Step Feed: This golden box brings Americans face-to-face with the Middle East

It's an ordinary shipping container painted gold, but it's also kind of a teleportation machine ... a box that allows you to enter a new reality.

The Portals Project by Shared Studios connects random people on distant parts of the globe via technology that goes way beyond Skype. Currently, the project is running an installation in Los Angeles, California and Erbil, Iraq, bringing Americans face-to-face with refugees across the world.

The goal of the global project is "to connect people who wouldn't otherwise meet," the project founder Amar Bakshi told CNN.

"This is a time when people see each other as 'types' too often," he said. "This adds a level of depth that can break up those hardened narratives."

First launched in 2014, Bakshi connected New Yorkers with Iranians with the first set of golden portals. 

Those who use the portals meet someone from a different part of the world, giving them a new first-hand perspective that they would likely never have otherwise.

 

It's better than Skype and Facebook

The experience is immersive, with floor to ceiling screens connecting those who enter the portals. According to Bakshi, it gives the impression that you're actually sitting in the same room with the person, despite the fact that they are across the world.

A sign outside the golden box brags: "This is better than Facebook!" 

Ari Saperstein, someone who tried it in Los Angeles, told CNN that he is so thankful for the opportunity. 

"I know I'm at fault for not exposing myself to people who are different from me and have different points of view," he said, after connecting with a 19-year-old refugee named Rahmi in Iraq. 

"How did you learn English so well?" Saperstein asked. 

"From going to school and listening to American music," Rahmi replied. "Rap, and Justin Bieber." 

Saperstein was surprised. "I think I'll go home and listen to a little Justin Bieber in a new light now," he said. 

 

How it works

Some cities, like Los Angeles pay to bring portals to their area for a period of time. Other places around the world have funded permanent portals. With the Middle East, Palestine, Iraq, Jordan and Iran have all become hosts, connecting people from their countries with individuals in Europe and the U.S. 

"Normally we're connecting Angelenos [a term for people from Los Angeles] to other Angelenos," Julia Diamond, who helped bring the project to her city, said. "But this was a way to connect them to the world." 

But more than connecting strangers, the portals are connecting people around the world for creativity and learning purposes. 

We have people making a rap album in 15 countries, now being produced out of Milwaukee [Wisconsin]," Bakshi said. "And kids in Mexico City have regular classes with kids in Burma." 

And the portals are changing people's perceptions and building bridges, even if its just one conversation at a time. 

"What we're seeing over here on the news, I had the opportunity of actually talking to someone who's experiencing this," Bernadine Harris, a woman who entered the portal said.

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