New Issue of Connect: Putting Social Impact into Action

We are proud to present the latest issue of Connect: Intercultural Insights for Global Citizens, the digital publication of AFS Intercultural Programs which focuses on intercultural and global citizenship education, voluntarism and social impact within the AFS global network and beyond. This issue of the Connect looks into how social impact is made and put into action in a meaningful way.

Click here to read the new Connect!

In this issue, we do some reflection of our own on opportunities and demand for each of us to make our impact on our community, and for AFS to continue — in new and more ways — to put our mission of peace and justice into action.

We take the chance to look back through some of the most prized 2015 AFS initiatives that showcase what our organizations around the world are doing to positively impact their local community. We call this initiative Intercultural Learning in Our Own Backyard, and are proud to present the four winning projects — and how they were relevant, sustainable, innovative and impactful for their communities. Also, this issue features two awards presented to the projects of deserving AFS volunteers — for social impact and organizational innovation. Find out all about the AFS #ChangeMakers Awards here.

We are also not shying away from difficult questions and finding the right tools to ask them. We asked ourselves and now we ask you: Are you prejudiced? Before you answer, read this article and take a short test to challenge your perceptions. We bring you the mechanics and science behind how prejudice is dispelled and would like to hear your reactions to your results.

Next, the newly announced UN Global Goals inspired us to sit down with two renowned figures in their respective fields: Sibyl Anwander discusses sustainability and J. Brian Atwood talks about international development. Both are also members of the International Board of Trustees of AFS Intercultural Programs. They tell us all about the recent changes in their fields and what we can expect looking ahead. Global citizens will find some encouraging but demanding messages in the words of our interviewees: true social impact requires that we collaborate and spread the spirit of appreciation for the diversity of cultures. Read more here and share with us these message mean for for as a global citizen?

There is no shortage of AFS projects and programs designed to help make positive changes: “Together” is the key word we found for the AFS intra-African exchange program Sawa Sawa. Find out how changemaking and entrepreneurship are shaped by and shaping volunteer communities in Egypt, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa and what’s ahead this year.

Cooperation between schools, educators and AFS to advance global citizenship education is growing to a new level: Learn about our new Educator & School Relations Project designed to strengthen these ties, as well as our active participation in educational conferences around the world.

Last but not least, for a volunteer-driven educational organization like AFS, it is very important to see positive change and impact happen among our volunteers of all agesAFS Volunteer Voices is a new platform for sharing and taking action on pressing issues important to our volunteers, especially but not only the younger generation of AFSers. This is where you can find out how AFSers in Turkey are travelling to the most remote and underprivileged parts of the country to make a positive impact on the local community, as well as many other education initiatives.

As you uphold your commitment to bring about positive change around you, don’t forget to let us and other AFSers know. Tweet us @AFS or comment on Facebook to share what your social impact project for this year is. Are you more of a visual person? Tag your social impact photos with #AFSeffect to make sure the whole community sees them on Instagram.

Young People Crucial for Achieving Global Goals

What role do the young people play in achieving the Global Goals set for the world to work to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030? At a recently held UN ECOSOC Youth Forum some of the key figures claimed that youth is central in creating a better future for all. Read more in this that post comes to us from Ana Carolina Cassiano, a Fellow for the Intercultural Link Learning Program at AFS International. She started her journey with AFS two years ago as a staff member of AFS Brazil after finishing her BA in Social Sciences and participating in a young professionals exchange program in Norway.

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Following the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the 2016 United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum focused on the role of young people in implementing, communicating and realizing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets of the Agenda.

The event took place on 1-2 February at the UN Headquarters in New York, gathering young leaders and senior Member States representatives in plenary sessions and interactive thematic discussions.  AFS was represented at the first day of the event as I attended the plenary sessions and the breakout session on Education.

The overall discussions highlighted that youth-related issues are crosscutting and present through several parts of the Agenda. But engaging youth in the implementation of the Agenda goes beyond that, it puts young people at the forefront of change and development. Youth is no longer seen only as “the future” or supporters to sustainable development, youth is the present and actively engaged in shaping the discussions.

In the Education session, UNESCO New York Office Director Ms. Marie Paule Roudil called attention to SDG 4:

Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

She emphasized that education is a common effort and that goes beyond formal education spaces. In this scenario, one of the main roles for young people is the innovative use of social media and new technologies to promote mobile education and awareness regarding the SDGs.

