Virtual Exchange Edition

While PAX students touch many lives in their U.S. host communities, others go even further. The students featured in this special edition of PAX Press have put in a great deal of effort to connect their American communities with friends, families, and classmates back home and/or to create internet-based resources to foster understanding and meaningful dialogue—beyond the borders of their towns and long after they've returned home.

In this, the third annual "Virtual Exchange" edition, we cruise along on scooters with Swietenia's friends in Indonesia, watch as a Missouri class learns to sculpt ancient goods with the help of an art teacher in Armenia, and travel the world to hear what stereotypes international teens have of Americans.

As usual, it's as insightful as it is inspiring—thanks so much to all those who participated!

—The PAX Press team



1 Day, 2 Countries, Side by Side

A lot of my American friends have asked what life in Indonesia is like. What do I do for fun? What kind of after-school activities do we do back home? The list goes on. At the same time, my Indonesian friends are asking me the same questions about my new life in the United States. Considering that technology can easily connect us, I came up with an idea to make a video comparison between my life here in the United States, and my life back home. My cousins and friends helped me by videotaping their life and activities at school.

My video has helped my friends understand more about the differences and similarities between each culture. It also helps break stereotypes—replacing whatever images they may have had with more accurate ones. My Indonesian friends thought that the whole United States is full of skyscrapers, but it is actually not. I live in Missouri, which is the farming area of the United States, so it's full of a gigantic green fields with a lot of cows and other farm animals.

Meanwhile, my American friends thought Borneo, the island that I live in back home, was full of rainforests which forced us to walk on muddy roads in order to go to school. Actually, most of us drive a motorcycle or scooter to school. They also thought we don't have smartphones or an internet connection, but my country is just as technologically advanced as America.

I’m very happy both my American and Indonesian friends are very interested and got a better understanding of each culture through my video.

—Swietenia (YES, Indonesia), hosted by the Dill family (MO)


Old Art Form, New Medium

These days, we don't need to get on a plane to be a citizen diplomat. If we have internet, within seconds we can be transported anywhere in the world and meet people on every continent. That is the power of technology. It can open up the entire world and expose us to ideas and innovations we never could have imagined. For this reason, it is so important for information and ideas to flow freely over the internet and through the media, because that's how we learn what is really happening in our communities, our country, and our world.

For this virtual exchange project, I decided to make a comic strip that has content about cultures, especially the cultures of my home country. Why comics? I love to draw, and I think illustrating is one of the fun ways to learn about cultures. I made a specific Instagram account to upload all of my work, because from what I see, a lot of people (particularly young people) like to spend their free time on this platform. Basically, I upload my comic strip at least once a week with a brief explanation as the post's caption. I would love to do a collaboration with friends all around the world to create a comic of their cultures too.

I hope my project can show how diverse we are, bring about a better understanding of every culture, and help foster mutual respect.

—Putu (YES, Indonesia), hosted by the Brook family (UT)

Cultural comic strip about Bali created by Putu, a PAX exchange student from Indonesia


Armenian Mythology in Missouri

Sculpting and ceramics are my new passion. I discovered it in American high school at the very beginning of my exchange year. Experimenting and creating with my American classmates gives me new ideas every day. This time, it gave me an idea to share something familiar and uncommon at the same time.

I thought about Armenian salt shakers; they have always amused me. Unfamiliar with the origins of the figures on them and curious myself, I considered it as a perfect subject to explore. To begin with, I asked my mother, who is an art teacher, to have a video call and speak about the salt shakers in my art class. Her student Rima volunteered to help.

We learned that, beginning in ancient times, the figures depicted on Armenian salt shakers were dedicated to the goddess Anahid. Her figures were banned after Armenia changed religion. That said, as the centuries passed, Armenians' fondness of the Anahid salt shakers endured. One of my American friends commented that now, sharing different nationalities, we share the same love for the figure. It gave me the warmest feeling. I consider my project as a successful work of building the bridge between Armenian and American cultures. Thank you for the opportunity!

