Nordic Countries Committed to Intercultural Learning

The last National Qualified Trainer (NQT) workshop of 2014 took place from 22-26 October in Norway. 12 AFS staff and volunteers from Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden gathered for a 4.5-day NQT Workshop, thus beginning the certification process to become National Qualified Trainers of the AFS Intercultural Link Learning Program for their respective AFS organizations.

Like other National Qualified Trainer workshops in BrazilCosta Rica and India, these 12 candidates underwent a rigorous few days of Learning Program Curriculum and training techniques.

Trainers Jenny Eriksson (AFS Sweden), Hanne Liv Østtveit-Moe (AFS Norway), Ida Vasstrand (AFS Norway) and Hazar Yildirim (AFS International) worked well together as they lead the group, demonstrating their wide range of unique training styles.

We wish these 12 NQT candidates luck as they finish the next steps of the certification process! We look forward to you working with the AFS Intercultural Link Learning Program in your countries as you implement the Program nationally.

Fourth Annual AFS Intercultural Link Learning Program Regional Events

For a fourth year in a row, from 25-28 September, the AFS Intercultural Link Learning Program held events in the Asia-Pacific and Caribe regions for AFS staff and volunteers. 22 participants from Australia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand participated in Levels 1 and 2 in Jakarta, Indonesia. 22 participants from Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Panama participated in all three Levels of the Program in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

“All three groups had a same goal,” stated Qualified Trainer Mónica Wittman from AFS Costa Rica. “Increasing their own intercultural competences, gaining knowledge and developing skills toward sensitizing others about intercultural differences and how best to approach them.”

Both events were led by experienced Learning Program Qualified Trainers who dedicated weeks of planning to make the events unforgettable for the participants, finding unique and fun ways to deliver Intercultural Learning content. “The participants particularly commented positively on the several activities that allowed them to easily understand complex concepts and theories, as opposed to the usual delivery of lectures,” said Mae Ayob, Qualified Trainer from AFS Philippines. “They are all excited for the next Level!”

Qualified Trainer Fran Baxter from AFS Australia agreed, “The experiential nature of the learning we were engaged in – both learning about the topics, and each other’s culture – therefore actually experiencing Intercultural Learning while learning was very valuable.”

The in-person event is just the beginning for these 44 Learning Program participants. All will be supported with various distance learning activities that build upon the foundations that were laid during the workshops.

A big thanks goes out to AFS Indonesia, Bina Antarbudaya, and AFS Dominican Republic for hosting these very successful regional events! We look forward to the participants finishing the distance portions of their respective levels and to the next regional events in 2015!

The AFS Effect: Daring to Create Change

Since its beginning, AFS has been a vehicle for committed individuals who dare to make a difference. Courage, volunteerism and learning have been constants throughout our history. A century ago they resulted in thousands of lives saved. Then, in inventing the intercultural exchange programs that still transform lives today.

Creating change is what AFSers do, and we call it the AFS Effect.

AFS has impacted many lives throughout our history and with the #AFSeffect campaign we hope to learn about the impact AFS has had on individuals—what the #AFSeffect means to them and what intercultural learning in action looks like to them. Everyone who would like to contribute can share a post about their own experience on their social media platforms using the hashtag #AFSeffect.

Until the AFS Centennial celebrations in Paris, we will post several questions online with and ask everyone to react and contribute to the campaign using #AFSeffect to tag their posts. The first question was already shared as a part of the 100 days, 100 stories campaign on the official AFS Intercultural Programs Facebook page and others will follow soon.

Many AFSers are already participating in the campaign and you can easily follow contributions on the campaign microsite

Are you ready for intercultural dialogue?

Multicultural education, intercultural education, nonracial education, antiracist education, culturally responsive pedagogy, ethnic studies, peace studies, global education, social justice education, bilingual education, mother tongue education, integration – these and more are the terms used to describe different aspects of diversity education around the world. Although it may go by different names and speak to stunningly different conditions in a variety of sociopolitical contexts, diversity education attempts to address such issues as racial and social class segregation, the disproportionate achievement of students of various backgrounds, and the structural inequality in both schools and society.
(Quote from Diversity Education: Lessons For A Just World by Sonia Nieto)

Diversity education is the topic of this year’s Intercultural Dialogue Day (IDD), a grassroots initiative organized by volunteers in AFS local chapters all over Europe since 2008. On 25 September 2014 these AFS volunteers will be exploring new ideas and perspectives for the events organized at a local level related to diversity education.