At this same session, Ambassador Hahn Choong-hee (Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea to the UN) called special attention to target target of Goal 4:

4.7 By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development

Mr. Choong-hee noted that a fundamental action to achieve not only the targets related to this goal, but for all SDGs is to promote Global Citizenship Education: “through GCE we develop a sense of belonging to a global community, mutual respect, solidarity, tolerance and understanding. (…) This allows us to foster our relationship with others and with the planet”. Mr. Choong-hee also called attention to the importance of intercultural exchanges as part of non-formal education initiatives to promote GCE.

Being an organization committed to prepare and empower our exchange participants and volunteers to become global citizens and change-makers in their communities and around the world, this is a topic aligned with AFS’ values and mission. But beyond that, it is also our role to continuously support youth in taking action to implement the 2030 Agenda.

Members of the AFS global community already engage in sustainable development initiatives in multiple ways: from innovative local projects to international events (such as the 2014 100 Years Young! AFS Youth Workshop & Symposium and the 2015 AFS Young Volunteers Forum). Currently, a group of AFSers is working on “The AFS Green Paper: Empowering young people for a bigger, better, strong AFS”. Promoting change and multiplying the effect of our “learning to live together” philosophy is part of who we are and what we do.

Happy Spanish Carnival: Combining Tradition & Modernity

The first step on a journey towards intercultural competence is self-awareness – learning about one’s own culture and customs. Ana Soriano, the Intercultural Learning Responsible, Project & Training Coordinator for AFS Spain, brings us a story about the Spanish Carnival and why this annual event is indicative of how tradition and modernity are intertwined in Spain.

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When thinking about being an interculturalist, the first thing that often comes to my mind is learning about other cultures. And so in many points of my life, I explored and tried the traditions foreign to me, until I realized – an essential part of interculturalism is self-awareness and knowledge of my own culture. This realization has inspired me to learn more about the Spanish Carnival – a real feast with an interesting social and anthropological angle.

The most pervasive stereotype about Spanish culture is that we have a “siesta-fiesta” lifestyle – always relaxed and comfortable, never working hard. Most of the young exchange students also come to Spain with this prejudice in their minds. But as with many other stereotypes and prejudices about countries, Spain is much more than this reductive image. The Spanish Carnival is a perfect example of that.

The Spanish Carnival combines our perspectives of what is “traditional” or what is “modern” in a masterful way. The origins of the Carnival can be traced back to Sumeria and Egypt 5000 years ago, as well as the Saturnalia pagan celebrations of the Roman Empire, the ancient festival of general merrymaking and the predecessor of Christmas. The Carnival started as the period of freedom and an opportunity to indulge in all that is forbidden.

Today this feast is celebrated around the world with many different cultural manifestations, costumes, dancing and fun – in a word, the Spanish Carnival is eclectic. The Carnival is a great example of a culture evolving through two main elements: time itself and the legacy of different generations. Over time, this celebration has changed to include modern issues, while on the other hand preserving deep-rooted traditions, especially in rural areas and small towns.

A good example of this evolution is the celebration of Carnival in Tenerife, Canary Islands, where the Queen of Carnival, a young woman dressed in costumes full of super-heavy sequins, laces, lights, bright fabrics and even small flares chosen annually. The show is amazing and “comparsas” (dance groups with fabulous costumes) are impressive too. In fact, Tenerife and Rio de Janeiro are sister cities by the similarity of this celebration. A few decades ago during Franco’s dictatorship, Tenerife Carnival had to change its name to “winter feast” in order to avoid censorship. Today, after almost four decades of repression there is a drag queen contest in the Canary Islands as a part of the Carnival. This is one of the indicators of how our society has changed.

Meanwhile, as a counterpart to modernity and social change, there are Carnivals that retain an important legacy from the past to remind us who are we. The tradition of these Carnivals has been intact since the Middle Ages. This is the case of several northern small towns in Navarra, Aragon, the Basque Country and Galicia. Perhaps the most striking example is the “Joaldunak” where men wear cone-shaped hats adorned with colored ribbons and carry two large bells behind them. While walking, they ring the bells to scare away evil spirits and awaken the good energies of the earth. In Bielsa, Aragon, young people wear costumes of mythical characters to symbolize strength, fertility or purity.

When the Carnival comes to big cities in Spain, many people are only casually reminded about these events and the presence of Carnival is not very common in the streets. By contrast, in rural areas and small towns this celebration is a great feast and performances, dances and rituals proudly show the Spanish culture.

