Youth & Migration

On Friday, 14 February the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs presented their World Youth Report, focusing on migration. Seeing that migration has increased steadily over the years, and that some 30% of the current 232 million international migrants worldwide are young people, this report emphasizes the perspective of young migrants themselves. The report presents the concerns, challenges and successes of different phases of international migration in the words of young migrants, while also aiming to raise awareness and engagement of youth on these issues. With thousands of AFS exchange students travelling abroad and participating in youth exchanges, this topic is of relevance to our daily work.

The report is based on participatory consultations, which included on-line events, surveys and artistic contributions. The report acknowledges the diversity of young migrants as well as their reasons for migration and outcomes of this process. In any case, young people are recognized as crucial agents of social change and development.

One of the prominent reasons for youth migration are educational and job prospects, one of the reasons many young AFSers get out of their comfort zones  and participate in intercultural exchanges. Personal, socio-economic and political circumstances are also significant factors impacting migration, including forced migrations due to natural or man-made disasters. The impacts of migration are seen in the both positive and negative effects for the economic situations of the countries of origin, destination and migrants’ families, gender equity and a possible brain drain.

photo credit: UN World Youth Report

One of the greatest challenges young migrants expressed is acquiring accurate information about their intended destination, documents, travel and accommodation arrangements which can make them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Suggested development tools include better access to peer-to-peer consultations, awareness-raising campaigns and pre-departure orientation programs. AFS participants are thus protected from this vulnerability due to the existence of a strong support network and the Orientation framework which facilitate their transition from one country to another, and the return home. Social networks and the educational activities provided by AFS help the students face culture shock and better integrate into the host society. The transformational impact of this kind of a migration experience is in this way enhanced.

Even though it exists, for example in AFS, youth engagement and knowledge about migration still remains exceptional. The World Youth Report advocates for an increased commitment among young people, youth-led organizations and decision-makers for a meaningful youth participation in migration and development policy planning in order to enhance the migration experience and empower young people to take ownership of their contribution to development.

Remembering Nelson Mandela: Inspiring Interculturalism through Education

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Honored around the world following the news of his death last week, Nelson Mandela, a crusader for human rights and dignity who brought racial apartheid to an end in South Africa, remains an inspiration for AFS and all those striving for equality, freedom and peace.

Mandela’s fight was not always a peaceful one, but he became a tireless advocate of learning as the pathway to justice: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” he is known to have said.

This philosophy—one of transformative pedagogy—is what drives AFSers worldwide. It is with the idea of broadening perspectives, changing lives, and through this, shaping the world for the better that some 44000 active volunteers and staff serve AFS across more than sixty countries working together with young people, families, schools, and community leaders.

Being involved in everyday situations in another country is an opportunity for exchange students and host families to learn not only about the new culture, but also about themselves and their own background. Similarly, AFSers facilitating this experience develop personal skills and shape constructive attitudes about the world around them. This learning experience also happens through non-formal education, outside the traditional classroom, and lasts a lifetime. Structured self-reflection and involvement with the local community provide all parties invaluable insights along with the possibility incrementally change the world for the better. We don’t suggest that this experience gives all the answers, and but it is important that every individual can make a difference and create positive change in their society.

AFSers believe in Mandela’s dream of educating for peace, of learning to live together in a way that is respectful of others, that seeks out common ground where possible—or constructively leverages differences where it is not. Their work is to help bring together (young) people who discover themselves through the eyes of others so that throughout their lives they can more effectively, appropriately and cooperatively address challenges, whether in the local community or at the global level.

After retiring from politics, Mandela started an initiative called the Elders, an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights. The Elders are people who have earned international trust, demonstrated integrity and built a reputation for inclusive leadership. They bring in diverse expertise and experience in building and maintaining peace, socially transforming their countries. Elders are people who can lead by example, creating positive social change and enabling others to do the same. We find this group and its efforts to be very valuable,as it alighns with the AFS’s mission of working towards a more just and peaceful world.

AFS remains positively inspired by Nelson Mandela’s initiatives and deeds. We invite you to watch this video, noting that we share its interests in humanity, and the universal human rights:

Register for Summer Academy in Brazil and Costa Rica!

From 27 January to 7 February, 2014, AFS Brasil and InterCultur (the non-profit subsidiary of AFS Germany) will be for the first time offering the Summer Academy on Intercultural Awareness. Courses on intercultural communication, cross-cultural management and intercultural conflict management will be offered in one-week format, with both lectures and practice sessions that will cater to different learning styles.

The courses will be offered in English and it is expected that participants from numerous countries will be participating. The Summer Academy on Intercultural Awareness will be hosted at Universidade Positivo, in Curitiba. If you are a participant from the AFS region Cono Sur, you may still apply to a scholarship from AFS Brasil to attend the program by following this link.

