Virtual exchanges are changing the education landscape and becoming a rapidly growing educational practice. They enable meaningful encounters to create a deep impact of intercultural exchange, combined with the broad reach of technology. After running AFS Global You virtual exchange programs for more than a year, we have examined the way virtual exchange makes an impact and discovered 7 key findings. 


AFS launched Global You, a virtual exchange program in June 2020, open to high school students anywhere in the world. The learning content is based on AFS’s research-backed AFS Global Competence Certificate that has been used by more than 10,000 university students in 50 countries to help them develop their intercultural competence and global skills. Since its launch, Global You has grown into a portfolio of two unique programs (Adventurer & Changemaker) and changed the landscape of how AFS delivers impact: 

  • by facilitating virtual exchange in global cohorts with participants from all over the world
  • by breaking down financial barriers to intercultural exchange opportunities for students from underrepresented communities
  • by expanding access to global competence education
  • and by empowering diverse cohorts of high school students with tools to create social impact in their communities. 


Over 650 students from 52 countries have participated in the Global You programs in the past year and we have measured participant satisfaction in surveys for each global cohort. Here are 7 Key findings on why virtual exchange programs create an impact:


1. Virtual Exchange Keeps Young People Globally Connected

A noteworthy feature that makes AFS online programs special is that they are truly global. Our programs combine independent, self-paced learning with live dialogue sessions to bring together diverse global cohorts of students for a dynamic and intercultural exchange experience. Global You provides opportunities for young people to enhance their global competence and communication skills, connect with global peers, and explore diverse cultures. 95% said that their participation was particularly helpful to take the program during the global pandemic. 

2. Global You Adventurer Helps Participants Build Bridges Across Cultures

98% of participants said the program helped them process their interactions with cultural differences. Students learn intercultural skills to engage, lead and collaborate effectively and enhance self-awareness, empathy,  and emotional intelligence to develop their full potential.  “It was an amazing experience. I loved the course and it helped me to grow and glow! Access to exchange trips is rare in my community. When I found out about AFS Global You it helped make my dream come true. My evolution during the course, the people I’ve met and how I was able to develop my skills during this process was something I could never imagine. I’m now signing up to be a volunteer with the local AFS chapter in my city.” Dimitria Gomide, Brazil – July 2021

3. Global You Changemaker Prepares Teens To Deliver Social Impact

Global You Changemaker provides a critical bridge in the gap between young people’s desires to change the world and the skills they need to create innovative social impact. Participants explore global citizenship, design thinking, and creative tools for social innovation and examine intercultural issues and the fundamental values of change-making. This program was developed by AFS and the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Social Impact Strategy.

  • 98% of participants said the program helped them process cultural differences, 
  • 93% of participants said their interest in world affairs increased, 
  • and 87% reported that their interest in positions of leadership increased.

4. Expert Facilitation Is Essential To Program Success

We selected facilitators from 14 different countries and trained them as facilitators for Global You programs to ensure having a diverse cohort of trainers from different cultures, perspectives and backgrounds. These expert facilitators create an inclusive environment for group learning. They guide the conversation, ensure that all voices are heard, foster global competence learning, facilitate exchange and organize group work to solve problems collectively. In their survey responses, participants highlighted that they appreciated and benefited from the guidance and encouragement of facilitators to actively participate in the live sessions. 97% of participants said that having a facilitator during the live sessions was helpful in processing the global pandemic experience and module topics. 

5. Scholarships Make Virtual Exchange More Inclusive And Accessible 

Since the program’s launch, over 48% of participants received scholarships, giving students whose access to intercultural education has been limited or whose in-person programs have been impacted by COVID-19 an opportunity to access global competence education. To apply for a scholarship, prospective participants submitted a short essay on how their community could be improved by embracing the power of diversity and priority was given to students from underrepresented backgrounds and communities.

6. Research Supports Linkages Between Global Competence Development And Virtual Exchange Efficacy 

While there is a substantial body of research on the learning outcomes and impact of virtual exchange, this is overwhelmingly higher education focused and further specialized, e.g. foreign language learning. AFS is contributing to the field of research thanks to a grant awarded by The Stevens Initiative. Our research seeks to present concrete evidence to support and further develop the efficacy of virtual exchange and how virtual exchange develops core elements of youths’ global competence compared to their peers who do not take part in virtual exchange. Learn more about this study in our upcoming webinar.

7. Partnerships Accelerate Reach and Impact

Global You programs can give students in underserved and underrepresented communities new opportunities to gain global competence skills and see the world from new perspectives even if they are not able to participate in an in-person exchange. To expand and accelerate our reach, we have built new and innovative partnerships with organizations, institutions and governments. 

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Expanding the reach: In 2022, we expect to double the enrollment in these two programs to 1,500. Fueled by the success of the first year of Global You programs, AFS is committed to increasing and expanding its reach and several new partnerships are underway. Get in touch with us to explore opportunities for your involvement.

Expanding access by offering the program in multiple languages: AFS will also premiere an edition of Global You Adventurer in Spanish, which will feature online modules, activities, and live dialogue sessions all facilitated in Spanish. Enrollment is open to students worldwide with conversational fluency in Spanish for programs starting December 28, 2021, and January 11, 2022. Learn more about the Spanish edition here.

Expanding knowledge about efficacy: In 2022, we expect to publish findings from a research project, funded by The Stevens Initiative, that investigates the efficacy of virtual exchange in strengthening high school students’ global competence.  The goal is to demonstrate the value of virtual exchange, strengthen the case for more widespread adoption, and to better understand how virtual exchange can serve communities whose access to international education has been limited. Learn more about this study in our upcoming webinar.