During my last visit to DC, I had a heart-to-heart with a young student living in Havana. We were strangers meeting for the first time, sitting in gold shipping containers 1,000 miles apart.
We were introduced by Portals, a project connecting people who might never otherwise meet.
Through Portals, New Yorkers chat with Syrians. Folks in Miami meet people living in Iran and Honduras.
Participants need travel no further than a few blocks to shake the proverbial hand of someone living halfway across the world.
How is this possible?
After reserving a spot via Shared Studios’ website, you travel to a portal in your hometown. The team welcomes you through a heavy gold door into a dark room with nothing inside but a screen.
You have no idea who will show up on the screen. You have no idea what you might discuss. The organizers provide a prompt, but you can steer the conversation in any direction you choose.
It feels a little like being introduced to a fellow guest at a party. You are comfortable because the host has invited you both, but it’s still up to you to find common ground.
For me, the conversation was filled with laughter and courteous curiosity. We talked about work and creative aspirations. We shared our weekly rituals and named our favorite musicians. Across a decade-wide age gap, we found common ground in our preference for the best way to spend a Saturday night—dinner at home with friends.
When the exchange was over, our goodbyes were heartfelt with mutual wishes for a success and gratitude for the chance to meet.
After exiting the box and re-entering the afternoon light, I was bubbly with the same energy I feel after a holiday party. It was an intimate opportunity to engage with another human and create a bond, however fleeting.
In the end, the young student and I only spoke for 20 minutes, but it was enough time to turn a stranger into a friend.
Portals is expanding in 2016 with new locations in San Francisco and Los Angeles. If these destinations on are your travel list next year, be sure to reserve a spot to participate. In addition to seeing the Golden Gate Bridge or Hollywood sign, you can sit down to chat with someone from Zimbabwe, Iraq or Afghanistan.
Bypass the cost of an expensive plane ride. Ignore the travel warnings. Meet someone from a country you might never otherwise visit and find a friend half a world away.