From 10 to 21 February, 2014, the Centro de Aprendizaje Intercultural of AFS Costa Rica and InterCultur will be for the first time offering the Summer Academy on Intercultural Experience and Sustainability. The courses here will cover the topics of intercultural communication, clean production, cross-cultural management and ecotourism and community development. These courses will also be one-week long and have lectures and practice sessions. This program aims at developing applied solutions for intercultural challenges and combines them with sustainability issues. Courses will be offered in both English and Spanish (check out the ‘Courses‘ section to find out).

Student at the undergraduate level and young professionals with a background or interest in intercultural experiences and/or sustainability are encouraged to apply to both summer academies and take part in a great intercultural experience where they can meet participants from many countries. If you want to learn more about previous summer academies, check out these two blog entries from August where we referenced the editions of the Summer Academy in Germany and in Turkey.

Shaping the World We Live in: Youth Video Festival

United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) with the support of many partner organizations from around the world, including AFS Intercultural Programs, organize a yearly call for videos covering the topics of migration, diversity and social inclusion. With a link to intercultural dialogue, youth expression and the desire for peace and better understanding world-wide, this initiative is realized through PLURAL+ Youth Video Festival. Young people up to the age of 25 are asked to submit their short videos (not longer than 5 minutes) describing how their lives and communities are affected by these topics. The best entries are awarded prizes, and s special feature of this year’s edition of PLURAL+ was the AFS Intercultural Award.

Out of 254 videos from 71 countries which were submitted this year, twenty-five were chosen for awards. AFS had a tough job selecting the video with the best educational content and intercultural sensitivity, one which is most inspiring, supportive, connecting and trustworthy while offering a strong, original idea for creating a more just and peaceful world. Bearing all this in mind, the video “Correcting the Chalkboard” made by Wapikoni mobile has the honor to receive the 2013 AFS Intercultural Prize:

PLURAL+ recognizes youth as powerful agents of social change in a world often characterized by intolerance, and cultural and religious divisions. By addressing key challenges related to migrant integration, inclusiveness, identity, diversity, human rights and social cohesiveness, both at local and global levels, youth proved that they are determined to create and shape the world they live in, in an extraordinarily creative way. We invite you to watch the other video submissions here and let us know what your main learning point from them is.

How are you celebrating International Education Week 2013?

International Education Week (IEW) is an annual event celebrated across the United States every second week of November. International students, offices of international students in several schools and departments of international education present diverse initiatives related to the international education and international exchange of students. This year’s IEW takes place from Tuesday, 12 to Friday, 15 November. IEW is an event promoted within the United States to promote international education among both international students and prospective students who may want to go to study abroad.

As an educational organization, AFS is also ready to celebrate IEW 2013! AFS USA will be hosting a Google Hangout on Thursday 14 November with New York Times author Amanda Ripley. In 2010-2011, Ripley followed three exchange students, including on AFS USA student, and documented the educational systems in the hosting countries through their insights and experiences. Based on those testimonies, she recently published the book “The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way“, which she will be discussing in the Google Hangout on Thursday. Do not miss this news article to learn more about this opportunity hosted by AFS USA and check out this list of suggestions to get involved in International Education Week 2013! Our department of AFS History and Archives is also celebrating IEW dedicating the “Item of the Month” to a picture of a student after returning to the United States from her exchange in Jordan in 1982.

If you are an international student in the United States or you went to study abroad recently, check what your school or exchange organization is doing and how you can get involved this week in presentations and event that showcase or present your culture in new and different ways. You will surely enjoy the opportunity to help others discover the cultures you identify with and learn about the cultures of students in international education initiatives near you!

Trust, Arrogance and Compassion in Europe

What are the first words that come to your mind when you think of your country? How would you describe the neighboring ones? A polling firm asked these and similar questions in half-a-dozen European countries, and came up with some pretty interesting results. Their study found that many long-held stereotypes Europeans have about each other are getting reinforced and exacerbating.

Europeans seem to be developing very strong feelings about Germany, which many call the most trustworthy, most arrogant and least compassionate nation in Europe. While there is a general consensus that Germany is indeed the most trustworthy nation in Europe, with only Greece thinking differently, opinions are quite varied in terms of who the least trustworthy one is – France, Italy, Germany and Greece are all good candidates. Also interesting are opinions on which nation is the most compassionate and least arrogant – somehow each nation seems to believe they are the leading example in those areas!

What does it tell us about ourselves that people tend to perceive themselves and their own nations in a very positive light, which does not always also extend to their neighbors? As AFSers, we can certainly educate ourselves and help others learn about the power of stereotypes.The empathy which results from a better understanding of other cultures equips us to better cope with ambiguity and difference in many situations. Participating in AFS programs is a good way to develop the ability to engage effectively and appropriately within different cultural settings, without perpetuating old stereotypes.

VI Congreso Internacional de la Lengua Española en Panamá

Entre el 20 y el 23 de octubre se celebró en la Ciudad de Panamá el VI Congreso Internacional de la Lengua Española. Este evento reúne a escritores de 20 países hispanohablantes y Estados Unidos. El tema central del evento es el libro. Las sesiones académicas tratan de varios temas en torno a este artefacto: el libro en el la geografía hispanohablante, la industria del libro, la lectura y la educación y, finalmente, el libro en la comunicación de hoy en día, incluyendo el ámbito digital. El evento también coincide con la publicación del Diccionario de Americanismos publicado por la Real Academia de la Lengua Española y la Asociación de las 22 Academias de la Lengua.

