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Dear readers,

The AFS Intercultural Learning Blog has moved! We invite you to continue reading and following us on our new page here, where we will continue to share new and exciting blog posts about intercultural learning and global citizenship education, events, theories and practices. To get in touch with us, don’t hesitate to e-mail us at icl@afs.org.

Happy reading,
AFS Intercultural Programs


Educating for Peace — New Issue of Connect: Intercultural Insights for Global Citizens

Educating and empowering global and active citizens to build more just and peaceful societies has been the mission of AFS for decades. Launched on World Refugee Day, this issue of Connect: Intercultural Insights for Global Citizens explores how intercultural learning works as a foundation of peace. When peace-building and humanitarian work call for conflict resolution, intercultural competence is required to develop culturally sensitive and appropriate solutions.

You can access the new issue of Connect: Intercultural Insights for Global Citizens here: medium.com/connect-intercultural-insights-for-global-citizens or check out the individual articles below.

Educating for Peace

Although many peace-building organizations include intercultural education as an important aspect of global citizenship education, exactly how does this type of learning help foster peace? Learn why we dedicated this issue of Connect to exploring how intercultural learning works as a building block to peace in Educating for Peace: The Role of Intercultural Learning.

Take a closer look at what educating for peace means in schools today and how AFS and other global education organizations can foster it. Our Chief Education Officer, Melissa Liles, explores how we can tap the power of intercultural learning in the classroom to help transform refugees and all students into young global citizensClick here to read her concrete suggestions for activities and discussions to be used in schools to foster intercultural understanding and personal growth.

Learn about the importance of providing psychosocial support and education to different types of migrants. Guglielmo Schinina of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) advises that viable solutions require both the host communities and new members to make a conscious effort to learn to live together. To read about the concrete recommendations about respect and humanity, as well as the role of education for migrants, click here.

Learn more about how the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL) is putting intercultural learning to work. Throughout the year, EFIL – the umbrella organization for AFS in Europe – is sponsoring seminars and other activities to teach AFS volunteers and others how to use intercultural learning in their communities, especially in European countries where refugees and other migrants are a priority.

Test out our learning session outline that offers practical tools and activities (including students’ videos) to explore the topics of migration and education. Based on a Plural+ Youth Video Contest submission and discussion guides, this activity will help young people develop more empathy and improve their critical thinking skills.

Now is the time to learn more about and register for Fostering Global Competency and Creating Pathways to Study Abroad”, AFS workshop which will precede the 2016 IIE Generation Study Abroad Summit in October 2016 in Washington DC, USA. Explore what other educational events took place during the past few months and which topics AFS explored through meaningful partnerships around the world.

Discover an exciting new way AFS is inspiring young people and others to volunteer through a new secondary school curriculum and museum exhibition. The Volunteers: Americans Join World War I, 1914–1919 provides a unique approach to volunteerism, intercultural competence and global citizenship education. By honoring the past and speaking to the future, this project raises awareness about the volunteer efforts during World War I, and inspires young people to become active global citizens today.

We would love to hear your thoughts, reactions and input about education for peace. Leave a comment below, like, share or tweet @AFS!

Let’s #RecogniseStudyAbroad!

One of the most frequent questions exchange students (and their parents) ask when considering study abroad programs is if this time in another country and school will be recognized upon their return home. And for students in many countries the answer is not always a clear yes. Some students need to redo their year abroad when they come back, others take additional exams.

The European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL), the umbrella organization for AFS in Europe, has decided to tackle this issue head on. They’ve partnered up with European Educational Exchanges – Youth for Understanding (EEE-YFU), EPAEUROCLIOKeyCoNet and OBESSU, and launched a campaign to recognize the study period abroad on the occasion of the European Policy Networks Conference, in Brussels. The main objective of this new campaign, #RecogniseStudyAbroad, is to raise awareness among policy-makers and educational stakeholders about the lack of recognition of long-term pupil exchanges.

Not getting your school year abroad recognized has a negative impact on youth mobility and exchange programs. Out of fear of “losing a school year” or falling behind their peers, many students and parents don’t event consider participating in a study abroad program. On the other hand, some teachers and heads of schools discourage students’ participation in exchange programs, or only allow academically high achieving students to participate, believing that they would academically “suffer” least from being away for one full school year.

