Putting Ideas to Action: the First Asia Pacific Regional Intercultural Conference

The first Asia Pacific Regional Intercultural Conference, Learning to Live Together – Intercultural Education: From Ideas to Action will take place on 15-17 April 2015 in Bali, Indonesia. Register now by clicking here.

This event has been inspired by two milestones for the organizations behind it. Last November, AFS held its Centennial Celebrations in Paris, France, and one of the highly appreciated events organized on that occasion was our Learning to Live Together—from Ideas to Action: AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium. It was organized under the patronage of UNESCO and it  addressed the critical challenges, concerns, opportunities and debates surrounding global citizenship education. The Symposium made a bold statement about the importance of global citizenship education and the role AFS and other like-minded organizations can do to promote this issue. On the other hand, in November 1997, SIETAR Indonesia gathered Asia Pacific interculturalists in Bali for a preparatory meeting to support the last Global Network Congress in Tokyo.

With this in mind, the April 2015 conference will bring together key stakeholders working on interculturalism: researchers, policy makers, experts, practitioners, teachers, university students and administrators from the Asia Pacific region to address regional perspectives on intercultural education.

Up to 100 participants are expected to take part in this event organized by AFS Itercultural Programs, the AFS Asia Pacific Initiative (AAI) and Society for Intercultural Education Training and Research (SIETAR) Indonesia and hosted by Bina Antarbudaya, The Indonesian Foundation for Intercultural Learning (AFS Indonesia).

For more information, visit the AFS Indonesia website or send an e-mail to afs.aai.sietar2015@gmail.com.

Global Citizenship Education in Focus

The great question of global citizenship education is how to build solidarity with people you don’t know, not those you do.



Can (global) citizenship be taught? How can we best promote its ‘soft skills’ such as collaborative learning and teamwork to facilitate change? What is the role of all the various stakeholders involved in non-formal and in-formal global citizenship education?

These and more questions were raised during the Second UNESCO Forum on Global Citizenship Education (GCED) – Building peaceful and sustainable societies: preparing for post-2015. 9 representatives of AFS including staff, board members and young volunteers attended the Forum, joining 250 participants from 61 countries, including teachers, educators, policy-makers, academics, learners and civil society representatives.

The conclusions participants of the Forum reached include the fact that it is important to learn from the past and various initiatives that were already undertaken to promote global citizenship education. They agreed that there is a need for a universal education policy reflecting a multi-sectoral approach that could be translated into national agendas. Considering the roles of teachers and learners of all ages is crucial for global citizenship education, as it embodies both lifelong learning and intergenerational learning.

At the Forum, global citizenship education was seen as a tool for forging peace, which is of particular value for AFS and our century long mission to provide intercultural learning opportunities to help people develop the knowledge, skills and understanding needed to create a more just and peaceful world.

Representatives of AFS at the Second UNESCO Forum

As we continue working towards improving AFS’s profile as a thought leader and successful practitioner of intercultural learning and global citizenship education, we welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the key discussions at this event. Its main goal was to help sharpen the vision of global citizenship education within the emerging Framework for Action that will be adopted at the World Education Forum  (WEF) in May 2015, Korea, and in view of the post-2015 development agenda to be adopted in September 2015 at the United Nations General Assembly.

Thanks to our ongoing collaboration with UNESCO, AFS’ best practices in supporting facilitators of intercultural learning and global citizenship education were featured during a panel discussion at the event and received very positive feedback. As a result, we are glad to see a very clear overlap between the AFS Educational Goals that guide all our programs and the GCED goals developed by UNESCO to which our representatives also contributed and and which will be finalized and announced at the WEF in May.

The continued implementation of projects such as the UNESCO Clearinghouse on global citizenship education in order to help build a ‘silent revolution’ of learners, educators, states and UNESCO to drive the idea forward is central to ensuring that GCED is mainstreamed. AFS is committed to contributing its resources and knowledge to this Clearinghouse, through our Intercultural Link initiative and other efforts.


New Intercultural Link News Magazine Published!

The latest edition of the Intercultural Link News Magazine has just been launched. Read on-line or download the volume 5 issue 3 here. Enjoy!

AFS Intercultural Programs is pleased to announce the new issue of AFS Intercultural Link News magazine, third in 2014 and volume 5. Feel free to share it with everyone interested in learning more about intercultural education!

