Educating for Peace — New Issue of Connect: Intercultural Insights for Global Citizens

Educating and empowering global and active citizens to build more just and peaceful societies has been the mission of AFS for decades. Launched on World Refugee Day, this issue of Connect: Intercultural Insights for Global Citizens explores how intercultural learning works as a foundation of peace. When peace-building and humanitarian work call for conflict resolution, intercultural competence is required to develop culturally sensitive and appropriate solutions.

You can access the new issue of Connect: Intercultural Insights for Global Citizens here: or check out the individual articles below.

Educating for Peace

Although many peace-building organizations include intercultural education as an important aspect of global citizenship education, exactly how does this type of learning help foster peace? Learn why we dedicated this issue of Connect to exploring how intercultural learning works as a building block to peace in Educating for Peace: The Role of Intercultural Learning.

Take a closer look at what educating for peace means in schools today and how AFS and other global education organizations can foster it. Our Chief Education Officer, Melissa Liles, explores how we can tap the power of intercultural learning in the classroom to help transform refugees and all students into young global citizensClick here to read her concrete suggestions for activities and discussions to be used in schools to foster intercultural understanding and personal growth.

Learn about the importance of providing psychosocial support and education to different types of migrants. Guglielmo Schinina of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) advises that viable solutions require both the host communities and new members to make a conscious effort to learn to live together. To read about the concrete recommendations about respect and humanity, as well as the role of education for migrants, click here.

Learn more about how the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL) is putting intercultural learning to work. Throughout the year, EFIL – the umbrella organization for AFS in Europe – is sponsoring seminars and other activities to teach AFS volunteers and others how to use intercultural learning in their communities, especially in European countries where refugees and other migrants are a priority.

Test out our learning session outline that offers practical tools and activities (including students’ videos) to explore the topics of migration and education. Based on a Plural+ Youth Video Contest submission and discussion guides, this activity will help young people develop more empathy and improve their critical thinking skills.

Now is the time to learn more about and register for Fostering Global Competency and Creating Pathways to Study Abroad”, AFS workshop which will precede the 2016 IIE Generation Study Abroad Summit in October 2016 in Washington DC, USA. Explore what other educational events took place during the past few months and which topics AFS explored through meaningful partnerships around the world.

Discover an exciting new way AFS is inspiring young people and others to volunteer through a new secondary school curriculum and museum exhibition. The Volunteers: Americans Join World War I, 1914–1919 provides a unique approach to volunteerism, intercultural competence and global citizenship education. By honoring the past and speaking to the future, this project raises awareness about the volunteer efforts during World War I, and inspires young people to become active global citizens today.

We would love to hear your thoughts, reactions and input about education for peace. Leave a comment below, like, share or tweet @AFS!

Relevance of Interfaith Dialogue in a Diverse Society

What is the role of interfaith dialogue for creating diverse societies and organizations, like AFS? The seminar “Islam in Europe – between Assimilation and Rejection” organized by the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL) earlier this year addressed this challenging topic and inspired many AFSers to continue thinking and analyzing this topic. You can read more in our previous blog post, and today Jeroen Vandenbempt, an EVS (European Voluntary Service) volunteer in AFS Noway, ponders the origins and reasons for Islamophobia and challenges us to stand against it.

 - – -

You might have seen it on TV or heard it while listening to people talking on the bus: “Islam is the reason for all our problems. Muslims are terrorists, they don’t adapt to our culture, steal our jobs and take advantage of our social welfare system. They are all rapists”.

If by now you are nodding your head in agreement, we have a problem. If you disagree, but don’t know how to react, we have a problem as well. In this article, I will try to prove you that Islam isn’t a bad thing, and I will give you possibilities to reflect on how to combat islamophobia. But foremost, I want to start a debate on the role we as human beings, as AFSers, as an intercultural organization have in fighting islamophobia, racism and discrimination in general.

