Let’s shake hands!

In many countries participating in the AFS exchange programs, this is the time of year when exchange students arrive to their new homes – they are just starting to get to know their new families and friends, the local communities and schools, as well as the first tangible elements of the culture they will be living in. All these new encounters will require a lot of greetings – but are we aware of the appropriate ways to say hello in a different culture?


Greeting another person is another one of those simple daily activities that we rarely think about when we are in our home culture. Not only for the purpose of leaving a good first impression, although this is very important too, knowing what the appropriate greeting style is reveals a deeper understanding of the values of the other culture. For example, the appropriate order in which you greet people in case you meet with a group may show that culture’s view on seniority and respect. Physical closeness or touching may speak about the notions of personal space upheld in that particular culture.


What is the common way to great people in your culture and which values do you think are behind it? 

Read more about specific greeting styles in this article by the BBC, covering different customs in Brazil, China, Singapore, UK, USA and the United Arab Emirates.



Search Google for Stereotypes

What is the first thing that crosses your mind when you think about another nation, country or a group of people? That Asians are so hard working? The French are really romantic? Old people are boring, but young are too careless? These assumptions are wide spread and they fall into the categories of generalizations and stereotypes.

Generalizing about cultures means that you assign the similar characteristics to most members of that particular culture, but you are still flexible enough to incorporate new information about that group once you have it. Hopefully, this flexibility can also turn into more cultural curiosity and awareness and improve your intercultural relationships. Generalizations are unavoidable and they can even be helpful in making sense of complex intercultural settings.

Generalizations become stereotypes when you assume all members of a group have exactly the same characteristics. Stereotypes can be linked to more than just gender, age or nationality. More often than not, they are very negative and tend to be less flexible to new information. They often create prejudice and discrimination, not allowing us to understand individual differences and understand others.

Even though everyone was at least once confronted with a generalization or a stereotype about a group they belong to, we often like to think that the internet is the one fair arena where equality prevails. But what happens when you type a question into a search engine starting with, for example, “Why do Germans…”? A list of suggested endings to those questions immediately pops up, and it might not always be a flattering one. Have you ever tried googling for your country or social group using this principle? We took a few examples, and here is what came out:

What results did you get?

Cultural diversity is of paramount importance for AFS programs, enabling our exchange students to have first hand experiences with other cultures rather than relying on old stereotypes. If you want to read more about generalizations and stereotypes or other intercultural topics, we encourage you to visit the ICL for friends of AFS section on our website.


Free Webinars and Resources for Interculturalists

The traditional picture of group learning happening in the classroom or at least in a physical space that the learners share together is not the only way how knowledge is  shared and acquired in the second decade of 21st century. In AFS Intercultural Programs, we see and appreciate the value of various virtual learning opportunities and we encourage the community of AFS volunteers and staff as well as others to seek and use on-line resources that can help us improve our work in the intercultural field (check out the list of on-line resources on this blog).

Today, we are featuring a list of free webinars for Interculturalists offered by our colleagues from the field. They cover a variety of different topics, they are all in English, happening at different times and most importantly, they are all coming up soon. Follow the link at the bottom of this post to register for the webinar most appealing to you!

1) Wednesday, August 14th at 2:00pm EST

Race in America: A followup to the events around the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial (by Melibee Global featuring TaNesha Barnes)

2) Thursday, August 22nd at 11:00am PST

Blogging as Interculturalists: A Reflective Practice & Global Community Builder (by Social Media Interculturalists – Vanessa Shaw & Sabrina Ziegler)

3) Monday, August 26th at 14:00 CET

How to Integrate Leadership in Simple Ways to your Everyday Life (by Personal Leadership Seminars)

4) Thursday, August 29th at 9:00am PST

Place, Culture, Home, Identity: The Meanings of Place in Our Lives (by Jack Condon and Tatyana Fertelmeyster)

Too see the full overview of events and a link to a free book about Diversity, visit the original list in a blog post put together by fellow interculturalists Vanessa Shaw and Sabrina Ziegler. Do you know about any other on-line webinars with intercultural focus? Let us know!