This issue of the news magazine is specially dedicated to the highlights of AFS Centennial Celebrations that took place in November 2014 in Paris and has a special focus on AFS’ role in the Global Citizenship Education movement, featuring:

  • the challenges put forth to AFS by Nobel Peace Laureate Oscar Arias at the AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium;
  • an interview with Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO;
  • a learning session outline on proverbs and core values across generations;

and much more!

Stay tuned for our upcoming issues in a redesigned format to further inspire and inform you.

The AFS Intercultural Link News Magazine is the quarterly magazine on intercultural learning in the AFS network. The magazine features content shared by AFS organizations around the world and guest writers, including information on trends in intercultural education, interviews with experts in the field and overviews of upcoming and previous conferences.

Are you prejudiced?

Implicit Association Test (IAT) is one of the most popular tools among researchers trying to understand different kinds of prejudice, possibly because it is quite a simple tool. The test offers you to assess your bias in several different categories, such as race, age, disability, sexuality, religion, gender etc.

Let’s say that you choose to test your bias in the real of age. Once the test begins, it asks you to quickly categorize images of faces as either “old” or “young” while you also categorize words (like “evil,” “happy,” “awful,” and “peace”) as either “good” or “bad.” Faces and words flash on the screen, and you tap a key, as fast as you can, to indicate which category is appropriate. Sometimes young faces and the category “bad” need to be sorted to one side of the screen, while old faces and the category “good” belong together on the other side of the screen. Other times, the combination is reversed – young and “good” go together, old and “bad” too. As words and faces keep flashing by, you goal is to be as quick as possible in correctly sorting the two groups together.

For some, the results of this test only confirm their prior awareness of their own bias, but for others it can be quite eye opening. You may think of yourself as a person who strives to be unprejudiced, but it’s hard to control these split-second reactions. Even before receiving the summary of results, it can simply feel “more natural” or you can be faster sorting two groups together, e.g. putting young and “good” together makes it easier for you to tap the right button.

What to do once the results of the test are in? One positive thing about this research is the realization that in order to get rid of prejudice, we need to work on shifting people’s behavior, while also making them aware of how cultural assumptions merge with natural cognitive processes to create biases they may not know they have.

In a study conducted at the University of Virginia, different ways of reducing people’s unconscious bias were tested with the IAT. The best intervention involved putting people into scenarios and mindsets in which a member of the group they are prejudiced against is actively helping them, protecting them or saving them – in a nutshell, the member of this “out-group” became their ally. After hearing or imagining such stories, the participants in the study took the same IAT again, and showed a significant decrease in bias, much more so than the control group.

These results are encouraging, because exposure to the content that undermines your prejudice may actually help you become less biased. Consciousness and awareness are just a start – but they may be good start, especially if prejudice is challenged at a young age and in a real life situation, through programs such as the AFS intercultural exchanges. These programs are focused on increasing intercultural competence: the ability to engage effectively and appropriately within different cultural settings, whether encountered locally or in an international setting, and if they are followed by proper reflection, they can lead to more open-minded future global citizens.

We invite you to take the IAT test in one of the categories and let us know about the results! Were you surprised?

Educational Conferences in 2015 (Part 1)

Every year, the education world convenes multiple times to share best practices, plan new programs and establish links. These events take shape in different conferences, seminars and workshops around the globe, and AFS tries to fulfill its educational mission by by being an organizer and active participant in them. This blog post brings you an overview of conferences scheduled for the beginning of 2015.

A highlight for AFS in 2015 are our continued Centennial celebrations which started in November 2014 with many events organized in Paris, France, including the two educational symposiums. You can read more detailed blog posts about the Learning to Live Together—from Ideas to Action: AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium and the 100 Years Young! Youth Workshop and Symposium, which both addressed the critical challenges, concerns, opportunities and debates surrounding global citizenship education. These topics will be discussed some more during the first Asia Pacific Regional Intercultural Conference, Learning to Live Together – Intercultural Education: From Ideas to Action taking place on 15-17 April 2015 in Bali, Indonesia. The conference that aims to bring together key stakeholders working on interculturalism (researchers, policy makers, experts, practitioners, teachers, university students and administrators) is organized by AFS International, the AFS Asia Pacific Initiative (AAI) and Society for Intercultural Education Training and Research (SIETAR) Indonesia and hosted by Bina Antarbudaya, The Indonesian Foundation for Intercultural Learning (AFS Indonesia). You can submit your proposal by 15 February using this form.