But what is the real reason people are scared, and is this fear justified? Fear always comes from somewhere, whether we realize it or not. With Islamophobia it is no different. One of the biggest reasons we are scared now, is terrorism.  Extremists attacking us, attacking our values, hurting our society with the aim of influencing and changing it, is a scary thing. But it is not a “Muslim thing”. Most Islamic scholars and believers say violence is not acceptable within their faith. And there are just as well extremists in other religions and among non-believers (but there is, for example, no Christianophobia). The thing is that when a non-Muslim does something wrong, we just see a bad person, but when a Muslim extremist does the same thing, it is the whole Muslim community who is to blame.  ‘The economist’ published an interesting chart about it.

Source: (25 April 2016)

A painful example is the comparison between the bombings in Belgium, right before the seminar, and the attack of Anders Breivik in Norway in 2011. If we were to believe the media, the Belgian perpetrators were only Muslim (and nothing beside that) and they spoke for all Muslims. Breivik, on the other hand, was portrayed as a crazy extremist individual. No one asked Norwegians to defend themselves for the behavior of the individual, whereas Muslims are often questioned about the attacks, as if they had something to do with it.

“And what about the Muslims taking over our world?” Another myth! A survey in 2014 asked Belgians about the perception of the Muslim community in the country. Respondents thought on average that 29% of the population was Muslim, where the number in reality is only 6%.

Source: (25 April 2016)

Important for the chart: Islam in one country is not the same as it is in another, and looking at countries as “Muslim countries” (making them all to be the same) is not only wrong, it is dangerous as well. It is in this way we start creating stereotypes and prejudices.

Are there religions that are more prone to violence than others (for example Islam)? Violence in religion has always existed in order to convey opinions, change lifestyles or to battle oppressors. But it depends more on where and on the situation people are in than on the religion. And although some religions are portrayed as more peaceful than others, there is no actual evidence to support this.

What if fear turns into hate? It is a natural reaction for people to fight to protect what they believe is theirs. The “pyramid of hate” (source: Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe (CEJI) [1]) shows that the bigger or more outspoken your hate is, the worst it gets. But it all starts small.

As (volunteer) youth workers, we don’t have to address people operating in the two top layers. However, every time a participant in our programs discriminates, or even just tells a racist joke, we have to act. And even before that, we need to make them aware that people say such things that aren’t ok, and what effect it has on others.

So when was the last time you made a discriminatory comment or joke, without actually meaning anything with it? And when was the last time you stood up against such a comment? Or if you didn’t stand up to it, what stopped you? Should we in fact stand up to others?

A story of a member of the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO) [2] might not answer the question, but will definitely make you think:

A Muslim woman, wearing a hijab (head scarf) while going to university, is asked, in front of about 400 students, by her professor to either uncover her head, or to leave. In the lecture hall, two fellow students stand up and challenge the professor. When the woman later goes to a meeting of FEMYSO, and talks about the event, the message she has, is that it felt great to know she was not alone in that moment. That if somebody tries to harm her, others will stand beside her. The feeling of togetherness was a good feeling. She didn’t feel patronized, or more humiliated because of people standing up for her. In order to create change, we need to stand together.

Important here is, that it wasn’t two people taking action for her, but with her. That “togetherness”, instead of “them and us”, also referred to as “othering” is very important. In order to tackle Islamophobia, we need to tackle all forms of phobia (related to minorities). In order to tackle discrimination of Muslims, we need to tackle all forms of discrimination. You can bring focus to one problem more than others in your work. But when you are talking about Islamophobia you need to see it in the bigger picture as well. That holistic view of the problem in all its forms is what will in the end make a better world.

So should we address Islamophobia as a singular thing? Or see interfaith dialogue as an independent concept? It seems hard to do so, as it is linked to migration, the refugee crisis and terrorism, and to gender issues and homophobia, and to general human rights, and so on and so forth.

Who is responsible for creating that change we desire? Is it something we as individuals should work on? Does AFS, as an organization that strives for peace through understanding and intercultural learning, have a role in it? And if so, what is that role? What is it, we as AFSers can bring to the table?

If we want to create change through AFS, we need to stand as one. And so I write this article in the hopes that you, readers, start thinking, that you start discussing. And if you think this is a topic that should be addressed, as a singular thing or as part of a bigger picture, you are the ones that need to make AFS take action. Because it is the members of AFS, that decide in the end.

