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

Organized by l’Agence d’Attractivité de l’Alsace and AFS Vivre Sans Frontières (AFS France), 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:


AFS Volunteers Trailblazing in Turkey

This blog post has been taken from AFS Volunteer Voices, a site where AFS volunteers from all over the world share their stories and experiences. It is an amazing story of intercultural learning in action – the story of how one person can set a big change in motion, leading AFS volunteers to fulfill their mission of global citizenship. We thank María Omodeo for sharing the story.

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Student Assessment in Hakkari

The following experience from Turkey is by far not the usual volunteer work. Yet we believe it is a great example of what AFS can be if we work hard and are courageous.

It’s another AFS weekend and this one starts at 4 a.m. on a Friday. Our flights are at 6.30, one of us leaving from Istanbul, the other from Izmir. Get up, get dressed, get ready and hit the road. We have a brief chat on the phone around 5 o’clock.

- Are you ready?

- I’m already in the taxi. You?

- Cool, I’m leaving home right now. Nervous?

- A bit. My friends think that I’m crazy and I couldn’t tell my mom that I was going. She would go nuts.

- Same here, but hey, it’ll be alright.

- I know. See you in Ankara.

Two separate flights takes us both to Ankara. First leg of the trip is now completed. At 7.30 we hug each other. We are excited and to be honest, yes, a bit nervous. Another two hour flight and we find ourselves in a tiny airport in the eastern city of Van. We call our contact teacher. She tells us that a vehicle will pick us up soon, just wait outside the airport. Sure enough, a small commercial vehicle soon stops by. Two gentlemen greet us and take our bags. On the way to Van city centre, we chat a bit about how tense the atmosphere is after a very long summer during which, hundreds of lives have been lost to bombings and clashes. “All we want is peace” the driver says, “we want them all to leave us be.”

We are then transported to a small bus and our 4 hour journey starts. The road is long and winding through mountains and canyons. We’ve seen this view before, many times, in France, Italy, Austria; it is just like the Alps – but with a twist. There are watch towers and security check points all along the way. We are going to Hakkari, or Colemerg as the locals call it in Kurdish; a small city locked in between mountains, stuck between Iraq and Iran. A city associated with unrest, exploding bombs and endless fights between the Turkish Army and the Kurdish rebel groups. When the bus driver learns that we are coming from the west, he starts explaining us the area: the ancient castle up there, the beautiful valley down below, and constantly repeats the same theme as our previous driver – we want peace!

It’s now 3 o’clock in the afternoon and we enter the city. We quickly leave our bags to the hotel and head to the high school we are being waited for, passing by military vehicles such that we have only seen on TV before. We go through the gates of the school and there’s a festive air awaiting us. The teachers, the students, everyone hugs us, kisses us, greets us as if we are celebrities. “I can’t believe that you are here” one student says with a huge smile on her face. “We have been promised so much before, but all have been forgotten. We never actually thought you would come” another adds. We are a bit confused – we are here only to do the first stage of the AFS student assessment for the 2016-2017 year program.

The story actually started eight months ago. In a volunteer training in Istanbul, we have met a very special teacher, mother of two AFS’ers, who has decided to go to Hakkari to teach for a year. She tells us how incredible her students are and if we could do something, anything for her pupils. The light in her eyes becomes an inspiration for us and in two months, we prepare a short-term exchange for eleven students to come and visit Izmir.

At the end of May, the students arrive and are placed with local families. They attend workshops especially designed for them, go on cultural visits and take part in daily life. One week passes quick and the students go back home, but they never leave us. They write us several times a week, send us photographs, call us, keep us up to date of their lives over there, far far away. Meanwhile, the fighting gets intense in the area and this time we start calling them day and night, just to check that they are safe and sound.

At the same time, they talk to their friends and families. They tell the people around them what an experience this one-week exchange has been and that there’s this thing called AFS, an international student exchange program. Autumn comes, and they tell us that they want to apply. “Sure” we say, “Here’s how to. We would be very happy.”

In couple of weeks, we receive over 90 applications. We pinch ourselves, can this be true? 90 applications from Hakkari, it’s magic. Even if one of them is found eligible, can you imagine its impact on this city? Hence, it’s a very special AFS weekend for us and it started at 4 a.m.

