High school diplomats: Sturgis student experiences diplomacy in action

International program brings American and Japanese students together to share culture, language and cuisine
Katie Curran (left) and Natsumi Kuboshita (right) exchange their countries’ flags at Princeton University during the High School Diplomats Program in August. Photo courtesy of Katie Curran.

By Katie Curran

Nearly 75 years ago, the United States and Japan waged war with each other in World War II. Today the two nations have found the path to peace and stand together as strong allies. I had the opportunity to experience international diplomacy with Japan firsthand through the High School Diplomats Program this summer. After such a life changing program, I wanted to share the vision of High School Diplomats (HSD) with other Cape Cod high school students so they may have the opportunity to apply.

HSD is sponsored by AIU Insurance Co. of Tokyo and the Freeman Foundation. It is in affiliation with the National Association of Japan-America Societies. Each student selected to attend HSD receives a full scholarship to participate in the cross cultural exchange. As noted on the HSD’s website, the goal of the program is “to provide academic and social activities intended to spread international understanding among Japanese and American high school students”. High School Diplomats is the perfect program for anyone who wants to a be a leader in the 21st century such as a doctor, teacher, diplomat, athlete, scientist or global citizen.

International friendships are established each year as 40 students from the United States and 40 students from Japan gather at Princeton University for 10 days to experience the wonders of a cross-cultural exchange. During the stay, a Japanese and an American student are paired and spend the program together, developing a meaningful relationship. I followed the HSD motto of “Seize the Wind” and lived everyday to the fullest, embracing every opportunity I could. Today, High School Diplomats has over two thousand phenomenal American and Japanese alumni.

Before arriving at the program, the Japanese students participated in a tour of the East Coast and a homestay. The Japanese high schoolers spent time in New York City and Washington D.C. and lived with a High School Diplomat family. The homestay portion of HSD is an integral part of the program. For 3 days, American families host one or more Japanese students and introduce them to the American lifestyle before the exchange at Princeton begins.

Every student at HSD does a presentation which introduces a variety of cultural aspects from each country including social issues, education and regional characteristics. This year, I had the opportunity to do a presentation on government for the Japanese students to learn about the United States. Having lived on Cape Cod my whole life, I shared lots of information about President John F. Kennedy. The John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum generously donated posters and pins for my presentation. It was very rewarding to teach students from across the globe about the United States government and in particular my community of Cape Cod.

High School Diplomats’ amazing staff was devoted to making HSD informative and impactful. From the director of the program to the college-aged counselors, everyone put tremendous time and energy into HSD. They were very helpful with travel arrangements and made every part of the program a delight. The generosity of AIU Insurance Co. of Tokyo, the Freeman Foundation and everyone at HSD made the program an experience of a lifetime.

Everyday at Princeton was a theme day that allowed roommate pairs to learn about one another, develop a true friendship, communicate in variety of ways and simply have fun. One memorable event was date night. Each American was paired with a Japanese student who took them out on a date at Princeton. Everyone was dressed to the nines, had dinner together and danced the night away. With themes ranging from an interactive scavenger hunt across the campus, a haunted house, a pep rally and a Fourth of July party, there were activities for everyone.

For me, the “Diplomat Talks” were one of the highlights of the entire program. We discussed issues such as global poverty, gender inequality and world peace in the 21st century. My grandfather, the late Jeremiah F. Cahir who was a former Massachusetts State Representative for the 3rd Barnstable District, fought in World War II. He enlisted in the war when he was a mere 17-years-old. Here at the High School Diplomats Program, 17-year-old Japanese and American students were convening to foster peace in the 21st century. I discovered that grandparents of some of my fellow Japanese diplomats actually fought in World War II as well. As I sat in the “Diplomat Talks”, I realized just how incredible it was that our families were fighting each other a few generations ago, and now stood together as one. I was in awe while reflecting on the evolution of Japanese-American relations over the course of 75 years. I felt like a true diplomat representing the United States while experiencing another culture. Without High School Diplomats, I would have never been introduced to the Japanese culture in such a unique way. It was truly an unparalleled experience.