El periódico español El País también ha propuesto a los 21 escritores participantes en el congreso que seleccionen un Atlas sonoro del español. Cada escritor ha contribuido con una palabra que represente a su país en este proyecto, aunque el Atlas está también abierto a la participación de internautas a través del blog Papeles Perdidos. ¿Quieres contribuir con un vocablo que creas que representa a tu cultura? Comenta en nuestro blog y en Papeles Perdidos, ¡queremos saber cuáles son esas palabras!

Si quieres ver imágenes, a través de estos enlaces podrás acceder al congreso virtual, que recoge los textos de algunas ponencias y vídeos que se llevaron a cabo durante el congreso. También puedes acceder a las noticias de la página web de la Real Academia o a través de Twitter con el hashtag #CongresoLenguaPanamá.

How to Pick a Halloween Costume?

Halloween (a contraction of “All Hallows’ Evening”) is a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on October 31, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows (or All Saints) and the time dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers. Typical ways to celebrate Halloween are to dress up in costumes and go to carnivals, parties, trick-or-treating, as well as to carve pumpkins and tell scary stories, among other traditions. Halloween is celebrated in many different ways around the world and is not a common tradition in every country. How do you plan to mark it?

Are you planning to dress up as a geisha or a mariachi? A couple of years ago, students at the Ohio University noticed the trend of dressing up as a member of another culture and decided to stand up against it. With a very prominent campaign, “We’re a culture, not a costume”, they wanted to raise awareness and make people think twice before they make a caricature of another culture. The campaign was very successful and saw its reiterations in the following years, also creating a wave of responses mocking it and presenting a different point of view on the issue. Is it really true that dressing up as an African-American rapper is a mockery of that culture? Can you wear a costume without misrepresenting the culture behind it?

Raising awareness of stereotypes and not reinforcing and perpetuating them is one of the goals of AFS exchange programs. The AFS exchange experience deepens participants’ insights into their home culture as well as their knowledge of other cultures. They are better able to empathize and thus to appreciate that workable solutions must be culturally sensitive. Bearing all this in mind, what costume will you wear this year?


AFS Educational Advisory Council 2013 meeting

What are the connections between intercultural learning and social justice? Can future intercultural trainings be done without a coaching component? And which part of the world will the new ICL theory come from?

These are some of the questions that were discussed on Monday 30th September 2013 at the AFS Educational Advisory Council meeting in Colle, Italy. In conjunction with the IVth Forum on Intercultural Learning and Exchange the group met at it’s annual in-person meeting to discuss key trends in (intercultural) education and the implications of these for AFS worldwide .

The AFS Educational Advisory Council was established in 2006 to help guide AFS’s global education and research efforts. Comprised of both distinguished and up-and-coming thought leaders from the wider intercultural realm, Council members represent a diversity of disciplines ranging from communications and cross-cultural psychology, to anthropology and management sciences. They meet annually to share their insights about developments in the field, provide views from their areas of expertise, and inform AFS’s strategic plans, all in a voluntary capacity.

Attendees of the 2013 AFS Educational Advisory Council meeting (from left to right): Mick Vande Berg, Roberto Ruffino, Melissa Liles, Milton Bennett, Bruce La Brack, Kumiko Torikai, Darla Deardorff (Members of the 2012-2013 AFS Educational Advisory Council not pictured: Gunther Dietz, Jürgen Bolten)

Some of the trends that were identified and then further discussed in the meeting included:

  • the growing importance of coaching as a necessary addition to intercultural learning programs and trainings;
  • the relationship between intercultural learning and social justice;
  • new paradigms in intercultural learning theories;
  • the question of access to study abroad to broader audiences; and
  • investments into teacher’s education as a key to improving intercultural education worldwide.

Do you see similar trends in the intercultural field in your country? What other trends have you identified? Let us know!

World Teachers’ Day

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

Albert Einstein
Every October 5 since 1994, the world celebrates and appreciates teachers, ensuring that the needs of future generations will continue to be met. In over 100 countries where the World Teachers’ Day is marked public awareness campaign are launched to highlight the contributions of the teaching profession. This year’s topic, “A Call for Teachers!” is a call for quality education for all, seeing that teachers are a powerful force for equity, access and quality education.

On this day, it is important to stress the need for well trained and educated teaches as a foundation for peace and sustainable development. A very significant component for teachers nowadays is their global education and the ability to integrate and apply intercultural learning in their classrooms.

Seeing AFS as an educational organization, teachers and educators around the world make up a significant part of the AFS volunteer base. They take part in and organize conferences about education, bringing an important perspective to our work. The support they provide for program participants is also among their most valued contributions to AFS exchanges.

How will you show your appreciation for teachers today?