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!


Intercultural Link News Magazine v4 i2&3 – Global Edition


The newest edition of the Intercultural Link News Magazine has just been launched. Read it on-line or download it here. Enjoy!




AFS Intercultural Programs is pleased to announce the new issue of AFS Intercultural Link Newsletter volume 4, issues 2 and 3 – Global Edition, which can be shared with everyone interested in learning more about intercultural education.

At AFS we understand that intercultural learning goes far beyond that of our exchange students. This issue brings you some ideas on how to use intercultural learning with host families, both on the level of concepts and in practical activities, featuring:
  • a look at what potential obstacles to intercultural communication exist and how to overcome them;
  • a new Learning Session Outline to help you introduce basic notions of intercultural learning to new host families;
  • an interview with Fred Dervin, whose work focuses on the intercultural learning and communication;

and much more!

The AFS Intercultural Link News Magazine is the quarterly magazine on intercultural learning in the AFS Network. The magazine features content shared by the Intercultural Learning Work Group as well as other AFS Partners and guest writers, including information on trends in intercultural education, interviews with experts in the field and overviews of upcoming and previous conferences.


Teacher Education for Change: Pestalozzi Programme

As governments and leaders around the world realize the growing importance of the change in how we educate the 21st century citizens, we can see intercultural and global competencies making their way to educational policies and more concretely into curricular documents around the world. This trend as such won’t make a difference unless it’s embraced by educators and that’s why we should be asking: How does the policy get translated into practice, into the day-to-day reality in the classroom?

One of the initiatives that strives to respond to the above mentioned challenge is the Council of Europe Pestalozzi Programme. It is a program for the professional development of teachers and education actors which aims to deliver the message of the Council of Europe and its values – democracy, respect for human rights and dignity and the rule of law – into the practice of education (formal, non-formal and informal). It supports its member states in the move from education policy to education practice in line with these values by offering training activities, publishing and sharing resources and creating an on-line Community of Practice.

The program targets teachers, school principals, inspectors, educational advisers, teacher trainers, textbook authors and other education professionals and supports them in the development of knowledge, skills and attitudes they need in order to guide and facilitate the learning of the young members of their societies.

The growing need for the development of transversal knowledge, skills and attitudes among teachers to make them fully equipped for educating the 21st century citizens is a belief that is also strongly present in the work of AFS Intercultural Programs, which cooperates with teachers and educators in many of the Council of Europe member states, as well as with those outside of Europe.

Pestalozzi program represents an inspiring and valuable resource for anyone who works on intercultural competence development of pre-service and in-service teachers, educators and other related audiences. Visit the FAQs to learn more about the program or explore how to take an active part in the training events and modules.



Intercultural Link News Magazine v4 i1 – Global Edition

The newest edition of the Intercultural Link News Magazine has just been launched. Read it on-line or download it here. Enjoy!

AFS Intercultural Programs is pleased to announce the January/February/March/April 2013 issue of AFS Intercultural Link Newsletter volume 4, issue 1 – Global Edition, which can be shared with everyone interested in learning more about intercultural education.

The AFS Intercultural Link News Magazine is the quarterly magazine on intercultural learning in the AFS Network. The magazine features content shared by the Intercultural Learning Work Group as well as other AFS Partners and guest writers, including information on trends in intercultural education, interviews with experts in the field and overviews of upcoming and previous conferences.

Youth Programs for ICL and IR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International school partnerships do make a difference!

Class exchanges, individual student mobility, international projects connecting schools across borders – these are all examples of activities that schools pursue in order to become more “global”, “international”, or in the European context more “European”. What is the educational impact of such activities? What do students learn during these projects and how does it affect their school and its environment?

A recent study conducted for the European Commission has shown that international school partnerships realized within the Comenius Programme have a significant impact on students and teachers, as well as on the schools as such.

Comenius, the younger brother of the well-known Erasmus program, is part of the EU’s Lifelong Learning Programme and it focuses on all levels of school education, from pre-school and primary to secondary schools. It supports bilateral or multilateral projects that bring teachers and students from different countries together. According to the study, participation in these international partnerships improves strongly key skills of students, cultural awareness and expression being the one that was reported to improve most significantly (see chart below).

Impact on students: improvement of key skills


The study also points out that the impact of Comenius school partnerships on participating students is strongest at secondary level and that student mobility, when it is made available, significantly increases project impact.

The results of this study confirm some of the major beliefs that are the backbone of the AFS educational approach: that schools, and secondary schools especially, are the places where intercultural dialogue can be fostered and that real personal encounters are key for development of intercultural competences. The AFS network is investing in building sustainable partnerships with schools more intensely than ever in order to be able to create more opportunities to connect students, teachers and school communities not only in Europe, but all over the world.

