A wonderful week at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication

This blog post was contributed by fellow AFSer, Fran Baxter. Fran’s involvement with AFS started when she sent both her daughters on AFS exchanges and since than she has hosted many AFS students at her home in Australia. Over the years Fran has taken part in many AFS activities in various roles and currently she works part time for AFS Australia as the Learning Services Manager and manages the AFS Educational Impact Assessment Pilot as a consultant for AFS International.

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From July 13 to July 24 the 39th annual Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC) took place at Reed College, in Portland, Oregon. I was fortunate to attend SIIC for the second time, my first time being in 2013.

SIIC is an extremely engaging, motivating, positive and inclusive learning environment. For two weeks, hundreds of people working in education, training, business and consulting, in both international and domestic intercultural contexts, come together to take workshops on different topics within the field of intercultural communication.

The most difficult part of attending SIIC is choosing which courses to take, as all courses are relevant to anyone within the intercultural learning field! The faculty are highly skilled, knowledgeable and approachable and they include renowned intercultural theorists such as Janet Bennett, Executive Director and co-founder of the Intercultural Communication Institute (ICI), Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan, Mick Vande Berg, Darla Deardorff and Stella Ting Toomey, just to name a few.

In total over 550 participants attended SIIC this summer, representing a diverse national and professional group of learners who are eager to learn and share their expertise. AFS was represented at SIIC this year, with 21 AFS volunteers and staff attending from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, Germany, Honduras, India and USA over the course of the two weeks. Of these 21 AFSers, 15 are AFS-SIIC scholars which means that they received scholarships from AFS Intercultural Programs to attend SIIC. They are now back in their home countries completing their scholarship requirements which integrate their SIIC experience with their roles at AFS. I’m personally very excited to apply what I learned at SIIC to the AFS Educational Impact Assessment Pilot and local projects at AFS Australia.

I would recommend SIIC to anyone who wants to expand his or her intercultural competence, and to individuals who recognise that the learning journey continues for life. Come to network with like-minded individuals who recognise the value of shared knowledge. Come to interact with the teachers and students who were happy to share their experience and are open to new learning. Come for the many “a-ha!” moments, and to transfer what you learn to your context within AFS or beyond.

AFS Scholars at SIIC 2015

Each year I attend SIIC, I am left with one thing: the desire to learn more.

See you next July for the 40th year of SIIC!


AFS at the Pestalozzi Programme Summer School 2015

Eva Vitkova of AFS Presenting at Pestalozzi Summer School 2015

When the northern hemisphere school year ends and pupils and students take off for their summer holidays, some teachers don’t take a break yet. Instead, they spend 8 days with 80 other educators in the middle of the Black Forest in Southwestern Germany. Why? To learn, share and recharge their batteries.

It was already the 3rd time that the Pestalozzi Programme of the Council of Europe organized a Summer School for educators. With this year’s theme Pedagogy Makes the Difference the aim was to look at the core of what being a teacher means: our pedagogy, what we feel and think about education, our relation to knowledge, to school and above all with the learners. The summer school was open to educators from both formal and non-formal sectors and in line with our efforts to establish our organization as an actor in teacher education AFS was also represented. The event was organized in cooperation with and at the venue of the Academy of Bad Wildbad and it gathered people holding various roles within the educational system, including head masters, teacher trainers and teachers from all levels of education.

The program was very intensive, build with the intention to engage not only participant’s minds, but also souls and hearts. That’s why the methods used were very varied, including the more known open space or round table debate or more unusual ones such as “socratic walks” or “soap boxes”. During the Socratic walks, participants spend the morning outside exploring a topic of their choice in groups of four or five having the opportunity to let the conversation flow while walking and enjoying the stimulation of the beautiful natural surroundings. “Soap boxes” were 5 minutes opportunities for participants to address the whole group with a topic they are passionate about during the morning assembly.

