In April, three high school video whizzes from Florida – Lee Giat, Daniel Pursell, and Richard “Ricky” Kidder – left the United States for a seven-day adventure in Russia. They tumbled through Moscow, Kazan, and Cheboksary, produced short films with newfound Russian peers, and even cooked over campfire by the Volga River. They overcame jet lag and language barriers to connect with like-minded Russian students about their interests and experiences.

The trio had submitted a 30-second-long video clip to a contest at the 13th annual Student Television Network (STN) convention in Atlanta, Georgia, and won. 

U.S. native Daniel Pursell shares his perceptions of Russia and aspirations of the TV Bridge Project at the Volga Encounters Youth Media Festival. (2016)

The clip produced by the young Floridians creatively captured the spirit of the broader goals of the competition and conveyed the students’ enthusiasm to take part in building a foundation for cross-cultural collaboration through the project. The competition was the first step of the intercultural project, implemented by Eurasia Foundation’s U.S.-Russia Social Expertise Exchange Program. The purpose of the Youth TV Bridge is to connect student teams from STN and the Volga Encounters Youth Media Festival to form a single international anchor team.

This united team will work together to produce interactive online news reports and documentaries and will hone their broadcasting and production skills. The team attended the Volga Encounters festival accompanied by SEE staff and several broadcasting professionals, including STN CEO Nancy Held Loucas and several faculty members of Moscow’s Humanities Institute of Television and Radio Broadcasting (GITR).

The opening ceremony of the festival presented a varied display of Russian culture, featuring balalaikas, folk dances (prisyadka), and songs (Katyusha and Kalinka Malinka). The U.S. students were dazzled by the rich display of culture, but making a connection required a little more from each side. “Once we got to talk to them [while we were] onstage and to tell them why we were there, they realized we were there to communicate and collaborate,” Giat said, recalling the introduction that he gave with his classmates. “I think they appreciated that. We were grateful that they were so open to us.”

The three youths were not alone in their excitement. During the SEE presentation about U.S.-Russia collaboration in the sphere of student television, many hands filled the air, indicating the Russian students’ eagerness to learn more about U.S. culture, STN, journalism, and the students themselves.

Volga Encounters attendees participated in focus groups where they learned constructive collaboration techniques. (2016)

Throughout the week the students connected through focus groups, master classes, and activities in which they shared ideas and developed communication, video production, and storytelling skills. “Perhaps there are some things [the U.S. students] don’t know about journalism, just as there are things we don’t know,” Alina, a student from Tobolsk, Russia, said during one of the focus groups. “It is great to exchange each other’s insights and benefit from each other’s knowledge,” she added.

SEE invited Volga Encounters festival attendees to compete in a parallel 30-second video contest for the chance to become the Russian anchors for the TV Bridge project. A team from Yaroslavl, consisting of Nikita Kulikov, Anna Hrebtova, Dima Lebedkin, and Gleb Paramonov, ultimately took the prize after producing a charismatic video. In addition to being among the program’s first anchors, the Yaroslavl team will attend the Student Television Network convention in March, 2017, in Anaheim, California.

In between the master classes and discussions, the Yarloslavl and Florida teams rolled up their sleeves and produced two lighthearted videos about each other’s respective languages and cultures. The first video featured the Russian students racking their brains for English vocabulary words while playing charades with the U.S. team, while the second video depicted the U.S. students’ bewilderment as they tried to identify various Russian celebrities after seeing their photos.

Since the festival, the students have been working together via video conference and online editing platforms to produce the first TV Bridge pilot episode. The episode documents their experiences at the 2016 STN Convention, the Volga Encounters Festival and their hopes for meeting at the STN Convention in 2017. 

Students from the U.S. and Russia come together to expand their knowledge of journalism, media, and broadcast communications while in Russia. (2016) (2016)

Although the production process of the TV Bridge pilot is not yet complete, the project has already had a significant impact on its participants. Lee Giat will soon begin to study astronomy and communications at the University of North Florida and has added a Russian language course to his schedule.

“It’s opening new doors for everyone,” says Daniel Pursell regarding the project. “If someone sees that we were able to travel to Russia and make new friends and have these great experiences … [t]hey are going to want to be able to do that… It’s going to make people want to learn.”

With the TV Bridge pilot slated for debut in early fall, the anchor team is working dutifully to produce the initial episodes. Implementers and participants of the project are already reaching out to more students in the U.S and Russia to join the effort and participate in an entire season of the TV Bridge. With the help of STN and Volga Encounters, the TV Bridge will continue to attract new participants, expand its network, and connect people internationally.