To learn more about the results of the study, access the executive summary (in English) or the full study report (in French).

AFS Intercultural Link Newsletter – volume 3, issue 4

The newest edition of the Intercultural Link Newsletter has just been launched. Feel free to leave a comment after you read it. Enjoy!

AFS Intercultural Programs is pleased to announce the October/ November/ December 2012 issue of AFS Intercultural Link Newsletter volume 3, issue 4 – Global Edition, which can be shared with everyone interested in learning more about intercultural education.

The AFS Intercultural Link Newsletter is the quarterly newsletter on intercultural learning in the AFS Network. The newsletter features content shared by the Intercultural Learning Work Group as well as other AFS Partners and guest writers, including information on trends in intercultural education, interviews with experts in the field and overviews of upcoming and previous conferences.

An AFS Interview with David Kolb

Dr. David Kolb

Many of you may already know David Kolb‘s work with experiential learning styles. They were originally published in 1984 and put David Kolb on the map as an important educational and cognitive theorist. This year, David Kolb and his team developed a new and improved version of the learning styles, Kolb 4.0, expanding from 4 to 9 ways that people learn, as well as exploring how to expand your capability to learn outside  your preferred style. Anna Collier of AFS International had the chance to sit down with Mr. Kolb and talk about his approach to learning. Look for the following interview in Volume 3, Issue 4 of the Intercultural Link Newsletter, to be published very soon!

How did you get involved in the intercultural field?

It was when I first became a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, right after completing my Ph. D. in social psychology from Harvard. I was teaching organizational psychology by lecturing to graduate students on the psychological topics I found fascinating but they were getting bored. So, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. At the same time, I was also working for the Peace Corps (an international volunteer organization based in the United States) back when they first started, running a self-assessment workshop for volunteers. Back then, the Peace Corps used psychologists to study volunteers, to see if they were fit to go overseas. The self-assessment we proposed was based on experiential learning. We ran training programs for volunteers that gave them experiences such as teaching and working in inner city neighborhoods. The volunteers were helped to reflect about how they handled these experiences, and then decide if they felt they would be successful with work like this in their prospective host country. The program had a positive result and we were successful in reducing the number of volunteers who returned early because they couldn’t handle the experience. It was then that I decided to apply the experiential learning cycle in my lecture courses. I developed exercises based on the group dynamics theory of Kirk Lewin and my work in the Peace Corps, and then applied them to my classes.

Since the original study groups were primarily U.S. Americans, have you applied your model and/or found it relevant in other cultures?

Yes, in subsequent years I used it in a number of different countries. If you go to our website, www.learningfromexperience.com, there is a section called the Research Library that has a bibliography of research papers. There are over 3000 articles published by researchers from all over the world. Many of the papers are on intercultural topics that would be of interest to many of your readers.

Which aspect of intercultural learning or communication has your work primarily focused on?

In my work with experiential learning, I noticed that people seemed to prefer and be most comfortable with different stages of the learning cycle. I coined the term “learning style” to describe these differences and developed the Learning Style Inventory, which has become a very popular tool for individuals to understand how they learn best. From my point of view, however, the most important idea is the learning cycle and the idea that it’s a process–That you become more effective at learning by managing your own learning process. This is the most powerful idea.

What do you wish more people would understand about intercultural learning?

For me, it is the idea of experiencing. I guess the big idea about experiential learning is that you have to experience to learn. Many times people don’t learn because they don’t allow themselves to experience. They have distractions and preoccupations and expectations that cause them to be trapped in their head telling themselves their own narrative. In addition they can actually create a social world that preserves their narrative. Expatriate managers, for example, often withdraw into a group of their countrymen that limits experiencing and learning about the host culture. Experiencing is a key part of the cycle of learning that has been overlooked. Some theorists have left out Experience altogether, while others confuse it with Action.

It is also important to realize the central role educators can take to help people go through the stages of the learning cycle. When transitioning from Experience to Reflection, an educator plays the role of Facilitator, for example. In the move from the Concrete realm to Reflexive, one needs to be facilitated. You need to draw people out, understand them and develop a relationship so that they feel comfortable saying and revealing their innermost thoughts and feelings. Abstraction requires a teaching and expert role, so that you can guide learners forward. The Action phase requires standards-setting and evaluating from the educator, so that you can say ‘you need to know this, and this, and this…’ The transition from Action to back to Experience needs coaching. These four educator roles are all necessary to take people through the learning cycle.

What inspired the updating to the Learning Style Inventory 4.0 this year?