I would be lying if I said that unlike other media and writers, I wasn’t trying to influence you. This piece is filled with bias and very much so my opinions. And though I used credible information, as much as possible, I am the one who decided what to mention and what not to mention. So, dear reader, please be aware of this fact, see through it and form your own opinion. Try to answer my questions yourself. Talk to others about this with an open mind. And in the end, take a stand, be the change you want to see, and let us make this world better, one person at a time.


Jeroen Vandenbempt is a Belgian (Flemish) AFS volunteer with a passion for diversity. He is active as trainer in AFS BFL, NOR and EFIL, as well as in WJNH (an organisation for LGBT youth in Flanders). He has participated in several seminars on diversity and minorities, the last being the EFIL study session on Islam in Europe. He is currently working at the AFS Norway office as an EVS volunteer with support of ‘Erasmus+’ of the European Union through ‘Aktiv Ungdom’.

[1] An international non-profit organization established in 1991, CEJI stands with individuals and organizations of all religions, cultures and backgrounds to promote a diverse and inclusive Europe. For more information: visit

[2] FEMYSO’s mission is to facilitate development, networking and cooperation between European Muslim youth and student organizations and to be their representative voice within all European institutions. For more information: visit

Understanding Culture Using Metaphors

What is the image that first pops in your mind when you want to explain what culture is? Is it a tree, an onion or an iceberg? Or is it something completely different? Najmuzzaman Mohammad, a board member of AFS India and a Qualified Trainer for the AFS Intercultural Link Learning Program, shares different metaphors and models of culture to help shed a light on this complex term.

- – -

Over the years, numerous scholars have come up various definitions of culture and because of the complex definitions, it has become difficult to give a simple explanation of culture. This is where metaphors come in to aid the understanding of culture. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines metaphor as “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them”.

There are various well-known metaphors like the tree model, onion model and iceberg model which have been used in AFS extensively. Similarly, I will introduce some more models and metaphors to aid the understanding of culture.

Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist, defines culture as the “software of the mind”. It is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another. Culture is a collective phenomenon, because it is at least partly shared with people who live or lived within the same social environment, which is where it was learned. Culture is learned, not inherited. It derives from one’s social environment, not from one’s genes.

Culture should be distinguished from human nature on one side, and from an individual’s personality on the other:

An interesting modification of this concept by Christian Höferle, a cultural business consultant, is that our body, our physical being is like the hardware of a computer. Culture is its operating system. If you take a baby from, let’s say, China and you raise it in Brazil by a Brazilian family with Brazilian cultural values, it will always look like a Chinese child and it will grow up to look like a Chinese adult – but it will very likely speak Brazilian Portuguese and it will display mainly those behavioral preferences that are generally associated with Brazilian culture.

Milton Bennett
, the founding director and CEO of the Intercultural Development Research Institute (IDRInstitute), defines culture as a “river” both carved and constrained by its banks. However, he criticizes his own definition by saying, “The seemingly related idea of a river with tributaries flowing into it strikes me as being another paradigmatically confused metaphor, since it implies that cultural diversity (relativism) disappears into a transcendent unity (positivism).”

Culture can also be likened to a “city map”. According to this metaphor, culture provides its members with a representations of how to do things. Keep in mind that there is more than one road leading to Rome! A city map shows us how to get from one place to the other, using the best way to get there in the least amount of time and with the least amount of effort. Culture functions similarly: it is a map that contains information we need so that we know how to interpret behaviors, whether linguistic or non-verbal. For example: if someone says “I hate to bother you, but…”, some people will recognize that a request is about to be made because it is a cultural pattern typical to many English speaking communities. However, you wouldn’t use the same linguistic pattern in German because the word “hate” is considered to be too strong. Instead, a request would begin with background information concerning a situation that needs action, and then end with a request formula. (Naturally these are not the only ways to make a request). Our map is learned over the many years that we are socialized when we were children, youngsters and young adults.

Roosevelt Thomas, a well-known diversity leader, defines culture as “jelly beans”. All jelly beans in the jar are “diverse” not just the red ones or purples ones. Thomas also presents culture as a house – an elephant can invite a friend giraffe to live together, but the giraffe will not be able to stay long in the elephant’s low ceilinged house.

