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.