The first stage of the AFS student assessment is a multiple-choice test. It’s an evaluation based on general knowledge and skill. The students fill the classrooms at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning. We distribute the papers and start the clock. Will they be able to do it? With so much inequality they are facing, how will they fare compared to students in much more prosperous parts of the country? We don’t yet know the answer, but we get a hunch: They will do just fine. And soon we see the reason as we talk with their teachers. What they may lack in physical conditions, they compensate with the help of some of the most amazingly idealist teachers we have ever seen. Some of the teachers confide in us: “I was shattered with horror when I first heard that I was appointed to Hakkari” one says. “But, the city has changed me. I was afraid of the unknown, and now that I know the place, I don’t want to leave.”

The test is over, but the students don’t leave us. They grab us from both arms, “you are here for us, we can’t just go, we’ll show you our city” they say. And the day goes like that, one door opens another, and by sunset, we might have met half the city.

It is not the poverty that strikes us the most, nor the countless military vehicles. It’s the lack of hope we observe, for things not changing ever. And by just coming to Hakkari, we give them something: a small, very small hope for one small change in this city. A hope that not even themselves, but perhaps a friend, one of their own might be selected for an AFS year somewhere far away to see a different world. And we cannot wipe the smile off our faces for we know that we have a part in that. But the real credit is not ours; it belongs to one courageous AFS volunteer, 52, mother of two, who has chosen willingly to leave her home and come to teach here. She’s the one who started it all. Next morning, we pack our bags and leave Hakkari to go back home, but we sure leave our hearts in this city locked in between mountains.

We already know what a great thing AFS is, but we may sometimes get stuck in the routine of events and forget to step back and look at the bigger picture. Sure, AFS is a great acronym for another fat student, and that’s fun. But it is also born out of the courage of some young men who were brave enough to help save lives working as ambulance drivers in battle fields, and some have given their lives while doing that. It is these courageous young men who have started the AFS exchange programs to contribute to world peace. And along with this legacy that we inherit, comes a huge responsibility: Working for peace requires diligence and courage, and we need to have them both more than ever right now. For we are not just a student exchange program, we are AFS Volunteers.


Turkish AFS Volunteers will continue reporting their works in Hakkari. If you wish to support us, please do contact AFS Volunteers Association of Turkey (info@afsgonulluleri.org), TKV/AFS Turkey (turkey@afs.org), or follow us on Facebook www.facebook.com/afsgd.

Walk the Talk: AFS at the 9th UNESCO Youth Forum

This blog post was contributed by an AFSer from Iceland, Alma Dóra Ríkarðsdóttir who was one of the representatives of AFS at the 9th UNESCO Youth Forum which took place in Paris, France on 26-28 October. Read on to find out more about this event and the role AFSers as active global citizens and relentless change-makers played in it.

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Active global citizens, change makers, ambassadors of peace through intercultural learning. Volunteers who walk their talk and make a difference. Volunteers who participate in discussions on global matters and act on their mission of being the change they want to see in this world. Volunteers of AFS.

So why is it important that AFS had two youth representatives at the 9th UNESCO Youth Forum on Climate Change and Sustainable Development? Because we care. We care and we can have an impact.

In addition to the institutional representative Eva Vitkova, the two AFS youth representatives were Alma Dóra Ríkarðsdóttir from AFS Iceland, alumna of 2011-2012 exchange program to Italy and volunteer of the year in her organization and Marcelo Lopes from AFS Brazil, alumnus of 2011-2012 program to Hungary, facilitator of intercultural learning and president of the local AFS chapter Comite Dourados, Brazil. Both of them attended the AFS Youth Volunteer Forum in Buenos Aires earlier this year, are involved in the Volunteer Voices initiative and care very deeply for global issues and sustainability.

Representatives from Iceland and Brazil have two interesting and completely different viewpoints of the two very important topics of the forum. Still they did not find this to be quite enough to cover the all the perspectives of AFSers. This is why they started by reaching out to volunteers from all over the world to hear what they had to say. The survey published in order to do so got over 160 responses from 41 countries that represented AFS´s input at the forum.  Almost 90% of those who participated in the survey claimed to be interested in contributing to a project to encourage sustainability as a follow up of the forum. We would like to thank everyone who took the time to participate in the survey and who offered amazing suggestions how AFS could contribute more actively to sustainable development:

“It could be an idea to look at how AFS workshops can be organized in a more sustainable way by reducing and reusing paper and other materials”.
“We can generate an impact on people, making them see it is in their hands to do something about sustainability”.
“Every AFSer could be asked to teach one new good habit to their host family and bring one back home”.
“The first step is to educate all our volunteers on the subject and encourage them to be more sustainable in their everyday lives and teach them how to do that”.

