Global Citizenship at the 100 Years Young! AFS Youth Workshop and Symposium

This November AFS will become 100 years old, and to commemorate its centennial a myriad of activities around the world have been and will be organized. One of the events is the 100 Years Young! AFS Youth Workshop and Symposium which will gather over 100 youth representatives. Including preparatory team members and facilitators, we come from 39 different countries from all parts of the world! Even though many participants are AFSers, in total we represent 30 different organizations.10649108_1545954475635626_401122695777048525_o.jpgThe 100 Years Young! project is divided in two phases: first, a virtual phase which started a month ago, and second, an in-person phase, when more than half of the virtual participants will come together in Paris for a two-day Youth Workshop and Symposium at the UNESCO headquarters.

Over the first month of the virtual phase we have been reflecting on what global citizenship means for us. Using an online learning tool that incorporates social networking features participants were divided in small groups, in which everyone shared their own opinion, leading the group to a collective definition of Global Citizenship.

Here are some of the outcomes from the groups:

We believe the word ‘global’ refers to something way wider than just ‘different countries’. Global is like general, it involves ‘everything’ and ‘everyone’. Being a global citizen means a lot more than just understanding and respecting the culture of someone from another country. There might be many different cultures in your own country, city or even neighborhood. Being a global citizen means respecting and understanding people in a global and individual sphere. If we want to be global citizens, we have also to think about local problems which stop us from going ahead. When thinking about global citizenship, it’s important to consider that some people are denied even the privilege of being a CITIZEN for their religion, gender, ethnic differences, sexual orientation, socio-economic class. Global citizenship is about a lot more than just different countries. It’s about understanding and respecting all sorts of differences.

Global citizenship is the responsibility and sense of empathy for fair and just global development, as well as education for human rights, for sustainable solutions for the environment, prevention in order to stay out of conflict and keep peace in the world and finally increasing the level of intercultural education as well as diversity education. Also, Global citizenship evokes values in its participants that are of openness, pride, motivation and future oriented mindset.

After reflecting on what Global Citizenship means for us, we decided to explore this concept among the people around us. For the next part of the virtual activities participants were asked to interview someone from their communities.

Check out this great interview Lise-Maria and Kyrre from Norway did!

In the upcoming weeks participants will be divided in 4 different tracks, each focusing on a different stakeholder and discussing their role in education of global citizens. Participants will be able to share their own perspectives, but also learn about the experiences and thoughts of others. The final outcomes will be presented at the AFS Youth Symposium at UNESCO.


This post has been contributed by Guillermo Bril of AFS Argentina & Uruguay.

Fourth Annual AFS Intercultural Link Learning Program Regional Events

For a fourth year in a row, from 25-28 September, the AFS Intercultural Link Learning Program held events in the Asia-Pacific and Caribe regions for AFS staff and volunteers. 22 participants from Australia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand participated in Levels 1 and 2 in Jakarta, Indonesia. 22 participants from Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Panama participated in all three Levels of the Program in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

“All three groups had a same goal,” stated Qualified Trainer Mónica Wittman from AFS Costa Rica. “Increasing their own intercultural competences, gaining knowledge and developing skills toward sensitizing others about intercultural differences and how best to approach them.”

Both events were led by experienced Learning Program Qualified Trainers who dedicated weeks of planning to make the events unforgettable for the participants, finding unique and fun ways to deliver Intercultural Learning content. “The participants particularly commented positively on the several activities that allowed them to easily understand complex concepts and theories, as opposed to the usual delivery of lectures,” said Mae Ayob, Qualified Trainer from AFS Philippines. “They are all excited for the next Level!”

Qualified Trainer Fran Baxter from AFS Australia agreed, “The experiential nature of the learning we were engaged in – both learning about the topics, and each other’s culture – therefore actually experiencing Intercultural Learning while learning was very valuable.”

The in-person event is just the beginning for these 44 Learning Program participants. All will be supported with various distance learning activities that build upon the foundations that were laid during the workshops.