Culture in the Foreign Language Learning Classroom

The link between foreign language learning and culture learning has been established by the linguists and anthropologists a long time ago. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages has concluded that through the study of other languages, students gain a knowledge and understanding of the cultures that use that language. Moreover, students cannot truly master the language until they have also mastered the cultural contexts in which the language occurs. Linguistic competence alone is not enough for learners of a language to be competent in that language. From simple, everyday things, like forms of address to appropriate ways of expressing disagreement, culture forms an integral part of the language learning curricula. In any case, in order for communication to be successful, language use must be associated with other culturally appropriate behavior, not only linguistic rules in the narrow sense.

Culture is often taught implicitly, as a part of the linguistic forms that students are learning. To make students aware of the cultural features reflected in the language, teachers can make those cultural features an explicit topic of discussion and bring them to the forefront when appropriate. It is of utmost importance that cultural information be presented in a nonjudgmental way which doesn’t evaluate the distinctions between the students’ native culture and the culture explored in the classroom. Claire Kramsch uses the term “third culture” of the language classroom to describe an ideal learning environment, one where learners can explore and reflect on their own and the target culture and language.

However, it is also important to help students understand that cultures are not monolithicand so a variety of successful behaviors are also possible for any type of interaction in any particular culture. Teachers can make it possible for students to observe and explore cultural interactions from their own perspectives to enable them to find their own voices and language egos in the second language speech community.

There are several practical ways to effectively teach culture, along with teaching a language:

  • Provide students with authentic materials – Watching films, news broadcasts or TV shows can provide students with ample information about non-verbal behavior, such as the use of personal space, eye contact or gestures. On the other hand, reading authentic fictional or non-fictional materials can also be a good introduction about the values and norms of the target language culture. These materials also help the students improve their language skills, especially in terms of listening and understanding written texts.
  • Compare and contrast proverbs – Apart from being very informative about the two cultures, proverbs can lead to a discussion about stereotypes or values represented in the proverbs of both cultures. Furthermore, proverbs and idioms form a significant part of every language and knowing them is a plus for every learner.
  • Use role plays – They especially support students in making the shift in perspective from their own culture, which can become a strange one and is looked at from the outside, and the target culture, which becomes more familiar. In the process, students practice speaking and using language in unpredictable situations.
  • Research cultural items – While also practicing their presentation or writing skills in the target language, the students can inform their classmates about an assigned item from the foreign culture and contextualized the knowledge gained.
  • Students as cultural resources – Many classrooms nowadays are very culturally and ethnically diverse and they often have exchange students from foreign cultures or returnees from an exchange program in the target culture. They can be invited to the classroom as expert sources and share authentic insights into the home and cultural life of native speakers of the language.

We strongly encourage you to also look at the our series ICL …for friends of AFS and find more culture related topics which can be used in the classroom, as well as some deeper explanations about the terms mentioned in this post.

Impact of Non-Formal Education in Youth Organizations on Young People’s Employability

“Do the competences and skills obtained through non-formal education activities in youth organizations contribute to the employability of young people?”

This was the main topic of the study the European Youth Forum conducted in cooperation with the University of Bath and GHK Consulting. More than 1300 young people from over 245 youth organizations based in more than 40 European countries took part in a survey, while qualitative workshops and interviews were conducted with employers and relevant stakeholders in order to obtain data for creating the study. European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL), the umbrella organization for AFS in Europe, also took part in this survey and invited its members to give their contributions. The topic of the study was of particular interest for AFS, seeing that this organization provides non-formal learning opportunities both for its program participants and volunteers, who are often from the age group covered by the study.

The study found that there is indeed a strong positive correlation between involvement in youth organizations & non-formal education and the employment possibilities for young people.

