The three of us laid down as the grass pierced through the towels to itch the backs of our necks. Together, we watched the black canvas of the midnight sky and the millions of the stars that shone through. We compared our families, schools and cultures; I had never before realized how different life is in Japan. The moment we all had created that unbreakable bond—the kizuna I would later learn about—sprinklers came on, chasing us back inside. That night was the first time I connected with Yuri and Chisaki, or anyone from Japan for that matter; but this was only homestay. I still had no idea how much craziness and love High School Diplomats had in store for me.

HSD is a free program that allows high schoolers from Japan and America to live together at Princeton for 10 days. Briefly described, it’s a cultural exchange. In reality, it’s so much more. Because of this program, I was able to open up to and learn from people living a world away.

Each morning began with either me or Yuri shaking the other awake to the sound of the alarm. I’d then drag myself across the hall to the bathroom, where I’d answer Akane’s endless questions on American boys and my love life. Though I returned home weeks ago, it seems like just yesterday I was explaining why I’m single through a mouthful of toothpaste. The rest of the days were filled with rajio taiso (an all-time favorite workout crossed between yoga and Zumba), language and culture class, and anything else you can imagine—from Independence Day to casino night.

One day that was particularly fun was date night. Because Japanese high schools don’t have homecoming and prom, the entire Sunday is ‘free time’ designated to shopping and preparing for a dance.

With every day came more memories and more love that was shared throughout HSD. Just as the talent show gave spotlight to the most gifted and incredible people I’ve ever met, the Japanese Festival gave us insight to our roommates’ culture and history. From Hippie Day to Diplomat Talks, every single moment of this program changed me for the better. Despite living in alternate worlds, we got to share our deepest fears, darkest secrets and jokes that will never die. These are the reasons I broke down crying with Yuri on the last day. When we exchanged our flags and our final words, she said to me, “I told you that I have a twin, but you are my sister.” That is the kizuna I mentioned earlier. That is the type of bond that will never be broken—not by language and never by distance.

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Mary Grace Pattillo is a junior at Riverbend High School/ Commonwealth Governor’s School and U.S. High School Diplomats 2018 participant.

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