Stevens Initiative: Virtual Exchange
The Stevens Initiative is inspired by the late U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. It is a collaboration between the Stevens family, governments, foundations, international organizations, and private-sector leaders. Its mission is to cultivate a new generation of globally minded and culturally sensitive youth.
The Stevens Initiative Virtual Exchange is a program that connects young people in the United States and the Middle East through online video conferencing, media production, and social media to engage in cultural dialogue. In the process, participants gain greater cultural understanding, improve critical thinking, and learn how to use technology.
A four-week pilot program in summer 2010 with ten students each in Chicago and Morocco saw participants engaged in an online video conference discussing topics such as family, culture, religion, race, and violence. Each week participants completed a variety of photo and video challenges that they shared with one another through a social media platform. Sharing allowed participants to see and hear one another’s personal stories, which deepened their connections while also teaching computer and media production skills.
Virtual exchanges allow young people who might not otherwise have the opportunity and resources to travel to meet people from other countries. The use of photo and video challenges is also an important innovation. Talking is one thing, but sometimes picture and sound are able to say even more. One common topic among both the American and Moroccan students was how the media created such a distorted picture of who they are and where they come from. The photo and video challenges allowed young people to tell their own stories in their own voices.