Recognizing study abroad period brings many benefits:

It is usually the high-achieving students who get the chance to study abroad. This lack of equal access to learning opportunities is a concern for social inclusion in education.

Recognizing study abroad for high-school students opens up new career paths for them, and provides for greater mobility for the whole family. 

Recognizing study abroad  encourages and supports the process of internationalizing schools. It is not enough to promote mobility in political dialogue – policy regulations need to be in place.

The recognition of the school year abroad implies a shift from “traditional” content-based curricula to a competence-based approach, which recognises “real-world learning”.

The #RecogniseStudyAbroad campaign will continue developing in different steps: letters to policy makers and to schools will be disseminated, a website page will be created to collect testimonies of students, parents, and teachers; and the issue of the recognition of school abroad will be raised and presented in diverse events (for example the European Youth Event, the EFIL Forum on Intercultural Learning and Exchange, the LLLPlatform Conference, the Lifelong Learning Week).

Post your experiences and testimonials on social media using the hashtag #RecogniseStudyAbroad or e-mail them to Elisa Briga to support this campaign. Find out more at elisa.briga@afs.org.

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This article is published in cooperation with Elisa Briga, Advocacy, Project and Programme Coordinator at the European Federation for Intercultural Learning. For more information see the latest edition of EFILife.

AFS to Condemn all Types of Discrimination

Just a few days after the March attacks in the Brussels airport and metro, a group of European AFS volunteers from 15 different countries gathered in this city to help increase the impact of AFS in fighting Islamophobia and to promote interreligious dialogue in European communities. A deeper look into the discussions from the seminar, Islam as a religion in Europe and what AFS can do to further its peace-building mission is brought to us by Stasa Stojkov, a volunteer at AFS Serbia and a member of the European Pool of Trainers of the European Federation for Intercultural Learning. We invite AFSers interested in exploring the topic further to register for the Volunteer Summer Summit in August this year, where similar topics will be explored.

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It is the mission of AFS as an organization to foster intercultural dialogue in order to create a more just and peaceful world. Yes, this is a statement that probably all AFSers can identify with and agree upon. However, the understanding of what constitutes a peaceful world might differ. The same goes for the term responsibility. Reflecting upon the mission of AFS in the times in which the organization was founded, and applying it to the context we live in today, the group of participants and trainers of the “Islam in Europe – between assimilation and rejection” seminar organized by the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL – the umbrella organization for AFS in Europe), decided it was time for certain thoughts not to be assumed, but rather said more explicitly. The seminar took place in Brussels, in April 2016, and was supported by the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe within EFIL’s Annual Theme “Building Peaceful Societies”.

Islam as a religion has been present on the European grounds from a very early age. Already in the 7th century, the Umayyad Empire was established on the territories of what we today know as Spain and Portugal. Furthermore, the Ottoman Empire was present on the Balkan Peninsula and beyond from the 14th century, up until the establishment of the secular Republic of Turkey in early 20th century. In addition, Europe, its conquerors, travelers and representatives have also played their role in the regions where Islam was, and today still is, the predominant religion. Starting in the 11th century with the crusades, through colonialism and up until recent times and wars, such as the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, Europe has marked its presence outside continent’s boundaries in a certainly significant and often negative manner.

In spite of all these interactions, in times of both peace and war, there is still a very strong line between us and them. Othering, or alienating, is a process of labeling someone as fundamentally different than you, and as a mechanism it can help spread discrimination in all forms. It is strongly present in the process of spreading Islamophobia, and the trainers and participants of the seminar recognized it as a repetitive pattern present in the media, politics and other aspects of their daily lives.  The idea of us, Europeans, representing our values and things we fought for throughout the years in order to become this democratic continent we so proudly claim we are today. And them, the others, with their seemingly backwards mentality representing values such as traditional gender roles that are directly against what we as Europe stand for. With this chain of thoughts, the idea of living together becomes, in the best case scenario, merely, a life next to each other and not with each other. Othering, supported by our school books, media and art influences our perceptions of the society and world we live in. Without fostering critical thought, it is easy for people to fall into the claws of biased media and politicians wanting to create powerful headlines. This is where AFS steps in. This is where AFS helps us understand that what we see is only one of many perspectives and that what we perceive as threatening or old-fashioned is actually an enriching and wonderful element in other people’s lives. This is where AFS confronts prejudice.