I hope you enjoyed learning about the Spanish Carnival as much as I did! What similar traditions do you have in your country?

3 Ways to Globalize Your Curriculum in 2016

How can you bring the world into a regular school classroom? Today we bring you easy-to-use and effective tips and tricks for putting a special twist on a regular school curriculum and making it a space to foster peace and cultural understanding and educate future global citizens. This blog post, originally published in this month’s Global Classrooms newsletter, comes to us from Sarah Lorya, the Senior Executive Assistant & School Relations Specialist at AFS-USA. Check out the AFS-USA educators portal for more resources!

Incorporating global themes in your curriculum can be one of the most effective ways to engage your classroom in an open dialogue about intercultural learning. Whether you teach social studies or STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education, there are a variety of creative ways to globalize your curriculum. In an interconnected global world, it is essential that every student is provided with the necessary 21st century skills to excel in the classroom and beyond.

As a leader in intercultural education for more than 65 years, AFS-USA continues to spearhead initiatives that encourage an open dialogue to foster peace and cultural understanding. We believe that as educators, it is essential to use the world as your classroom. Therefore, we have identified three simple steps you can take this year to globalize your curriculum.

STEP 1: INCORPORATE CURRENT EVENTS
Incorporating current events can be one of the most effective ways to raise awareness on issues all over the world. Utilizing your local newspaper in your classroom teaching can be a great way to integrate both local and global themes into your curriculum. Including topics that students may already be familiar with can be a great way to involve them in the learning process. Encouraging your students to compare articles, reach out to reporters, or even submit editorials can empower them to take action outside of the classroom. To highlight, Education World offers 10 lesson plans that can be easily incorporated as classroom assignments and allows students to be creative in a learning environment.

STEP 2: INCLUDE SOCIAL MEDIA
As we move towards a more interconnected, globalized world, social media continues to play a significant role in classroom learning. Most recently, students have been participating in hashtag activism, where the internet is utilized as an outlet for social activism. Some of the most recognizable hashtags include #BlackLivesMatter, and #MuslimsAreNotTerrorists. As more students are familiar with social media, incorporating hashtags in your lesson plans can be an effective way to promote awareness on global issues. Furthermore, AFS-USA has designed social activism lesson plans that address the effect of social media on influential change-making initiatives such as the #SayNoToRacism and #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Incorporating these themes into your curriculum will not only have a lasting effect on student learning, but will empower them to make positive changes in the world.

STEP 3: INVITE AN EXCHANGE STUDENT INTO YOUR CLASSROOM
Inviting an exchange student into your classroom is one of the best ways to expose students to intercultural learning. Whether you are teaching a humanities class or STEM education, inviting a student can bring an interesting perspective to your classroom and begin the conversation on global learning. Moreover, each year during International Education Week, AFS students deliver country-specific presentations to local schools to promote cultural awareness and mutual understanding through dialogue. To invite an AFS exchange student into your classroom, please contact your local AFS organization.

Join our community and let us know how you plan on globalizing your curriculum in 2016!

Seeing = Believing?

The following post was written by our fellow AFSer, Suyin Chia, who worked as the Intercultural Learning Responsible and Training Coordinator for AFS Malaysia. In her last post for our blog, Suyin wonders if there really is such a thing as an objective reality we all perceive in the same way? Or are our senses and brains also impacted by our cultural background? Read on to find out more!

The phrase “seeing is believing” is well known to us all. We have all met that one person who says, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” The message suggests skepticism, implying that we will not accept the truth of something unless we can somehow see it or experience it personally. While the phrase does express a concern for truthfulness, is “seeing” really a reliable and trustworthy method for gathering evidence for truths and believing?

We tend to think that seeing is objective, a cognitive, hardwired gateway to the world.  But seeing is of course not limited to the sense of sight alone, it also includes the entire mechanism of perception (comprising also the five senses, intuition and reason), and the multitude of devices invented to enhance our vision.

If seeing was sensory alone, then we know that vision can be inaccurate, unreliable, optically erroneous and deceiving. A short visit to a magician’s show proves that. That’s because our brains and not our eyes are the final arbiter of “truth”. Our brains are wired to analyze information flooding in, to organize and rationalize the interpretation of our world. Most of the time our brain does this correctly, but sometimes illusions derail that process – visual illusions can distort our perception, therefore what we “see” does not correspond with what physically is there.

Cognitive science too claims that seeing is complex and fraught with dissonances – we see only a fraction of the world and a narrow range of visuals. Visual attention is akin to a filtering process: the brain receives more information that it needs at any point in time, so it has to filter for information sources appropriate to the task or context at hand.