Summer school participants and trainers came from Council of Europe countries – ranging from Georgia to Ireland and from Iceland to Malta. The multicultural nature of the group allowed for inspiring exchanges, discussions and learning from the many intercultural encounters we experienced.

The Summer School was not only an opportunity to stop and reflect about our roles as educators, but it was also a chance to develop ourselves as human beings while posing the question: Who am I as a teacher/trainer? An important reminder for all of us who are active in education, including the AFS community which contributes to the professional development of teachers by offering teacher trainings, conferences and other learning opportunities. The learnings from the event will inform our ongoing efforts towards developing a comprehensive educator and school relations strategy across the AFS network.

You can read more about the Pestalozzi Programme and its offerings here and follow it on twitter @pestalozziprog.

Connect: Intercultural Insights for Global Citizens on Interfaith Dialogue

AFS Intercultural Link Magazine now has a new name and a refreshing interactive digital format! Our new name, Connect: Intercultural Insights for Global Citizens, reflects both our long-standing commitment to connect individuals and cultures and our more recent focus to convene an increasingly diverse community of advocates. Going digital also provides the perfect platform to discuss and debate the critical intercultural issues of today and tomorrow.

See the full issue here: https://medium.com/connect-intercultural-insights-for-global-citizens and learn more about how Intercultural Learning needs Interfaith Dialogue.

In this issue:

Learn about what skills are needed for interfaith dialogue and try out our simple but effective activity that simulates an multifaith “meetup.” This activity is designed to be used in the classroom, after school or with adults. Hear from one AFSer about his experience walking in someone else’s shoes as he fasted for a day during the holy Muslim season of Ramadan. Then, zoom back in time to read how World War II AFS ambulance drivers from the UK documented and discussed different faiths during their experiences in Lebanon.

Award-winning journalist and creator of The Civil Conversations Project, Krista Tippett is someone who has brought together people from different faiths for many years. Her in-depth interviews with religious leaders and philosophers such as the 14th Dalai Lama, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Thich Nhat Hanh, Elie Wiesel and Jean Vanier made her an excellent choice for our own expert interview on this topic.

And, as usual, we bring you news from around the AFS global network: Be inspired by declarations from the recent AFS International Youth Volunteer Forum that took place in Argentina and discover how AFS Costa Rica and AFS Italy are working together to provide schools in their countries intercultural learning tools, trainings and more. Meet Heidy Utami, an AFS education specialist from Indonesia and find out how you can get involved with Intercultural Dialogue Day this year.

Enjoy our new interactive format! We invite you to share your comments, post, tweet (remember to tag your social media posts with #AFSeffect) or even send us a good old-fashioned email to let us know what you think.

Photo by ©AFS Vivre Sans Frontière, Guillaume Deperrois / Incorp Agency

Photo by ©AFS Vivre Sans Frontière, Guillaume Deperrois / Incorp Agency

“Welcome to America, Please be on Time!”

This blog post was contributed by our intern at AFS International, Lisa Hischer from Germany, who is working on education and school relations. After finishing her BA in Cultural Studies and Educational Sciences, Lisa went to Ecuador for doing voluntary work in the jungle. In summer 2014 she interned at InterCultur (a subsidiary of AFS Germany), where she prepared and took part in intercultural Summer Academies in Istanbul and Karlsruhe.

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AFS is an organization which provides learning opportunities by connecting people all over the world. But not only the core exchange programs draw on the intercultural spirit of their participants –the AFS staff are also sparkling with their cultural variety!

AFS International recently offered a training on U.S. culture to give new colleagues who recently moved to the U.S. the chance to gain a deeper understanding of their new environment and to share their experiences of living and working in a foreign culture – the U.S. culture!

The training was based on this article written by Max Fischer who took a closer look at guidebooks for tourists who come to the U.S. and what they recommend to keep in mind and to be aware of.

