AFS-USA seeks to ensure that any student, regardless of background or circumstance, has an opportunity to engage in intercultural learning. There are staff members and volunteers alike who are extremely knowledgeable about these topics, and they are prepared to support all AFS-USA staff and volunteers in upholding the mission of access, equity, and inclusiveness in promoting diversity throughout the country. To help make sure everyone understands what each of these terms mean, a joint group of staff members and volunteers led a session at the 2019 AFS Volunteer Summit.
You are encouraged to review the slides and view the webinar recording to understand this terminology and to consider how AFS-USA’s goals toward I.D.E.A.* align with that of your local schools and community-based organizations. This will help you to establish/build relationships locally in supporting the needs of students. Consider meeting with the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) or their LGBTQ+ club to share about AFS-USA’s initiatives to include all students that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. These initiatives include the LGBTQ+ Pride scholarship, a student support group, and webinars designated to support these students.
Additionally, consider how AFS-USA encourages and supports intercultural learning opportunities for students of color through the Faces of America scholarship program, a student group, and pre-departure orientations. The student support group provides students of color with information on preparing for their study abroad experience, and it provides an opportunity to addresses questions that they may have about their program experience abroad.
Finally, considering diversity, it is important to recognize that exchange students bring diversity to any school. Even a school with a very diverse population can benefit from the diversity of thought and perspective that students who have not yet lived, studied, and experienced education in that community. The home cultures of exchange students may overlap with that of immigrant and refugee students in some areas, but the life experiences and educational backgrounds may very well be different. Thus, it is important to help schools understand that AFS-USA can help them be intentional with their diversity initiatives to ensure that their student body and local community have experience with a variety of thinkers and doers from around the world.
*IDEA can also reference the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, so if you choose to use this acronym, please be aware that others may recognize it as something different. A description or clarification may be needed depending on your audience.