Partners in the AFS Network will also continue marking the Centennial. AFS Italy is one of the organizations planning for many events on the local level, but also preparing a big international conference. The event will take place in Trento on 1-3 May and will represent a large reunion of AFS volunteers from Italy and other countries involved in WW1. The theme of the conference is Learning to Live Together: Humanitarianism, Reconciliation and Education for Plural Societies. Almost 20 high profile presenters from countries involved in efforts of reconciliation will illustrate different experiences in education to peace and co-existence. Learn more here.

We are also excited for conferences organized by other like-minded institutes, organizations and educational bodies. Coming up is the 16th Annual Conference on Intercultural Relations organized by the Intercultural Management Institute (IMI), scheduled for 12-13 March 2015 in Washington DC, USA where AFS will be one of the presenters. For those based in USA or willing to travel there, there are two other events that are well worth the visit. From 9 until 12 March you can take part in the The Winter Institute for Intercultural Communication by Intercultural Communication Institute (ICI) in Charlotte, North Carolina. Also, for those in the field of higher education, the Institute of International Education (IIE) brings a best practice conference entitled “Lead your Campus to the Top: Best Practices in Internationalizing the Campus”.

April will be the time to move to Asia and explore its exciting events such as the Korean Association for Multicultural Education (KAME)’s For the Welfare of Humankind: Multicultural Citizenship Education in a Global Context from 30 April to 2 May 2015 in Seoul, Korea. Also of interest is the International Conference on Intercultural Competence in Communication and Education (ICCEd-2015) organized by the University Putra from 8 to 9 April 2015 in Serdang, Malaysia.

You can find a full list of 2015 conferences on our blog here. If you know of some more events that could be added to our list – please let us know! Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

100 Years of Intercultural Learning

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.

Hundreds of young people gathered in Paris in November 2014 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of AFS Intercultural Programs. For further information and all the details please check official website of the Centennial, as well as the blog posts titled Celebrating 100th Anniversary through Discussions and Active Engagement and AFS Convenes World Leaders to Discuss Global Citizenship Education. This post will put more emphasis on 100 Years Young! AFS Youth Workshop and Symposium.

There were around 100 participants from 33 different countries at the Youth Workshop and Symposium. The participants worked on several topics in four different tracks in which they aimed at creating recommendations towards global issues with a focus on developing intercultural dialogue and understanding.  All four groups presented their recommendations at the AFS Youth Symposium which was held at the UNESCO on the morning of 8 November 2014.


NGOs, Religious and Community Groups with Global Citizenship Education

One of the tracks at the Youth Workshop and Symposium was entitled “NGOs, Religious and Community Groups with Global Citizenship Education”. The issues linking NGOs, religious and community groups with global citizenship education are the promotion of tolerance, the voice of youth on the local and global level, inclusion of religious realities, and power relations among stakeholders. This track specifically reflected on the role of NGOs in a globalized world and addressed the issues of having multiple stakeholders and realities within religious and community groups. The participants acknowledged the sensitive nature of religious issues and the fact that the official definition of global education (of the Maastricht Declaration 2002, et al.) does not consider ‘religion’, ‘NGOs’ and ‘local community education’ as separate dimensions. Check out our video of performance at UNESCO here.


Youth Leading the Conversation

“Youth Participation and Involvement” is one of the challenging debates of all organizations today. It is referred to as engagement of youth in any many forms, including decision-making, schools, boards and any other body or activity where young people are not historically or structurally engaged.  In all parts of the society, young people are challenging the over-controlling, manipulated and/or age based hierarchical order in which they do not have a voice, a say or representation.

AFS Intercultural Programs have always possessed a youth focused approach mostly coming from young people aged between 15 and 18 who participate in our intercultural exchange programs. Being a cross-cultural and an international network of organizations, AFS also bears various approaches in “involving” youth in decision-making processes. Some of the AFS organizations on a local level strive towards having the voice of youth heard while others see youth as “inexperienced, yet to be grown up or ones to know their place”. Sometimes, this can be directly linked with cultural values such as power distance, age based hierarchy or respect.

The 100 Years Young! AFS Youth Workshop and Symposium, a gathering of young people in the context of the Centennial celebrations, was a step towards seeing youth not only as part of the conversation but an entity leading the conversation. I believe that this is especially important if we would like to increase the impact of AFS in all parts of the society. In many cases, this is the chance for AFS to reflect critically on how we could increase fairness, equality, accessibility and collaboration of young people all around the world. Together we can shape the next 100 years of AFS starting from criticizing our own rituals, common values, comfortable practices and structures. As Vishakha Desai from the Board of Trustees of AFS International said in her speech on stage in UNESCO “Unless we have a serious discussion around common values, we will fail.”


