Spreading our intercultural competences beyond AFS

A year ago, I was approached by an AFS Czech Republic volunteer whom I had just trained in What Every AFSer Should Know about Intercultural Learning - a training offered to AFS volunteers and staff around the world, that gives them a shared basic knowledge and competences within intercultural learning. This volunteer found the training extremely interesting and wondered if we could do a similar one in the company for which she works. Her colleagues, employees of the accounting department, often collaborate with foreign partners and struggle with misunderstandings and conflicts in their communication. I approached it as a challenge for my training skills but also for my knowledge of intercultural learning. And in effect, not only mine but AFS’s knowledge of intercultural learning in general. How useful would it be for non-AFSers?

The training was a success - the participants recognized the issues we addressed as very accurate and present in their daily work. They understood how things that feel natural to them might seem strange in another culture and vice versa. They also learned about the importance of suspending judgement and practiced it in order to use it while working with others - not necessarily from different countries but even within their local team. My original question got its answer: what we know in AFS, what we do and how we do it can be brought outside our organization. Moreover, it is very much needed outside our organization.

The topic of intercultural learning outside of AFS followed me all throughout last year. In November, I attended the EFIL (European Federation for Intercultural Learning - the umbrella organization for AFS organizations in Europe) training for trainers: Who needs intercultural education? We started by addressing the root questions of intercultural education outside of our organization: Can we?, Should we? and How would we? and we took it all the way to the end of delivering workshops for various non-AFS audiences. I was part of a team preparing and delivering a workshop to a group of refugees focusing on their integration into Belgian culture, helping them find points of connection to it and providing an opportunity to share their experience and best practices. It was incredible how during this two-hour session, the participants managed to grasp some basic concepts of culture, apply them on both their own and the Belgian culture and on top of that, give each other many helpful tips and words of encouragement.

This training had a double impact on me - a very confidence-boosting and yet humbling effect. I feel that to effectively bring our know-how outside of AFS and share it with the world, we are on the right path and should feel encouragement. But we need to also always be aware that the field of intercultural learning is endless and updating our knowledge is of the essence. And as the world is constantly changing and the potential audiences and topics are so diverse, we should never let go of the root questions. Can we? Should we? And how would we?


This article was written by Michaela Svobodová. Michaela is a volunteer of AFS Czech Republic and a member of the national pool of trainers. She is currently finishing her 12-month internship with AFS Iceland through the European Voluntary Service (EVS).