AFS Global Up Americas program aims to foster cross-cultural connections and global competence through virtual exchange. It emphasizes the empowerment of both educators and students, and we were eager to learn about the program’s impact on enhancing intercultural understanding and collaboration from one of its participants.

Our Director of Global Education Innovation, Linda Stuart, has talked to Kassy Hunt, “Teacher of the Year in Kansas” from Louisburg Middle School and Global Up Americas Virtual Exchange scholarship recipient. Kassy will begin her classes exchange with Leidy Dulce Ocampo from Colombia the second week of April.

The AFS Global Up Americas virtual exchange program supported by the Stevens Initiative. Over the course of 2023 to 2025, more than 3,000 students will receive full scholarships to participate in an immersive virtual exchange between the United States, Colombia, Mexico and other countries in the Americas. Additionally, the program will empower 120 dedicated teachers with the tools and expertise to foster, sustain, and expand virtual exchange and intercultural education.

Linda Stuart, Director of Global Education Innovation from AFS International (left) and Jill Woerner, Director of Education at AFS-USA (right) congratulate Kassy Hunt (middle), “Teacher of the Year in Kansas” from Louisburg Middle School and Global Up Americas Virtual Exchange scholarship recipient. Kassy will begin her classes exchange with Leidy Dulce Ocampo from Colombia the second week of April.

Which qualities do you possess as an educator that positioned you for “Teacher of the Year”?

My take on education is that this is not a job you can do successfully on your own. We need others! We need our community to bolster us, collaborate with us, and re-energize us with ideas and purpose! I definitely have passion for my subject area and drive to support my students, but to keep those flames burning, all of that energy comes from the great ideas and support of the other educators and mentors in my life! Making connections with, as well as watching, observing, and learning from other outstanding teachers is what I think helped me to get to this point in my career. I am also a big on reflection, and enjoy adapting to each new school year with an open-mind and intention to grow, change, and learn.

How do you think the Global Up Americas program will help you?

Being in World Language Education for 12 years prior to participating in this program, I previously thought of myself as a very globally-minded person. This program helped me to understand that there is so much more to consider and so much farther that I can grow! I loved the reflection piece, and think that the Global Up Americas virtual exchange program will help me to push myself out of my comfort zone, be a better communicator, consider more learning styles as I teach, and get me really thinking about and acting upon ways to create more authentic connections and experiences for my future students. I feel more prepared to help students consider their own identities and backgrounds, and have learned a lot about how to better facilitate conversations as an educator and in my personal life.

What did you take away from the Global Up program with educators?

I saw how many talented and dedicated educators there are out there who are wanting to provide opportunities for their students to truly connect and reflect. It is so encouraging! My favorite parts were hearing from and connecting with other educators around the nation and the world, and getting to work with the facilitators and leaders from AFS. I especially took note of the idea of active listening; listening to understand, not solely to respond. I feel like this, as well as many other themes from the training are applicable not only in education, but in our personal lives as well.

What advice would you have for other teachers considering doing virtual exchange?

My class is just beginning the student portion of the virtual exchange, so I still have a lot to learn! However, my advice so far would be to work with your students and “pre-load” them with practice, not only with the language and Global Up content, but also with the technology and etiquette that comes with virtual meetings. Many of us educators are familiar with purposeful meetings online, but in our world, students often have much experience with technology for personal use, but less formal experience with technology for another purpose. I think getting them ready to represent themselves and their community in the best way possible is a great way to get our students started in this exchange with their best foot forward.