Adobe Youth Voices students had a unique opportunity Thursday night to participate in a pioneering form of citizen diplomacy: a “virtual exchange” between students in California and Pakistan.
The AYV Peapod Academy in Redwood City, California connected with AYV & iEARN sites in Karachi & Islamabad, and students from all three locations had the opportunity to discuss subjects such as the role of students as journalists & media producers, and the effects that new communications tools are having on the lives of young people in the United States and Pakistan.
The virtual exchange was attended by Judith A. McHale, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, as well as special guests Ed Gragert, Executive Director of iEARN (the original mastermind behind the virtual exchange and chief organizer of the event), and Milton Chen, Executive Director of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
To start off the evening, students participating in the Adobe Youth Voices journalism program in Redwood City had the opportunity to speak with Under Secretary McHale about a wide variety of topics, ranging from her experience growing up in apartheid era South Africa to the ways technology is empowering young people to be producers as well as consumers of media.
The evening’s excitement grew as students in California were able to open a Skype video connection with students in Pakistan, connecting first with a classroom in Karachi, and then with students in Rawalpindi.
Diego Petterson, an Adobe Youth Voices educator who leads the journalism program in Redwood City, observed that the virtual exchange had a profound effect on the students in California, who were immediately able to look past accents and appearances to find common ground with their peers in Pakistan.
“Many of the students in our program have come from difficult backgrounds, and they made the association between the ways they have been stereotyped and labeled ‘gangsters’ and the stereotype of being a ‘terrorist’ if you are from Pakistan. The students here expressed a great sense of connection with their peers, wanting more opportunities to connect virtually and to meet them in person, inviting them to the United States,” said Diego.
Britney Mitchell, a journalism student in Redwood City, was particularly moved by the conversation with the young women in Rawalpindi. “We girls need to stick up for each other,” she said, and offered to open her home to a visiting student in a moving gesture of camaraderie.
More photos from the evening can be seen on our virtual diplomacy Flickr album.