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Published:July 13th, 2007 17:29 EST

U.S., European Students Blogging in State Department Program

By SOP newswire

Academic semester encouraging trans-Atlantic debate among teenagers

She and 25 other secondary-school students from Europe and the United States are participants in the State Department-funded Ben Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Initiative, based on the campus of Wake Forest University in North Carolina.  Combined with extended visits to U.S. cities and interaction with the local community, the 15- to 17-year-olds are debating citizenship and constitutional issues, as they learn how to create and maintain a successful blog.  (See related article.)

Professor Allan Louden, co-director of the Franklin Fellows program, said the students are seeing the communication potential of blogging and learning to reach large audiences with their blogs. The Internet-based journals created during the program are geared toward giving students an outlet in which to discuss life in their home countries and their experiences in the United States, and to share Web links and videos that interest them and other aspects of their personal life.

“The goal is to give them some sense that they can be ‘players’ too" on the Web and in their local communities and schools, he said.

Teenagers are “sophisticated in a social sense with the Internet but not terribly aware of its political potential and or social change or activism in the community," he said.

Alexander, a 15-year-old from Russia, said the program has given him his “first blog ever." He used his first post to introduce himself and his country, and his second to write “a funny story about my getting lost in the center of Washington.

“Probably I’ll create a blog on some other site.  Certainly it will be in English because I need practice, and maybe it will be a more popular site than ours so that more people can visit it and give their comments.  I’m pretty sure that I’m going to continue blogging.  I like it," he said.

Sixteen-year-old George from Greece, who has more Internet experience than Alexander, said that with the proliferation of blogs, it is difficult to attract an audience.  “The blogging class certainly made me a better blogger so that I will have an opportunity to create a more famous blog," he said.

With classes on citizenship and border conflicts, as well as comparative constitutions, the students also have engaged in debates, showcasing the range of opinions between Europeans and Americans and among individual European countries.

“The debates are really exciting.  That’s the thing I’ve enjoyed the most and you get to talk and you get to learn about all the different difficulties that appear," said 17-year-old Lena from Norway.

“You really get to know things about countries that you don’t already know and the people who live there tell you stories that you didn’t know about.  [You learn] a lot about the other countries, not just the United States," she said.

Vicki, a 16-year-old American student, said she greatly benefited from hearing the firsthand experiences of her peers from Serbia and Kosovo during a discussion about border conflicts.  “It’s beyond the news, like the background story," she said.

She said she enjoyed the debates even though many of her European friends could be very critical of the United States.  “Personally, I agree with some of their statements so it’s hard to defend the United States and also support your own statements at the same time," she said.

Professor Louden said some of the debates in the Franklin Fellows classrooms have been “heated," but the program wants to send the message that “debate is good."

Adrià, 17, from Andorra, said he was pleasantly surprised by the openness of his American peers to criticism, since he had come with the feeling that the United States exports an image of “arrogance [and] self-interest."

“It’s more moderate than I thought," he said.  He also expressed his pleasure at the many free museums in the United States and the wide variety of shops, including his visit to a bookstore filled with independent and even “rebellious" materials.

“It was awesome to be there.  I could have stayed there all day long," he said.

Louden said the students’ program will conclude with each individual giving a presentation on a public policy topic, presentations that will receive review and comment by U.S. and world experts.  “Some of these experts are major ‘players,’" he said.

More information on the Ben Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Initiative, including links to the students’ public blogs, is available on the program’s Web site.

Source:  DoS