Want to help someone?

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!

Global Citizenship Education Matters

“At times of uncertainty, in this period of turbulence, education is our best bet, for human rights and dignity, for more sustainable development, for more lasting peace

Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General


In preparation for the upcoming World Education Form scheduled to take place in May in Incheon, Republic of Korea, UNESCO organized an information meeting and seminar on Global Citizenship  Education. These events were attended by many prominent figures in the field, such as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and many representatives of Permanent Missions to the UN. AFS is proud to have been represented at the meeting and seminar too, by our Chief Education Officer, Melissa Liles.

This information meeting was organized in view of the World Education Form in order to prepare the global community to take stock of achievements and shortfalls and agree on a joint position for the post-2015 agenda and how to realize it. “It will be the moment to renew our vision and chart a new course, to put education first, to make sure no one is left behind,” Ms Bokova said. “This is the moment for all of us to shape a new education agenda for the 21st century. A vision of education as a stand-alone goal in the future agenda, essential for the success of all other goals.”

The progress made across the world to improve access o education, advance gender equality and to strengthen education systems was commended, and a new focus on quality, fostering learning throughout life and helping girls all the way through secondary education and beyond were called for. Ms Bokova applauded Ban Ki-moon for being the first UN Secretary-General to officially put education – “the most transformative driver for sustainable development” – on the political agenda of the UN’s member states. The emphasis for the post-2015 will be put on quality of education and Global Citizenship Education specifically. This is crucial to the post-2015 agenda, specifically learning to live together and combating growing violent extremism in all its forms.

Learning to live together entails developing an understanding of others and their history, traditions and spiritual values and, on this basis, recognizing our growing interdependence and preparing to deal with the challenges of the future in an intelligent and peaceful way. Learning to live together was also the topic of the recent AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium held last November in cooperation with UNESCO. The cooperation between AFS and UNESCO, and our commitment to Global Citizenship Education continued through our active participation at the Second Forum on Global Citizenship Education in January.

Globalizing Citizenship Education

The notions of global citizens and their education are often posed in a strongly debated context of disputed definitions, unclear rights and responsibilities, and vague implications for practitioners. Without trying to impose an all-encompassing solution to this debate, we would like to locate these concepts in the context of AFS, its volunteers, staff and program participants.

Global citizenship is a concept that uses and then builds on the classical notion of citizenship, which entails certain rights, responsibilities and allegiance to a sovereign state. The responsibilities of global citizens however, are not tied to one specific state, but rather expand to the global community, leading to what is usually termed as “a sense of connectedness and belonging extended to all of humanity”. A global citizen thus has an increased awareness of the needs of others and acts in a way that contributes to and improves the lives of others with a sense of commitment to social justice at the local, national, and international levels.

From this notion stems the idea of global citizenship education. Global citizenship education is a paradigm which frames the development of knowledge, skills, values and attitudes learners need for securing a world which is more just, peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and sustainable.

This concept also recognizes that global citizens cannot appear and thrive on their own, but that there is a need for their education to help them understand various social and cultural issues beyond their local realities. This education does not stop only at the level of acquiring knowledge, but also moves to the realm of building necessary skills, values and attitudes. When properly educated, global citizens are a part of something more than one culture or nationality, contributing to the world in a meaningful and constructive way.

AFS mission which tasks our volunteers and staff to provide intercultural learning opportunities to help people develop the knowledge, skills and understanding needed to create a more just and peaceful world emphasizes our ongoing dedication to putting global citizenship education in practice through different opportunities AFS provides.  Global citizenship education is also part of our Educational Goals aiming to develop the participants’ cultural and global awareness by providing immersive learning experiences in new environments combined with regular reflection and coaching. On the one hand, participants of AFS programs build their global competences through structured and guided experiential learning while exploring a foreign culture. On the other hand, AFS volunteers and staff work of their own education and competency development, including through convening with other civil society and youth representatives to discuss globally relevant topics, as is the case during the AFS Centennial Celebrations.

Global citizenship education includes overlapping areas of human rights education, peace education, education for sustainable development and education for international understanding. It allows different approaches in different geographic areas and it fosters:

  • an understanding of multiple levels and layers of identity
  • a knowledge of global issues and values such as justice, equality, dignity and respect
  • cognitive skills such as critical thinking and the ability to shift perspectives
  • non-cognitive skills including empathy and effective communication across cultures
  • collaborative and responsible approach to solving global challenges, while striving for the collective good.

Intercultural competence which enables effective functioning across cultures is composed of specific knowledge, skills and attitudes and is also essential for global citizenship.

The development of intercultural competence overlaps with the universal values of the global citizens, committed to helping build a more peaceful, just, and equitable world. However, an interculturally competent person who doesn’t act for the benefit of others is not essentially a global citizen.

This is where the work of educators and AFS becomes vital: preparing learners not only for personal development or successful careers but also for awareness, care and effective participation in the global community.

The critical role of educators and educational organizations like AFS plays in developing global citizens is also underscored by Milton Bennett, a leading expert in intercultural matters: “Intercultural sensitivity is not natural. It is not part of our primate past, nor has it characterized most of human history. Cross-cultural contact usually has been accompanied by bloodshed, oppression or genocide. The continuation of this pattern in today’s world of unimagined interdependence is not just immoral or unprofitable – it is self-destructive… Education and training in intercultural communication is an approach to changing ‘natural’ behavior.”


  • Ashwill, M.A, Du’o’ng, T.H.O. (2009). Developing Globally Competent Citizens: The Contrasting Cases of the United States and Vietnam. In SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence (pp. 141 – 157). Thousand Oaks, California, USA: SAGE Publications.
  • Bennett, M. (1993). Towards Ethnorelativism: A Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity. In Education for the Intercultural Experience. Yarmouth, Maine, USA: Intercultural Press.
  • Delors, J. (1996). Learning: The Treasure Within. Paris, France: UNESCO.
  • UNESCO. (2014). Global Citizenship Education: Preparing learners for the challenges of the twenty-first century. Paris, France: UNESCO.

This text originally appeared in volume 5, issue 3 of the AFS Intercultural Link news magazine. If you want to find out more about this, you can read and download the news magazine here.


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.