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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!
“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.
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 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.
The founding fathers and mothers of the AFS philosophy volunteered to ease the pain of the people who were affected negatively by wars. At times of need for peace, they worked passionately towards establishing dialogue between cultures of the world. AFS Volunteers Association (AFSGD), the volunteer body of AFS in Turkey is indeed very proud to be the successors of such brave people and their great accomplishments and they fully understand the responsibility passed on to them by this valuable legacy. Bearing in mind the recommendations of the 100 Years Young! Youth Workshop and Symposium in Paris in November 2014, the discussions from the Youth Forum in Buenos Aires in April 2015 along with continuing discussions and meetings in Turkey, new board of the volunteer association of AFS Turkey decided to really ‘think outside the box’.
Volunteers have decided to put emphasis on “local level diversity, change making, collaborations with other NGOs and visibility and promotion of AFS mission through civil society projects along with AFS operations”
Marshall R. Singer, a specialist in international political analysis and intercultural communication, believed that every interpersonal communication is intercultural communication and therefore we cannot limit intercultural communication to national borders only. Turkish AFS volunteers also believe that intercultural learning and communication among individuals are beyond national borders. Today as the volunteers of Turkey, we believe that we need more cross cultural exchanges and dialogue establishments within the country to understand, respect and live with inner diversity. Therefore we have recently launched two new projects, one aiming to create an intra-national exchange between İzmir, west coast of Turkey and the Hakkâri province at the very south-east corner of our country, bordering Iraq and Iran. The second one has a more regional tone and as the first step of it, we are sending a busload of volunteers to Armenia this summer to promote friendship and understanding between the youth of the two nations. Our goal is not to recall the past and try to prove political theories but we hope to take first steps together towards a common future through cross cultural exchanges.
The third project is to be launched soon. It focuses on the cultural needs, adaptation and integration of Syrian refugees in Turkey. Turkey currently has around 3 million Syrian refugees and many of the refugees lack basic access to health, shelter, food and education. Unfortunately, there is also exclusion towards the refugees across the nation and we find this extremely dangerous. As supporters of peace, we aim to provide support for those in need.
These ambitious projects are only made possible through professionalism, passion towards peace and thinking outside the box that have been supported with series of rigorous trainings and seminars. What we strive for in our volunteer lives, is what most might see as the principles of work life. And what we achieve in our volunteer lives, later on does indeed reflects on what we do to earn our living. To us, volunteerism is not a hobby; it is how we define our lives.
Volunteers Association of AFS Turkey is keen on continuing to foster the discussions and collaborations on local, national and international level. The world has probably never changed this fast, and it is very likely that it will change even faster. As the global citizens of this fast changing world, we believe that it is very important to have the capability to adapt to everything that is new, to break the clichés and be the ones shaping the world rather than being shaped by it.
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. 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 mobility programs in developing a better mutual understanding of diverse groups in Turkey. Omer is also a folk/contemporary dancer of various cultures in Anatolia. He practices body music and dance too, trying to experience body music in different folk cultures throughout the world.
With over 40 workshops to choose from, SIIC offers an inclusive and supportive environment for participants from around the world to learn from each other. “Whether you are leading a global team, designing a new diversity initiative, preparing a course for fall term, or directly a study abroad program, you can anticipate a lively week or two of intense engagement with intercultural issues and resources–networking, listening, asking and indulging in the company of diverse and similarly dedicated professionals,” states ICI, the Intercultural Communication Institute.
SIIC’s renowned faculty will teach workshops such as, Turning Intercultural Theory into Practice, Navigating Intercultural and Intergroup Conflict Communication, Training Design for Intercultural Learning, and Cultural Agility: Countering Bias with Self-Awareness, Curiosity and Empathy, among many others.
AFS Intercultural Programs is committed to providing scholarship opportunities to AFS volunteers and staff so that they can attend SIIC. AFS-SIIC Scholar Gudrun Eythorsdottir from AFS Iceland had this to say about her 2014 SIIC experience:
“SIIC was certainly an intercultural inspiration and the learning process and experience at SIIC was the beginning of a life long journey. What is important for me is to forward the knowledge gained at SIIC to my AFS organization as well as to my society, my nation. The experience was on a personal level, but it is my duty to give back to my society the knowledge, the perspective and encouragement for empathy that is lacking within a nation that does not have borders to other countries and has a recent history of immigration. Therefore I write and talk about things I have learned at SIIC whenever I get chance to do so. Last fall, shortly after SIIC, I was appointed to be a vice Chairman for the Equal and Human Rights committee in my hometown. My first task was to deliver a new equal and human rights strategy plan for the town council from 2014-2018. My SIIC learning and experience deeply influenced the strategic planning, the content and wording in this official strategy that will be officially launched at a forum on May 6th. I could so easily apply my knowledge to the plan, in relation to cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity issues, gender issues and layers of diversity that is growing in my society.”
Whether you are an AFSer or not, we encourage all of our blog readers to see for themselves what SIIC is about. Register today by visiting the SIIC website: http://intercultural.org/siic.php.
For the sixth consecutive year, we are pleased to be able to offer special scholarship opportunities just for AFS volunteers and staff. If you are interested in this possibility, hurry up – the application deadline for scholarships is 30 April! Contact email@example.com for more information.
PLURAL+ Youth Video Contest is organized by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and it invites the world’s youth to submit original and creative videos focusing on PLURAL+ themes: migration, diversity and social inclusion.
Now is the time to get involved!
AFS volunteers, alumni, participants around the world and all youth are invited to submit their videos reflecting their views on the PLURAL+ topics.
>Authors need to be young people aged 25 or less
>The videos should last up to 5 minutes
>Topics covered are in the areas of migration, diversity and social inclusion
>Submission deadline is 15 June 2015
>Send all videos directly to UNAOC (AFSers: don’t forget to let us know of your submission by e-mailing us!)
>More details about the rules and regulations of the contest can be found here.
And there are awards!
The main prize for the best three videos is USD 1,000 and a trip to New York to the Plural+ 2015 Awards Ceremony. AFS will also be awarding a cash prize of USD 500! Many other partners will present similar awards as well. You can learn more about all awards here.
This is the third year in a row that AFS is supporting the PLURAL+ Youth Video Contest by presenting an award. Last year, the a group of AFSers from around the world had a tough job selecting the best submission that satisfies all our criteria, including educative content, intercultural sensitivity, link to the AFS mission and values, and originality.
Find out more about the contest by visiting the PLURAL+ website and share your video vision!
The nature of our work in AFS entails, in a sense and in lots of ways, helping people. We help students who participate in our exchange programs to go through their experience, but we also help the host families in their encounters with a foreign culture. AFS helps its volunteers develop skills necessary to facilitate the exchange programs, and our staff members help each other out in their daily work.
The need to help someone, whether it is one of the above mentioned AFS groups or somebody in your personal life, comes from us understanding that the other is in need, that the other has a problem that we can move along towards a solution. Let’s use the example of AFS again: the founders of the organization saw the need in the world for people of different cultures to meet, and so they decided to set up an exchange program that would enable that. But how can anyone know if what they are doing is actually helping someone? How can we know if we are solving a problem in the right way?
Ernesto Sirolli comes from a background in international aid. His TED Talk focuses on an interesting premise for improving the work administrators of such programs do in developing countries. Instead of coming into a community with a predefined solution for a perceived problem, Ernesto suggests arriving to the community with nothing but willingness to listen. His key to successfully helping others is in listening and building on the potential that the one who needs help already has.
While the nature of our work or daily lives may be different from international aid, can we still take some of these ideas and adapt them to our own circumstances? Listen to the talk below, and share your comments!