Many guide books highly recommended to always be on time, eat appropriately (always depending on what kind of food you eat: fried potatoes with fingers, boiled potatoes with fork and knife), never drink and drive and one of the most important tips: discussing about politics needs to be handled VERY carefully!

Another relevant topic seems to be personal space since many guidebooks try to explain the rather distanced concept of U.S. Americans when it comes to greeting or conversations. How to tip without insulting the server also appears to be a challenge for newcomers to the U.S. Apart from rather practical tips, the guide books generally give a draft of U.S. history, touching sensitive topics like slavery and the Civil Rights Movement.

But what do these tips really tell us? Do the guidebooks depict a realistic picture of what to expect when encountering the U.S. culture or are they rather a collection of stereotypes that push forward a certain perception of what we see?

To reflect upon these tips and assumptions, the participants of the U.S. culture training compared them to their own experiences and to the insider perspective of the training facilitator who is a U.S. citizen.


Lingran Zhou, Intern in Risk Management (came to the U.S. in August 2014 from China):

Did other people give you tips before you came to the U.S.? How was it in reality?

“My friends pointed out that the U.S. is a country focused on laws and that it is important to figure out the different state and federal laws in order not to violate them. It was a useful tip because I feel that in America you have to be careful to stick to the laws, maybe even more than in other countries.

Also I was told that religion plays an important role in some parts of the U.S., so I studied Christianity before I came to the U.S. My background knowledge is helpful to connect people’s behavior to religious values and it gives me a deeper understanding of their motivations. But since the U.S. is such a huge and diverse country, I always have to keep in mind the differences of U.S. citizens.

Are there any tips that are mentioned in the article that you find helpful?

“I think the tips in the article are accurate and precise, they fit to what I experienced in the U.S., for example it is very important to always be on time to not insult people.”

Do you see a danger in the guide-books or are they rather helpful?

“As long as you consider the travel books as guidelines which include basic knowledge about a country and its culture, they can be very helpful for a tourist or a newcomer.”


Guillermo Bril, Intern at Sentio (came to the U.S. in April 2015 from Argentina):

After living in the U.S. for a while, is there something that is still foreign and strange to you?

“The working style and communication in the office is different to what I experienced in my home country. People are more task oriented vs. relationship oriented. It still feels a little unfamiliar to rather schedule a meeting when you want to discuss a topic than to just walk over to my colleagues’ desks and talk to them right away.”

Are there any tips that are mentioned in the article that you find helpful?

“It was helpful to know about the different concept of personal space in the U.S. compared to the one in Argentina when I started my internship. People here tend to prefer more distance and I needed to get used to not kissing people as a greeting ritual.”

Do you see a danger in the guidebooks or are they rather helpful?

“Some guide books need to be careful not to overstep the line between limiting stereotypes and more broad and open generalizations. Generalizations can be helpful to orientate yourself in a foreign country and they still leave space for new and different perceptions and experiences.”


Katharine Sanders, Sentio (U.S. citizen and facilitator of the U.S. culture training):

What is your reaction to the tips in the books? Do you think they depict reality or do you feel stereotyped?

 “I think the article gives an interesting perspective on U.S. American culture. It is always an exciting experience to look at yourself through a different lens. The article mentions some generalizations that never would have occurred to me as notable cultural “rules” that might stress someone out while visiting the U.S.; like our collective and complex conventions for table manners (we eat fried chicken with our hands, but baked chicken with a knife and fork) or hugging/not hugging. I don’t really feel stereotyped by the books since they seem to also depict regionalism and the diversity of U.S. culture. Instead, I take them as an occasion to reflect upon what is perceived as important and different in the U.S. as compared to other cultures. However, reading about your home culture through this lens can also make you a little frustrated, especially the parts that talk about history or safety concerns without being particularly detailed or nuanced. Warnings to travelers, like in “conservative” rural areas or “dangerous” urban areas can come across a little overly simplistic.

Did you meet people who struggled with topics mentioned in the article?