In preparation for this special date, you can check out the Intercultural Dialogue Day Facebook page and its 100 days challenge. During the countdown to IDD, IDDA (the project’s mascot) asks you different questions, offers resources and food for thought related to diversity education every day. For example, IDDA has already helped us discover a database of intercultural films, educational resources on cultural diversity and made us reflect on gender roles. Even outside of Europe, you can also download the promotional materials developed for this year’s IDD or the IDD Toolkits where different formats of local events from previous years are described.

The Intercultural Dialogue Day project was initiated in 2008, the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, by the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL), the AFS European umbrella organization. Today, IDD takes place each year on the last Thursday of September. The main IDD idea is to raise awareness and visibility of intercultural dialogue in local communities. IDD events are originated by AFS volunteers and supported by AFS offices. Some AFSers outside of Europe are already marking IDD with their own events initiatives this year and AFS is exploring pursuing IDD globally.

AFS believes in dialogue and cooperation across languages, cultures and organizations. This is also one of the focus points of Intercultural Dialogue Day. Collaboration with different audiences in the local community does not only raise the visibility of the message we try to promote through IDD, but it also strengthens the AFS volunteer networks, giving volunteers a sense of ownership and responsibility while encouraging innovation.

Unity in Diversity: Celebrating Diversity for Common and Shared Values

We would like to thank Guillermo Bril of AFS Argentina & Uruguay for contributing the following text to our blog:

Bali – Indonesia, 28-30 August 2014

Under the overarching theme “Unity in Diversity: Celebrating Diversity for Common and Shared Values”, the Sixth Global Forum of the UNAOC brought together over 1,500 participants, including political leaders, representatives of international and regional organizations, the private sector, civil society, academia, youth, arts and the media, as well as donor agencies and foundations, to explore new ways of promoting cross-cultural dialogue and understanding and to spark new partnerships and commitments.

Out of more than 3,000 applicants worldwide, only 100 participants from 43 countries qualified to convene for the Youth Event in August 2014 with the objective of supporting the mainstreaming of young people’s voices into the Forum’s main themes.

The AFS network was represented in Bali by Guille Bril, of AFS Argentina & Uruguay, who met with another 99 youth representatives from diverse cultural and religions backgrounds, with outstanding track record in intercultural dialogue and youth work.

In line with the mission of AFS, the UNAOC aspires to the ideal of a culture of peace and dialogue among all civilizations on the assumption that “differences within and between societies should be neither feared nor repressed, but cherished as a precious asset of humanity”.

The Youth Event looked at the main topic through four themes: education, media, migration, and entrepreneurship/employment, which resulted in the creation of Youth Recommendations. They represent what we, young people, need from world leaders in order to fully leverage their unique contribution to fostering Unity in Diversity. Youth Recommendations for education push for more inclusive national education and foster meaningful and diverse youth participation in education policy-making. They also insist on integrating global citizenship into the curriculum at all levels of education with a specific focus on cross cultural understanding, problem solving, conflict resolution and peace building. All of these are a part of the AFS Educational Goals and will be addressed at our upcoming Centennial Celebrations, and the Learning to Live Together – AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium.

This event was a great opportunity for AFS to share its expertise in the field of youth work and global education, and we were happy to collaborate with other youth representatives from around the world. We are glad to continue our relationship with the UNAOC, which started with our representatives attending the UNAOC Global Forums since 2008, as well as the establishment of the AFS Intercultural Prize at the Plural+ Youth Video Contest.

AFS India and AFS Philippines Strengthen Foundations of Intercultural Learning

From 24-27 August, three key volunteers from AFS India and two key volunteers from AFS Philippines took part in a National Qualified Trainers (NQT) workshop for the AFS Intercultural Link Learning Program in Gurgaon, Haryana, India.

This marks the fourth NQT workshop done this year throughout the AFS network. Previous workshops were done in Egypt, Brazil, and Costa Rica. Like the other workshops, the candidates dove deep into training techniques and the Learning Program Curriculum. Once they complete all three steps of certification, they can implement the program locally according to the National Strategies of their AFS organizations.

“My favorite part of the training was when the candidates realized that they had to change their approach and start thinking as trainers instead of volunteers,” said Sujatha Shyamsundar, International Qualified Trainer of the Learning Program and one the workshop trainers. She continued, “I also enjoyed connecting activities and theory to practical knowledge that participants will carry back with them.”

One candidate said, “It [the workshop] went beyond my expectations. I just thought it will just be a simple training but it wasn’t. It demanded full attention and time (…) everything was very essential and I learned a lot.”

We congratulate the five NQT candidates and wish them luck with the rest of their certification!


