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Wake Forest University program connects European and American teens

June 25, 2008

Teenagers from Iceland, Tajikistan and Serbia will join high school students from 34 other countries for a U.S. Department of State-sponsored program at Wake Forest University June 28 through July 30.

Designed to build connections between European and American youth and encourage civic activism, the program will draw 90 participants from former Soviet bloc nations, western European countries and the United States.  Many of the countries represented, including Kosovo, Bosnia, Slovenia and Croatia, have been involved in armed conflict in recent years. 

Named in honor of America’s first diplomat, the “Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Initiative: Summer Institute for Youth” (BFTFI) is the only youth-oriented program funded by the U.S. Department of State to focus exclusively on U.S.-European relations and to involve youth from all regions of Europe and Eurasia.   This is the third year Wake Forest has hosted the program.

"The program is an investment in future understanding,” said Allan Louden, associate professor of communication at Wake Forest and director of BFTFI.  “It aims to empower the younger generation of Americans, Europeans and Eurasians to face global challenges with an understanding of perspectives beyond their own region.  We hope it will serve as an incubator for ideas that might change the world.”

Seventy high school students, representing such countries as Montenegro,  Spain and Denmark, and 20 U.S. high school students from across the nation, will live together in residence halls, participate in workshops addressing diplomacy-related topics, complete a community service project and visit Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

For the first time, students from Turkey will participate in the program.  Foreign participants are chosen by their home countries’ embassies. Americans are chosen from International Baccalaureate students and other students groups.

The program will include two groups of students.  The Founders, 15 to 17 years old, will arrive on campus June 28.   The Diplomats, 17 to 19 years old, will arrive July 5.  Members of each group will stay with local area host families for one week while they are in Winston-Salem.

According to the state department’s welcome letter to participants, the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Initiative aims to “foster relationships among the younger generation of Europeans and Americans in order to advance the global freedom agenda, to build strong links and awareness of shared values, and to enable youth to face together the challenges of global circumstances in the 21st century.”

Classes will be led primarily by Wake Forest faculty.  John Dinan, associate professor of political science, will teach “Comparative Constitutionalism.”  Students will examine the ways in which constitutions and political systems are designed in the United States and in European and Eurasian countries.  Nate French, assistant professor of communication at Christopher Newport University, will teach "Social Movements,” a course that will explore non-majority voices in a variety of countries and the tactics these groups employ to gain support for issues ranging from the rights of religious minorities to environmentalism.            

Ross K. Smith, debate coach and instructor at Wake Forest, will teach the class "Twenty-First Century Pamphleteers: The Internet’s Promise and Perils for Political Participation.”   His course will focus on how the Internet is creating new opportunities for citizen expression and extending the horizon of civic dialogue across national borders.  Another class, “Invisible Borders:  Citizens and Conflict in Regions and Nations,” will be taught by Alessandra Beasley, assistant professor of communication at Wake Forest.

The students will also participate in a series of workshops geared toward encouraging civic activism.  The students will hone their argument and presentation skills and prepare for a series of parliamentary debates.  While in Washington, D.C., the students will create programming for their native countries at the Voice of America headquarters.

For more information on the BFTFI, including a schedule and list of countries represented, go to

Press Contacts:

Cheryl Walker
(336) 758-5237

Kevin Cox
(336) 758-5237

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