Change Now and Shape the Future

The founding fathers and mothers of the AFS philosophy volunteered to ease the pain of the people who were affected negatively by wars. At times of need for peace, they worked passionately towards establishing dialogue between cultures of the world. AFS Volunteers Association (AFSGD), the volunteer body of AFS in Turkey is indeed very proud to be the successors of such brave people and their great accomplishments and they fully understand the responsibility passed on to them by this valuable legacy. Bearing in mind the recommendations of the 100 Years Young! Youth Workshop and Symposium in Paris in November 2014, the discussions from the Youth Forum in Buenos Aires in April 2015 along with continuing discussions and meetings in Turkey, new board of the volunteer association of AFS Turkey decided to really ‘think outside the box’.

Volunteers have decided to put emphasis on “local level diversity, change making, collaborations with other NGOs and visibility and promotion of AFS mission through civil society projects along with AFS operations”

Marshall R. Singer, a specialist in international political analysis and intercultural communication, believed that every interpersonal communication is intercultural communication and therefore we cannot limit intercultural communication to national borders only. Turkish AFS volunteers also believe that intercultural learning and communication among individuals are beyond national borders. Today as the volunteers of Turkey, we believe that we need more cross cultural exchanges and dialogue establishments within the country to understand, respect and live with inner diversity. Therefore we have recently launched two new projects, one aiming to create an intra-national exchange between İzmir, west coast of Turkey and the Hakkâri province at the very south-east corner of our country, bordering Iraq and Iran. The second one has a more regional tone and as the first step of it, we are sending a busload of volunteers to Armenia this summer to promote friendship and understanding between the youth of the two nations. Our goal is not to recall the past and try to prove political theories but we hope to take first steps together towards a common future through cross cultural exchanges.

The third project is to be launched soon. It focuses on the cultural needs, adaptation and integration of Syrian refugees in Turkey. Turkey currently has around 3 million Syrian refugees and many of the refugees lack basic access to health, shelter, food and education. Unfortunately, there is also exclusion towards the refugees across the nation and we find this extremely dangerous. As supporters of peace, we aim to provide support for those in need.

These ambitious projects are only made possible through professionalism, passion towards peace and thinking outside the box that have been supported with series of rigorous trainings and seminars. What we strive for in our volunteer lives, is what most might see as the principles of work life. And what we achieve in our volunteer lives, later on does indeed reflects on what we do to earn our living. To us, volunteerism is not a hobby; it is how we define our lives.

Volunteers Association of AFS Turkey is keen on continuing to foster the discussions and collaborations on local, national and international level. The world has probably never changed this fast, and it is very likely that it will change even faster. As the global citizens of this fast changing world, we believe that it is very important to have the capability to adapt to everything that is new, to break the clichés and be the ones shaping the world rather than being shaped by it.

This blog post was contributed by our fellow AFSer, Omer Ongun. Omer went on an exchange to USA in 2003 with AFS and since then has been a volunteer, volunteer trainer and project coordinator in AFS Turkey. After finishing college in business administration, with a great inspiration from AFS, he chose the intercultural learning field and intercultural competence as his area of profession. He has completed his graduate studies at Galatasaray University, doing a research in understanding mobility programs in developing a better mutual understanding of diverse groups in Turkey. Omer is also a folk/contemporary dancer of various cultures in Anatolia. He practices body music and dance too, trying to experience body music in different folk cultures throughout the world.

Don’t miss the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC)!

From 13-24 July in Portland, Oregon, hundreds of professionals and educators in the intercultural communication space will gather to attend the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC).

With over 40 workshops to choose from, SIIC offers an inclusive and supportive environment for participants from around the world to learn from each other. “Whether you are leading a global team, designing a new diversity initiative, preparing a course for fall term, or directly a study abroad program, you can anticipate a lively week or two of intense engagement with intercultural issues and resources–networking, listening, asking and indulging in the company of diverse and similarly dedicated professionals,” states ICI, the Intercultural Communication Institute.

SIIC’s renowned faculty will teach workshops such as, Turning Intercultural Theory into Practice, Navigating Intercultural and Intergroup Conflict Communication, Training Design for Intercultural Learning, and Cultural Agility: Countering Bias with Self-Awareness, Curiosity and Empathy, among many others.

AFS Intercultural Programs is committed to providing scholarship opportunities to AFS volunteers and staff so that they can attend SIIC. AFS-SIIC Scholar Gudrun Eythorsdottir from AFS Iceland had this to say about her 2014 SIIC experience:

“SIIC was certainly an intercultural inspiration and the learning process and experience at SIIC was the beginning of a life long journey. What is important for me is to forward the knowledge gained at SIIC to my AFS organization as well as to my society, my nation. The experience was on a personal level, but it is my duty to give back to my society the knowledge, the perspective and encouragement for empathy that is lacking within a nation that does not have borders to other countries and has a recent history of immigration. Therefore I write and talk about things I have learned at SIIC whenever I get chance to do soLast fall, shortly after SIIC, I was appointed to be a vice Chairman for the Equal and Human Rights committee in my hometown. My first task was to deliver a new equal and human rights strategy plan for the town council from 2014-2018. My SIIC learning and experience deeply influenced the strategic planning, the content and wording in this official strategy that will be officially launched at a forum on May 6th. I could so easily apply my knowledge to the plan, in relation to cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity issues, gender issues and layers of diversity that is growing in my society.”

Whether you are an AFSer or not, we encourage all of our blog readers to see for themselves what SIIC is about. Register today by visiting the SIIC website:

For the sixth consecutive year, we are pleased to be able to offer special scholarship opportunities just for AFS volunteers and staff. If you are interested in this possibility, hurry up – the application deadline for scholarships is 30 April! Contact for more information.




Call for submissions: Plural+ 2015 – Youth voices on migration, diversity and social inclusion

PLURAL+ Youth Video Contest is organized by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and it invites the world’s youth to submit original and creative videos focusing on PLURAL+ themes: migration, diversity and social inclusion.

Now is the time to get involved!
AFS volunteers, alumni, participants around the world and all youth are invited to submit their videos reflecting their views on the PLURAL+ topics.

>Authors need to be young people aged 25 or less
>The videos should last up to 5 minutes
>Topics covered are in the areas of migration, diversity and social inclusion
>Submission deadline is 15 June 2015
>Send all videos directly to UNAOC (AFSers: don’t forget to let us know of your submission by e-mailing us!)
>More details about the rules and regulations of the contest can be found here.

And there are awards!
The main prize for the best three videos is USD 1,000 and a trip to New York to the Plural+ 2015 Awards Ceremony. AFS will also be awarding a cash prize of USD 500! Many other partners will present similar awards as well. You can learn more about all awards here.

Sounds familiar?
This is the third year in a row that AFS is supporting the PLURAL+ Youth Video Contest by presenting an award. Last year, the a group of AFSers from around the world had a tough job selecting the best submission that satisfies all our criteria, including educative content, intercultural sensitivity, link to the AFS mission and values, and originality.

Find out more about the contest by visiting the PLURAL+ website and share your video vision!

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

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?