A big thanks goes out to AFS Indonesia, Bina Antarbudaya, and AFS Dominican Republic for hosting these very successful regional events! We look forward to the participants finishing the distance portions of their respective levels and to the next regional events in 2015!

AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium: Learning to Live Together – from Ideas to Action


This November 8th, AFS Intercultural Programs will celebrate its 100th Anniversary and prepare to ring in the next hundred years of education for peace and intercultural cooperation at the AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium.

The general theme of our Symposium has been inspired by Jacques Delors’ Report on Education (UNESCO, 1996): “The main challenge facing lifelong education involves our capabilities to learn to live together by developing an understanding of others and their histories, traditions and spiritual values and, on this basis, creating a new spirit which, guided by a recognition of our growing interdependence and a common analysis of the risks and challenges of the future, would induce people to implement common projects or to manage the inevitable conflicts in an intelligent and peaceful way.”

We believe that by providing intercultural learning opportunities to young people and adults through well-facilitated exchanges, by promoting citizen commitment through meaningful volunteering, and by proposing educational methods that complement those of state education systems, the AFS program may be one valuable way of meeting this challenge. We welcome this symposium as an opportunity to challenge AFS to take action for the next 100 years of intercultural learning.

Oscar Arias

Against this backdrop, we will conduct an educational symposium and round-table discussion featuring eminent thinkers and agents for peace from diverse geographies and perspectives. We are honored to be joined by Oscar Arias, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former president of Costa Rica, as one of the keynote speakers at the symposium. Together, we will explore the responsibilities of individuals versus institutions in the co-construction of the “new spirit” as called for by Delors, and whether in so doing, we are endorsing a universal code of ethics.

The Symposium is organized under the patronage of UNESCO and is a part of the Centennial celebrations will take place in Paris, because it was in Paris that in 1914 A. Piatt Andrew set up the American Ambulance Field Service (AAFS, later AFS) to rescue as many human lives as possible on the battlefields of World War I. The war experience triggered AFS to launch an experiment of peace education in the 1940s, again on a totally voluntary basis. Former drivers and their friends from all over the world started to exchange individual teenagers for an entire school year, hosting them in families and in secondary schools so that they could all learn (students, host-families, schools and communities) the difficult art of living with differences and of seeing themselves through the eyes of another culture.

This experiment has grown into the largest high school student exchange movement in the world with over 12000 participants every year and managed by 43000 volunteers. AFS has grown and extended its exchanges all over the world, but the purpose and the spirit have remained the same: to challenge a young individuals to leave the safety boundaries of home and to take a look at themselves from another perspective – and to stimulate host families, schools and communities to reconsider their approaches to life and education as they try to incorporate into their daily lives a young person who has been raised within other memories, world-views and values.


The AFS Effect: Daring to Create Change

Since its beginning, AFS has been a vehicle for committed individuals who dare to make a difference. Courage, volunteerism and learning have been constants throughout our history. A century ago they resulted in thousands of lives saved. Then, in inventing the intercultural exchange programs that still transform lives today.

Creating change is what AFSers do, and we call it the AFS Effect.

AFS has impacted many lives throughout our history and with the #AFSeffect campaign we hope to learn about the impact AFS has had on individuals—what the #AFSeffect means to them and what intercultural learning in action looks like to them. Everyone who would like to contribute can share a post about their own experience on their social media platforms using the hashtag #AFSeffect.

Until the AFS Centennial celebrations in Paris, we will post several questions online with and ask everyone to react and contribute to the campaign using #AFSeffect to tag their posts. The first question was already shared as a part of the 100 days, 100 stories campaign on the official AFS Intercultural Programs Facebook page and others will follow soon.

Many AFSers are already participating in the campaign and you can easily follow contributions on the campaign microsite

Curiosity, Difficulty and Reflection

Experiential learning is at the core of AFS’s programs and activities: Whether you participate in one of the exchange programs, volunteer trainings or activities, you will learn most by doing and reflecting on your experiences.