The study concluded that five of the six skills most frequently demanded by employers are developed in youth organizations. These soft skills are often seen as key elements of successful job performance and they include:

  • communication skills,
  • organizational or planning skills,
  • decision-making skills,
  • confidence or autonomy, and
  • team work.

The study also reported that the more involved people are in youth organizations and the higher level of formal education they have, the higher skill levels they will develop. Participation in non-formal education outside their home country brought young people even higher levels of development of some competences, especially in relation to intercultural communication, foreign languages and leadership skills. Many young people are aware that such opportunities lead to personal growth, even though this can be further enhanced by the existence of an assessment or strategic plan for skill development within the organization.

Employers also have a positive attitude towards young people’s experience in youth organizations. They perceive the youth sector as offering a pool of specialist skills and say that involvement in such organizations is a good indicator of a person’s motivation level and potential to fit in with the new company. A background in non-formal education activities is especially important for young people with less work experience, particularly with regard to the number and type of previous involvements in the field.

A few things that are important to note are that a special emphasis is put on the way and timeliness of presenting the skills and competences acquired during the participation in youth work, which is an area where there is still room for improvement. Also, youth organizations need to brand themselves better to employers, who are insufficiently aware of what is happening in the youth sector, which makes some employers mistrust the information presented about the involvement in youth organizations by job seekers.

An added value of youth work is the opportunity for young people to create social capital, networks and connections, which can aid in obtaining information about employment possibilities, and broaden the range of possible occupations and geographical locations where young people would consider working.

The study strongly recommends investing in non-formal education. It particularly stresses that the quality of non-formal education and the accessibility of it to more young people, on top of increased mobility, are core factors influencing the employability of young people. The findings of this study are significant for AFSers around the world, as they comply with the organization’s educational goals, which aim at developing personal and interpersonal skills as well as intercultural knowledge and global issues awareness. Through their exchange experience, sojourners and volunteers alike have the opportunity to develop higher levels of intercultural competences and leadership skills, which prove to be beneficial for their future careers. You can read the full study or its executive summary for more information.

Free Intercultural Webinars!

Over the next two weeks, the Intercultural Communication Institute (ICI), together with intercultural content experts, will be offering four free webinars on intercultural topics relevant to today’s global world.

For more detailed information on the webinars, please click on the individual links listed below. If you have any questions, you can contact ICI via e-mail at: outreach@intercultural.org

1) Promoting Global Sustainability Across Cultures (Tuesday, May 28th at 9am PST)

Perceptions about social and environmental sustainability are as culturally bound as any other norms and basic assumptions of reality. This webinar will introduce basic knowledge of various viewpoints around sustainability and look at flexible strategies for working cross-culturally in a socially just and environmentally sustainable way.

Presenters: Peter Fordos and Cecilia Utne
For more information and to Sign-up http://www.anymeeting.com/PIID=E955D68688483A

2) Are your People Global Ready? (Thursday, May 30th at 9am PST:

Assessment is an essential step in good instructional design. Whether you are seeking to discover an unmet need or find evidence that your intervention made a difference – assessment is important. Assessment of intercultural and global competence is foundational to program design where trainers and educator are charged with preparing leaders to adapt to the constantly shifting cultural challenges of the domestic and global marketplace. This type of assessment is also complex. This webinar will provide an overview of the why’s and how’s of intercultural and global assessment.

Presenter: Dr. Chris Cartwright
For more information and to Sign-up http://www.anymeeting.com/PIID=E956DF82864B3C

3) The Art of Facilitation for a Global World (Monday, June 3rd at 9am PST)

Intercultural educators and trainers have a great deal of important content to share with their training participants and students. Knowing the “What” is a must if you want to provide a high quality learning to others. What about knowing the “How”?

This webinar will introduce three of the many intercultural learning opportunities offered by the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication in July of 2013: Facilitating Intercultural Compentence: Experiential Methods and Tools, Training Methods for Exploring Identity and a Facilitator Certification for Cultural Detective.