The Forum itself took place at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris where around 500 representatives from 159 member states came together under the title of “Young Global Citizens for a Sustainable Planet”. The participants took part in discussions on climate change and the recently adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The outcomes were globally recommended actions that participants formed throughout the Forum. The methodology used was the Future Literacy KnowLab and participants had the opportunity of applying for peer-facilitating the discussions as well as participating. Being familiar with the concept of facilitating a discussion, our volunteers attended the training session followed by peer-facilitating the main workshop of the event.

This was a great experience that they took with them home to their organizations and will keep in their AFS toolbox for future trainings. The workshop consisted of three levels where participants imagined their predicted and preferred future and worked on building bridges to connect these two in order to create a vision of the future they would like to build. In order to do so, there were a lot of discussions, presentations, artistic approaches and people from different backgrounds deciding which global actions to present to the President of the UNESCO General Conference.

As a follow up to the Forum the UNESCO has published the outcomes which you can find here. The outcomes are focused in areas of Young Global Citizens for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Young Global Citizens for a Sustainable Planet, covering in depth topics like rights, freedoms and responsibilities, diversity and identity, knowledge, awareness and media, and capturing the energy of youth. Watch short summaries about the outcomes of each day at the Forum here:

Along with the main workshop, participants were engaged in various other activities including smaller scale capacity building workshops, inspiring talks, marketplace introductions and presentations of ongoing UNESCO projects. It was incredibly inspiring to see so many ideas that have come to life during the forums throughout the years. There were also a lot of networking opportunities in the program including diverse concerts and a boat ride on the Seine. What was maybe one of the greatest experiences of the Forum was to get to know amazing people from countries where AFS does not yet exist. Meeting these strong characters and visionaries from some countries of Africa, the Middle East and many more places gives us hope that one day AFS will expand to every country in this world.


A wonderful week at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication

This blog post was contributed by fellow AFSer, Fran Baxter. Fran’s involvement with AFS started when she sent both her daughters on AFS exchanges and since than she has hosted many AFS students at her home in Australia. Over the years Fran has taken part in many AFS activities in various roles and currently she works part time for AFS Australia as the Learning Services Manager and manages the AFS Educational Impact Assessment Pilot as a consultant for AFS International.

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From July 13 to July 24 the 39th annual Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC) took place at Reed College, in Portland, Oregon. I was fortunate to attend SIIC for the second time, my first time being in 2013.

SIIC is an extremely engaging, motivating, positive and inclusive learning environment. For two weeks, hundreds of people working in education, training, business and consulting, in both international and domestic intercultural contexts, come together to take workshops on different topics within the field of intercultural communication.

The most difficult part of attending SIIC is choosing which courses to take, as all courses are relevant to anyone within the intercultural learning field! The faculty are highly skilled, knowledgeable and approachable and they include renowned intercultural theorists such as Janet Bennett, Executive Director and co-founder of the Intercultural Communication Institute (ICI), Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan, Mick Vande Berg, Darla Deardorff and Stella Ting Toomey, just to name a few.

In total over 550 participants attended SIIC this summer, representing a diverse national and professional group of learners who are eager to learn and share their expertise. AFS was represented at SIIC this year, with 21 AFS volunteers and staff attending from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, Germany, Honduras, India and USA over the course of the two weeks. Of these 21 AFSers, 15 are AFS-SIIC scholars which means that they received scholarships from AFS Intercultural Programs to attend SIIC. They are now back in their home countries completing their scholarship requirements which integrate their SIIC experience with their roles at AFS. I’m personally very excited to apply what I learned at SIIC to the AFS Educational Impact Assessment Pilot and local projects at AFS Australia.

I would recommend SIIC to anyone who wants to expand his or her intercultural competence, and to individuals who recognise that the learning journey continues for life. Come to network with like-minded individuals who recognise the value of shared knowledge. Come to interact with the teachers and students who were happy to share their experience and are open to new learning. Come for the many “a-ha!” moments, and to transfer what you learn to your context within AFS or beyond.