Years of research and anecdotal evidence have shown that personal crises have a special value for such learning. For example, during their time abroad, exchange students are continuously compelled to act and react in the absence of familiar cues. When they remain manageable, such crises become productive bases for intercultural learning because they force the participant to challenge old assumptions, to think creatively, and to acquire new knowledge, attitudes and skills. Because of the emotional security provided by the host family and the local community, and because of the network of support available from AFS volunteers and staff these crises are valuable learning experiences.

Another view on this issue is offered by brain researchers. Brain is often compared to a muscle: That the more you use it, the more it grows. Studies have found that neural connections form and deepen most when we make mistakes doing difficult tasks rather than repeatedly having success with easy ones. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and embracing challenges – such as a year of intercultural student exchange – can produce much more of personal development than avoiding struggle and failure.

Reinforcing tenacity and perseverance is especially valuable in adolescence: This period of multiple opportunities and vulnerabilities is also a time during which the brain is highly influenced by experiences.This is when much is learned, especially about the social world, and it is the best time to turning stressful events into learning opportunities. As we leave adolescence, the brain becomes less adaptable and sensitive to experiential influences. Many studies find a decline in novelty-seeking as we move through our 20s, which may suggest that deliberate exposure to challenging experiences will keep our brains “younger” for longer.

There is no fixed formula for successful learning with no bumps on the road. Yet, encouraging curiosity, embracing difficulties and fostering reflection are a good setting for personal development.

Are you ready for intercultural dialogue?

Multicultural education, intercultural education, nonracial education, antiracist education, culturally responsive pedagogy, ethnic studies, peace studies, global education, social justice education, bilingual education, mother tongue education, integration – these and more are the terms used to describe different aspects of diversity education around the world. Although it may go by different names and speak to stunningly different conditions in a variety of sociopolitical contexts, diversity education attempts to address such issues as racial and social class segregation, the disproportionate achievement of students of various backgrounds, and the structural inequality in both schools and society.
(Quote from Diversity Education: Lessons For A Just World by Sonia Nieto)

Diversity education is the topic of this year’s Intercultural Dialogue Day (IDD), a grassroots initiative organized by volunteers in AFS local chapters all over Europe since 2008. On 25 September 2014 these AFS volunteers will be exploring new ideas and perspectives for the events organized at a local level related to diversity education.

In preparation for this special date, you can check out the Intercultural Dialogue Day Facebook page and its 100 days challenge. During the countdown to IDD, IDDA (the project’s mascot) asks you different questions, offers resources and food for thought related to diversity education every day. For example, IDDA has already helped us discover a database of intercultural films, educational resources on cultural diversity and made us reflect on gender roles. Even outside of Europe, you can also download the promotional materials developed for this year’s IDD or the IDD Toolkits where different formats of local events from previous years are described.

The Intercultural Dialogue Day project was initiated in 2008, the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, by the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL), the AFS European umbrella organization. Today, IDD takes place each year on the last Thursday of September. The main IDD idea is to raise awareness and visibility of intercultural dialogue in local communities. IDD events are originated by AFS volunteers and supported by AFS offices. Some AFSers outside of Europe are already marking IDD with their own events initiatives this year and AFS is exploring pursuing IDD globally.

AFS believes in dialogue and cooperation across languages, cultures and organizations. This is also one of the focus points of Intercultural Dialogue Day. Collaboration with different audiences in the local community does not only raise the visibility of the message we try to promote through IDD, but it also strengthens the AFS volunteer networks, giving volunteers a sense of ownership and responsibility while encouraging innovation.

Learning Styles for AFS & Friends

We are very happy to share with you the latest edition of the educational series ICL for AFS & Friends. This document focuses on Learning Styles as defined by David Kolb, and their relevance for AFS. As facilitators of learning, it is helpful for AFS volunteers and staff to understand the unique characteristics of each learning style, which will ensure a more integrated approach to workshop design to support learners’ preferences. This document ensues from the previous edition of ICL for AFSers and Friends, which focused on David Kolb’s experiential learning cycle.

