The AIU High School Diplomats Program or HSD have invited about 1,500 Japanese high school students to the US as “high school diplomats” since its establishment in 1987. The program members visit some political institutions and historical places in Washington, DC and New York. They also experience homestay in local houses, and cultural exchange with American high school students at Princeton University. Mr. Yamamoto tells us its value, saying that “I appreciated the diversity in American society and built true friendship with American high school students, breaking cultural and linguistic differences.”
- Participant Name: Minemaru Yamamoto
- Organizer: AIU High School Diplomats Program Executive Committee
- Program Name: AIU High School Diplomats Program
- Date: July 16, 2017 – August 7, 2017
- Participants: 11th and 12th graders
- Place: East Coast of the US (Washington, DC, New York etc)
written by Minemaru Yamamoto,
Seiko Gakuin HS 12th grader
To broaden my mind
Hi, I’m Minemaru Yamamoto, a 12th grader at Seiko Gakuin High School in Kanagawa. I will introduce “High School Diplomats Program”, which I joined this summer.
“High School Diplomats Program” or HSD is a program, where 40 Japanese high school students go to the US as “high school diplomats” for three weeks during summer vacation for free.
The students visit some political institutions and historical places in Washington, DC and New York.They also experience homestay in local houses, and cultural exchange with American high school students at Princeton University.
Applicants submit applications by January 31st. After screening of the papers by the program organizer, selected students proceed to interviews. In my case, I happened to find the advertisement on the timeline of Facebook and decided to apply for it immediately.
This is because I wanted to see international institutions and American government offices with my own eyes. Also I hoped to know the values of American high school students to broaden my mind.
Anyway, by the end of January, I handed in application papers and had an interview in March. I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of HSD 2017 members. In April, May, and June, I had discussions with other members through Skype many times, about a group presentation and a Japanese cultural festival, which would take place during this program.
The First Destination: Washington DC
After the members finished an orientation camp for two days, we moved to the US. First, we landed in Washington DC and visited the US Congress, the White House, the Department of the State,the Department of the Defense (DoD), Lincoln Memorial and so on. I’ll talk about the most memorable spots.
“Freedom is not Free.”
This is the phrase inscribed on the plate at Korean War Veterans Memorial. When I saw this phrase it made me think of America’s views on the sacrifices made by its citizens in the past.
Such a belief would be a representation of right wing and even militaristic views in Japan which are very unpopular. Also I became keenly aware of the severity of the war, seeing the stone statues of the 19 standing soldiers.
In the press conference room of the Department of the State, a bureaucrat gave us a speech about American government and his work. I had a question to ask what the most important thing is to be a diplomat, and he answered that the most essential thing is neither communication skills, nor international ways of thinking, but knowing your home country.
He claimed that knowing your country’s history, culture, social issues contributes to building your own standards to measure other countries. It made me realize how important to know deeply about my own country, Japan.
We also visited the Pentagon, or building of the DoD. A female army officer guided us the building, but the inside was far from what I had expected. Its inside was cleaned well and there were convenience stores, a glasses shop and a drug store. Additionally, many escalators connect each floor, so its atmosphere was like a department store in Japan.
The Homestay Experience
After the tour in Washington DC, the students had homestay experiences for 4 days with local families in Virginia. I stayed in Gurdak’s house with two Japanese members.
The family consisted of 6 members, the father who works as a lawyer, the mother, and four children. In the daytime, I enjoyed going to several Smithonian museums, the father’s office and shopping. I felt the daily life in a town and learned the history of America. Especially, National History Museum had a exhibition corner about Japanese-Americans’ lives during the war, which was very interesting for me.
In the nights, I enjoyed playing cards and video games with the children as if we are the real siblings. However, we did not only play games but also discuss about our future dreams and challenges with our studies, and this reminded me of the fact that they are also high school students regardless of their nationality.
The Metropolis: New York
Next, the students moved to New York and went to the United Nations Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Museum of Modern Art, the head office of AIG, Inc. 9.11 Memorial, etc.
9.11 Memorial was one of the most shocking places I’ve ever been to. The Memorial showed real movies, real pictures, and real relics of the disaster. I also learned the background of the incident and America’s history of fighting against terrorism.
The exhibition was so gruesome that I couldn’t believe that it was real. I realized that the development of technology allows human to cause catastrophesin a moment and pondered on the meaning of our lives.
In a primary school in Harlem area, which is a black neighborhood, we held a Japanese culture’s introduction event.
We demonstrated fishing dance (Soran Bushi), Darumasan-ga-Koronda game and Karate. I joined in Karate booth and taught Karate punch and kick to children by making the most use of my gesture. It was difficult for me to teach it in English, but I guess my enthusiasm made children understood Karate.
At first we succeeded in teaching Karate, but in due course, children began boxing fights…lol
Cultural Exchange at Princeton University
Subsequently, we moved to the final destination, a dorm in Princeton University and merged with 40 American high school students.
In the ten days of the exchange, we had many activities such as cultural festivals, presentations, discussion dealing with international affairs. Through these activities I was stimulated by American high school students’ high aspirations and political perspectives, but here I write about what I learn and notice in our interaction.
In the middle of the exchange, I became uncomfortable due to a lack of topics for small talk with my roommate. However, I threw away my bias that all Americans are talkative, and suggested ourselves that we talk more and more.
As a result, we talked about our frank opinion and then our communication and the relationship improved. Anyway, when we were talking about gender discrimination, my roommate told me that roughly 10% of his school’s students had come out that they are LGBTs and most teachers and students accept LGBTs. I was surprised at the difference between Japan’s present situation and what I heard. From this conversation , I recognized tolerance and diversity in American society .
In this cultural exchange, I talked a lot with my roommate about many things from difficult issues to small talk. And I built such a close relationship with him that I was about to cry when I was leaving Princeton. The exchange is definitely best memory in HSD program.
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In this program, I appreciated the diversity of American society. More importantly, I built true friendship, breaking linguistic and cultural differences. I strongly recommend this program to students who want to become a global citizen.
If you participate in it, you will be able to get wonderful encounters and learn new things.
Editorial supervision by Komako Hattori