By Shivam Bhatt
Lately it seems as though whenever we hear about Japan, it is for some unfortunate disaster dominating the news headlines. The Tohoku earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster both in 2011, and now the eruption of Mount Ontake are seemingly all we hear about the Pacific Island nation. Students often hear about Japan as the United States’ staunch adversary during the Second World War.
This past summer, I was afforded the incredible opportunity to see Japan through a different lens. Through the generosity of the AIU Insurance Company of Tokyo and the Freeman Foundation, I participated in the High School Diplomats (HSD) program, a cultural exchange program that promotes peace, friendship, and camaraderie between America and Japan.
Over the course of HSD, which spanned nearly two weeks at Princeton University, I shared memorable experiences with a Japanese roommate. We took classes in each other’s native language, but the language barrier was virtually non-existent at HSD, as we bonded over exercises and activities that only asked us to keep an open mind. In just a short period of time, my new friends, Japanese and American alike, became part of an extended family.
In addition to language and culture classes, HSD gave me the opportunity to make sushi and paper cranes, learn calligraphy and a Japanese exercise called rajio taiso, and share American culture with my roommate as well. In various theme days throughout the program, I got the chance to introduce my roommate to American culture. We sang together on Karaoke Night and in the Talent Show, screamed together in a Haunted House on “Halloween,” danced with our respective dates on a “Date Night,” and engaged in serious discussions about global issues in a diplomatic setting. It was in these discussions that I heard the story of my Japanese friend who lived through the Tohoku earthquake and the Fukushima disaster, and who was forced to move to Tokyo to flee the destruction.
Through group presentations, I gained an insight into the Japanese educational system, the regional characteristics of Japan, social issues facing the country, and its political system. In many regards, it was amazing to see how strikingly similar our two nations are.
It’s amazing how not even 70 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, American students and their Japanese counterparts are able to come together for the sake of peace and friendship. Our two nations have so much to learn from one another. My roommate and I still learn from each other and continue to communicate. All in all, HSD 2014 was the opportunity of a lifetime for me, and I couldn’t be happier to have taken part in such an unbelievable experience.
Shivam Bhatt is a junior at John P. Stevens High School in Edison. For more information about HSD, visit www.highschooldiplomats.com. The application for HSD 2015 at Princeton University is online at the above web address, and must be completed and postmarked by January 7th, 2015. HSD 2015 is scheduled for July 28th – August 8th, 2015, with a mandatory student-only orientation on July 28th, 2015.