Youth Programs for ICL and IR

This post is part of a series by guest writer Paul Edinger comparing the fields intercultural relations and international relations.

There are many educational programs for young people in the fields of intercultural learning and international relations. While their approaches may differ due to the unique subject matter of the two fields, these programs have an overall goal of increasing understanding and knowledge across societies.

One of the most well known youth driven international programs with a basis in international relations is Model United Nations. These programs allow young adults to represent a different member state of the United Nations in a setting that mimics the actual deliberations and functions of the real United Nations. Through these events, students can argue their own nation’s position or a completely different nation’s position. Together, the students debate international issues, draft resolutions and form diplomatic alliances.

While these programs take the form of fun, friendly competitions, they allow students to learn about the various cultural and political issues that are on the forefront of global affairs. They learn about why states have their particular positions on issues and use this knowledge to collaborate on common interests and bridge differences.

There are also many youth organizations that provide education about differences from an intercultural learning standpoint. For example Youth Peace Camp is one such organization that uses ICL to educate youth from conflict ridden regions. At the initiative of the Council of Europe in 2004, this organization has had a presence in areas of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. A more culture specific organization is the UK-German Youth Ambassadors Programme. This initiative engages youth interested in German and British culture to participate in seminars and other activities in order to advance the understanding of people from both countries.

In each organization, culture is studied on its own term on a very personal level. This is in contrast to an international relations (IR) centered youth program, such as the model UN, because IR focuses on formal policies among different governments. However, there are other youth centered international organizations that combine the government policy centered approach of IR and the culture learning strategies of ICL. YC Social Diplomacy is a non-profit that seeks to enhance the tolerance and understanding of young people of the Black Sea region through a combination of youth-driven government policy research and essay writing and cultural exchanges, seminars and other personal educational activities. This organization combines concepts of IR and ICL into one comprehensive program designed to advance awareness and understanding throughout the region.

AFS is a youth organization that is centered in the principles of ICL. Its programs offer culture learning in an educational context. While different, IR based programs and ICL based programs enrich each other. They offer different perspectives on many overlapping topics, all of which are firmly based on the principle that education is the key to understanding differences.

Paul Edinger is a contributing writer for the ICL Blog. He was an intern at AFS International in 2011 in the Development and Branding department, and continued in 2012 in the Intercultural Learning department. He holds a B.A. in International Studies.

Any Questions?

The United Nations.

An essential part of developing intercultural competence is the ability to analyze and understand a situation. Interculturalists strive to understand how a member of a given culture perceives the world. Similarly, a person with a background in international studies must look at the various reasons why a society or people pursue certain policies. People working within both of these fields ask questions when addressing a situation. Some of these basic questions exemplify how intercultural learning (ICL) is distinct from international relations (IR). Take these questions as examples – In each pair, one question relates more to ICL and the other to IR. Can you guess which?

A) What type of person has authority in this culture?
B) What does the concept of authority mean to the people of this culture?

A) What advantages does this society’s natural environment offer?
B) What does the society’s relationship with the land tell us about its value system?

A) How has a national government planned for long term international challenges?
B) What is the time orientation (long term or short term) of people who belong to the nation’s dominant culture?

The three questions preceded by the letter ‘A’ are typically asked by a person with a background in international relations. The main focus of these questions is to seek answers about how a society organizes and governs itself. In an international context, the answers to these questions would increase our knowledge of the society’s leaders, the practical consequences of its natural resources and overall governing policies.

In contrast, the three questions preceded by the letter ‘B’ relate more to the concepts and theories of ICL. The answers to these questions could help us understand a culture from its own perspective. They could provide us with information about the given culture’s view of authority, why its people interact with the environment in a particular way and in what context the people plan for the future.

While all of these questions focus on foreign cultures, they provide answers that are unique to either the field of international relations or intercultural learning. At AFS, it is common for a sojourner to question why a foreign culture values a particular behavior or belief system. It is equally common for the AFSer to use increased understanding of a host culture as a way to become more accustomed to different situations and interact with different people throughout life. At its core, ICL offers educational strategies to view and comprehend difference on a more personal level. Hence, the concepts and theories are more uniquely suited to the needs of AFS than other subjects with an international focus.

Paul Edinger is a contributing writer for the ICL Blog. He was an intern at AFS International in 2011 in the Development and Branding department, and continued in 2012 in the Intercultural Learning department. He holds a B.A. in International Studies.

IR and ICL on Youth Exchanges…

When a person participates in a cultural exchange, the concepts and theories of intercultural learning are invaluable when adjusting to a new culture and they also aid positively in personal development. Yet, such cultural exchanges are also beneficial from an international relations perspective. How do the ways people with backgrounds in international relations versus intercultural learning perceive youth exchanges help us further differentiate these two fields?

For decades, international students have been a welcome part of schools and universities around the world. Indeed, studying abroad is recognized as an extraordinary experience that one remembers for a lifetime. The thousands of AFSers who look back fondly at their time abroad demonstrate the impact of this type of experience. International youth exchanges can even serve as case studies in the field of intercultural learning. What is less recognized is that such exchanges can play a part in a state’s foreign policy for several reasons. Two of these reasons in particular stand out:

The ideal of a world coexisting peacefully is still alive and well. Many governments believe that if the youth of one state traveled and experienced life in another state firsthand, then misunderstanding and prejudice about other societies can subside. Consequently, many governments promote youth exchange programs so their young citizens can understand that they share the world with many other people who live differently, yet are still worthy of respect and peace.