A very popular metaphor for culture is the “melting pot”, often used in the United States. It is a metaphor for a heterogeneous society becoming more homogeneous, the different elements “melting together” into a harmonious whole with a common culture. It is particularly used to describe the assimilation of immigrants to the United States. However, this metaphor has been criticized and an alternative metaphor of the salad bowl has taken its place. In the salad bowl metaphor, immigrant cultures maintain their original integrity in the new national salad.

The last metaphor that I would introduce is the metaphor of an “organism”. Culture, like an organism, uses the environment (other cultures) to grow but maintains boundaries so its uniqueness is not destroyed. Within a culture there will be different functions and roles, yet there is a common being.

Sometimes, metaphors tend to oversimplify culture and may ignore some diverse parts but they provide a good starting point to understand the basic essence of culture. Also, not one metaphor can completely and exclusively define all features of culture and therefore, we need to use multiple metaphors to understand the different aspects of culture.

Read more about this topic in our earlier post Is culture like an onion, an iceberg, or some kind of computer software? by Dunja Zivanovic or in the Concepts and Theories of Culture for AFS & Friends document.

Let’s #RecogniseStudyAbroad!

One of the most frequent questions exchange students (and their parents) ask when considering study abroad programs is if this time in another country and school will be recognized upon their return home. And for students in many countries the answer is not always a clear yes. Some students need to redo their year abroad when they come back, others take additional exams.

The European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL), the umbrella organization for AFS in Europe, has decided to tackle this issue head on. They’ve partnered up with European Educational Exchanges – Youth for Understanding (EEE-YFU), EPAEUROCLIOKeyCoNet and OBESSU, and launched a campaign to recognize the study period abroad on the occasion of the European Policy Networks Conference, in Brussels. The main objective of this new campaign, #RecogniseStudyAbroad, is to raise awareness among policy-makers and educational stakeholders about the lack of recognition of long-term pupil exchanges.

Not getting your school year abroad recognized has a negative impact on youth mobility and exchange programs. Out of fear of “losing a school year” or falling behind their peers, many students and parents don’t event consider participating in a study abroad program. On the other hand, some teachers and heads of schools discourage students’ participation in exchange programs, or only allow academically high achieving students to participate, believing that they would academically “suffer” least from being away for one full school year.

Recognizing study abroad period brings many benefits:

It is usually the high-achieving students who get the chance to study abroad. This lack of equal access to learning opportunities is a concern for social inclusion in education.

Recognizing study abroad for high-school students opens up new career paths for them, and provides for greater mobility for the whole family. 

Recognizing study abroad  encourages and supports the process of internationalizing schools. It is not enough to promote mobility in political dialogue – policy regulations need to be in place.

The recognition of the school year abroad implies a shift from “traditional” content-based curricula to a competence-based approach, which recognises “real-world learning”.

The #RecogniseStudyAbroad campaign will continue developing in different steps: letters to policy makers and to schools will be disseminated, a website page will be created to collect testimonies of students, parents, and teachers; and the issue of the recognition of school abroad will be raised and presented in diverse events (for example the European Youth Event, the EFIL Forum on Intercultural Learning and Exchange, the LLLPlatform Conference, the Lifelong Learning Week).

Post your experiences and testimonials on social media using the hashtag #RecogniseStudyAbroad or e-mail them to Elisa Briga to support this campaign. Find out more at

- – -

This article is published in cooperation with Elisa Briga, Advocacy, Project and Programme Coordinator at the European Federation for Intercultural Learning. For more information see the latest edition of EFILife.

The Seven Cardinal Virtues of Study Abroad

Positive experiences of participants in study abroad programs include a wide range of benefits, that cover personal, interpersonal, cultural and global skill development. In a very concise and to-the-point article, our friends and colleagues at NAFSA: Association of International Educators explore these benefits further. The Senior Director of Education Abroad Services at NAFSA, Caroline Donovan White explains why study abroad is not simply a vacation but an educational journey that opens students’ worlds far beyond themselves and provides them with skills that last a lifetime.

- – -

Study abroad is a transformative experience of learning and growth for students. Although less than 1% of the U.S. student community participates in study abroad, we know that when a college student elects to take advantage of such a priceless opportunity, the borders that exist between peoples, whether defined or abstract, stop obstructing interaction.

