Exchange Matters / May 26, 2021

Celebrating Cultural Exchange Through Student Journalism

By Christine Meeker Lange, Global Ties Akron

In 2017-2018, Global Ties Akron (GTA) and Creative Group Serbia collaborated to create the Global Threads Online Magazine – a hands-on classroom project blending language arts, social studies, and media studies. Part of the Communities Connecting Heritage Program, a partnership with the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and World Learning, the Magazine tells the story of the people and cultures that make up the greater Akron community through the eyes of student storytellers. The first two editions featured the cultural heritage of Akron’s Bhutanese refugee community and the people of Kikinda, Serbia.

A sixth grader from Akron’s I Promise School interviews Congolese cultural expert Samantha Byake via Zoom video conference.

This year, GTA again received a small grant to continue work on the project and develop an interactive website to host the content. For the third edition, sixth graders at Akron’s I Promise School reported on Akron’s Karen and Congolese communities, and Early College High School students revisited Kikinda, Serbia, collaborating with students from the National Museum Kikinda.


Just two miles from the I Promise School lies Akron’s North Hill. Known for decades as the international hub of Akron, since the early 1900s, North Hill is often home to the city’s new immigrants and refugees. I Promise School sixth graders explored the cultural heritage of the Karen community (a multi-faceted group of immigrants who largely originated in southern and southeastern Myanmar,) and the Congolese community through interviews with members of those communities. By sharing stories of the people and cultures that make up the greater Akron community, the students become citizen journalists.

Members of the Akron Congolese Community perform a traditional dance.

“Participating in the interview was the biggest pleasure,” shared Congolese cultural and community expert Samantha Byake. “I loved the way I was welcomed by both students at I Promise and the Global Ties Family. I was happy sharing the knowledge I had and also responding to different questions they had for me!”

Originally from the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Samantha fled to Uganda with her family in 2010 to seek asylum amid tremendous civil unrest in her homeland. Despite the challenges of being a refugee, she continued to pursue her educational aspirations, receiving a Windle Trust International Scholarship studying and earning her bachelor’s degree in community psychology from Makerere University.

Samantha began her work with the refugee community as a college student and served in a host of volunteer and paid leadership roles. These experiences awakened her passion for helping change the lives of immigrants and refugees, and inspired her to establish the Better Mind Foundation, where she is an advocate and counselor for refugees acclimating to the United States.

For the second project, U.S. and Serbian high schoolers from Akron’s Early College High School and Kikinda National Museum combined efforts across the Atlantic to create an explorative journey sharing the quirks, history, and cultures of each city together.

The student citizen journalist team from Akron’s Early College High School and Serbia’s Kikinda National Museum send virtual love to each other via their “handmade” heart gestures.

Local Ohioan and retired U.S. Ambassador Jennifer Brush shared her comments on the importance of Global Ties Akron’s partnership with Kikinda, Serbia, and reflected on how cultural exchange can impact lives.

“My first foreign experience was as an Experiment in International Living Exchange student in central Serbia. The experience opened my eyes to cultural differences and gave me a thirst for international travel. Forty-eight years later, I am a decorated retired U.S. diplomat with a specialty in the Balkans. My [host] family remains a source of comfort and support in my life. In fact, I cannot imagine life without them.”

Greg Milo, a teacher at Early College High School in Akron, expressed the importance of the mission of Global Ties Akron and why he wanted his students to participate. “They’ve been committed to connecting Akron to international friends for years, and it’s a great way to learn about both other cultures and ourselves, which is exactly what this project did. My students were tasked with teaching the students in Kikinda about something in Akron, but in order to do that, my students had to learn something about Akron….We learn best by teaching others, and that’s what happened here.”

Join Global Ties Akron and Global Threads Magazine student citizen journalists from Akron and Kikinda, Serbia for the World Premiere of the project on Saturday, May 29 at 10:00 a.m. ET. 

To learn more about the project and read all of the student stories, click here to visit the Global Threads website.