The media coverage of Muslims is not only predominantly negative, but often presented in a way which is meant to cause fear. In a reality where the first thing you see in the very morning is a new attack, numbers of lost lives, information about troops entering or withdrawing from a certain area, it is easy to let the fear dominate our lives. However, that irrational fear, whether it is the fear of losing someone or something we cherish in our lives, only helps to support the image of the other being a threat. The word terrorist is immediately attached to the word Muslim, and vice versa. In the state of fear, the fact that there are around 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and that those belonging to the extremist groups constitute maybe 1% of them, never gets mentioned. When a person without a Muslim background commits an act of terrorism, they are seen as lunatics, not as terrorists. However, as soon as we can attach the word Muslim to a person suspected for such an act, all the other labels such as nationality, marital status, or profession get neglected.

Another word often mentioned in AFS is diversity. We believe we are diverse, we aim to be even more inclusive and we appreciate the differences each individual brings to the group. However, so often we forget that, in order to be truly diverse, we sometimes have to look beyond what is already there. We have to give a chance to someone who seems so different that it is difficult even to imagine we could have something in common. There, on the very edge of our comfort zone, we might take that step which will ensure a better world for all of us. As some voices are not strong enough to express how much they would appreciate being a part of a reality such as the AFS one, embracing them may sometimes not be enough. We should be more proactive in searching for, and including those who might seem different, and who might not have the opportunity to join AFS that easily.

One could discuss whether addressing Islamophobia explicitly is an AFS responsibility or not. However, bearing in mind that AFS is a non-political and non-religious organization, the group of this seminar attendees agreed that condemning all types of discrimination is the least we can do. Standing up for those who need us to speak up and including everyone who shares our vision regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion, nationality or any other label is our duty in order to truly fulfill that mission we’ve been proudly caring for more than 100 years.


5 Reasons to Attend the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication

The Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC) has a 40-year history of providing educational and professional development on intercultural theory, training and facilitation. This year SIIC will take place between 13-29 July with over 50 different offerings of five-day, three-day and one-day workshops.

Take a look at the the top 5 reasons for attending SIIC according to Ana Carolina Cassiano, a 2015 AFS-SIIC scholar and currently the Fellow for the Intercultural Link Learning Program at AFS International:

1. The learning experience: you will be immersed in an intense and stimulating learning environment not only during the workshops, but also over mealtimes, in the corridors and in the evening social events.

2. The people: you will meet and connect with like-minded people – key scholars of the intercultural field and colleagues from different professional, academic and national backgrounds. The SIIC atmosphere is supportive and inclusive.

3. The place: you will be at the beautiful Reed College campus which is filled with Pacific Northwest native plants, wildlife and a lake, in Portland, Oregon, USA. Taking a walk between activities while you reflect on your learning experiences will be revigorating and inspiring!

4. The food: you also need some nutrients in your body in order to enjoy all the food for thought you will be getting. The food served during SIIC is cafeteria-style, but also fresh, made from scratch, with a diverse menu inspired by cuisines from around the world, mostly organic and locally sourced.

5. The social activities: you will also have the chance to relax and have a good time in the evenings. One of the highlights is the AFS-sponsored karaoke night. Either you lead the mic, sing-along to your all-time favorites, hit the dance-floor or just cheer on your colleagues performing – you’re in for a good time!

For more information about SIIC, visit the event website. SIIC is sponsored by the Intercultural Communication Institute (ICI) headed by Janet Bennett, one of the most important players in the intercultural field, editor of the SAGE Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence, and a longstanding partner of AFS.

AFS Intercultural Programs is pleased to be able to offer special scholarship opportunities for AFS volunteers and staff. If you are interested in this possibility, hurry up – the application deadline for AFS-SIIC Scholarships for AFS volunteers and staff is 25 April. Contact learningprogram@afs.org for more information.