AFS Intercultural Programs began as the American Ambulance Field Service, a volunteer ambulance corps created in April 1915 by A. Piatt Andrew. This timeline tells the story of the AFS Drivers under the leadership of Andrew in World War I and Stephen Galatti in World War II- and how AFS was transformed from a wartime humanitarian aid organization into a groundbreaking international secondary school exchange, volunteer, and intercultural learning organization with a noble vision: to help build a more peaceful world by promoting understanding among cultures.
100+ Years of AFS
Learning to Live Together
AFS Intercultural Programs is an international, voluntary, non-governmental, non-profit organization that provides intercultural learning opportunities to help people develop the knowledge, skills and understanding needed to create a more just and peaceful world. By linking our “learning to live together” philosophy to the defining global issues of the 21st century, AFS is dedicated to building an inclusive community of global citizens determined to build bridges among cultures.
The Youth Assembly becomes part of AFS
Since 2004, the Youth Assembly has created an intergenerational space for dialogue among civil society, academia, the private sector, and youth to tackle innovative solutions to global issues in the 21st century. Originally launched by the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation (FAF), the Youth Assembly became a part of AFS Intercultural Programs. In August 2022, hundreds of dynamic young global citizens from 76 countries gathered at the Youth Assembly in New York City aspiring to reshape the world and take important actions towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Study abroad during COVID-19
Early in March 2020, some 7,000 students had to end their AFS study abroad programs early due to the COVID-19 pandemic. AFS volunteers and staff around the world worked day and night to reunite participants with their families in their home countries and continued to provide all program support and services to those participants who remained under the care of host families before returning home. AFS rapidly reconfigured and deployed a virtual learning platform, based on our AFS Global Competence Certificate, to provide those thousands of young people with ongoing support, community and learning during the crisis. By 2022 nearly 8,000 students were back to participating in in-person exchanges, while 5,000 participants now join our virtual programs every year.
Recognizing future leaders with the AFS Award for Young Global Citizens
The new AFS annual Award was established to recognize an extraordinary young person every year for their commitment to improving the global community with a US$10,000 cash prize, attendance of the AFS Global Conference, international recognition and membership in the AFS community of young and active global citizens. Luisa Fernanda Romero Munoz, co-founder of Get Up And Go Colombia, was the first-ever winner of the Prize, awarded for advancing peacebuilding in her home country by converting former Colombian armed conflict zones into cultural tourism destinations.
Exploring the AFS effect on our alumni
Creating Global Citizens: The AFS Effect is the first large-scale, global survey of the AFS alumni community based on responses from over 10,500 former AFS participants across 80 countries. This study explores the effect an AFS experience can have on the lives and careers of our alumni while investigating the impact of secondary school mobility globally. It also includes real-life examples from our former participants of changes alumni can bring to their local communities thereby furthering the AFS mission worldwide.
AFS Network Strategy: Working Together to Maximize Our Impact
Guided by our mission, AFS launched an ambitious strategy to better leverage our global network and maximize our impact in the countries where we operate. The Strategy repositions AFS as a stronger, more cohesive and connected international education organization and helps us seize the full potential of our mission, delivering impact in three key goals:
- Develop Active Global Citizens
- Globalize Schools and Institutions
- Expand Access to Intercultural Education
The strategy positions AFS to advance these impact goals through four areas of action: programs, education, volunteerism, and advocacy.
Building a global competence education coalition
The first-ever AFS Global Conference gathered 450+ delegates from 70 countries for a groundbreaking conversation on Global Competence: Our Future, Our Responsibility, in Budapest, Hungary. This and the following annual AFS Global Conferences set an ambitious action agenda focused on making global competence education a right for all people worldwide.
Advancing the global study abroad movement through research
Mapping Generation Z: Attitudes Toward International Education Programs is an expansive, first-of-its-kind report exploring the motivations for and hindrances to international study among teenagers. The study was conducted across 27 countries gathering 5,255 responses of young people between the ages of 13 and 18 years. The study found that cultural exploration is the prime reason Generation Z wants to study abroad, and English-speaking destinations dominate in popularity.
