by Eunice Neta, Program Policy & Support Consultant, AFS Intercultural Programs

What is the impact of intercultural exchange programs on young people’s values and behavior? Are such experiences teaching them to value human dignity, and human rights and respect differences, making them more active global citizens?

These questions were the center of the Forum on Intercultural Learning and Exchange (FILE), an annual event organized by the Intercultura Foundation, the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL) and AFS Intercultural Programs. This year’s event was the 12th in a row, taking place in November 2023 in Colle di Val d’Elsa in Italy, convening a large group of over sixty experts, researchers, and practitioners from around the world.

After discussing the outcomes and findings of the most academic recent research from around the world in the field of youth mobility programs and values, the Forum concluded that more multi-disciplinary research is needed, as the world grows in complexity and conflict.

Explore the Forum’s program and presentations at the official website here.

Translating Global Citizenship into Values and Behaviors: Diverse Perspectives

The opening remarks by Roberto Ruffino (Fondazione Intercultura) set the tone for the main reflection topic: Why are we making exchanges? How do we know we are reaching the results we aim for? How does global citizenship translate into changes in values and behaviors?

Dina Kiwan (University of Birmingham) explored the topic of global citizenship education in pluralistic societies: the development of universal values vs. local cultural differences, by providing global citizenship education examples from Middle Eastern countries and presenting the Arab Youth Survey findings on the perception of global citizenship.

Maya Benish-Weisman (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) presented how values and identity develop in adolescence and the implications for pupils’ international exchange. Besides providing scientific background on key neurological development that better explains the main characteristics of adolescents (including concepts like risk-taking, peer influence, stress, and storms), these are also key factors to the development of prosocial behavior and opportunities for new learning.

The two discussants were Uli Zeutschel (OSB International Systemic Consulting), who related the topic with the OECD key competence framework and highlighted the lifelong learning processes, especially after the return to home countries, and Susie Nicodemi (International non-formal education) who provided an overview of the role of value-based non-formal education in experiential learning towards developing solidarity and community impact.

Researching the Impact of an AFS Experience Abroad

The preliminary results of the research project “What happens to exchange pupil’s values during their life abroad? Value changes during and after an AFS experience” were shared by Anat Bardi (Royal Holloway, University of London), Mattia Baiutti (Fondazione Intercultura) and Michele Vecchione (Sapienza University of Rome).

Using the Schwartz (1992) Values Framework for the research, the preliminary findings indicated that the participants have already high scores in identification with the Universalism value dimension, both in Concern and Tolerance, especially if compared with a normative sample. The research also indicates that an increase was noted in the Power, Stimulation, and Self-Direction value dimensions, and in general Universalism showed a decrease. Note that the participants who reported positive bonds with the people in the host country and who participated more actively in the host community did not show a decrease in the Universalism dimension. Future research is needed to understand the meaning of these results in terms of behavior, as the two discussants, Tom Kurz (Experiment Germany) and Nicholas Geeraert (University of Essex) also concluded.

Read more about other AFS research studies here.

Taking Action Based on Values Developed by Studying Abroad

Michele Welkener (University of Dayton, Ohio) presented how mobility could promote holistic development through the frame of the Self-Authorship theory (Kegan, 1994) and focused on how arts-based educational research can be conducted through the use of creative methods such as the Learning Partnerships Model, to better assess the developmental journeys in terms of meaning-making and agency. The discussion was conducted by Ella Daniel (Tel Aviv University) and included new points for reflection regarding online prosocial agency, which has become an important field for youth activism.

The other discussants were AFS returnees (Andrea Luciani, WHO; Carlotta Wolf, UNHCR; Enrico Beninato, COOPI, and Erica Piccin, Intercultura Italia) who provided evidence and testimonies on their work in the humanitarian aid field in different areas of the world, being living examples of how the exchange raised their global awareness and concern and provided them with self-confidence to act upon their values and impact the communities with their work.

Taking a Practical and Holistic View of Exchanges

The Forum participants reflected on the research presented connecting it to practice. The discussions included different stages of mobility programs: from the screening and preparation before the exchanges to the support and proposed activities during the time abroad, but also what activities and support is provided after the return to the home country and how these link to active participation in local and global communities.

The group called for more multidisciplinary research, as the world grows in complexity and conflict. The questions of particular interest relate to understanding privilege awareness as part of the changes brought by participating in mobility programs, and at which level there is a growing agency and prosocial behavior? What context and resources are organizations providing towards the development of intercultural solidarity and civic engagement to participants? What if the focus changed from individual outcomes to community impact? What opportunities for engagement with the community should exist during exchanges? And what role can social media play and online tools play to give voice to youth?

These discussions will continue next year at the Forum on Intercultural Learning and Exchange (FILE).