Global Citizenship Education: Building Peaceful and Sustainable Societies

Between 28 and 30 January 2015, on the occasion of the 70th Anniversary of UNESCO, the Second UNESCO Forum on Global Citizenship Education Building peaceful and sustainable societies: preparing for post-2015 will take place, in support of the UN Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative. The main goal of the Second Forum is to contribute to the discussions on global citizenship education in the post-2015 development agenda – focusing on how it can foster not only cognitive skills but also those values, attitudes and skills that are necessary for forging a more peaceful, just, inclusive and sustainable world.

With its mission, educational reputation and agenda in mind, AFS Intercultural Programs will once again be represented at this event, following a successful cooperation at the First Forum organized two years ago in Bangkok, Thailand. This is especially important as AFS gathered more than 1000 people, including luminaries in the world of peace and justice at the AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium – Learning to Live Together, from Ideas to Actionin November 2014 in Paris, France, organized under the patronage of UNESCO. AFSers and participants of this Symposium made a bold statement about the importance of global citizenship education and the role AFS has taken to advance this movement, and we see the Second Forum as yet another part of our on-going collaboration with UNESCO.

We welcome this opportunity to continue the important discussions in this field and to strengthen our active role in championing global citizenship education. In the Second Forum, AFS will be represented by six of our volunteers from AFS France and two more from the European Pool of Trainers of the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL). AFS International’s Education Content and Communications Manager, Hazar Yildirim, will also participate as a panelist during a session on knowledge sharing and networking for global citizenship education where he will share AFS’ continuous commitment to providing structured intercultural learning opportunities and resources for volunteers and staff to help them gain the knowledge and skills to facilitate intercultural learning experiences of others.

Global citizenship education is an objective of UNESCO’s education program, drawing on work in related areas such as peace and human rights education, education for sustainable development and others. The Forum is a unique opportunity to consider current trends and future needs in the area of global citizenship education, as it will identify policy priorities and strategies for the global citizenship education in practice.

Among about 150 participants at the Second Global Forum are permanent delegations to UNESCO, global citizenship education experts, teachers and education practitioners, research institutions and universities, the private sector, media, policy makers, UN agencies, civil society organizations, youth representatives and other development partners. Youth related issues will have a special spot at the Forum, with UNESCO plans to fully involve young participants as speakers and organizers. AFS is glad to be a part of this diverse group whose discussions are shaping the future of global citizenship education.


AFS Celebrates Young Filmmakers as Agents of Social Change

For the second year in a row AFS is proud to support the PLURAL+ Youth Video Festival organized by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) with other many partner organizations from around the world.

PLURAL+ recognizes youth as powerful agents of social change in a world often characterized by intolerance, and cultural and religious divisions.Young people under the age of 25 are asked to submit their short videos (not longer than 5 minutes) describing how their lives and communities are affected by these topics. The best entries in different age groups are awarded prizes by an international jury composed of renowned filmmakers and media personalities. AFS and other project partners also select and present their awards.

This year young people from 63 different countries submitted 175 short videos addressing key challenges related to topics such as migrant integration, inclusiveness, identity, diversity, intercultural dialogue, human rights and social cohesiveness, both at local and global levels. AFS’ network-wide community of Intercultural Learning Responsibles had a tough job selecting the best one.

Of all the great video submissions received, representatives of 40+ AFS organizations found Blue Eyes by Al-Mothanna Al-Ghizzawi and Anas Yahya from Jordan to best meet our educational criteria, demonstrating strong intercultural sensitivity of content and style in a truly original way.

This video is also strongly linked to the AFS mission to raise awareness and promote intercultural understanding to create a more just and peaceful world, and it is also linked to AFS’ core values of being inspiring, supportive, connecting and trustworthy.

We commend Mothanna Al-Ghizzawi, Anas Yahya and their team for creating such a moving and meaningful message.  We will be presenting the PLURAL+ 2014 AFS Intercultural Award to the video Blue Eyes at the 2014 Plural+ Video Award Ceremony scheduled to take place today, Thursday, 4 December 2014, at the Paley Center for Media in New York.

AFS will continue to support PLURAL+ and similar initiatives in the future. We invite you to watch all the video submissions here and to let us know what your main learning point from them is.