AFS Scholars at SIIC 2015

Each year I attend SIIC, I am left with one thing: the desire to learn more.

See you next July for the 40th year of SIIC!


Connect: Intercultural Insights for Global Citizens on Interfaith Dialogue

AFS Intercultural Link Magazine now has a new name and a refreshing interactive digital format! Our new name, Connect: Intercultural Insights for Global Citizens, reflects both our long-standing commitment to connect individuals and cultures and our more recent focus to convene an increasingly diverse community of advocates. Going digital also provides the perfect platform to discuss and debate the critical intercultural issues of today and tomorrow.

See the full issue here: https://medium.com/connect-intercultural-insights-for-global-citizens and learn more about how Intercultural Learning needs Interfaith Dialogue.

In this issue:

Learn about what skills are needed for interfaith dialogue and try out our simple but effective activity that simulates an multifaith “meetup.” This activity is designed to be used in the classroom, after school or with adults. Hear from one AFSer about his experience walking in someone else’s shoes as he fasted for a day during the holy Muslim season of Ramadan. Then, zoom back in time to read how World War II AFS ambulance drivers from the UK documented and discussed different faiths during their experiences in Lebanon.

Award-winning journalist and creator of The Civil Conversations Project, Krista Tippett is someone who has brought together people from different faiths for many years. Her in-depth interviews with religious leaders and philosophers such as the 14th Dalai Lama, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Thich Nhat Hanh, Elie Wiesel and Jean Vanier made her an excellent choice for our own expert interview on this topic.

And, as usual, we bring you news from around the AFS global network: Be inspired by declarations from the recent AFS International Youth Volunteer Forum that took place in Argentina and discover how AFS Costa Rica and AFS Italy are working together to provide schools in their countries intercultural learning tools, trainings and more. Meet Heidy Utami, an AFS education specialist from Indonesia and find out how you can get involved with Intercultural Dialogue Day this year.

Enjoy our new interactive format! We invite you to share your comments, post, tweet (remember to tag your social media posts with #AFSeffect) or even send us a good old-fashioned email to let us know what you think.

Photo by ©AFS Vivre Sans Frontière, Guillaume Deperrois / Incorp Agency

Photo by ©AFS Vivre Sans Frontière, Guillaume Deperrois / Incorp Agency

“Welcome to America, Please be on Time!”

This blog post was contributed by our intern at AFS International, Lisa Hischer from Germany, who is working on education and school relations. After finishing her BA in Cultural Studies and Educational Sciences, Lisa went to Ecuador for doing voluntary work in the jungle. In summer 2014 she interned at InterCultur (a subsidiary of AFS Germany), where she prepared and took part in intercultural Summer Academies in Istanbul and Karlsruhe.

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AFS is an organization which provides learning opportunities by connecting people all over the world. But not only the core exchange programs draw on the intercultural spirit of their participants –the AFS staff are also sparkling with their cultural variety!

AFS International recently offered a training on U.S. culture to give new colleagues who recently moved to the U.S. the chance to gain a deeper understanding of their new environment and to share their experiences of living and working in a foreign culture – the U.S. culture!

The training was based on this article written by Max Fischer who took a closer look at guidebooks for tourists who come to the U.S. and what they recommend to keep in mind and to be aware of.

Many guide books highly recommended to always be on time, eat appropriately (always depending on what kind of food you eat: fried potatoes with fingers, boiled potatoes with fork and knife), never drink and drive and one of the most important tips: discussing about politics needs to be handled VERY carefully!

Another relevant topic seems to be personal space since many guidebooks try to explain the rather distanced concept of U.S. Americans when it comes to greeting or conversations. How to tip without insulting the server also appears to be a challenge for newcomers to the U.S. Apart from rather practical tips, the guide books generally give a draft of U.S. history, touching sensitive topics like slavery and the Civil Rights Movement.

But what do these tips really tell us? Do the guidebooks depict a realistic picture of what to expect when encountering the U.S. culture or are they rather a collection of stereotypes that push forward a certain perception of what we see?

To reflect upon these tips and assumptions, the participants of the U.S. culture training compared them to their own experiences and to the insider perspective of the training facilitator who is a U.S. citizen.


