Through one of the only nonprofit organizations of its kind, which happens to be based right here in Fairfax City.
The High School Diplomats program pairs together the nations of the United States and Japan to give students from both countries the chance to get to know the other's culture, first-hand—and all on a scholarship basis.
What Does Being a High School Diplomat Entail?
Each year, sophomores and juniors from all over the country are invited to apply for the High School Diplomats program, and have for 28 years now.
Of the applicants, 40 Americans and 40 Japanese students are awarded scholarships.
During the summer, all 80 students meet at Princeton for 10 days of cultural enrichment that feels more like a fun summer camp than school.
The students participate in cultural, social and academic activities that immerse them in each other's cultures. An afternoon of learning can include anything and everything, from a Japanese tea ceremony to calligraphy, to American slang language to dating customs.
Then, when it's time to let loose and have fun, they even have events like their own prom; and every American student is paired with a Japanese student for their roommate—all with the iconic Princeton University as their backdrop.
After the summer session at Princeton, all of the American students are invited to apply to go to Japan for a month the following summer. Out of the 40, typically 20 are accepted for the trip.
The students get to tour all over the region, and get to stay at least three nights with a Japanese family.
High School Diplomats American Director Celine Zapolski says it's about learning to appreciate each other's cultures so that all the students can be "more diplomatic in life."
Who Makes a Good High School Diplomat?
The misconceptions, Zapolski said, can arise when it comes to what types of students they're looking for.
"We want to attract leaders—strong students. But there's a real misconception that we want only top academic students with top GPAs," Zapolski said. "We want outstanding people, not just a top GPA. And you absolutely don't need to know any Japanese to participate."
Zapolski said a student also doesn't have to want to go into some type of international relations in order to benefit from the experience.
"The word 'diplomat' sounds lofty. We've had athletes, chefs and more," she said. "We just want motivated students, no matter what they're motivated to do."
Who Can Apply?
Sophomores and juniors from all over the United States can apply—and Zapolski said every student gets an in-person interview.
The High School Diplomats staff has interview locations in Fairfax City and Richmond, as well as at Stanford and Princeton.
However, if there are at least 10 applicants from another part of the country, Zapolski will travel there to conduct interviews. Or, Skype is always an option, she said.
The application process includes an essay, an in-person interview and recommendations from the student's teachers.
Application Period Currently Underway
If all of this sounds like the perfect opportunity for your student, applications are currently being accepted through early January for next summer's session at Princeton.
For more information on the program and how to apply, watch the short video above and visit www.highschooldiplomats.com.
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