100 Years Young! AFS Youth Workshop & Symposium

In November 2014, AFS Intercultural Programs will celebrate its 100th anniversary and prepare to ring in the next hundred years of education for peace and intercultural cooperation. We want to ensure that this important event incorporates the direct voice of youth: the generation that will carry AFS into the next century and that must learn to live together in order to resolve our shared challenges in an interdependent world.

The 100 Years Young! AFS Youth Workshop & Symposium, taking place from 5 to 8 November 2014 in Paris, France, will be an important set of events bringing a critical intergenerational element. Between 100 and 150 youth representatives of AFS and other organizations from around the world will come together to discuss and share their perspectives about how to tangibly go about the work of developing global citizens. As the application deadline – 17 August – is fast approaching, we would like to encourage you to submit your application as soon as possible!

As we welcome diverse perspectives at the table, this event is open to all young people ages 30 and under who are interested in Intercultural Learning and Global Citizenship  from different youth organizations. Participating in this event is an opportunity to:

  • take part in a vital conversation of young people from around the world
  • contribute to shaping the future of Global Citizenship Education
  • connect and network with volunteers from other youth/intercultural organizations
  • take part in the 100th anniversary of a leading intercultural education organization

You can sign up for virtual and in-person participation: visit the event website for more details. This event is held under the patronage of UNESCO.

AFSers attend the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication!

From 14 – 25 July, more than 20 AFSers gathered at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC) in Portland, Oregon. The AFSers attended workshops on a variety of topics within the realm of International Communication, ranging from Training Design for Intercultural Communication to Storytelling for Intercultural Reflection. AFS attends SIIC each year because of our commitment to learning from lead scholars and practitioners in the field in order to improve our capacity as an intercultural learning organization. Our commitment extends to the whole network, as this is the 4th year that AFS has been able to sponsor staff and volunteers from around the network to attend SIIC.

Attending this year for the first time was Vincenzo Morlini, President of AFS International. Leading by example, Vincenzo demonstrated that intercultural learning never stops no matter what your role or how great your experience. “Even if I am not a newcomer to the subject, the workshop I attended was very inspiring and what I learned will be very useful in future traveling and communications with the network and outside audiences,” stated Morlini. “I also had the opportunity to meet with wonderful AFS staff and volunteers from different countries, to talk and exchange ideas with interesting people outside of AFS.”

Also at SIIC for the first time was AFS International Board of Trustees member from Costa Rica, Guillermo Barquero. “My learning experience at SIIC on Culture, Communication and Team Collaboration was beyond my expectations and it was a great opportunity indeed.”

Apart from the workshops during the day and evening sessions after dinner, other SIIC highlights include two AFS-sponsored karaoke nights, where AFSers took turns quizzing other SIIC attendees on their AFS trivia; an off-campus barbecue; and of course, exploring the city of Portland. Reed College’s campus itself made for a restorative time, with its native plants, wildlife, lake and pedestrian bridges.

We would like to give an extra special thank you to the gracious Janet Bennett, Executive Director and co-founder of the Intercultural Communication Institute (ICI). The ongoing love and support for AFS and her team of ICI staff make the AFS-SIIC scholarship program a successful collaboration every year.

Now back in their respective countries, the AFS-SIIC scholars intend to apply what they have learned to advance key AFS Network Intercultural Learning projects and goals. SIIC 2014 was a success and we look forward to providing the opportunity for more AFSers to attend next year!

The AFS Intercultural Link Learning Program goes to Costa Rica!

From 11-14 July, 14 volunteers and staff members from AFS Costa Rica and 2 volunteers from AFS Paraguay gathered in San José, Costa Rica, for a 4-day AFS Intercultural Link Learning Program National Qualified Training (NQT) Workshop. The Learning Program is an AFS network-wide Intercultural Learning training and assessment program designed to improve the collective intercultural competence of staff and volunteers, and enhance our expertise in developing this in others.

The workshop marks the first of three steps towards becoming a National Qualified Trainer. This means that once certified, the 16 Qualified Trainers will be able to implement the Learning Program locally, according to their country’s national strategic plans.

María Fernanda Batista Lobo, a previous volunteer for AFS Costa Rica and currently the Intercultural Learning Center Educational Coordinator at AFS Costa Rica, participated in the NQT workshop. “I really enjoy deepening and strengthening my knowledge of the Learning Program’s curriculum as well as learning about facilitation techniques and strategies. Also, I thought the level of organization of the facilitators was impressive,” stated María Fernanda.