Developing Student and Host Family Learning Journeys
In 2015, AFS fortified its position as an intercultural education organization using the AFS Educational Goals to guide these efforts. AFS developed customized intercultural learning curricula for students and host families to enhance their exchange experience and build intercultural skills that will last a lifetime.
UNESCO recognizes AFS as an official partner
AFS achieved a major milestone in April 2015 when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) granted AFS “consultative status,” which enables both organizations to collaborate on initiatives of mutual interest and social good.
“There is a clear relevance of AFS’ work to the current programs and activities of UNESCO, particularly in the fields of education, youth, and intercultural dialogue.” —Irina Bokova, Director General, UNESCO
AFS commemorated its centennial in 2014-2015. From the founding of the American Ambulance Field Service in April 1915 to more than 450,000 former AFS Participants in its centennial year, AFS celebrated its continuation as a volunteer organization daring to create change and dedicated to building an inclusive community of global citizens determined to build bridges among cultures. The worldwide celebrations included youth forums and a global symposium at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France.
Intercultural Link Learning Program
Research efforts focusing on achieving a deeper understanding of the impact of exchange programs continued in the 21st century, from the cutting-edge Assessment of the Impact of the AFS Study Abroad Experience study in 2005, to the AFS Long Term Impact Study in 2006. Building on these research results, the AFS Intercultural Link Learning Program launched in 2011. The purpose of this multi-step training and assessment program is to enable volunteers and staff worldwide to better support AFS students, families, and schools in the learning process.
The AFS Foundation was established on July 13, 2004, in Zurich, Switzerland. It endeavors to preserve the AFS legacy and holds the AFS name and logo. AFS World War II Driver and Life Trustee Ward Chamberlin, Jr. noted that the founding date was the fortieth anniversary of the death of Stephen Galatti, founder of the post-war student exchange programs. Chamberlin and the founding members dedicated the AFS Foundation to the memory of Galatti and “the worldwide struggle for peace to which he devoted his life.”
Articles of Partnership
In 1989, four national organizations (Australia, Denmark, Italy, and Switzerland) became the first AFS Partners to become separate legal entities from the AFS headquarters in the United States. The “Articles of Partnership” were approved by the AFS International Board in 1990 and stated that each AFS Partner is bound by a separate agreement with AFS International. In 1993, the partnership structure was officially established in all national units, including the United States.
AFS Educational Goals
In February 1984, the Workshop on Intercultural Learning Content and Quality Standards (also known as the Montreal Workshop) affirmed AFS’s commitment to intercultural learning and formally defined its Educational Goals. These 16 Educational Goals continue to define the educational approach, guide ongoing practices (such as orientation activities), and set AFS apart as a unique educational program. AFS Participants attain some of these goals during the AFS experience; others involve a lifetime of reflection. The goals involve growth and change in terms of personal values and skills, interpersonal relationship building, intercultural knowledge and sensitivity, and global issues awareness.
In 1970, non-United States citizens were elected to the AFS Board of Trustees for the first time. One year later the AFS Multinational Program began, allowing students to travel to and from countries other than the United States.
Promoting a More Peaceful World
Throughout the 1960s the AFS Winter Program Participants (students coming to the U.S.) continued to meet with U.S. presidents in Washington, D.C., before heading back to their home countries at the end of their stay abroad. The presidents lauded the organization for its contributions to U.S. public diplomacy efforts, and often directly addressed the role of AFS Participants in promoting a more peaceful world.
In 1950, the Americans Abroad (AA) Summer Program was initiated, thanks to the work of AFS Returnees who helped develop new programs in their home countries. The first nine students from the United States spent a few months living with families in France, which had the largest number of AFS Returnees at the time. By 1951, the AA Summer Program had expanded into seven countries in Europe; and in 1957, AA Participants had the option to spend several months abroad and attend foreign schools in a wide variety of countries.
