To the editor:

Hajimemaste. Boku wa Ben desu. Juu hachi sai desu. Doozo Yoroshiku.

How do you do? My name is Ben, and I’m 18 years old. Nice to meet you.

Before I went to the High School Diplomats program this summer, the only word of Japanese I spoke was konnichiwa. By the end of those 10 amazing days, I not only spoke a little Japanese, but also discovered the importance of intercultural friendship.

The High School Diplomats summer program takes 54 American and Japanese students and puts them together on the Princeton University campus for 10 days to learn from and grow with one another. Each is assigned a roommate from the other country in the hopes of cultivating lasting friendships.

When I first arrived at Princeton, I was a little nervous. Home was seven states away, and I was the only student from Georgia. I was excited to meet my roommate, but a little scared. I didn’t even like sushi, and part of me wondered if we would get along.

But as the program started and I met friendly, talented people, I felt right at home. I soon realized how much I had in common with my Japanese roommate. Like me, Eisuke loves Bon Jovi and Coldplay. He plays soccer on the weekends, worries about college and even has an annoying little brother like I do.

High School Diplomats opened my eyes to a world outside my home. During Bunka-no-hi culture day, I saw judo martial arts, drank traditional Japanese tea and learned how to sumo wrestle. In cultural classes, I heard ancient Japanese history, wrote my name in Katakana letters and painted sumei black-ink drawings. Talking with my roommate, I found out N’Sync still tops Japan’s music charts, and karaoke is wildly popular.

This program taught me more than I ever thought possible — not just about Japanese language and culture, but about life.

I encourage all interested applicants to go to to learn more. Next summer’s program will run from July 29 to Aug. 8. The application deadline will be in early January. Interviews will be conducted in March, and decisions will be made by mid-April. Scholarships cover all lodging, food and activity costs.

High School Diplomats broadened my horizons and introduced me to friendships that will last a lifetime. I hope other Atlanta students gain the same opportunity.

Ganbatte kudasai! (Good luck!)

Ben Barge

Walton High School senior Ben Barge is the son of Sandy Springs United Methodist Church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Kelly Barge.