When asked what surprised her about the workshop, she said, “I felt wonderful throughout the workshops not only because it was the closing of a long preparation cycle but also because I felt I was learning lots of new things that will help me perform my job better. After being part of AFS for so many years it’s easy to feel like there is nothing new or that you’ve seen all the techniques, so I loved that after so many years of belonging to an organization I am still able to be surprised.”

AFS Costa Rica is dedicated to Intercultural Learning. Victoria Soto, an International Qualified Trainer for the Learning Program and long-time volunteer at AFS Costa Rica echoed this sentiment: “I think it’s worth recognizing that this [the NQT certification] is a result of a process of years of our organization insisting on going beyond the “tip of the iceberg,” of not staying on the sidelines of our intercultural encounters but instead strengthening the educational competencies of our staff and volunteers. From the coordination of the Intercultural Learning Center (CAI), AFS Costa Rica views the NQT workshop and certification as a valuable resource towards achieving the educational goals of our strategic plan.

Congratulations to AFS Costa Rica and AFS Paraguay on the hard work towards facilitating Intercultural Learning at the national level and your commitment to doing so within the framework of the AFS Intercultural Link Learning Program!

Flexibility in Training Design and Delivery: Summer Academy Experience in Istanbul

The following blog post is 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 is currently a graduate student at Galatasaray University, doing a research in understanding mobility programs as cultural diplomacy tools and developing a better mutual understanding of diverse groups in Turkey through cultural exchanges. 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.

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For the second year in a row, I was honored to be a trainer at the Summer Academy on Sustainability from an Intercultural Perspective which took place in Istanbul in July 2014. The Academy is organized by four partners from Germany and Turkey, InterCultur (subsidy of AFS Germany) and Karlshochschule International University as well as AFS Turkey and Istanbul Kültür University, in cooperation with Stiftung Mercator, one of Germany’s largest foundations. The Academy focuses on the intercultural perspective of international energy politics, environmental ethics and further ecological issues.

The model brings together lecturers from formal academic world and trainers from non-formal learning environments. The atmosphere itself deserves another long blog post but for now I will concentrate on the training experience I had with my co-trainer Laura Armborst from AFS Germany. As usual, long Skype calls, email exchanges and prep days were behind us on the first day of the Academy. We had designed three-hour sessions for four days to be delivered in one week. Though trainers generally receive the list of participants and further information on the group profile and their knowledge level of the subject beforehand, you never really know until the first day what kind of a group you will be working with.

To avoid concentrating on one learning style only, our design included various methodologies for each day. At the end of the first day, we already knew we needed to make some adjustments to the design for the following days. Our group of 18 university students turned out to be very bodily-kinesthetic learners and we were very aware of their expectations: interactive, physical and visual activities. As soon as “lecturing” or “presenting” methodologies were used, we had the risk of “losing” the group.  It is quite important to increase interactivity and the sharing aspect of non-formal learning to avoid “learner-teacher” distance. It is also highly essential in non-formal learning to give participants a chance to stand up, speak and/or present in order to maximize the learning, increase the participation and ownership of the training. This is how we rearranged or highlighted the design:

  • Each day started with an energizer that would focus on increasing the group feeling and group spirit. The participants loved learning a folk Turkish dance which was actually an energizer after a long morning lecture and before a long training afternoon.
  • On day one, we created all the rules together and called them “norms”. Since all the norms were created and agreed upon collectively, it was much easier to remind participants who would forget them through the week :)
  • There was a board in the workshop room on which participants could write open questions or topics that would arise during the sessions, breaks or evenings. At the end of each day, we looked back at them all together.
  • Each participant felt free to play their music during breaks.
  • We used participants first names to show we really try to address them and that we were interested in getting to know them. In some groups this might be found disrespectful so it is highly important to check during the group norms how comfortable the group would be.
  • For the daily reflections, we tried a variety of tools and means such as balls, postcards, music or movement to increase the creativity and promote other ways of reflection then just speech.
  • Instead of standing up in front of the group, trainers usually preferred sitting with participants in a circle and decreasing the visual image of the “powerful” trainer or educator.
  • We increased active/interactive methodologies. e.g. nonverbal communication elements were supposed to be understood through individual case studies though later we asked participants to work in groups and prepare a sketch for each nonverbal communication dimension and later they reflected this activity with great positive feelings.

After all, it is still a challenge for any trainer to design a training non-formal learning. We can feel satisfied creating the link with the aims, objectives or general concepts but how flexible are we when the group profile seems much more different than what we expected? This seems to be an exciting challenge for innovative trainers.