Students who challenge themselves to make a deeper connection with our rapidly changing world are more adaptable, accomplished contributors to it. Students who immerse themselves in other cultures draw the world nearer to themselves. And the world reciprocates.

Study abroad is not a vacation or a trip. It opens students’ world far beyond themselves, an educational journey with dividends that last a lifetime. NAFSA summarizes the wondrous benefits of study abroad with seven C’s:

1. Challenge

Study abroad compels students to challenge themselves to grow beyond their comfort zones. They must leave home and enter a literally foreign environment. College itself is demanding of students’ preparedness to be on their own; and then the intellectual and emotional maturity necessary to succeed on campus is intensified when a student goes abroad. It is an opportunity to further broaden and open minds. Study abroad demands thoughtful, considerate, sensitive behavior in order to get the most from the experience.

2. Curriculum

Far beyond the capabilities of a home campus, study abroad enables creative and engaging class experiences relevant to a student’s learning. Additionally, study abroad expands the number of courses available to a student exponentially. Until a student studies abroad they may be learning in a classroom or from a textbook that can only describe the experience of others in the abstract. Once a student studies abroad they compel themselves to learn real-world lessons in the real world, which in turn better serves them in the classroom and beyond. A biology major from the Midwest wading into the flora of the Amazon delta is discovering life previously only known to her in two dimensions. A Philadelphia political science major, the birthplace of American democracy, attending an election in Bhutan familiarizes himself with the challenges of growing a new democracy.

3. Compassion

Living in a different country gives students a much more nuanced appreciation of home, along with how to interact in their temporary homes abroad. Students realize the common problems all nationalities face. Study abroad students uniquely grasp the need for thoughtful engagement with others, understanding how behavior in one region can greatly differ in another, and how these lessons can carry forward after the study abroad experience concludes. They better understand and empathize with circumstances their temporary home must navigate while facing common issues and potentially many more that may not reach our shores.

4. Communication

Communicating across cultures is oftentimes perilous, even with the acceptance English has found in the world. Still, the best avenue to learning a foreign language and gaining competency and fluency is unquestionably living in a country or area where that language is spoken. Grasping how certain gestures, postures or colloquialisms can lead to a misunderstanding (and how to avoid them) demands advanced verbal and nonverbal communication skills. Learning how to think and express oneself in a language not your own provides a student with the tolerance and flexibility to connect when they encounter situations that exceed their vocabulary, for example, between the engineering and the customer service departments of a future employer.

5. Connection

Multiple studies have shown that students learn best and easier in smaller sized classes where they feel a connection to the instructor, including one-on-one opportunities. Study abroad may involve travelling and meeting routinely with a particular individual or small group of faculty. That time with instructors en route to a cultural event or shared over a meal exceeds the time a student receives at home, regardless of how committed an instructor may be. As a result, students become comfortable relating not only to the citizens of their host country, but also with familiar authority figures on a more personal level.


6. Career

The marketplace dictates the skills necessary for career success. Increasingly, the marketplace demands more globally literate workers, as barriers continue to fade when connecting and conducting business across continents and oceans. These individuals are prized by employers for their hands-on experience, perspective of our shared and interconnected world, and a better understanding of the role our country plays in it. Only 1% of college students are taking advantage of this invaluable opportunity to grow and learn. Those fortunate few enter a workforce with an advantage over the vast majority of their peers.

7. Compelling

Above all, the opportunity to study abroad is a compelling learning experience unlike domestic opportunities. The time abroad benefits students, their campus, their community and our country. Knowledge of other peoples and cultures – on both sides – is a national security imperative. Additionally, study abroad students have shown greater overall academic performance over the life of their academic careers. They carry higher GPAs and are more likely to complete their degrees.

The call to promote easier access to study abroad opportunities, and to a more diverse range of candidates, should echo throughout the halls of Congress and campus administration buildings nationwide. Constructing the intellectual infrastructure of globally literate students the United States will need to enter the competitive workforce, and to maintain our position of leadership in the world, should be a national priority.

This will not be accomplished by trivializing study abroad, but rather by celebrating it and its virtues. Find resources for education abroad professionals and help us celebrate study abroad by visiting