About the Author: Michele L. Peters serves as the Special Assistant in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Video Text
What do a 14-year-old freshman in Columbus, Nebraska; a 23-year-old software engineer in Bangalore, India; a 16-year-old senior in Recife, Brazil; and a 22-year-old Fulbright scholarship recipient from Wheaton, Illinois have in common? They share a strong desire to create bridges across cultures and their unique action and vision has earned each a video contest Grand Prize: -a two-week international exchange program and a featured role as a citizen diplomat.
On March 16, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) announced the four winners of its online video contest, “My Culture + Your Culture=?” ECA launched the initiative on December 1, 2008, to encourage cross-cultural community building and mutual understanding, which is our core mission, via the Web and to attract new members to our social networking site, ExchangesConnect, launched in October 2008. ExchangesConnect has drawn more than 8,600 members from 170 countries and the community continues to grow.
The 8-week contest invited members of the general public worldwide to join the ExchangesConnect online community and to submit a 3-minute video addressing the contest theme. We received more than 170 video entries. The community’s top 40-rated videos, representing 15 countries, proceeded to a panel of expert judges — all distinguished alumni of ECA exchange programs — who ranked the videos. Based on the judges’ ratings, ECA selected two foreign and two American Grand Prize winners in two age categories: (1) 14-17 years, and (2) 18 years and over.
The judges panel included musician, performer, and author Toni Blackman; actress and Founder of the Cancer Schmancer Movement Fran Drescher; graphic artist Milton Glaser; President of the Egyptian Cultural Civic Education Organization Raafat Khalid; and Founder and former Co-Chairman of New Line Cinema and Principal Unique Features Bob Shaye.
The contest winners are: Jose Vinícius Reis Gouveia of Recife, Brazil, age 16, for “Human Colours”; Bijoy Thangaraj of Bangalore, India, age 23, for “My Culture + Your Culture = World of Wonder”; Grant Jirka of Columbus, Nebraska, age 14, for “Winning Team”; and Tim Peters of Wheaton, Illinois, age 22, for “A Friend in Nanjing”. The winners reflect the diversity and talent of those who participated, representing three continents and very different backgrounds. Their personal stories and motivations for submitting their videos are inspiring.
The winners will receive a two-week all-expenses-paid international exchange program, in addition to multi-media software provided by the Adobe Foundation, cosponsor of the contest.
With the contest, ECA set out to attract new members to our global online community, and to exemplify the focus of the ExchangesConnect community site -- to encourage the emergence of a social networking environment dedicated to building international understanding. The entrants’ motivations -- a desire to describe a month-long trip abroad, a passion to share musical talents, a fascination with different cultures, or a chance to be a star -- varied as much as their forms of artistic expression. One common motivation remained constant, that is, a desire to further appreciation and respect for differences and to build bridges among cultures.
One of the highlights of my job is to witness often how we can make a difference in individual lives, and open up opportunities for young people. For example, the two youth winners, Grant and Vinícius, may be from very different cultures, yet they have basic motivations in common, including active participation in their schools and communities, and a desire to travel to foreign countries and learn about different cultures. Tim begins his Fulbright program this week, and his openness to new experiences is a great model for young people around the globe. His story of an unexpected friendship around a Frisbee game was inspired. Bijoy’s creative lyrics and tune-stuck-in-my-head music are impressive, as is the way he captured the wonder and beauty of our complex world. Through storytelling, music, sports, and art each of the winners shared some of his culture, and in so doing, invited viewers to consider what it means to be a part of this global community.
By combining our tradition of educational and cultural exchanges with new technologies to gain support from diverse communities, areca is extending our mission to new audiences through viral campaigns across multiple social media platforms. Check out our site, connect.state.gov, where you can view and comment on the videos, learn more about the winners and the whole ExchangesConnect online community from 170 countries around the world. Also, watch for blogs from our contest winners!