Another reason why many in the field of international relations advocate for youth exchange programs comes from a national hosting perspective. If citizens of a state open up their homes, hearts and minds to teaching a young sojourner about their country by first hand experience, then it is quite possible that the sojourner will not allow misunderstanding to color his or her opinion about the host country in the future. This result can only be benefitial to all the citizens of the sojourner’s home and host country. When thinking of their host country, many AFSers immediately think about their host family and all the friends they made in the country. Building relationships literally puts human faces on this type of citizen diplomacy.

Of course, the two fields strongly interlap because they are globally focused. This is why one can specify a single global topic, such as youth international exchanges, and easily understand its benefits from both fields’ unique perspectives. Since intercultural learning is so clearly distinct from the larger field of international relations, AFS stands to continuously benefit from its concepts and theories. The focus on people and cultures makes ICL unique as a subject, and ideally suited to be a tool in a sojourner’s individual development when living abroad. ICL is much more suited in this task than the field of international relations. Since AFS works with thousands of young travelers, ICL is also ideally suited for AFS.From these two reasons we can better understand how international exchanges are seen from an international relations standpoint. Like in other areas, the field of international relations is different from intercultural learning because it emphasizes understanding the governmental and organizational level over the individual and social levels. It also emphasizes the state as a political entity. Such a perspective explains why youth exchanges can be recognized as benefitical to a national government. In contrast, Intercultural learning tends to focus more on understanding at the individual and social levels. It emphasizes cultures, not nation-states, and consequently recognizes the benefits of youth exchanges on an individual and cultural level.

Paul Edinger is a contributing writer for the ICL Blog. He was an intern at AFS International in 2011 in the Development and Branding department, and continued in 2012 in the Intercultural Learning department. He holds a B.A. in International Studies.

EU: an Intersection of ICL & IR

Intercultural learning and international relations are distinct fields, but they often overlap at the practical level. An example of this interconnectedness is the considerable amount of activities funded and implemented by the European Union (EU). While the European Union is primarily thought of as an international political and economic organization, it fosters many initiatives specifically related to intercultural learning.

The Agenda fo Culture proposed by the European Commision singles out intercultural dialogue as one of its key aspects. Furthermore, projects such as “Sharing Diversity” are funded by the EU to increase understanding among Europe’s diverse cultures by way of intercultural learning. The European Union collaborates with many different organizations and think-tanks that are dedicated to the advancement of intercultural learning and understanding. At the same time, the European Union works with its members at the political and state level on other issues that are less related to ICL and more related to international relations. People who work for the EU can work heavily in either field.

As a result we can see how the two separate fields intertwine and complement each other not only at the educational or scholarly level, but especially at the practical level. Within Europe, the EU’s economic and politcal agreements, traditionally aspects of international relations, help create a platform to advance opportunities for intercultural learning, while the increase of intercultural learning facilitates the politcal cohesion of the Union. The European Union can serve as a vast, real world example of how international relations and intercultural learning, while distinct, are so interrelated and complementary.

AFS helps its audiences form global relationships and increase their intercultural competence through its educational content. Both of these are essential skills for those individuals aspiring to work in the fields of intercultural learning and international relations.

Paul Edinger is a contributing writer for the ICL Blog. He was an intern at AFS International in 2011 in the Development and Branding department, and continued in 2012 in the Intercultural Learning department. He holds a B.A. in International Studies.

Working in the Fields of International Relations and Intercultural Learning

A good way to differentiate and deepen your understanding of two similar fields of study is to learn about the various occupations available in each field.

In regard to intercultural learning and international relations, there are many people with degrees in these fields who have similar jobs. However, there are also many jobs that are tailored to the unique knowledge and skills of either field.

Within international relations, the first job that comes to mind for many is a diplomat, and even an ambassador. Such high level postings are certainly emblematic of international studies because this subject area focuses on global interactions at the organizational and state levels. Yet while these high-level occupations can exemplify the focus of international relations, they don’t necessarily show the diversity of occupations within that field. Just as there are a great number of occupations within the field of politics other than the president or prime minister, there are a vast number of jobs within the field of international relations other than a diplomat or ambassador.


The field of intercultural learning is smaller than the field of international studies, but the opportunities for careers are similarly diverse. Since intercultural learning focuses on interaction at the individual level and the role culture plays in this interaction, many occupations in the field naturally revolve around this main focus. Occupations in intercultural learning include international human resource consulting, helping people adjust to living abroad, language teachers, and international educators. A common characteristic of any job in this field is that professionals learn from cultural differences and use this knowledge to better facilitate understanding and communication. This characteristic is essential to differentiating a job within the field of intercultural learning from a job in international relations.

Learning about the jobs people do within a particular field is a good way to learn what a field is really about. AFS focuses on fostering international dialogue and understanding among its audiences. This personal focus gives AFS a prominent role in the diverse field of intercultural learning.

Paul Edinger is a contributing writer for the ICL Blog. He was an intern at AFS International in 2011 in the Development and Branding department, and continued in 2012 in the Intercultural Learning department. He holds a B.A. in International Studies.