On the flip side this proves to be quite problematic: if visual attention is a resource allocator then attention is trading off accurate information about some aspects of the world for the sake of “priority” information. This means that choosing to believe in the truth of something once you “see physical evidence of it” can be a limiting framework of navigating the world, even dangerous maybe.

How does visual attention and information filter work?

In one study, US and Japanese students were shown an animated underwater scene with one large fish swimming among smaller fish and other aquatic life. When asked to describe the scene, the US students tended to focus reporting on the large fish while ignoring the other smaller fish or objects. Meanwhile, the Japanese students would describe the aspects of the background environment and relationship between the animals and inanimate objects much more. The study concluded that the visual focus of the two groups is vastly different based on their cultural context of high individualism or high collectivism. The members of the US culture, usually also more individualistic, paid more attention to focal objects, while East Asians focused more on contextual information. Even though what the two sets of students saw was identical, what they chose to focus on and process into their reality was different.

In recent years anthropologists have begun to point out that sensory perception is culturally conditioned. In Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Richard Nisbett and Yuri Miyamoto made the case for “cultural” influences on perception, stating that, “Westerners tend to engage in context-independent and analytic perceptual processes by focusing on a salient object independently of its context, whereas Asians tend to engage in context-dependent and holistic perceptual processes by attending to the relationship between the object and the context in which the object is located.”

The research explored the underlying mechanisms of cultural differences and visual attention, which indicates that participating in different cultural and social practices leads to both enduring as well as short-term shifts in perception, establishing a dynamic relationship between perceptual processes and the cultural context. That is to say, our perception derives information from two elements: our lived experiences and the collection of information from our other senses, used to process those lived experiences.

Our lived experiences cause us all to believe in different things, and what we believe in usually has to do with what we focus on, what we prefer or have a bias towards, our understandings and values. This creates a sort of culture-visual filter based on our different mindsets and cultural backgrounds – thus our established beliefs affect what or how we perceive things.

Going back to the beginning, perhaps a more accurate phrase would be “We see what we choose to believe”, or “We see through the lens of our worldviews”.  If so, then we must recognize that many times those perceptions we choose to believe can be flawed or at the very least, quite limited. They depend on the way our culture shapes how we see and organize information and patterns, and how we perceive “others”. We need to be aware of our desires to only see what we want to see amidst our visual peripherals, and be open to the possibilities or narratives that don’t fit our ethnocentric picture of the world.

New Opportunities for Intercultural Learning in the New Year

How many times in the last year did you log into your Facebook account to see if your friends in anther country have marked themselves as “safe”? How many times did you tweet about an issue close to your heart that you wanted the rest of the world to understand better? How many comments have you left on blog posts discussing the merit of profile photo filters to show solidarity with world issues?

2015 was full of events that shaped and changed the world we live in. Whether positive or negative, one thing they have in common is that they underlined the pressing need for intercultural dialogue and global citizens’ actions.

These world changing events are bound to carry on in 2016 – whether though distressing forced migrations or acts of selfless solidarity, the year ahead is surely going to present us with challenges which will put our intercultural competence to test. So what can AFSers and other global citizens commit to in the upcoming period?

Last year we’ve seen the new Sustainable Development Goals defined, as way to bring nations from around the world to join forces on making the world a better place. For us, working the Global Goal linked to education is particularly meaningful and important. We can all continue working on raising awareness, facilitating discussions and providing tools to spread the culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.

AFS commits to fostering global citizenship through intercultural exchange programs and more. The 13000 young people who participate in these programs and families who host them on AFS around the world are the greatest promoters of intercultural dialogue by working on developing their personal self-awareness, empathy and understanding of the world’s diversities.

AFS and similar organizations can also continue organizing and participating in trainings, conferences and other educational events to share our expertise and increase the abilities of young people to effectively engage in intercultural communication. The first one in this series is the AFS Academy, an event that offers opportunities for cross-disciplinary learning and personal and professional development.

Learning to live together remains our commitment in the new year – by getting to know each other, looking past stereotypes and making an effort to engage with those who are different from us in an effective and appropriate way. What will be your commitments to intercultural learning in 2016?

Using Videos to Foster Intercultural Discussions

Often times, and especially in intercultural settings, it is easy to stereotype and jump to conclusions about the situations and people we are not familiar with. If such feelings and behaviors prevail, and when coupled with high anxiety about the unknown, they create barriers between people and constructive communication. What do you do you encounter prejudice and stereotyping in your daily life? Do you react or look the other way?