First AFS Bus Trip
In the summer of 1948, 29 AFSers embarked on a 24 day, 5,500 mile bus trip through 22 states across the United States. Participants included students from the new secondary school exchange program, in addition to those on the university fellowship program. Stops along the way included the White House in Washington, D.C., the Ford Motor Company assembly plant in Michigan, the Seven Falls of Colorado, and a baseball game in Tennessee. One of the purposes of the bus trip, which continued in following years, was to interest Americans in providing scholarships and hospitality for future AFS Participants.
AFS Secondary School Exchange Programs
In 1946, AFS Director General Stephen Galatti and AFS Drivers from both World Wars founded a secondary school student exchange program intended to perpetuate international friendships in peacetime. The following year, the first group of secondary school AFS Participants from France, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Norway, England, and Syria arrived in the United States on a scholarship program.
Evacuation of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp
In April 15, 1945, the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was liberated by British forces. A contingent of AFS ambulance drivers volunteered to assist with the stretcher-bearing details, distributing meals and medical equipment, and evacuating more than 11,000 people to a displaced persons camp that had been established nearby. The cessation of wartime hostilities came just months after the evacuation of the camp. By the end of the war, the 2,196 ambulance drivers had carried more than 700,000 wounded.
AFS with the British and French Armies
AFS officially aligned with the British military and Free French forces (the Forces Françaises Libres, later called the Forces Françaises Combattantes or FFC) in 1941. As World War II progressed, the AFS volunteer ambulance drivers served alongside French, British, Polish, Australian, New Zealand, Indian, and South African troops in the Middle East, North Africa, Italy, Germany, India, and Burma, and again in France with the First French Army.
World War II
AFS was reactivated as a volunteer ambulance corps shortly after the start of World War II in 1939 under the leadership of Director General Stephen Galatti. The first unit of Americans sailed from New York on March 23, 1940, and joined men who had already volunteered in Europe. After the German invasion and the establishment of Vichy France in June 1940, AFS halted service in France
AFS Association and Fellowships
The AFS Association was established in May 1920 to coordinate reunions among former members of the American Field Service and to administer the AFS Fellowships for French Universities program, which had been established in December 1919. The program helped to cultivate peaceful ties between the United States and France, and awarded a total of 222 fellowships to French and American graduate students by the time it was discontinued in 1952.
AFS Réserve Mallet
The Réserve Mallet was the collective name for the camion (truck) units engaged in the transportation of supplies for the French during World War I. Volunteers were recruited for the camion units beginning in April 1917, the same month the United States entered the war. Shortly after establishing the camion units (and partly because of it), the organization changed its name from the American Ambulance Field Service to the American Field Service (AFS.) The United States military later absorbed the AFS ambulance and camion units into their ranks by the end of 1917.
Headquarters at 21 rue Raynouard
For both political and practical reasons, A. Piatt Andrew broke away from the American Ambulance Hospital and created an independent American Ambulance Field Service (AAFS.) In July 1916 the Comtesse de la Villestreux and members of the Hottinguer family put the estate and five-acre private park at 21 rue Raynouard in the heart of Paris at the disposal of AAFS for use as their headquarters for the remainder of the war. The new headquarters had formal gardens and a view of the Eiffel Tower, and included offices, mess quarters, an infirmary, temporary barracks, and grounds for ambulance parking.
American Ambulance Field Service
A. Piatt Andrew volunteered as an ambulance driver for the American Ambulance Hospital in January 1915. At the time of Andrew’s arrival, the ambulance drivers at the Hospital primarily ferried patients from the train stations in Paris to hospitals around the city. In March, Andrew was made Inspector General of the Hospital’s Transportation Committee, and in April he successfully negotiated with the French Army to have some ambulance sections of the Hospital work closer to the front lines of battle. These ambulance sections came to be known as the “American Ambulance Field Service.”
American Ambulance Hospital
After the outbreak of World War I in 1914, staff at the American Hospital of Paris converted the unfinished Lycée Pasteur in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France into a wartime military hospital (referred to as an “ambulance” in French.) The civilian-run American Ambulance Hospital was used during the war to treat wounded soldiers returning from the front. A. Piatt Andrew, a former director of the United States Mint and assistant professor of economics at Harvard University, set sail for France in December of 1914 to volunteer at the American Ambulance Hospital.