An Ewa Beach teen has quite the story to tell after a special week-long cultural exchange in the Middle East.
Christian Galiza, a senior at James Campbell High School in Ewa Beach, spent seven days in Qatar, where he learned how to develop his storytelling skills in the Arabic language. It was his first time in the Middle East.
The program, sponsored by Washington D.C.-based Qatar Foundation International, featured daily workshops on storytelling and public speaking and sessions with Qatari students.
“I learned how to tell stories in a meaningful way and share them to all people,” Galiza said. “It’s an extraordinary skill to have.”
Galiza says one of his favorite experiences was camping in the desert, a stark contrast from the futuristic buildings Qatar is famous for.
“We had to live like a Bedoiun native,” he said. “We were living in these traditional tents and also experienced traditional foods… It was like we went back in time, essentially.”
Born and raised in Hawaii, Galiza spent the past three years learning Arabic for school credit thanks to a partnership between QFI and OneWorld Now, a Seattle-based leadership program that provides opportunities for under-served youth.
Its Hawaii chapter, based at Campbell High, is the first to offer a K-12 Arabic language program in Hawaii. Twenty-five students are currently enrolled.
“In Hawaii, we focused on Arabic as strategically important language that’s not offered in public schools,” explained OneWorld Now founder Kristin Hayden.
The Hawaii chapter, which was established in 2010, also offers students the chance to travel abroad.
“Particularly for public high school students in Hawaii, they often never leave the island for the mainland, let alone the Middle East,” Hayden said. “(Through this program) their horizons are totally expanded and they have a new sense of possibility for themselves and their futures.”
Galiza says the trip opened his eyes to different cultures and even changed the way he thinks about his own community.
“Even though we have the Aloha spirit and we’re very open and friendly, we’re very isolated physically and we’re not exposed to that part of the world,” he said. “I think that’s very different and we’re not very aware of it. We have different thoughts and stereotypes of different people.”
Hayden says more than 90 percent of Hawaii students who participate in OneWorld Now go on to college, many of which are on the mainland.
The trip involved 23 students from Texas, Washington, D.C., Tucson, Seattle and Honolulu.