Presenter: Tatyana Fertelmeyster
For more information and to Sign-up http://www.anymeeting.com/PIID=E956DF80804838

4) Turning Resistance into Engagement (Friday, June 7th @ 11am PST)

Whether our programs are directed at domestic or global diversity, we often face participants who express resistance to various intercultural topics. This resistance may relate to either the subject matter or to the methods we are using. In either case, the threat or risk may limit learning in the class as well as present complicated facilitation challenges.

This webinar will examine how to: Identify typical causes of learner resistance; Balance the risk levels of the content with teaching strategies to diminish resistance; Manage “difficult dialogues”; Create practical real-life responses to challenging questions and attitudes

Presenter: Dr. Janet Bennett
For more information and to Sign-up http://www.anymeeting.com/PIID=E955D68688473B

Janet Bennett, Executive Director of the Intercultural Communication Institute, is a long-time friend of AFS. For professional development opportunities and to learn more about the topics featured in the above webinars, check out ICI’s Summer Institute of Intercultural Communication (SIIC). AFS has been sending volunteers and staff to SIIC for over 10 years and will have a significant presence again in 2013.

Atlantic & Aspen Institute – New York Ideas Event: How AFS Can Get with the “Blended Learning” Program

Today, we are reposting a blog article from the Global Education blog of AFS USA, one of the AFS Intercultural Programs’ member organizations, with permission of the author Sarah Ingraham.

What a spectacular day at the Atlantic/Aspen – New York Ideas event on May 7th, a gathering of innovative thinkers and groundbreaking discoverers who monitor trends, create possibilities, and navigate our increasingly globalized 21st century world with excitement and good intention. From the founders of Google to Zipcar to women on Wall Street to a socially conscious eyewear designer with 100% carbon neutral products, the room was buzzing with brilliant minds. And online education, fused with traditional, brick and mortar education – now known as “blended learning” was definitely a hot topic.

As AFS approaches its 100th year anniversary, it is good time to reflect on the valuable advancements our world has made in e-learning, new technologies, and their application in a disparate world – and how AFS will become part of the innovative mix. David Levin, co-founder of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) spoke about serving under-resourced communities with online, open-enrollment, college preparatory schools, and noted the successful interplay between guided and independent practice and strong student retention rates.

Anant Agarwal, President of edX, talked of online courses reaching remote locations. He was asked, “Does e-learning equalize or widen the social divide?” and responded with a scenario of a student in rural Mangalore, India, where university professors are few and far between so are merely required to hold a Bachelor’s degree to teach at this level. Would this student be better off taking an online science technology course at Berkeley from a PhD expert on the topic? Good point.

David Levin asserted that in the long run access to technology and e-learning tools will only serve to democratize education and narrow the gap. However, the importance of great principals and quality teachers alongside e-learning tools is of paramount importance for the best possible results.  How can AFS-USA help to promote e-learning in its intercultural programs for students and teachers? An important question to consider.

For more information on blending learning, please see the following helpful resources on the topic:

The Basics of Blended Learning

The Definition of Blended Learning

Evaluating What Works in Blended Learning

AFS USA Resources for Educators

Global competency, 21st century skills, intercultural communication competence – these are all buzz words present in most curricular discussions and educators’ conversations nowadays. Understanding the importance of the role of educational institutions in nurturing these highly demanded skills is without a doubt the key starting point in shifting the focus of our educational systems. But how do we apply this new approach in practice? How do we work with global competence development in the classroom?

AFS USA, one of AFS Intercultural Programs’ member organizations which runs all of AFS’s exchange programs to and from the US, has recently launched a brand new section on their website that aims to provide inspiration and answers to some of the questions above. Their Educators website offers a variety of resources and tools that are not only relevant for US based Educators, but that can also be used by other teachers around the world.

Browse the Teachers Toolbox that includes suggested lesson plans and curricular resources or learn about the AFS Educational Goals. The portal also presents the various offerings AFS USA has for schools: group educational programs, scholarship opportunities for individual students or AFS school clubs are some of the examples.

