How A Japanese Exchange Program Changed My Life
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Politics and Activism

How A Japanese Exchange Program Changed My Life

My High School Diplomats Story

How A Japanese Exchange Program Changed My Life
Kelley Long

This summer, I was selected as an American representative for the High School Diplomats program. I was thrilled and ready with an open mind for whatever this new experience would bring, but I didn’t exactly know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect it to completely and radically change my life.

HSD is a program that brings forty American students and forty Japanese students together for ten days at Princeton University to share culture and language together. It is designed to facilitate relationships and communication between Japanese and American roommates. While I was at HSD, I had the opportunity to take Japanese language and culture classes, participate in a Japanese festival, complete service projects, have diplomatic discussions, and share American culture with my new Japanese friends. I learned many facts about Japan, its history, its people, and its customs.

But so much more than facts, I gained perspective. I learned that even though America is very diverse, we barely scratch the surface of the cultures that are yet to be explored. I realized that students who live thousands of miles away from me face the same struggles as I do in their school and their home life. While I realized how much I still had to learn about the world, I also realized just how much we all share. No matter where someone comes from, they understand kindness. They understand love, even if there’s a language barrier in the way. Yes, I shared language and culture with my Japanese friends, but we also shared our souls.

I gained confidence. HSD put me in situations that weren’t always within my comfort zone. I tried to be as fearless as I could, and remarkably, I felt my fears melt away. These people who I had just met were accepting of every quirk and every insecurity that I’ve ever had. They let me be myself, and I knew I didn’t have to be afraid anymore. They showed me that sometimes the quietest leaders are the most powerful.

I gained new friends. For ten days, we were inseparable. We ate together, killed spiders together, danced together, laughed together, sang together, and grew together. I’m closer to these people that I spent only ten days with than I am to the majority of the people in my hometown.

I gained a sister. Before we arrived at HSD, each student was paired with a Japanese roommate. My roommate, Miki, is one of the few people I’ve ever met who shares my unadulterated passion for life that comes with an infectious, unending energy. There were days we faced language barriers, and there were days we were both exhausted, but that only brought us closer. I’m so happy I can say that the girl who has the same love for pasta as she does life is my sister.

HSD taught me that I can share more with someone who lives on the opposite side of the globe than someone who lives right across the street. The time we spent together was short, but I can say with confidence that I will love these people for the rest of my life. 一期一会 Ichi-go ichi-e. One chance in a lifetime. I will cherish every moment forever.

HSD 2017 will be held July 25 through August 5, 2017. All current sophomores and juniors are eligible to apply, and I urge you with everything I have to take advantage of this amazing experience. For information on how to apply for HSD, visit

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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