Exchange Students Offer Unique Perspective on Flag Day

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PAX-Program of Academic Exchange Asks Participants About Flags in Their Culture

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“There was a national conversation going on at that time—both on the evening news and in cafes—centering on whether or not it was 'okay' to wave the German flag.”

Calendars throughout the U.S. mark each June 14 as Flag Day, although there is no official federal holiday by that name. Beginning with President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, the U.S President issues a proclamation during the second week in June suggesting that all Americans display the flag. U.S. law classifies the observance of Flag Day at the same level as Mother’s Day or Thomas Jefferson Day.

The distinction is a fine point for many Americans and can be very confusing for visitors. Although more than 40 countries have some day of observance commemorating their flag, the concept of Flag Day is unique for citizens of some very large and influential countries.

As a leading academic exchange program representing more than 1,100 students from 70 countries, PAX – Program of Academic Exchange and its students have unique perspectives on flags, patriotism, and most especially multiculturalism.

Around 200 German high school students come to America through PAX each year. There is no government prohibition against German citizens displaying the flag, and many do so during celebrations, such as the World Cup competition, although this is a rather recent phenomenon.

Former American fellow in Germany and current PAX Marketing and Communications Director Nicholas Burtscher was fortunate enough to be completing his fellowship in Germany when the country hosted the 2006 World Cup. “There was a national conversation going on at that time—both on the evening news and in cafes—centering on whether or not it was 'okay' to wave the German flag.”

Many older Germans still show reluctance in flying their flag, ostensibly over a sense of propriety following the Second World War. Proud of their recent history, younger generations of Germans and especially PAX students (most of whom born in the 21st Century) seem to identify with this feeling less and less—more concerned perhaps with the appropriate time to display the European Union’s flag, as they grow up with a newly-layered identity.

Other countries and cultures easily maneuver the issues inherent in displaying multiple flags. Luay Marzok and his family in Israel are members of the Druze faith, which has a unique five color flag that is often shown as a profession of faith and celebration.

Marzok is a PAX participant who has spent the last year living and attending high school in North Carolina. He says members of the Druze community often fly the flag alongside the Israeli flag. “The most important thing…when you are holding the Druze flag,” Marzok says, is to remember what it means. Indeed, the flag represents a rich, ancient culture and faith, which many Americans have come to know through Marzok this year.

And while Germans of different generations may sometime struggle in deciding when it’s appropriate to display their flag, Marzok says that soccer may be the great equalizer. “People like their football clubs or a country in the World Cup, and they’ll show that flag. Israel was not in the World Cup, but there were many German flags celebrating that football team,” he said.

A presidential proclamation is expected soon to mark the observance of Flag Week.

About PAX
Founded in 1990, PAX – Program of Academic Exchange is a not-for-profit educational organization and one of a select few U.S. Department of State-designated Exchange Visitor Programs chosen to participate in the prestigious U.S. government sponsored Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) and Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) programs. Each year, more than 1,100 teenagers visit the U.S. as PAX exchange students. For information on how you can host an exchange student from another country, please visit or call 800.555.6211.

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George Bounacos, Silver Beacon Marketing
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