Lingran Zhou, Intern in Risk Management (came to the U.S. in August 2014 from China):

Did other people give you tips before you came to the U.S.? How was it in reality?

“My friends pointed out that the U.S. is a country focused on laws and that it is important to figure out the different state and federal laws in order not to violate them. It was a useful tip because I feel that in America you have to be careful to stick to the laws, maybe even more than in other countries.

Also I was told that religion plays an important role in some parts of the U.S., so I studied Christianity before I came to the U.S. My background knowledge is helpful to connect people’s behavior to religious values and it gives me a deeper understanding of their motivations. But since the U.S. is such a huge and diverse country, I always have to keep in mind the differences of U.S. citizens.

Are there any tips that are mentioned in the article that you find helpful?

“I think the tips in the article are accurate and precise, they fit to what I experienced in the U.S., for example it is very important to always be on time to not insult people.”

Do you see a danger in the guide-books or are they rather helpful?

“As long as you consider the travel books as guidelines which include basic knowledge about a country and its culture, they can be very helpful for a tourist or a newcomer.”


Guillermo Bril, Intern at Sentio (came to the U.S. in April 2015 from Argentina):

After living in the U.S. for a while, is there something that is still foreign and strange to you?

“The working style and communication in the office is different to what I experienced in my home country. People are more task oriented vs. relationship oriented. It still feels a little unfamiliar to rather schedule a meeting when you want to discuss a topic than to just walk over to my colleagues’ desks and talk to them right away.”

Are there any tips that are mentioned in the article that you find helpful?

“It was helpful to know about the different concept of personal space in the U.S. compared to the one in Argentina when I started my internship. People here tend to prefer more distance and I needed to get used to not kissing people as a greeting ritual.”

Do you see a danger in the guidebooks or are they rather helpful?

“Some guide books need to be careful not to overstep the line between limiting stereotypes and more broad and open generalizations. Generalizations can be helpful to orientate yourself in a foreign country and they still leave space for new and different perceptions and experiences.”


Katharine Sanders, Sentio (U.S. citizen and facilitator of the U.S. culture training):

What is your reaction to the tips in the books? Do you think they depict reality or do you feel stereotyped?

 “I think the article gives an interesting perspective on U.S. American culture. It is always an exciting experience to look at yourself through a different lens. The article mentions some generalizations that never would have occurred to me as notable cultural “rules” that might stress someone out while visiting the U.S.; like our collective and complex conventions for table manners (we eat fried chicken with our hands, but baked chicken with a knife and fork) or hugging/not hugging. I don’t really feel stereotyped by the books since they seem to also depict regionalism and the diversity of U.S. culture. Instead, I take them as an occasion to reflect upon what is perceived as important and different in the U.S. as compared to other cultures. However, reading about your home culture through this lens can also make you a little frustrated, especially the parts that talk about history or safety concerns without being particularly detailed or nuanced. Warnings to travelers, like in “conservative” rural areas or “dangerous” urban areas can come across a little overly simplistic.

Did you meet people who struggled with topics mentioned in the article?

“Some common themes, especially around personal space and touching, seem to always come up. Surprisingly, the two topics I feel I’ve heard most often are not covered in the article. Visitors I’ve interacted with have generally been quite impacted by the high number of homeless people living in the cities. Juxtaposed to that, they’re also usually a little overwhelmed by the abundance in our supermarkets. I feel like these two examples hint at some underlying U.S. cultural values and historical/politically relevant issues that might be helpful to explore more.

Guidebooks don’t really claim to provide intercultural learning but good guidebooks can give some cultural specific background knowledge to help people understand and survive in the short term. Reality will of course be much more individual and complex than how it is described.

What would you think should be recommended before coming to the U.S. for a person coming from a clearly different background?

I really can’t think of any specific recommendation on U.S. culture that would be relevant for all people coming to the U.S. for the first time. It always depends on where they are coming from, what kind of previous knowledge and experiences they have, what their reason it to come to the US, etc. Guidebooks including generalizations can be a great starting point if read with a critical eye. Still, I think it is more important to provide people with tools and strategies on how to take in all the “newness” to really understand and cope with differences.” Guidebooks seem to be a helpful start to encounter a foreign culture and to avoid dropping a brick or being overwhelmed by a surprising situation.