The video above, Exit Right, filmed by Rupert Holler and Bernhard Wegner tackles the issues related to prejudice in an interesting and creative way. Due to the educative aspects of its content — helping viewers develop more intercultural knowledge, skills and awareness — and because it promotes intercultural sensitivity in such a creative way, this video was chosen by the AFS community of intercultural learning experts for the AFS Award at this year’s Plural+ Youth Video Festival.

Plural+ and the Open Society Foundations have joined forces to develop discussion guides to accompany some of the award winning videos. These discussion guidelines can be used in different settings, including schools and non-formal learning environments to engage with the significant issues the videos raise. Find these guidelines in your language here and choose the topics and videos most suited for your audience: refugees, identity, gender inequalities, racism and visions for the future.

Plural+ focuses on the themes of migration, diversity and social inclusion, and is organized by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the International Organization for   Migration (IOM) with the support of many international partners, including AFS Intercultural Programs. Since 2009 Plural+ has received over 900 amazing entries from 120 countries around the world.

With its main idea — that youth are powerful agents of social change in a world too often characterized by intolerance — this festival is a platform for youth between the ages of 8 and 25 to express their views, creativity and ideas about complex international realities in order to generate awareness of contemporary issues that demand resilience and resourcefulness in the face of struggle.

Three Cultural Diversity Activities to Share in the Classroom

This blog post was contributed by our Education and School Responsible and staff member of AFS Argentina & Uruguay, Maria Ines Quiroga. After finishing her degree in English Language and Culture Teaching, Maria Ines moved to the USA to study her Masters in Intercultural Communication at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She concentrated her studies in the development of intercultural competence in the language classroom and intercultural training. Once back in Argentina, she started collaborating with AFS Argentina & Uruguay, first through SIETAR Argentina, and then as the assigned staff member working jointly with the volunteer task force to design and implement an innovative strategy that would help AFS promote intercultural learning in the local educational systems.

12 October is a holiday that has been celebrated in some countries in Europe and most of the countries in the American continent since the late 18th and early 19th century to commemorate Christopher Columbus’ arrival in Central America, which happened on 12 October 1492.

When the holiday started to be commemorated, it was mostly referred to as the ‘discovery of America’ and the ‘Day of the Race’. Given the political, economic and cultural impact the arrival of the Europeans had in the American continent, the recognition to the celebration brought about some controversies to it and started to be reconsidered in the past few years in other ways. For example, nowadays, it is being referred to as ‘Day of Hispanicity – Día de la hispanidad’ in Spain, ‘Christopher Colombus National Fest’ in Italy, ‘Colombus Day’ in the USA, and ‘Day of the Americas’ in Uruguay & Belize. Following this lead, in Argentina, this day was declared ‘Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity’ in 2010.

AFS Argentina & Uruguay has taken advantage of this important but sometimes controversially regarded date by offering intercultural workshops to explore the meaning of cultural identity and respect of cultural diversity, commemorating ‘Diversity Week’ or ‘Diversity Month’. These workshops are prepared by AFS staff, trainers and local volunteers.

All of these initiatives have a positive impact in the communities where they are held and most schools ask the volunteers to repeat the workshops year after year. Over 400 students and young people were touched by these exciting workshops organized this year. These are some of the most highlighted and original ones which explore the concepts of culture, diversity, inclusion, and stereotypes in practical and engaging ways. You can use them as examples and ideas for creating your own activities and conversations relevant for your local community:

  • Cultural Diversity Workshop‘ consists of a series of activities in which AFS participants and their new classmates reflect upon diversity and inclusion. The objective is not only to promote AFS, but also point out its commitment to fostering the acceptance of diversity as a value.
  • The ‘Intercultural Dice’ studies diversity through an experiential game where students experience the ‘feeling’ and the consequences of ‘being different’ and helps them reflect upon how to show respect to their classmates with concrete actions. The students end up drawing or writing their conclusions on the ‘intercultural dice’ which will stay with them in order to be played whenever necessary in the classroom.
  • Playing in the Kindergarten’ aims at showing the children that there are different realities and different cultures and, in so doing, celebrate the Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity. The workshop consists of having the AFS exchange students share games of their childhood with the children in their own language at first, and then in Spanish for the children to understand.