AFS Convenes World Leaders to Discuss Global Citizenship Education

On November 8, 2014, AFS Intercultural Programs, under the patronage of UNESCO, hosted an international high-level symposium Learning to Live Together—from Ideas to Action: AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium for more than 1,000 attendees.

It was an amazing milestone in AFS history when representatives of the AFS global community convened with global luminaries in the world of peace and justice at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France to make a bold statement about the importance of global citizenship education and the role AFS has taken to advance this movement.

“Our mission for the Symposium and going forward is to drive the global citizenship education movement to reach and cultivate partners, advocates, influencers, thought leaders and potential global citizens—young and old—especially those living or working in areas of great turmoil,” explains Melissa Liles, Chief Education Officer of AFS Intercultural Programs.

Building on the powerful recommendations presented at the 100 Years Young! AFS Youth Symposium earlier in the day, both the audience and the speakers were charged with anticipation and excitement. The theme of the conference was inspired by Jacques Delors’ challenge that we “learn to live together by developing an understanding of others.” Mr. Delors is the former three-time President of the European Commission and Chairperson of the UNESCO Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century.

The distinguished roster of speakers then facilitated a thought-provoking conversation exploring the dimensions and challenges of developing global citizens who can work across cultural differences to create a more just and peaceful world.

“We must recognize that our students are not ready for the world if they have no grasp of the 21st century’s challenges, stated Oscar Arias, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former President of Costa Rica (1986-1990, 2006-2010) in his keynote address. “We must make intercultural understanding, not a footnote in our educational systems, but rather a mandatory course of study.”

The panel included Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, former President of Iceland, Chernor Bah, the youth representative on the High-Level Steering committee for the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative,  Andreas Schleicher, head of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development,  Éric Falt, Assistant Director-General at UNESCO, and J. Brian Atwood, Chair of Global Policy Studies at the University of Minnesota and former Administrator of the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID). They all sent a powerful message pushing for global education.

Facilitator Vishakha Desai, Special Advisor for Global Affairs at Columbia University and President Emerita of the Asia Society, encouraged everyone in the audience to think differently about their own efforts.

“Be the change you want to see in the world. That is, my friends, what we are all about,” advised Dr. Desai. “If you think you’re too small to make an impact, try to fall asleep with a mosquito in your room.”

We thank Sheryl Tucker of AFS International for contributing to the blog. To find out more, please see an extended version of this article in the upcoming issue of our AFS Intercultural Link news magazine.

Celebrating 100th anniversary through discussions and active engagement

How do I understand Global Citizenship? What are the roles and responsibilities of governments, businesses, NGOs or schools in enhancing Global Citizenship Education? And what actions can we take to promote Global Citizenship in our own communities?

These are some of the questions that participants of 100 Years Young! asked themselves and others during this unique project organized in connection with the 100th anniversary of AFS Intercultural Programs.

The main goal of 100 Years Young! AFS Youth Workshop & Symposium was to create a platform where young people can share their vision of the future of Global Citizenship Education and discuss the roles of different stakeholders in making this vision a reality. The project, organized for young people and by young people was divided into three parts. In the initial stage, participants had almost 2 month to engage in a facilitated discussion and learning online in order to prepare for their in-person meeting and to also give voices of those who couldn’t attend the workshop and symposium in Paris.

On November 5th 100 young people gathered in Paris to start 2 days of in-person discussions, divided into 4 tracks, each focusing on a different group of stakeholders:

  • Global Citizenship Education & Governments and Policymakers
  • Global Citizenship Education & Business and Media
  • Global Citizenship Education & Schools and Other Educational Institutions
  • Global Citizenship Education & Non-Governmental Organization, Religious & Community Groups

The recommendations that came out of the discussion of each track were then presented at the AFS Youth Symposium held on the morning of November 8th at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris and also in the afternoon at the AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium. These recommendations invite different stakeholders to take action in their fields and to contribute to putting Global Citizenship Education in the forefront of 21st century debates. The inputs from young people sparked lively reactions already in Paris and we are happy that the project currently moved into it’s third phase when all participants continue their virtual discussion and exchange ideas on how to create a change in their own organizations, communities and circles.

If you would like to learn more about the project, you can watch this introductory video that opened the AFS Youth Symposium at UNESCO or visit the project Facebook page. We will bring you additional posts in the future to inform you more thoroughly about the outcomes and share perspectives of various actors involved in the project.