It stemmed from feedback from users. Four styles didn’t adequately describe people’s styles. Some scored in the middle, so some styles were in between. It’s a result from years of experience with the instrument; we’ve given it a sharper resolution. In addition we have added a measure of learning flexibility to emphasize that learning styles are not fixed traits but dynamic states of learning that we all go through. We also changed the wording to be more understandable and user-friendly.

What would you suggest for people new to the ICL field to read as they get started?

A great article would be Using Experiential Learning Theory to Promote Student Learning and Development in Programs of Education Abroad, which I co-authored with Angela M. Passarelli. It was published in a brand new book that came out in June 2012 by Michael Vande Berg, along with Michael Paige and Kris Hemming Lou: Student Learning Abroad: What Our Students Are Learning, What They’re Not, and What We Can Do About It. Another interesting focus is “Deliberate Experiential Learning” that involves mindful management of one’s learning identity, learning relationships and deliberate practice.  There is a paper on this on our website www.learningfromexperience.com, as well as papers on mindfulness and experiential learning. You can deliberately choose to learn, and educators can help by making you aware of that.

What are the hot topics in ICL these days? And who do you consider to be producing the more intriguing thoughts that in turn advance your own contributions?

Great new theories have been produced by James Zull in his books The Art of Changing the Brain (2002) and From Brain to Mind (2011). He says concrete experiences come from sensory receptors in the brain, to the pre-temporal lobe, to the frontal lobe, then into the action region of the brain as the learning cycle progresses. The Student Learning Abroad book that I mentioned also has a lot of great articles in it that I would recommend.

Global Youth Voice Conference

International opportunities for interculturally-minded youth to get involved and collaborate with each other are becoming more and more accessible. A great example is “Global Youth Voice“, an international youth conference which brings together 200 young people from all over the globe with the common intention of finding out how young people can make the world better, together. An innovative approach to international organization, the project began in 2011 with a small group of 8 young people who dreamt of a place where all the intercultural-driven youth could collaborate and be in contact.

This year’s conference took place in Moscow, Russia on the 18th of August, and was held at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. It is one of the three conferences that together make up the AISEC International Congress, an international event to plan projects for social and economic development. At the Global Youth Voice event, two AFS staff members had the opportunity to take a more active role and act as facilitators for one of the sessions.

Tom McLeod, an AFS returnee (Australia 2000-2001) and current Intern at the AFS Russia office in Moscow, along with Nonna Kovrizhnykh, Partner Director of AFS Russia, and Organisational Development Coordinator Natalia Zakharova facilitated a session on Intercultural Dialogue and Tolerance. The 10-day conference hopes to foster a positive global impact in the way youth collaborate and interact, and aims to build a global perspective for future generations.

Language + Culture with VWZ Roeland

Intercultural Learning is becoming increasingly recognized as a necessary piece of how modern, global citizens are educated. Some argue that a necessary characteristic of all global citizens is the ability to communicate in a language other than the native tongue. As many languages correspond with one or more cultures and fluency in a specific language could imply competence in a society and culture that speaks that language. To separate the two institutions of language and intercultural learning is to ignore a critical aspect of culture.

Roeland, a Belgian non-profit company promoting language skills in youth, seems to agree. In cooperation with AFS International, Roeland and AFS Partners in Argentina, China, Finland and Switzerland, provided the first group of students to participate in a full English language immersion camp that carried an intercultural component in the United Kingdom this summer.

The aim of this pilot was to test alternative ways of delivering short language programs with an extra focus on intercultural learning, while also being targeted toward a younger age group. Sixteen AFSers between the ages of 13-16 spent 12 days with 50 Belgian students in Sutton Valence, England to gain both linguistic and cultural knowledge. Apart from participating in intensive English language lessons, there were a number of activities, workshops and sport opportunities focusing on ICL, a trip to London and various daily themes such as British Day, Rhythm and Rhyme Day or Fame day. Throughout the camp, students had to follow a very strict “English-only!” rule.

Belgian and AFS Student Participants

Three very dedicated AFS volunteers: Jens Poulsen (AFS Switzerland), Sonja Gustafsson (AFS Finland) and Meng Zhou (AFS China) took charge in bringing the intercultural learning component into action, helped to deal with support issues throughout the camp and supported various other activities at the camp. The work of these volunteers showed how cooperation with like-minded organizations can help us to further the AFS mission of providing intercultural learning opportunities.

AFS International is now in the process of evaluating this pilot program in the hopes of using lessons learned to design a format for possible future collaboration. In the meantime, we hope that this was an opportunity for the almost 70 young students to get a taste of the life-long intercultural learning path, one that has inspired them to explore further avenues with AFS programs and other language-learning organizations.