“Some common themes, especially around personal space and touching, seem to always come up. Surprisingly, the two topics I feel I’ve heard most often are not covered in the article. Visitors I’ve interacted with have generally been quite impacted by the high number of homeless people living in the cities. Juxtaposed to that, they’re also usually a little overwhelmed by the abundance in our supermarkets. I feel like these two examples hint at some underlying U.S. cultural values and historical/politically relevant issues that might be helpful to explore more.

Guidebooks don’t really claim to provide intercultural learning but good guidebooks can give some cultural specific background knowledge to help people understand and survive in the short term. Reality will of course be much more individual and complex than how it is described.

What would you think should be recommended before coming to the U.S. for a person coming from a clearly different background?

I really can’t think of any specific recommendation on U.S. culture that would be relevant for all people coming to the U.S. for the first time. It always depends on where they are coming from, what kind of previous knowledge and experiences they have, what their reason it to come to the US, etc. Guidebooks including generalizations can be a great starting point if read with a critical eye. Still, I think it is more important to provide people with tools and strategies on how to take in all the “newness” to really understand and cope with differences.” Guidebooks seem to be a helpful start to encounter a foreign culture and to avoid dropping a brick or being overwhelmed by a surprising situation.

Still, no guidebook can offer what a real intercultural adventure can come up with. So, why should we believe in everything a book is telling us? Let’s get out there, form our own opinion and encounter the differences!


Be my fbf (Friend beyond Faith)?

This blog post was contibuted by our fellow AFSer, Stijn Van den Bergh, who has  been active in AFS for 13 years now. First, he participated in the intercultural exchange programs as a student and a host family, and then as a volunteer and staff in Belgium and AFS International.

This blog post introduces the next issue of the AFS Intercultural Link news magazine, with the main topic of Interfaith Dialogue. Stay tuned for more information!

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AFS is a big and beautiful family, stretching around the globe and encompassing an incredible variety of backgrounds, cultures and religions. I usually am not one to speak out publicly on potentially charged topics, but as the Muslims in the AFS community  have been having a hard time in the world outside our AFS cocoon, I feel that some TLC [tender loving care] is overdue, and Ramadan seems to be the perfect time (for those who want to know more info on Ramadan: there is an excellent blog entry on this in the ICL blog).

On June 28, 2015, I completed Friends beyond Faith’s fasting challenge. Friends beyond Faith is a campaign to propagate the beauty of culture by highlighting positive interfaith friendships among the youth all over the world. The campaign started in the Philippines and was picked up by the national director of AFS Philippines, who then challenged some of her colleagues and friends, including me.

One day of fasting was an interesting intercultural experience for me, and it reconfirmed the notions that I would associate with Ramadan before. To me, as a non-Muslim, Ramadan is about family, about appreciating what you have and about giving back. Family, because it is a unique month in the year that brings you closer together. Appreciativeness, because by abstaining – not just from food and drink but also from being mean or hurtful towards others – you become more thankful for what you would otherwise always take for granted. Giving back, because charity and feeding the poor are key concepts in Ramadan and the concluding Eid al-Fitr.

I would like to ask our Muslim brothers and sisters: what does Ramadan mean to you personally? Please share your personal experience and insights with us below.

At the same time I challenge all non-muslims in our beautiful AFS family and beyond to do one day of fasting too! It is only a day in a lifetime but it is a great experience. Ramadan ends on July 17 in many countries so there is still plenty of time for you to complete the challenge. Do post about this in social media! After all: why keep all this goodness to yourself when you can create more awareness among those around you as well?

Educational Conferences in 2015 (Part 2)

The field of non-formal education and study abroad programs is always busy sharing best practices, planning new programs and establishing cooperation. These take shape in different conferences, seminars and workshops around the globe, and AFS is both an organizer and active participant in them. Let’s explore what the upcoming months have in store.

