Assessing the intercultural impact of virtual exchange for high school students

Young people advance their global competence when participating in virtual exchange, according to the latest AFS research study. This research and report is funded by the Stevens Initiative, which is housed at the Aspen Institute and is supported by the Bezos Family Foundation. The study titled, “Assessing the intercultural impact of virtual exchange for high school students” builds on previous research about virtual exchange that AFS completed in 2021, and is published within AFS’ strategic efforts in advancing active global citizenship worldwide.

The results of this study are highly relevant for those interested in delivering virtual exchanges at scale: delivered in a group-based environment in an institutional setting, such as a school or university. Our findings demonstrate that global competence development can be achieved through such programs and with participants who are representative of multiple school-aged populations within the school systems.

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Virtual exchange effectively fosters global competence

Virtual exchanges have a meaningful immediate impact on the development of global competence among high-school aged youth around the world, according to the “AFS Global You Virtual Exchange Impact Study” conducted by independent researchers, and funded by a grant from the Stevens Initiative.

The results of the study demonstrate that short virtual programs, such as the five-week AFS Global You Adventurer, provide immediate growth in aspects of youth global competence, especially in terms of having a more positive view of peers from other cultures, being able to actively withhold judgement of others, and their cross-cultural communication skills.

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The impact of an AFS exchange on life and career

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. Key findings include:

  • According to 87% of alumni, their AFS program helped them become active global citizens.
  • AFS alumni are highly likely to volunteer after their exchange program.
  • AFS helps participants be prepared to work in a global environment.
  • AFS alumni demonstrate fast progress in their professional lives.
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What drives Generation Z to study abroad?

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 the mysterious youngest generation. This research study reveals the attitudes and perceptions of high school students from Generation Z on studying abroad, experiencing new ideas and immersing themselves in drastically different cultures than their own. Key points include:

  • English speaking destinations dominate in popularity
  • Affordability remains a barrier to student mobility
  • Program specifics emerge as the main choice influencers
  • Apprehensiveness about security tops the list of concerns
  • Cultural exploration as a goal prevails in all global regions
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Partnering with Research Experts


The Stevens Initiative Survey of the Virtual Exchange Field

AFS participated in The Stevens Initiative 2020 Survey of the Virtual Exchange Field, contributing data on the virtual AFS Global You Adventurer program to help illuminate the field of virtual exchanges. The survey results document the virtual exchange programs that connected young people in the United States with peers in countries around the world from fall 2019 through summer 2020.

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Purdue University Study on Short-Term Study Abroad

A study from Purdue University confirmed that students who participated in the AFS Global Competence Certificate Program to prepare for their short-term study abroad experience achieved significant gains in the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), a leading cross-cultural assessment of intercultural competence.

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Mentoring during Study Abroad by Purdue University

Purdue University study finds that university students who received group mentoring through the AFS Global Competence Certificate Program during their semester abroad improved their intercultural competence much more than the students who had no support at all. These results have significant implications for educational institutions looking to foster intercultural awareness, respect for diversity and global-mindedness in their students.

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Intercultural Learning Research


Overview of AFS Research for AFS & Friends

AFS has a long-standing history of significant contributions to the field of intercultural education, often working in partnership with leading institutions and notable researchers. By exploring a wide range of relevant topics—from the ways that technology affects cultural adaptation processes to the interplay between personality and culture— these research initiatives help identify a variety of factors involved in intercultural learning. This document provides an overview of our research efforts.


AFS Long Term Impact Study

In 2006, AFS conducted a large-scale research to determine the long-term impact of an intercultural learning experience. The study compared AFS alumni to their peers, 20 to 25 years after their participation in an exchange program. The study found that AFS participants showed significant advantages in language fluency and cultural competence that lasted far beyond the duration of the experience abroad.

Guillaume Kerhervé France Sending (4)

The Assessment of the Impact of the AFS Study Abroad Experience

The Assessment of the Impact of the AFS Study Abroad Experience was an independent research study conducted in 2005 by Dr. Mitchell R. Hammer in partnership with AFS. Thousands of students around the world were evaluated before, during and after an experience abroad. Compared to a control group of their peers, AFS exchange students made significant improvements in language fluency, their knowledge of other cultures and their ability to forge intercultural friendships.


Intercultural Learning for AFS and Friends

Intercultural Learning for AFS & Friends is a series of short, insightful articles on important intercultural topics featuring AFS’s point of view. There are intended for anyone who either is or would like to become involved with the AFS mission.

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