Do you want to receive Education and Intercultural Learning news from AFS USA? Subscribe to the Global Classroom Newsletter that will bring new inspiration directly to your inbox every three months!

UNESCO publishes “Intercultural Competences: Conceptual and Operational Framework”

In March, UNESCO established a significant milestone in the area of Intercultural Competences by publishing the document “Intercultural Competences: Conceptual and Operational Framework“. This document serves as a reference framework that will help interculturalists and other professionals working in related fields to use as a common reference when discussing the components and dimensions of Intercultural Competence and its intersections with Cultural Diversity, Human Rights and Intercultural Dialogue.

This document represents a milestone in the field because it conceptually brings together and synthesizes a multitude of terms and concepts related to Intercultural Competence and offers definitions to all of them. As a framework, it places and defines the area of work of Intercultural Competence in a globalized world in which everyone is impacted by intercultural exchanges and influences at some level and therefore acknowledges the need for everyone to be interculturally skilled. It describes some of which might be the next challenges for policymakers, civil and human rights activists, social justice and inclusion specialists, politicians, economics and health professionals, educators, etc., and offers definitions for 26 concepts that should be common vocabulary across fields that draw on Intercultural Competence.

More importantly, this framework also offers these definitions and concepts in a programmatic and operational plan and specific action steps to immediately target institutions and populations that can benefit by accessing Intercultural Competences:

  • Clarifying Cultural Competences,
  • Teaching Cultural Competences,
  • Promoting Cultural Competences,
  • Enacting Cultural Competences,
  • Supporting Cultural Competences.

"The operational plan builds upon all these concepts, and so is depicted in the visual conceptualization as branches on the trunk of the tree. No match is intended between a specific branch and the theoretical concepts appearing closest to it – all concepts should be understood as having at least potential relevance at all operational steps."

This UNESCO document “Intercultural Competences: Conceptual and Operational Framework” is called to be a necessary reference in our intercultural work and in improving numerous areas of cultural diversity and rights studies, professional sectors, as well as education and development.

If you want to learn more about this document came to be, you can also read it in this entry on the blog of the Center for Intercultural Dialogue by its director Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz.

New communication technologies – benefit or barrier to intercultural experiences?

When I embarked on my AFS exchange experience in 2001, I didn’t have a cell-phone, my e-mail account was only 2 years old and neither Skype nor Facebook existed at that time. During my year long stay in Norway, I called my family back home once a month through a land line and kept the communications short to avoid unnecessarily high phone bills.

Nowadays, everything has changed and the above description of communication with my family might resemble a chapter from a history book for the generation that grew up during the recent boom of modern technology that allows us to communicate freely across the globe. The role of modern media and communication tools in the study abroad experience is a fascinating subject and it has been recently addressed in the article “How Facebook Can Ruin Study Abroad”.

Robert Huesca, professor of communication at Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas USA, uses the comparison of his two long-term experiences abroad (in 1980 and 2012) to point out both the positives and negatives that new communication technologies bring to the study abroad experience.

Digital media and technology can be used for capturing stories of the people who live abroad and they provide space for sharing their experiences and learnings with family, friends and other audiences back home. They can also serve to build bridges between the sojourner and the local culture. The negative impact comes when the time spent connecting with “the familiar on-line” exceeds the time spent “living the real life” in the host country. Huesca also argues that excessive use of digital technology protects students from experiencing culture shock and the feelings of stress, loneliness and homesickness. Lack of these experiences can reduce the transformational impact of living abroad and ruin the opportunity for the personal development that motivates many of us to move to another country in the first place.

The above mentioned examples give just a little insight into how complex this issue is and how modern technology can play role both in inefficient and efficient coping strategies. This new reality is something we can’t really change or even just ignore. As the author of the article concludes, we can learn how to cope with the new situation and we should explore new approaches to the challenges that new technology represents. One of his concrete suggestions – adding technology management to curricula preparing students for their intercultural experience – is a very relevant and useful tip for all educational institutions and organizations providing study/live abroad experiences.