In less that a week, the Regional Education Forum: Intercultural Learning in Latin America: Fostering Global Citizenship through Intercultural Dialogue will start. This event which is organized by member organizations of AFS Intercultural Programs in the Caribbean region, is a place where different social actors in Latin America will establish an interdisciplinary dialogue on their visions for intercultural learning and global citizenship, as well as their impact on strengthening education in the region. The Forum will take place on 15-16 June in San Jose, Costa Rica under the patronage of UNESCO.

A traditional staple on the calendars of interculturalists in July is the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC), this year taking plce for the 39th time between 13 and 27 July. This event offers over 40 exciting in-person workshops to individuals who work as professionals or volunteers in the intercultural field and wish to improve their competencies. This will mark the sixth year AFS will have an expanded presence at SIIC, which has increased steadily over the years. Workshops cover a wide range of topics, such as Training Design for Intercultural Learning; Navigating Intercultural and Intergroup Conflict Communication; When Our Students Learn Away from Home: Training for Transformation: Defining, Developing, and Defusing Difficult Dialogues and much more. More information can always be obtained at the SIIC website.

The two Summer Academies are also promising an exciting intercultural summer. The Summer Academy on Intercultural Experience, organized by the Karlshochschule International University and InterCultur (the subsidy of AFS Germany), will approach relevant topics in the field of intercultural management, communication and training and is intended to foster the intercultural perspective within the field of management studies as well as to develop applied solutions for the problems in business and society. This event will take place from 20 to 31 July in Karlsruhe, and will be followed by a Summer Academy on Sustainability from an Intercultural Perspective from 3 to 14 August in Istanbul. This is event is also supported by AFS Turkey and Istanbul Kültür University, and it focuses on the intercultural perspective of international energy politics, environmental ethics and further ecological issues.

Between 9 and 14 August, the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL) is organizing the 8th edition of its annual Volunteer Summer Summit, the largest volunteer gathering in the AFS network with more than 200 volunteers from 30+ countries, coming together to share experiences and improve practices in volunteer work and training through a series of learning tracks and workshops on both advanced and basic levels. Next to this great learning experience, the Summit guarantees a huge motivational impact on all participants and a great opportunity for volunteers to network with their peers. The content is broad and includes topics linked to the internal work of AFS, intercultural learning, global education, personal development through volunteering, intergenerational learning, best practice sharing, etc. This year’s Summit will take place near Berlin in Germany, and it’s overall topic will be democratic citizenship.

27th Annual EAIE Conference will take place between 15 and 18 September in Glasgow, Scotland. With the world economies strengthening and education evolving, this higher education conference invites us to acknowledge our individual strengths and combine them with the strengths of others so that the wealth of knowledge residing in Europe’s diverse nations can be best put to use. The key topic for the conference is  ‘Wealth of nations’, promoting intellectual interchange, using reason to reform society to ultimately pave the way for modernisation. Click here to find out more.

Finally, late September is the time to celebrate Intercultural Dialogue Day (IDD). On 24 September the theme of Intercultural Dialogue Day will be Active Global Citizenship. IDD is a dedicated day every year (last Thursday of September) when AFS promotes intercultural dialogue and diversity through youth exchanges, and you can find more information on EFIL’s website. It addresses public audiences in an interactive way in order to raise awareness and we will share more details about this event soon.

Dare to Teach Intercultural Topics?

This blog post was contributed by our fellow AFSer, Omer Ongun. Omer went on an exchange to USA in 2003 with AFS and since then has been a volunteer, volunteer trainer and project coordinator in AFS Turkey and EFIL. After finishing college in business administration, with a great inspiration from AFS, he chose the intercultural learning field and intercultural competence as his area of profession. He has completed his graduate studies at Galatasaray University, doing a research in understanding the level of intercultural sensitivty in developing a better mutual understanding of diverse groups in Turkey. Learn more about his social initiative here. How do you teach intercultural topics to somebody whose focus is on business and who hasn’t had many personal intercultural experiences? This was the main question I was faced with when I was invited to prepare a course on intercultural learning on behalf of AFS Turkey/Turkish Cultural Foundation (TKV) for two Turkish universities.