Finally, it is important to encourage intercultural education in our schools and national holidays, despite how debatable they could be, as this can always be used as an interesting door to explore and raise awareness about national & global identity.

Does your country have a national holiday to commemorate ‘Respect for Cultural Diversity’ or something similar? What types of activities are being held to celebrate it? What types of workshops could you offer to raise awareness on cultural identity? 

Daring to Create Change at the International Youth Forum “From Trenches to Bridges”

Organized by l’Agence d’Attractivité de l’Alsace, AFS France, AFS Germany and AFS Switzerland with the help of AFS International, the International Youth Forum, “From Trenches to Bridges” brought together 300 young people from 46 nationalities to Strasbourg from 31 October to 6 November. The Forum was launched at the the Council of Europe where 60 volunteers from 10 countries were in charge of managing participants and providing the educative content.

During this week of visits, lectures and educational workshops, participants had a chance to reflect on topics like learning to live together through intercultural education, active global citizenship, memory and peace, and to provide their views on these questions: What can we learn from World War I that can help us to live together in peace? How to be an active citizen today?

The symbolism of World War I and lessons learned from it were strong during the event. The participants had a chance to meet George King III, the founder of the Ambulance 255 Project, intended to inspire volunteerism in the United States and a professional rebuilder of vehicles that were widely used by AFS in World War I. They visited one of the battlefields from the War, Hartmannswillerkopf, and witnessed plaque unveiling (with Le Cercle des Amis) for the ambulance driver Richard Hall at the military cemetery where he is buried in Moosch, France.

The participants also crossed the border between France and Germany on the footbridge of The Two Shores Garden, spanning the River Rhine, and symbolizing the perfect friendship between France and Germany.

Finally, these young participants drafted the Peace Charter which was symbolically presented to the members of the European Parliament:

The Peace Charter outlines that young global citizens are aware of and ready to tackle the challenges that keep us from living together in peace, and they have concrete ideas and suggestion for actions to create a better world.

The main challenges identified in the Peace Charter are the lack of understanding for others, (unresolved) conflicts, stereotypes and racism, the lack of empathy and awareness about current events and global issues. Young people are concerned about the lack of education regarding culture, religion, poverty, gender, racial and sexual inequality, as well as socioeconomic and environmental issues.

The Peace Charter moves beyond listing problems and offers concrete steps for learning to live together, including being aware of differences and similarities the promotion of tolerance and acceptance of others. The best means to do this are intercultural exchanges, like the ones organized by AFS, which lead to a more open communication and friendships across cultures.

These young leaders of tomorrow echo the need for education and critical thinking, which are also underscored as the main Educational Goals for AFS study abroad and volunteer programs. They were also inspired by Shabana Basij-Rasikh, an exemplary active citizen, gave an inspiring and uplifting speech to the participants about  finding their purpose in life, the situation in Afghanistan, and being passionate about your work in life.

You can read the entire Peace Charter here or watch this video to learn more about this International Youth Forum.

Celebrating Intercultural Journeys: International Education Week 2015

Participating in an exchange program, like those organized by AFS, or studying abroad is known to have many benefits. From increasing your intercultural competence and the way you see and understand the world, to improving your image with prospective employers. From giving you better language skills to improving your creativity and critical thinking. Finally, it’s known to be a boost in confidence and a source of life-long friendships across the globe.Whether you yourself are a current or former exchange student, a volunteer or staff member of AFS or similar organizations and institutions that provide opportunities for internationalizing education, this week is an opportunity to take a step back, reflect on your intercultural journey and celebrate its benefits. Why is that?

The week of 16 November is when International Education Week in 2015 takes place. It is created as a celebration of the benefits of international education and exchange around the world, an opportunity to celebrate world cultures, people, and language while affirming the critical role that intercultural exchanges and education play in fostering mutual understanding.

International Education Week started as a joint initiative of the US Departments of State and Education, and is now celebrated in more than 100 countries worldwide. This one week of activities is aimed to result in a knowledge exchange that enriches communities around the world.

What can you do?

  • Join in the celebrations by sharing your input on this year’s topic, “My Intercultural Journey”. Share your photos, experiences and thoughts with your friends, on social media or as a comment to this blog post! Get inspired here.
  • Find out more about global goals (SDGs) in education that the world is working together to reach by 2030. All matters related to this topic can be found here.
  • Learn more about International Education Week and events scheduled for the week by visiting the official website. Is there an event you know of that is not on the list? Share this info on the site!

See how AFS exchange students describe the benefits of their educational experience abroad: