Portal provides global exchange


Colin Henke

From left, senior Higor Mota, and freshmen Ithalo Santos and Daphne Souza video chat with a tattoo artist in Mexico.

Emma Searle, Assistant Editor-in-Chief

An inflatable gold box equipped with life-size video chat projection found its home in the library last week through a collaboration with Shared Studios, giving members of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) community an opportunity to walk into a room and converse in real time with individuals in other countries such as Iraq and Rwanda. The box, referred to as the Portal, travels the country providing opportunities for genuine connection between individuals in countries too far apart to otherwise chat in person.

The Portal materialized in 2014 after Shared Studios founder Amar C. Bakshi derived the idea from wanting to connect with his family abroad. The project aims “to give people everywhere a chance to tell their own story, to explore the diversity of human experience, to connect people separated by distance and difference in encounters that are humanising and real.

Freshman Ava Vought, who connected with Rwandans during a flex period, expressed her appreciation for the intimacy and sincerity of the conversation. “We got to actually connect with people who live completely different lives,” she said. “And they were interested in our lives.”

Junior Rose Herman also connected with people in Rwanda, and commented on the casual nature of the conversation, saying, “It wasn’t awkward, we were always talking. It felt like a safe space. It was comfortable.”

Senior Ian Trance echoed Rose’s remarks, and added, “A lot of the candidness of the conversation came out of just a genuine interest in learning about this other person. It was almost out-of-body in the sense that we shouldn’t be talking to these people because they were too far away, but that’s what we were doing, speaking genuinely to these people in a room, face-to-face.”

Shared Studios Portal curator C.J. Morse, who accompanied this mission to MVRHS, says the Portal’s gold cube-like design is intentional. “The color gold is recognized by 99 percent of the world as sacred. It draws your eye. When it was in Times Square, with everything going on in Times Square, you could still see the Portal.”

Working to engage communities in Portal conversations has afforded Mr. Morse a perspective he didn’t have before. “My brother served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I had a lot of strong feelings about that part of the world,” he said. “I had love for them, but I had strong feelings. When you’re a young kid and you see your older brother off in a war, it doesn’t matter who you’re fighting, you’re just worried about your big brother.”

Through his work in the Portal, Mr. Morse has grown to call those living in Middle Eastern countries not only colleagues but friends: “They’re people I care about, and I will always be thankful to this project for that.”

Rose spoke to the importance of international connections as a way to challenge stereotypes and barriers. “Especially living on Martha’s Vineyard,” she said. “We’re so isolated, there’s not much we can really see without traveling such far distances. It opens our eyes to cultures and experiences that we would have absolutely no idea about otherwise.”