This course was certainly an exciting opportunity since TKV is keen on developing external collaborations, projects and events focused on intercultural learning, which is still a relatively new concept for this part of the world. On the other hand, both the Özyeğin and Kültür Universities aim to contribute to social development by producing creative, original and applicable knowledge in modern education systems.

AFS Turkey designed intercultural communication courses for approximately 110 business students at both universities with the core idea of a 13-week course with non-formal methodologies to be delivered at a formal institution. Quite experienced in delivering intercultural topics through non-formal education for exchange students, host families and other traditional AFS audiences, we had to tweak our approach for this occasion.

After understanding the learning environment, needs and goals for the students, we designed an innovative course aimed at creating trust, respect and understanding. Students found it refreshing that different learning styles were accommodated during the course, which also included diverse methodologies such as presentations, lectures, gallery walks, small group or pair works, individual reflections, use of media (movies, videos, music, visuals), game and simulations.

The course syllabus consisted topics such as intercultural concepts, theories, dimensions and values, as well as effective intercultural communication, adaptation and leadership, and it was later turned into a manual for future use. Guest speakers who participated in AFS programs before and are now involved in various professional sectors supported the course.

Though this all sounds quite exciting, it was not an easy process. We faced some challenges throughout the course, which we solved in creative ways. Initially, it was important to create awareness and broaden the students’ perspectives towards recognizing inner diversity and interpersonal and organizational aspects of the notion of culture – they don’t need to travel abroad to meet a different culture.

Connecting abstract concepts to the real life situations is generally hard in delivering a course on intercultural learning. Bearing this in mind, for the duration of the entire course, guest speakers were especially useful in creating the link. One of the tasks students were asked to do is to interview people around them to understand their intercultural experiences. These interviews were thoroughly discussed and posted on YouTube with a specific hashtag. In order to make the best use of the students’ love of technology and their constant use of social media, we also asked them to tweet their responses or comments, post images on Instagram or Facebook, shoot short videos and upload them to YouTube.

Assessing non-formal learning is another discussion we had around this course. We created fair, innovative and “non-formal” evaluations, such as “active participation”, “self-reflection papers”, “guest speaker reflection papers”, “interview videos”, “presentation of evaluations of an organization, online campaign, NGO, institution etc. from and intercultural perspective”.

Ensuring the sustainability is another challenge as these important discussions shouldn’t be over once the course is done. Students formed “Intercultural Learning Clubs” at their universities for organizing intercultural seminars, events, trainings and projects within the campus. TKV’s organizational development team has provided extensive support for putting together student club agendas and that still continues organically today.

Promoting intercultural learning outside of AFS through partnerships with external institutions doesn’t only increase visibility, reinforce brand image and generate possible resources but it certainly extends our mission and vision towards a just and peaceful society at all levels. I encourage everyone in the AFS world-wide network to start spread their expertize on intercultural matters and offering solutions to anyone that might benefit from our services and learning opportunities.

Step out of your bubble – A call for trying different tables

This blog post was contributed by our intern at AFS International, Lisa Hischer from Germany, who is working on education and school relations. After finishing her BA in Cultural Studies and Educational Sciences, Lisa went to Ecuador for doing voluntary work in the jungle. In summer 2014 she interned at InterCultur (a subsidiary of AFS Germany), where she prepared and took part in intercultural Summer Academies in Istanbul and Karlsruhe.

