticipated the impact that the program and my fellow participants would have on me. 

One incredibly unique aspect of the program was the “homestay.” During the homestay, American participants in the area around Washington D.C. are paired with two or three Japanese students to host for the weekend. This allows for the Japanese students to live with an American family and get the full experience of what living in the United States is truly like. I hosted three girls, Emika, Cheyong, and Suzuka. Emika was also my roommate for the program at Princeton. Over the course of the eventful weekend we went shopping, bowling, exploring, sampled plenty of food and got to know each other. The homestay was one of my favorite parts of the program, I became very close friends with each of the girls and I loved every minute of our time together.

After the homestay, I got on a bus with other American students to head to Princeton to meet our Japanese counterparts. Over the course of the 10 days we tirelessly participated in social activities, attended academic classes, danced, laughed, debated, had several thoughtful discussions and cultural exchanges. Some of my favorite activities from the program were the Independence Day extravaganza, the Olympics, and the Diplomat Talks. Every participant in the program was very driven and passionate, and inspired me to be my true self. The portion of the program at Princeton was the best 10 days of my life. I got to explore and experience the unique and fascinating Japanese culture, in addition to learning so much about myself and my own country through a different lens. I made 79 incredible new friends, and I will cherish those bonds forever. 

We all left the program with heavy hearts but open minds. Although it was devastating to say goodbye to everyone, I knew that the time that we spent together would stay with me and impact me in my future. All current high school sophomores and juniors are eligible to apply for the 2020 HSD U.S. program. To learn more about the program and to access the application, visit the official website at www.highschooldiplomats.com. The application process is fairly simple; there is an online portion consisting of essays and personal information, and an interview portion as well. For further inquiries about the program, please contact the American program director, Celine Zapolski, at celinezapolski@highschooldiplomats.com. I am incredibly confident in this program and its ability to truly change lives. HSD is the opportunity of a lifetime.