Ask Tanya Barton if she has a hobby and her answer will be “Yes, world peace”. Probe a bit further and you will learn that Barton doesn’t mean “world peace” in an abstract, dinner-party conversation kind of way. She means “what can I do to help achieve world peace right now in our lifetime” kind of way. Barton’s approach doesn’t involve summit meetings with foreign leaders or jet-travel to far-off cities. In fact, her approach is quite contrary to conventional government diplomacy. Barton is bridging the gulf of cultural awareness and improving community relations around the globe one child at a time. And she’s accomplishing it all from right here in Clarke County.
Barton is the Local Community Coordinator for PAX (Program of Academic Exchange), a non-profit educational organization that promotes and arranges international student exchange. PAX fosters positive development of young people from around the world in support of international peace, friendship and cross-cultural understanding.
“I hope that I don’t sound too idealistic but peace has always been really important to me” Barton says. “The kids of today are our world leaders of tomorrow. Helping them achieve cultural awareness and tolerance are the stepping stones for world peace. You have to start somewhere in order to achieve anything. PAX is one of the ways that we can get there.”
Although PAX has a global vision, the organization achieves its goals by working with one student at a time. PAX exchange programs emphasize a quality, personal experience for participating high school students delivered through a homestay experience with a host family abroad. The logic of such an approach is hard to deny; It’s tough to vilify members of a different culture once you have been invited into their homes as an adopted family member. Clarke County High School has a PAX-sponsored American student abroad in Ghana right now.
While Barton knows that her world peace vision may not happen tomorrow, she readily admits to enjoying the more immediate social benefits of PAX. “The experience has enriched my life in so many ways” Barton proclaims after hosting nine PAX students in her home over the last ten years. “I now have an extended family with members living all around the world. I visit them when I travel and they come back and visit me here in Clarke County. It’s very, very rewarding.”
PAX is federally funded and offers scholarship programs that help students to participate. Barton is currently receiving PAX profiles from exchange students that would like to experience Clarke County’s culture and hospitality. Families interested in hosting a student can visit the PAX website (http://www.pax.org) or contact Tanya Barton by email at TB@TanyaBarton.com or phone (cell: 540-454-0057 or home: 540-955-9135)
PAX currently has five students residing with host families here in Clarke County. This is the first in a series of interviews that will allow you to meet Clarke’s international guests through their own words:
CDN: What is your name?
Khaled: Khaled Amru bin Ambok Chening a.k.a. Joe
CDN: How old are you?
Khaled: Currently I am 17 but turning 18 in August.
CDN: Where are you from (city, state, country)?
Khaled: Subang Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia! WOOOO!
CDN: When did you arrive in the US?
Khaled: 12th January 2010. It was a cold and dark Tuesday night.
CDN: Had you been here before?
Khaled: Yes to California to visit my aunt (9 years ago hahaha)
CDN: How does the US education system compare to your home country’s education system?
Khaled: It is a lot more “hands on” here! It’s so cool that the school provides so many classes that place importance not only academic skills but also on life skills. For example, I can’t take guitar lessons for free or choose to learn Spanish or French unless I pay for it in Malaysia.
CDN: What is your favorite class at Clarke County High School? Why?
Khaled: My favourite (British spelling =D) class would have to beâ€¦.EVERYTHING! It’s so amazing how nice the teachers are here! But if I had to choose one, it would be Theatre class. I just love to act out stuff, maybe because I’m a drama queen king!
CDN: Are your classes here more difficult or less difficult than your classes at home? Why?
Khaled: It depends actually. Spanish and Physics is really hard because it’s wellâ€¦hard ahahhaa but the other 6 classes are not only easy but also really fun! Spanish and Physics are fun classes too, but just a bit harder.
CDN: Clarke County has been debating whether the books “The Color Purple” and “The Hand Maiden’s Tale” should be included in the advanced reading program? As a visitor from another country, what is your opinion about this?
Khaled: I am truly very sorry but I haven’t heard about any of these titles. However, reading, no matter what type of books, should be the core in any curriculum so I think this is a good idea.
CDN: What have you enjoyed the most about your time in the US?
Khaled: At first it was the snowâ€¦Then it just kept coming..and comingâ€¦and coming! SO now my most favourite thing about the United States of America is my host family! They are so nice!
CDN: What have you enjoyed the least about your time in the US?
Khaled: SNOW SNOW SNOW! Trust me future exchange students, snow is nice if there is a little of itâ€¦NOT 3 FEET! Aahhahaha too much of a good thing is always bad.
CDN: Brag about yourself a little.
Khaled: A little? I could brag about myself until the world ends. (Which could be tomorrow since there is so much snow) Ok basically I am awesome! I have no evidence to back me up but once you see my amazing good looks, charming behavior, my awesome sense of style (orange) and overall nice-ness to will be impressed ahahahahh.
Khaled: Firstly I will sign up for the organization which handles with exchange students in Malaysia. Then I will apologize to my friends for leaving them so long. Then hopefully I will continue with my studies at a flight school. Yes, I aspire to be a pilot. YAY!
CDN: Would you recommend a PAX experience to another member of your family? Why or why not?
Khaled: Of course! First off, it free! Ahahaha secondly, it truly is a once in a lifetime experience! It’s not like when you are 40+ you can apply for this. Furthermore, the friends you make here would probably be with you forever. Yes, there are challenges but what part of life doesn’t have challenges?