“Ichi, ni, san, shi…”, I began each day counting in Japanese while doing Rajio Taiso, or radio exercises. Rajio Taiso is a popular morning exercise routine that plays on the radio in Japan. Over the 10 days, High School Diplomats perfectly blended education with summer fun. Classes started at 9 a.m. every morning and included language and culture courses. I took an engaging Japanese language class taught by a native Japanese speaker. Although the classes were not graded, I did have homework that I completed with my roommate which taught me even more about Japan. By the end of the program I was able to hold basic conversations in Japanese. The classes were a phenomenal way for me to truly bond with my roommate as we discussed what we had learned in class each day. We found common ground in our everyday lives.

In the culture classes, I prepared sushi, learned calligraphy, made origami and experienced a traditional tea ceremony. In class, I made a lot of paper cranes, symbolizing peace and hope between our nations, and I developed a further appreciation for Japan. I have a fond memory of sitting in my culture class and learning how to write “friend” and “love” in Kanji, a type of Japanese writing using Chinese characters. I followed the elegant strokes with my brush, marking the paper with the vivid ink while admiring the beautiful art of calligraphy. I developed a “love” for HSD and made lots of new “friends” and now could express those two beautiful words in another language.

I never would have imagined what an impact the High School Diplomats Program had on me. I urge students to apply to this incredible program. Regardless of language barriers, everyone smiled in the same language. These pivotal movement proved that we didn’t need words to show our appreciation for each other's company. Our smile spoke a million unsaid words.

The last night of the program the students sang songs in Japanese and English as everyone waved their countries flags in the air on the way to the flag exchange ceremony. The warm summer air enveloped my skin and tears streamed down my face. The flag exchange was a moving tribute to all the accomplishments the High School Diplomats had achieved. One by one, roommate pairs stepped into the center of the circle to say their final words to each other. I couldn’t believe the transformation I had gone through in 10 days. I whispered to my roommate in the center of the circle and held her one last time, saying, “This isn’t goodbye forever, this is see you soon. Our journey together is not over, but rather it is just beginning”.

Through this program, I developed a true global understanding and saw the world as a global citizen. High School Diplomats definitely affirmed that I wish to pursue a career in international diplomacy and politics. It puts a true smile on my face knowing that I help create a positive relationship between Japanese and American students that lasts far beyond the summer days at Princeton. High School Diplomats is the perfect program for students looking to broaden their horizons, experience a new culture, collaborate with some of the finest students across both countries, learn about themselves and share their own culture. I am so blessed to have been part of this exchange. Returning to the Sturgis International Baccalaureate community this fall, I know that my experience at HSD has given me a one-of-a-kind global perspective that will prove to be instrumental in my international high school education. HSD honestly changed my life.

To be eligible for High School Diplomats, students may apply during their sophomore and junior year of high school. The application process includes an application with essays, a teacher recommendation, a passport photo and an in person interview. The program contact for HSD is the American Director, Ms. Celine Zapolski. After American students successfully completely HSD in America, they are eligible to apply to travel to Japan for 3 weeks during the following summer on a full scholarship.

The program runs from July 28, 2015 to August 8, 2015 at Princeton University. All HSD 2015 applications must be complete and postmarked by January 7th, 2015. To learn more about HSD, visit HighSchoolDiplomats.com If you would like to see a video slideshow that I produced, click here.

Katie Curran, a 16-year-old Bourne resident, is a junior at Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis. She is a full International Baccalaureate Diploma Candidate. Katie is the founder and director of Project Next Generation, a civics and leadership education organization for middle school students. At Sturgis, she is the News Editor of the Sturgis StormWatch Newspaper. Through her organization and internship at the Massachusetts State House, Katie’s primary goal is to increase youth civic involvement. She has a passion for traveling, studying languages and experiencing new cultures. In particular, her focus is on Japanese and Middle Eastern studies. Last year, she was a youth exchange ambassador in Denmark and the Czech Republic. Katie wishes to pursue a career in politics and international diplomacy.

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