Conversations with Ulrik Wehner, Partner Director of AFS Denmark

Interviewed by Divya Arora, National Director, AFS India

Ulrik says, “My name is Ulrik Wehner. For three and a half years, I have worked as the Partner Director of AFS in Denmark. Before that I was the head of a department of a nursing school and I have worked as the Vice Director of a home for neglected and abused children. My education is Social Worker, and I have a Diploma in Leadership.  

I was an AFS host brother to a student from USA in 1991 and I was an AFS exchange student to Japan on the year program 1991-1992. 

Since my return, I have been involved with AFS as a volunteer on local, regional and national level and I have served on the National Board of AFS Denmark on two terms.” 

How do you feel that AFS as an organization can contribute to fostering intercultural competence around the world especially during these times of uncertainty?

I believe that AFS has an important role to play in the world today. The vast experience we have in bringing people of diverse cultures together can be used in many ways to make an impact in local communities all over the world.

The key for us as an organization with a long history is to dare to change. Intercultural exchange programs has for 70 years been our main activity in enhancing intercultural understanding. It is high time for us to look at other ways of pushing our mission in the world.

Education has always been the key to expanding the vision of people. How do you feel intercultural learning incorporated within the educational framework to help in broadening the overall learning process for individuals?

Intercultural Learning is a great example of non-formal education which our program participants, be that students or host families, are exposed to everyday. Most of them don’t even realize it before reflecting on it. This is a reason why reflection upon intercultural learning among the participants is so important.

I strongly believe that by placing intercultural learning into a formal educational framework we have the possibility to make an impact on many more people than we do today.

By offering intercultural learning sessions and workshops in cooperation with local schools our mission would reach many people who for several reasons might not be able to attend our exchange programs.

What initiatives has AFS DEN undertaken to shape the international education worldwide? 

To say that AFS DEN has undertaken many initiatives to shape international education worldwide might be to overstate it. However, we have taken new initiatives such as our cooperation with Ranum Efterskole College to provide a hosted Cambridge Certificate year program in Denmark allowing students to start their international academic education in Denmark.

Any suggestions as to how the intercultural learning can be given due importance/ awareness in lesser explored areas so as to reach out for more openness and awareness in obtaining intercultural learning.

As described, we work together with schools to offer ICL workshops and seminars in order to reach people we otherwise might not reach.

Schools are important partners in growth of AFS programs. How has AFS involved schools in country to make them strong partners? What are some kinds of activities that AFS has been doing to improve school relationships, and can be an example for others in the field of Global Education? 

AFS DEN offers workshops and seminars to schools and we are focusing on how we can cooperate about. For instance, a student hosted by a school, we talk to the schools about how they can benefit from hosting a student during the daily life at the schools.

Volunteers are the pillars when it comes to the functioning of AFS. What can more initiatives be brought forth to garner motivation amongst the volunteers?

A combination of educational and social activities works well when it comes to motivating our volunteers. For example our annual national training event where we gather around 200 volunteers for a weekend filled with workshops and fun activities.

We also find that our volunteers are very motivated by doing things with a deeper meaning and where they are able to make a difference for others. So we are doing our best to highlight how our volunteer’s efforts are meaningful and to show how others are impacted and are able develop thanks to the efforts by the volunteers.

How has the AFS experienced/helped you?

My own AFS experienced has helped me in so many ways. Often I still discover new learnings that I can relate back to my exchange year in Japan or my experience as a host brother.

Specifically my own AFS experience has taught me to see things from another perspective before making a decision. This helps me a lot in my current job. My AFS experience also gives me an understanding of the needs and challenges of the students and host families. For instance I can put myself in their shoes when dealing with a difficult support case.

Also the fact that I have been a dedicated volunteer for AFS makes me understand what drives our volunteers and understand the challenges they face.