The ICL for AFS & Friends is a concise, approachable series of documents on intercultural topics that are directly related to the AFS experience, written by and for the AFS community, educators and all others who either are or would like to become involved with the AFS mission.

Unity in Diversity: Celebrating Diversity for Common and Shared Values

We would like to thank Guillermo Bril of AFS Argentina & Uruguay for contributing the following text to our blog:

Bali – Indonesia, 28-30 August 2014

Under the overarching theme “Unity in Diversity: Celebrating Diversity for Common and Shared Values”, the Sixth Global Forum of the UNAOC brought together over 1,500 participants, including political leaders, representatives of international and regional organizations, the private sector, civil society, academia, youth, arts and the media, as well as donor agencies and foundations, to explore new ways of promoting cross-cultural dialogue and understanding and to spark new partnerships and commitments.

Out of more than 3,000 applicants worldwide, only 100 participants from 43 countries qualified to convene for the Youth Event in August 2014 with the objective of supporting the mainstreaming of young people’s voices into the Forum’s main themes.

The AFS network was represented in Bali by Guille Bril, of AFS Argentina & Uruguay, who met with another 99 youth representatives from diverse cultural and religions backgrounds, with outstanding track record in intercultural dialogue and youth work.

In line with the mission of AFS, the UNAOC aspires to the ideal of a culture of peace and dialogue among all civilizations on the assumption that “differences within and between societies should be neither feared nor repressed, but cherished as a precious asset of humanity”.

The Youth Event looked at the main topic through four themes: education, media, migration, and entrepreneurship/employment, which resulted in the creation of Youth Recommendations. They represent what we, young people, need from world leaders in order to fully leverage their unique contribution to fostering Unity in Diversity. Youth Recommendations for education push for more inclusive national education and foster meaningful and diverse youth participation in education policy-making. They also insist on integrating global citizenship into the curriculum at all levels of education with a specific focus on cross cultural understanding, problem solving, conflict resolution and peace building. All of these are a part of the AFS Educational Goals and will be addressed at our upcoming Centennial Celebrations, and the Learning to Live Together – AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium.

This event was a great opportunity for AFS to share its expertise in the field of youth work and global education, and we were happy to collaborate with other youth representatives from around the world. We are glad to continue our relationship with the UNAOC, which started with our representatives attending the UNAOC Global Forums since 2008, as well as the establishment of the AFS Intercultural Prize at the Plural+ Youth Video Contest.

AFS India and AFS Philippines Strengthen Foundations of Intercultural Learning

From 24-27 August, three key volunteers from AFS India and two key volunteers from AFS Philippines took part in a National Qualified Trainers (NQT) workshop for the AFS Intercultural Link Learning Program in Gurgaon, Haryana, India.

This marks the fourth NQT workshop done this year throughout the AFS network. Previous workshops were done in Egypt, Brazil, and Costa Rica. Like the other workshops, the candidates dove deep into training techniques and the Learning Program Curriculum. Once they complete all three steps of certification, they can implement the program locally according to the National Strategies of their AFS organizations.

“My favorite part of the training was when the candidates realized that they had to change their approach and start thinking as trainers instead of volunteers,” said Sujatha Shyamsundar, International Qualified Trainer of the Learning Program and one the workshop trainers. She continued, “I also enjoyed connecting activities and theory to practical knowledge that participants will carry back with them.”

One candidate said, “It [the workshop] went beyond my expectations. I just thought it will just be a simple training but it wasn’t. It demanded full attention and time (…) everything was very essential and I learned a lot.”

We congratulate the five NQT candidates and wish them luck with the rest of their certification!


Is culture like an onion, an iceberg, or some kind of computer software?

