Impact Story

Socially Distant but Virtually Together: GNG Bridging Cultures During COVID-19

Global Nomads Group

This spring, Global Nomads Group’s Campfire programs virtually connected over 500 middle and high school-aged youth in the United States, Morocco, and Tunisia to share their stories and learn about each other's cultures and communities. Participants Youssra and Nisrine from Morocco were able to engage with their peers – despite the global pandemic – and even had the opportunity to read their stories at a Virtual Story Share event.

For 18-year-old Moroccan students like Youssra and Nisrine, social distancing guidelines and other restrictions this spring did not signal the end of their engagement with their peers in the United States. Through Global Nomads Group’s (GNG) Campfire Collaborating Classrooms virtual exchange program, they were able to continue to communicate with their U.S.-based peers about their communities, cultures, and experiences, despite school closures during the global coronavirus pandemic.

Youssra and Nisrine are both second year baccalaureate students at Taha Hussein High School in Ain Mediouna, a town outside of Fes, Morocco. This past spring, they were participants in Campfire, and were selected to share their stories on-screen as part of a live Virtual Story Share Event in June 2020. Campfire Story Share events are normally carried out in each school’s local community, but given the pandemic, this year’s Story Share was hosted by GNG for all participants together.

When describing this experience, Youssra said, “Writing a story and sharing it to me is a dream, and now I have achieved it, thanks to global peers.” Both she and Nisrine had the unique opportunity to present in front of a larger, global audience. In another exchange, a Campfire student from Houston Academy for International Studies in the U.S. expressed, “This is a good story! It shows you’ll never know you have something in common with someone until you talk to them.” Hearing each others’ stories showed Campfire participants that while their peers may come from different parts of the world, they share common experiences – like the challenges and joys of making new friends.

Across history and cultures, campfires have brought together people of diverse backgrounds to share warmth and shelter, conversation and storytelling. GNG’s “Campfire” programs evoke the same feeling: a communal campfire around which travelers and strangers gather. In our digital equivalent, middle and high school students are welcomed to an online community with their global peers in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Students progress through an experience of creating and sharing the story of their own identity over an 8-10 week long curriculum. The program culminates in a project where students write a story and share it with their global peers online. At the Story Share, students read their own stories as well as a story from someone from another region. In this reading of another’s story, the youth truly put themselves in their U.S. or MENA peers’ shoes.

“I know a lot of things about other cultures and my view to other people has changed. They are different people, they are different minds but all people have good things.”

Nisrine, Participant, Global Nomads Group’s Campfire Collaborating Classrooms

For Youssra and Nisrine, being involved in the Campfire program allowed them to connect with peers their age from around the world and learn more about one another’s cultures and communities. Reflecting on her experience as a Campfire participant, Nisrine expressed, “I know a lot of things about other cultures and my view to other people has changed. They are different people, they are different minds but all people have good things.” She learned to view different perspectives with respect and dignity, and see common ground between herself and her peers.

Virtual exchange through Global Nomads Group’s Campfire program enabled these connections to occur despite the pandemic. By sharing their own stories and reading stories from peers, Youssra and Nisrine, and many other young people, are still learning and growing – becoming the next generation who will lead with empathy and respect for differences. Virtual exchange engages youth in dialogue across distance and lines of difference, equipping the next generation with the knowledge, experiences, and perspectives needed to pursue universal justice and dignity for all people.

In the words of Nisrine: “When I read others’ stories I knew new ideas, new views and I started to see life with a new vision. I began to love life more than before, because I discovered that others resemble me.” Participating in a virtual exchange made her feel like she belonged in a whole new global community, one of both difference and commonality, with peers from across the world.

“When I read others' stories I knew new ideas, new views and I started to see life with a new vision. I began to love life more than before, because I discovered that others resemble me.”

Nisrine, Participant, Global Nomads Group’s Campfire Collaborating Classrooms

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