Excited about learning more about intercultural education, I arrived to my new home in New York City – a women’s residence in the heart of Manhattan for about 380 girls from all over the world. After a couple of days I developed my own routine and I found myself waiting in line to get my ticket for dinner. Girls in pajamas, business dresses, flip-flops or sportswear were eating everything from a small healthy salad to a pile of French fries. The room was filled with the buzzing sound of different languages: Dutch, Spanish, German, was that Turkish?, French and of course English with many different dialects and accents. So far, so good. But when I looked closer, I noticed that most of the Germans, English, French, etc. all seemed to sit together – mixed tables were rather few. What was that about?

I researched this a little bit on the internet and quickly discovered that I was not the only one wondering about this phenomenon of people from one country, ethnicity or community sticking together. I found this post of a college girl:

“Why do people only hang out within their ethnic groups? Ok, first this is just an observation. I am not a racist, and I am not trying to stir things up. But I was at my freshmen orientation for college […] and then everyone went to lunch and what I noticed first is that it looked segregated! Asians sitting all with Asians, African Americans sitting all with African Americans, whites sitting with whites. I mean literally, they were all sitting within their own ethnic groups and I didn’t see any MIXTURE OF people and I sat down also to eat, and I was just looking around and amazed. And its not just here, I’ve noticed that other places too, like school, classes, library, etc.”

Another girl from Penn State University posted this video:

Apparently there were more people out there who notice and question this behavior of groups. But why do people act like that?

Coming back to my situation in the dining room: Most of the girls haven’t been living in NYC for a long time, they moved to a foreign country and work or study in a new environment – isn’t it comprehensible to seek for something familiar in these new and maybe a little overwhelming living conditions? Speaking in a foreign language all day, being influenced by new experiences and being introduced to new people can be an exhausting part of staying abroad. It takes some self-confidence to seek out new relationships that cross cultural borders – it’s much easier to stay in the comfortable bubble of people with your own beliefs, values and interests. To me these arguments can definitely explain the situation described; on the other hand they also sound a lot like lame excuses.

And am I behaving any differently? Most of my friends in the residence are Germans as well, even if I am a person who is keen to get to know new people, who loves to travel and discover different cultures around the world.

When we leave my example of the dining room and look at the situation from a broader perspective, we find this gathering and sticking together also in such a big and multicultural city like New York – known as the melting pot, where different cultures live more or less peacefully next to each other. You definitely can’t overlook the great variety of ethnicities, it is striking as soon as you step out of your door. But does this necessarily mean that the people interact? I mean more than just standing in a tight crowd, waiting to cross the street? After living here for just a few weeks, I don’t feel capable of answering this question. Still, New York consists of different neighborhoods that are predominated by certain ethnic groups. So a diverse city does not necessarily has to be a non-segregated city. A researcher found out that when we look at the process of immigration, often in the second generation the social networks of immigrants are still largely homogenous.

Do we have to feel guilty now for looking for comfort in people with a similar cultural or social background? That’s hard to say and rather a question that everyone has to answer for themselves. No matter which conclusion we might come to, it is important to take a step back from time to time, to ask ourselves if we should maybe be a little less comfortable and a little more brave and curious when thinking of our social network. We should try not to be intimidated by diversity but rather get out there and discover what lies behind the differences that we perceive.

Say no to conformity and try out something new – there are learning opportunities everywhere, we just have to take them! AFS offers the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone, to actively engage with difference in order to learn and grow – even if it might be painful and challenging sometimes. Thousands of our exchange students and host families discover this every year though the AFS’s intercultural exchange programs, while our volunteers and staff are challenged on a daily basis to be the best providers of intercultural education. We could continue living together in a multicultural society, co-existing in the same environment – OR we could take a step forward to an intercultural society, where we actually interact and discover each others backgrounds.

In my case this means: I will try a different table tonight and leave my comfy German zone – I might discover more new amazing friends!