The following post is contributed by Dunja Zivanovic who works for AFS Serbia, as a program coordinator and trainer. She is a member of the pool of trainers of the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL) and Training on Intercultural Learning Advisory Body. She also does research in the field of intercultural learning, mainly focusing on learning outcomes of student mobility. This text originally appeared in the EFILife newsletter.

Metaphors for Culture and Intercultural Learning

When talking about intercultural learning (ICL) in AFS, we often say that culture is like an iceberg, with its small part visible from the surface and a significantly larger part hidden underneath. This implies that if one is not aware of the existence of the hidden part, they are very likely to crash and sink. At the Forum on Intercultural Learning and Exchange held in September 2013 in Italy, Milton Bennett raised the question of appropriateness of metaphors we use to talk about culture, challenging the very commonly used iceberg image and showing that in many respects it can be misleading. Firstly, it implies that culture is something static and has clear boundaries, so a student can “learn about” it, which is not really the case, because the idea of ICL is experience and involvement. Perhaps it would make more sense to envision culture as a river – fluid and dynamic. Another issue is whether the danger implied by the iceberg image is something we want to highlight when we try to explain what culture is. Bennett’s remark is a great opportunty for us in AFS to critcally assess the metaphors we use in our presentations, handbooks, trainng material, and even our posters and advertsments.

If we take a closer look at how we talk about ICL, we very soon realise that we constantly and inevitably rely on conceptual metaphors. Metaphors enable us to use concrete, tangible and familiar phenomena in order to talk about more abstract concepts, in this case culture and intercultural learning, which are less tangible and more difficult to grasp. Moreover, the metaphors we use not only help us talk about ICL, but more importantly, enable us to think about it. Without them, we would not be able to have any images and ideas of ICL and how it works.

Thanks to metaphors we are able to say that intercultural learning is a journey, not a destination, and we often ask our students to reflect on their learning path. Sometimes we visualise this path as linear, but when we want to talk about the experiential aspect of learning and refer to David Kolb’s model, we envision the learning process as circular. On the other hand, we envision culture as an iceberg, onion, or some kind of computer software (or as Hofstede put it “mental programme”). Finally, intercultural encounters are also conceptualised metaphorically an image commonly used in AFS is the image of a fish jumping out of its bowl into another one. All these metaphors enable us to uderstand what ICL is and explain it to others in order to raise their awareness of culture and related concepts.

Nevertheless, as pointed out by Lakoff and Johnson, the authors of conceptual metaphor theory, one of the key properties of metaphors is that they highlight some aspects of concepts, but at the same time hide some others. For example, the ONION metaphor highlights that culture consists of different layers and has a core made of values, while the ICEBERG metaphor highlights that many aspects of culture are not immediately visible. The FISHBOWL metaphor shows that when one leaves their culture they tend to feel like a fish out of water. At the same time these metaphors hide the fact that cultures often have no clear boundaries and are not homogenous, like it is the case with water in a fishbowl. The ICEBERG metaphor warns us against the danger, but does not show how to approach the iceberg and explore the depths. Consequently, this image may make culture seem frightening, as suggested by Bennett. The SOFTWARE metaphor highlights that a person tends to think and behave in certain manner automatically as a member of a culture, but at the same time neglects the interpersonal aspect of the concept of culture, which is essential for people who take part in intercultural exchange.

If we compare these commonly used metaphors, it is obvious that none of them can sucessfully capture everything that we want to tell our students, volunteers and external audiences. We can therefore conclude that there is no one best way to metaphorically express what culture or intercultural learning is. We rather have to be aware that there are different metaphors, highlighting something and hiding something else. If we are aware of this, then we can use metahors more successfully, being careful about when we use which metaphor in order to make our point efficiently and not mislead our audience. Since there is no such thing as a universally applicable metaphor that works in every situation, instead of sticking blindly to one visualisation of culture and ICL, we should explore our options and choose from the variety of metaphors we have at our disposal. Although far from being perfect, they are our very useful and indispensable tool.