AFS Intercultural Programs has received a research grant to participate in The Stevens Initiative’s “Strengthening the Field: Catalyzing Research in Virtual Exchange.” AFS will look into the efficacy of virtual exchange in strengthening high school students’ global competence by analysing the AFS Global You Adventurer program. The Stevens Initiative’s study supports seven independent research projects to investigate different issues in virtual exchange design and practice.

The Steven’s Initiative is well known for building global competence and career readiness skills for young people through virtual exchange. This project will create a hub for research and knowledge sharing, as well as promoting promising practices and providing resources. Research teams from around the world who participate in this effort will explore “key topics that will demonstrate the value of virtual exchange, strengthen the case for more widespread adoption, and allow us to better understand how virtual exchange can serve communities whose access to international education has been limited,” states The Stevens Initiative.

Stevens Initiative

AFS, a global non-profit dedicated to intercultural exchange and education, has a long track record in research on intercultural education, and its virtual programs have already received recognition, having been nominated as a PIEoneer of the Year Award finalist – a prestigious international recognition that celebrates innovation and achievement in international education. 

Early in 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic necessitated the suspension of in-person exchanges, AFS accelerated and expanded its digital intercultural learning programs for more than 1,000 students, educators and volunteers. In this work, AFS partnered with renowned institutions like the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Social Impact Strategy to shape curricula, and governments like Education New Zealand were quick to adopt these programs, while companies like bp supported the online education for future STEM leaders. 

Virtual programs are increasingly important in empowering young people and providing access worldwide with global competence and other critical skills. Through our suite of AFS Global You programs we have already reached hundreds of students who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to experience intercultural learning,” says Linda Stuart, Head of Global Competence Certificate at AFS Intercultural Programs and one of the researchers in this project. “It’s an honor to partner with The Stevens Initiative to conduct this research and uncover the impact our virtual programs have on young people’s intercultural communication skills, ability to effectively cross differences, demonstrate empathy, and more.” 


The primary goal of this research is to identify and further develop the efficacy of virtual exchange, with the aim of strengthening programs that develop high school students’ global competence. The AFS Global You Adventurer exchange includes an online platform containing video modules, discussion prompts, interactive activities, and live facilitated sessions. This study will gather and analyze data using a mixed methods approach to determine if the AFS Global You Adventurer develops stronger perspective-taking skills, reduces stereotypes, improves intercultural communications, leads to greater knowledge seeking, and builds empathy, including if dosage affects these outcomes. 

Researchers will be Corinna Howland, Ph.D.Bettina Hansel, Ph.D., and Linda Stuart.

The AFS research will be conducted from April to October 2021, and will include 150 high school students who participate in the AFS Global You Adventurer program.

 Find out more about the Strengthening the Field: Catalyzing Research in Virtual Exchange project.