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For more than half a century, AFS has led research efforts that are focused on achieving a deeper understanding of the impact of exchange programs. This ongoing commitment to assesment enables AFS to provide participants and host families with highly effective learning experiences through our exchange programs and otherwise.

AFS has a lengthy history of significant contributions to the fields of international, intercultural and experiential learning, often working in partnership with leading institutions and notable individuals. By exploring a wide range of relevant topics—from the ways that technology affects acculturation to the interplay between personality and cultural distance—AFS research programs help identify the factors that most directly affect the quality of experiential learning.

Critical AFS Contributions 

Kaleidoscope Research Project

AFS is currently participating in a major research initiative that will explore the different factors that affect participants’ ability to adapt to new environments. Run in partnership with cross-cultural psychology researchers at Essex University, UK, this groundbreaking study will follow AFS participants from 48 different countries throughout the duration of their experience abroad.

Long Term Impact Study

In 2006, AFS conducted a large-scale research effort in order to determine the long-term impact of an intercultural learning experience. The study compared AFS alumni to their peers, 20 to 25 years after their participation in an exchange program. More than 11,000 AFS Alumni in 15 different countries were contacted and nearly 2,000 submitted survey results. Each person who responded was also asked to nominate two high school friends to complete the survey as the control group. The study found that AFS participants showed significant advantages in language fluency and cultural competence that lasted far beyond the duration of the experience abroad. 

Educational Results

The Assessment of the Impact of the AFS Study Abroad Experience was an independent research study conducted in 2005 by Dr. Mitchell R. Hammer in partnership with AFS. Thousands of students around the world were evaluated before, during and after an experience abroad. Compared to a control group of their peers, AFS Participants made significant improvements in language fluency, their knowledge of other cultures and their ability to forge intercultural friendships. The results of the research conclusively confirmed that exchange programs, especially at the high school level, play a critical role in building bridges across cultural differences.

The AFS Impact Study 1980s

One of the earliest studies on the impact of cultural exchange programs was conducted by AFS in the 1980s. Thousands of AFS participants were interviewed at different points during the program to measure their learning and personal growth across 17 different variables. The findings were substantial, as subjects showed significantly greater increases in understanding other cultures, awareness and appreciation of host country and culture, foreign language appreciation and ability, international awareness, and adaptability. The AFS experience also seems to help students become less materialistic, more independent in their thinking, more aware of their home country and culture, better able to communicate with others, and better able to think critically. Still regarded as one of the most significant pieces of research on the subject, the AFS Impact Study has been reproduced in several formats, and numerous scholarly journals have published articles based on the results.

Culture as an Iceberg Graphic

Most people identify the culture of a place based on certain general categories, such as the food, art or literature of a specific region. However, there are many more aspects that define a society which often go unnoticed, for example, the tempo of work, the relationship to animals or the concept of cleanliness. In order to help people understand this, AFS first created in 1984 a powerful visual that uses the metaphor of culture as an iceberg, where a small portion is visible above the surface but the majority extends unseen deep below the waterline. The Iceberg Graphic has been reprinted in countless outside publications and is used around the world today for educational purposes.

AFS Research Summary – 1980-1993

This document summarizes the knowledge and the insights AFS has gained from the studies and research on Intercultural Learning carried out from 1980 to 1993. The studies included in this Summary are: AFS Impact Study (1980-1985), Family Characteristics Study (1981), Early Return Study (1984), Matched Pair Placement Study (1984), Theory into Practice Series (1984-1987), The Hosting Experience, Volunteers Resource Study, Orientation Evaluation, Student Evacuation & Replacement: Bolivia (1980) and Work of Other Researchers.

AFS Research Summary – 1947-1975

This document provides a broad view of the major research carried out by AFS until 1975, including the hypothesis and findings generated by them, the methods used and what other topics would be of interest for future study. Results of research have been grouped in this document into thirteen categories: Categories I-VII reflect program processes; Categories VIII-X concentrate on U.S. field units, international field units and the internal workings of the office; Category XI focuses on the environment external to AFS; Category XII concerns itself with the finances of the organization; and, finally, Category XIII presents a short bibliography of books written about the AFS experience.