—Mariam (FLEX, Armenia), hosted by the Corle family (MO)


Azka & Aleksis Fight Stereotypes

Our exchange year in America filled us with gratitude and joy. The more we bonded with people, the more we grew and learned. We really wanted others, especially teenagers, to experience this growth as well. Since we couldn't send all of our American friends to our countries and vice versa, we decided to work on a virtual exchange project.

We looked through older projects for inspiration and found a project that a Kazakh girl called Anastasiya did. Anastasiya targeted stereotypes and helped teach her friends more about her country. We decided to carry on with her work and have American teenagers share their thoughts on our home countries (Indonesia and Albania) and then have our friends from back home share their thoughts on Americans.

Both I (Aleksis) and Afina (aka “Azka”) filmed ourselves. We also filmed our friends and collected videos. Then, Azka edited everything while I wrote our essay. We analyzed the stereotypes that people had and helped get rid of them by providing explanations. We hope that our project had an important impact on the people we worked with and that our video can help educate even more.

Our work wasn't about denying how different we are but about showing how our differences can bring us together.

—Aleksis (YES, Albania), hosted by the Gwilliam family (UT) & Afina (YES, Indonesia), hosted by the Oertle family (UT)


In a Word, America

Technology has certainly provided us with many opportunities to communicate, entertain, and perhaps most importantly to learn. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. One aspect I'm particularly fixated on is the idea that you can share and learn about cultures through technology and via the internet.

During the time I’ve been here as an exchange student, I have received quite a lot of questions from friends and acquaintances from my country. One of the most interesting ones is "What is America for the Americans themselves?" Hmmm, this question was hard for me to answer. As such, I came up with a way to answer it.

I decided to create a video project that I called “One Word.” I simply asked Americans, “What is America?” In response, participants said one word which they associate with their country.

In addition to answering the question for my countrymen, I also wanted to show how different people are here—appearance, voice, thoughts… Finally, I wanted to make a heartfelt and warm video, because I have been very impressed by America. I hope the warmth comes through.

—Aylara (FLEX, Turkmenistan), hosted by the Aldrich family (NY)


International Teenage Dialogue

With newly emerging mobility and the technological connections between people, both locally and across continents, we are likely to encounter people belonging to cultures different than our own. However, quite rarely do we deem culture as a significant aspect in the way we interact with those around us.

We might, by default, think that one should wave or bow to acknowledge other people’s presence, and therefore, the lack of such greetings would signify disrespect. When writing to a stranger, we might assume that everyone should be on a last-name basis, so when we are addressed informally in an email, we can feel uncomfortable. Could these preconceived notions of what we think normal social behavior is be a product of what we have been taught culturally?

To answer this question, I have decided to present my country and its culture to a high school class. I talked about my country’s geography, history, holidays, but most importantly, the cultural differences I noticed between the States and Serbia. I talked about how polite people are in America, and how we walk a lot in Europe. I talked about the difference in family structures, and how socializing is completely different. Yet, I always came to the conclusion that we were more similar than different.

After presenting, I interviewed some of the students that listened to my presentation. We talked about what their nationality and culture mean to them, and what their American dream is. Finally, I paired them up with my friends back home to talk about their cultures, differences, or any stereotypes they might believe about each other’s country.

With my project, I aimed to entertain my American friends by presenting Serbia and connecting them with my friends from back home but also create an international dialogue about the problems of the modern world. Sometimes, basic human behavior could drive us further apart from other people. I hope my presentation and interviews shed a light on an often-overlooked issue or instigated a new way of thinking about culture.

Culture is a significant part of us, but only with mutual understanding and tenderness can it live in its entirety and beauty. It should not divide, but rather connect, and in this modern and mobile society, we should encourage and appreciate cultural diversity more than ever before, as we have been given the tools to do so. Culture does not make people. People make culture.

—Dusan (FLEX, Serbia), hosted by the Mathess family (OH)

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