AFS in Consultative Partnership with UNESCO

“There is a clear relevance of AFS’ work to the current programs and activities of UNESCO, particularly in the fields of education, youth, and intercultural dialogue. Indeed, cooperation between UNESCO and AFS has a solid foundation based on many areas of common interest, synergies and previous collaborations, as witnessed by the organization at UNESCO Headquarters in November 2014, under UNESCO’s patronage, of the AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium.” — Irina Bokova, Director General, UNESCO

Since this April, AFS world-wide network of organizations is in official partnership with UNESCO (consultative status). This important recognition is a validation of our work and an excellent opportunity to take many budding AFS initiatives to the next level by pursuing project-specific alliances with UNESCO, both internationally and at the national level.

The official partnership is a great privilege for us as providers of intercultural education opportunities globally. It is also a responsibility, inspiring us to continue to act responsibly as a committed member of the global citizenship education movement and contribute to other UNESCO initiatives relevant to our mission. Finally, this partnership is an opportunity to strengthen our positioning as an educational organization and to create more impact as we continue playing our role in educating global citizens through intercultural learning and volunteering.

This partnership deepens the existing collaboration between our two organizations. Last November, the AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium – Learning to Live Together: From Ideas to Action was held in celebration of AFS’s Centennial and under the patronage of UNESCO in Paris. While UNESCO representatives attended the AFS-AAI-SIETAR Regional Conference in Bali, Indonesia this April, the Regional Education Forum: Intercultural Learning in Latin America: Fostering Global Citizenship through Intercultural Dialogue that will take place in Costa Rica in June has been granted UNESCO patronage. On the other hand, representatives of AFS have attended many relevant UNESCO events, most recently the Second Forum on Global Citizenship Education.

We invite you to see the latest issue of the AFS Intercultural Link news magazine to find out more about AFS’s efforts to advance global citizenship education, or to read the interview with Ms Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General who shared her views on this subject.

The First AFS-AAI-SIETAR Intercultural Conference Held

The Learning to Live Together—Intercultural Education: From Ideas to Action international conference took place in Bali, Indonesia between 15 and 17 April 2015 as one of the key regional events marking the occasion of AFS’s 100th anniversary. This was an exciting opportunity to debate the importance of intercultural and global citizenship education—what it is, how it benefits society, and the role of educators, schools and others can take to advance this movement in the Asia Pacific Region. This conference is also a best practice example of leadership in the field of intercultural education and continuation of the discussions which started during the AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium in Paris last November.

AFS Indonesia, Bina Antarbudaya (The Indonesian Foundation for Intercultural Learning) hosted this two-day educational event, which was organized by the AFS Asia Pacific Initiative (AAI), AFS International and Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research (SIETAR) Indonesia. Among other values of this conference is the significance of the event being a collaboration with SIETAR, an organization with a similar mission and complimentary areas of work to AFS. This showcases the importance of the AFS network’s increasing efforts to be open, inclusive and collaborate with the others in the field.

The speakers at the conference included Dr. Irid Agoes (Conference chair and representative of the Advisory Council to the Director General of Higher Education – Indonesia), the keynote Michael H. Prosser (Professor Emeritus of the University of Virginia), one of the founders of the field of intercultural learning, and Melissa Liles (Chief Education Officer, AFS International). This event was also supported by UNESCO, whose representative from Bangkok Ramya Vivekanandan (Quality of Education, Programme Specialist) also participated as a speaker.

This first regional conference on global citizenship education brought together key stakeholders in interculturalism, including researchers, policy makers, experts, practitioners, teachers, university students and administrators. There were 17 concurrent sessions, such as Adaptive Process in Intercultural Education and Why Cultural Training is Imperative for Global Employees. These sessions explored regional perspectives on intercultural education, addressed emerging ideas, defined complex challenges and identified viable solutions to expand global citizenship education throughout the Region. Sessions dealt with topics such as the importance of intercultural competence in the workplace, the role of schools in intercultural education, and was an opportunity to share research, case studies and lessons learned from the intercultural field.

This valuable gathering will continue with the next edition planned to take place in Australia in April 2016.