Mira Loma senior Rose Adams (second from left) and her roommate, Chisato (second from right), join two other High School Diplomat students during a sports competition. Adams attended the first part of the cultural exchange program and is hoping to qualify for the second, which takes place in Japan.

Participating in High School Diplomats, Mira Loma senior immerses herself in Japanese culture, gains more appreciation for America

Mira Loma senior Rose Adams, a friend of junior Marigot Fackenthal, attended the first part of a two-part cultural-exchange program called High School Diplomats (HSD) last summer. She hopes to qualify for the second part of the program, which takes place in Japan next summer. One of the qualification requirements is to spread word of the program through a school publication.

Q: What exactly is High School Diplomats?

A: HSD in America is a 10-day culture exchange between 40 American students and 40 Japanese students. You take culture classes and spend a lot of time doing cultural activities with your roommate. Everyone has a roommate from the opposite country.

Q: Where does it take place?

A: HSD is a two-part program. For American students, the first part is at the Princeton campus for 10 days, and the second part, the following year, takes place in Japan for three weeks. The Japanese students follow a reversed rotation schedule – they spend three weeks in America and then host for 10 days in Japan.

American students are required to attend the Princeton site before qualifying for the trip to Japan the following year.

Adams and three other students debate environmental issues at Seminar class.
(Photo used by permission of Adams)
Rose Adams (second from right) and three other students debate environmental issues in their Seminar class.

Q: Can you describe a typical day at HSD Princeton?

A: In the morning, we all assembled out on the lawns in front of the dorms to do rajio taiso (radio exercises). Rajio taiso is a traditional Japanese calisthenic – it wakes everyone up.

Afterwards, we had breakfast in the dining hall, and then we split up for classes. The Japanese students went to English language class, and the American students went to Japanese class. However, if you spoke Japanese proficiently, instead of going to Japanese class, you went to a class called Seminar. Seminar is a class in which you debate current events and issues with Japanese students (who are proficient in English) in both languages. I attended Seminar.

After that, we went to culture class, where we did things like calligraphy, origami and sushi-making. The Japanese students learned how to make small talk in English – for example, on date night, the Japanese boys had to learn to say things like “You look nice” and “I had a good time tonight.” Sounds weird, but small talk is just not part of Japanese culture, so they have to learn it.

After culture class, we went to lunch and reunited with our Japanese roommates. Then we did mixed-country activities: scavenger hunts, haunted houses or sports competitions.

In the evenings, we had culture presentations – usually for an hour or so. Before going to bed, we did homework from our classes. The homework was designed so that we had to get help from our roommates. It started conversation and got us to interact.

The schedule was seriously jam-packed – we usually went to bed between 11 p.m. and midnight.

Q: How much Japanese do you have to know to participate?

A: You don’t have to know a word of Japanese in order to go to HSD. I started taking Japanese at Winston Churchill Middle School and continued it at Mira Loma High School, so this is now my sixth year of learning the language. But in truth, there were probably only 10 of us who had taken a Japanese class before. It’s helpful to know Japanese because it makes it easier to communicate with your roommate, but it is by no means necessary because your roommate will know at least a bit of English. Some of them are fluent.

Q: Which language were you primarily speaking?

A: While my roommate was technically at a much higher level of proficiency in English than I was in Japanese on paper, her speaking was rather slow. So although she was very good at English, in the last few days of the program, my roommate and I spoke almost entirely in Japanese because it was faster. That being said, I think most of the American students spoke in English with their roommates.

The Japanese students love teaching the American students slang, but when we tried to teach them English slang, they knew all of it already from listening to American pop music. When we went out for karaoke, the Japanese students knew all the words to the English songs – especially Katy Perry songs. They love Katy Perry. They sang “Teenage Dream” three times.

Adams and her roommate, Chisato, wear yukata (light summer kimonos) at the Japanese culture festival.
(Photo used by permission of Adams)
Adams and her roommate, Chisato, wear yukata (light summer kimonos) at the Japanese culture festival.

Q: What is one thing you learned from HSD?

A: Ironically, I learned what I like about America. I’ve never been very patriotic, but I came to appreciate some of the strides we’ve made towards issues such as gender equality.

America is nowhere near perfect, but after hearing what the Japanese students had experienced, I gained a little more appreciation for America.

Q: What’s your favorite memory?

A: Every day revolved around a theme. We had themes like Halloween, Fourth of July and date night. My favorite theme day was the Japanese culture festival. Our Japanese roommates brought us traditional clothing like yukata (light summer kimonos), and then they set up a festival with lots of different booths. They had a martial arts booth where you could learn aikido, a kendo booth, a tea ceremony booth and festival games. They also taught us a traditional dance called Soranbushi, which we ended up practicing every day afterwards.

The whole thing felt like an actual festival in Japan. Everyone was wearing Japanese clothing and was speaking – or trying to speak – Japanese.

Q: How do you apply?

A: The application is kind of a pain, but it’s entirely worth it. The first part of the program requires one essay, two short answers, a teacher recommendation letter and a phone interview. The program is very competitive, but because it’s a competitive application, it’s totally sponsored – in other words, it’s free.

For the second part of the program, the part that takes you to Japan, you have to do a few short essays and some projects about your HSD experience.

—By Marigot Fackenthal

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