Still, no guidebook can offer what a real intercultural adventure can come up with. So, why should we believe in everything a book is telling us? Let’s get out there, form our own opinion and encounter the differences!


AFS in Consultative Partnership with UNESCO

“There is a clear relevance of AFS’ work to the current programs and activities of UNESCO, particularly in the fields of education, youth, and intercultural dialogue. Indeed, cooperation between UNESCO and AFS has a solid foundation based on many areas of common interest, synergies and previous collaborations, as witnessed by the organization at UNESCO Headquarters in November 2014, under UNESCO’s patronage, of the AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium.” — Irina Bokova, Director General, UNESCO

Since this April, AFS world-wide network of organizations is in official partnership with UNESCO (consultative status). This important recognition is a validation of our work and an excellent opportunity to take many budding AFS initiatives to the next level by pursuing project-specific alliances with UNESCO, both internationally and at the national level.

The official partnership is a great privilege for us as providers of intercultural education opportunities globally. It is also a responsibility, inspiring us to continue to act responsibly as a committed member of the global citizenship education movement and contribute to other UNESCO initiatives relevant to our mission. Finally, this partnership is an opportunity to strengthen our positioning as an educational organization and to create more impact as we continue playing our role in educating global citizens through intercultural learning and volunteering.

This partnership deepens the existing collaboration between our two organizations. Last November, the AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium – Learning to Live Together: From Ideas to Action was held in celebration of AFS’s Centennial and under the patronage of UNESCO in Paris. While UNESCO representatives attended the AFS-AAI-SIETAR Regional Conference in Bali, Indonesia this April, the Regional Education Forum: Intercultural Learning in Latin America: Fostering Global Citizenship through Intercultural Dialogue that will take place in Costa Rica in June has been granted UNESCO patronage. On the other hand, representatives of AFS have attended many relevant UNESCO events, most recently the Second Forum on Global Citizenship Education.

We invite you to see the latest issue of the AFS Intercultural Link news magazine to find out more about AFS’s efforts to advance global citizenship education, or to read the interview with Ms Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General who shared her views on this subject.

The First AFS-AAI-SIETAR Intercultural Conference Held

The Learning to Live Together—Intercultural Education: From Ideas to Action international conference took place in Bali, Indonesia between 15 and 17 April 2015 as one of the key regional events marking the occasion of AFS’s 100th anniversary. This was an exciting opportunity to debate the importance of intercultural and global citizenship education—what it is, how it benefits society, and the role of educators, schools and others can take to advance this movement in the Asia Pacific Region. This conference is also a best practice example of leadership in the field of intercultural education and continuation of the discussions which started during the AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium in Paris last November.

AFS Indonesia, Bina Antarbudaya (The Indonesian Foundation for Intercultural Learning) hosted this two-day educational event, which was organized by the AFS Asia Pacific Initiative (AAI), AFS International and Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research (SIETAR) Indonesia. Among other values of this conference is the significance of the event being a collaboration with SIETAR, an organization with a similar mission and complimentary areas of work to AFS. This showcases the importance of the AFS network’s increasing efforts to be open, inclusive and collaborate with the others in the field.

The speakers at the conference included Dr. Irid Agoes (Conference chair and representative of the Advisory Council to the Director General of Higher Education – Indonesia), the keynote Michael H. Prosser (Professor Emeritus of the University of Virginia), one of the founders of the field of intercultural learning, and Melissa Liles (Chief Education Officer, AFS International). This event was also supported by UNESCO, whose representative from Bangkok Ramya Vivekanandan (Quality of Education, Programme Specialist) also participated as a speaker.

This first regional conference on global citizenship education brought together key stakeholders in interculturalism, including researchers, policy makers, experts, practitioners, teachers, university students and administrators. There were 17 concurrent sessions, such as Adaptive Process in Intercultural Education and Why Cultural Training is Imperative for Global Employees. These sessions explored regional perspectives on intercultural education, addressed emerging ideas, defined complex challenges and identified viable solutions to expand global citizenship education throughout the Region. Sessions dealt with topics such as the importance of intercultural competence in the workplace, the role of schools in intercultural education, and was an opportunity to share research, case studies and lessons learned from the intercultural field.

This valuable gathering will continue with the next edition planned to take place in Australia in April 2016.

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.