Juan Medici says “I am 44 years old. I am married with 3 wonderful kids. I was an AFS exchange student to Australia back in 1991. I learnt about AFS thanks to my mom that went to the US in 1962 with AFS. 3 brothers and one sister went abroad with AFS. My mum was an AFS volunteer and hosted a copule of students at home. So I can proudly say we are a truly AFS family.

I have business degree and a master in finances. I worked for private companies such as Price Waterhouse Coopers and Johnson & Johnson. In 1996 I joined the AFS staff as finance assistance. After a break, I became the Finance Director and since 2003 I serve as Partner Director. In 2009 Argentina and Uruguay became part of the same structure so I am in charge of running the operations in both countries.” 

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 strongly believe that the contribution AFS can make in these days to our society is critical and more important than ever. Technology has created an interconnected world, much smaller. But at the same time, a significant proportion of our societies still underestimate the importance of developing the necessary intercultural competencies to properly interact with different cultures and enrich ourselves through diversity. It will be imperative that the world goes beyond multiculturalism to finally embrace interculturalism as a meaningful way to connect and share.

Finally, the fact that AFS is a volunteer base organization sends a strong message in these days inviting people to become part of the solution, challenging us to leave our comfort zones and engage in our communities to build a better society. And that, in these days, is a very strong message.

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?

I would say that in the last decade, we have heard that the educational systems are in crisis across the world. We can count just a few countries where the educational systems are working properly to address the current needs of people to adapt to these times of uncertainty and finally help them to strive and evolve.

Facing these challenges is where I find intercultural learning as part of the educational framework extremely useful. Not only to help the people to develop the skills to interact with different cultures, also to help them feel comfortable with uncertainty or ambiguities that they will encounter during their lives. Finally, to help them understand that diversity and differences it is a great source for learning to enrich ourselves.

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

AFS ARG is part of a dynamic and complex international network. As a member of this network we have committed to become more relevant by expanding our programs, trying to reach more lives on a consistent and sustainable way.

As a learning organization, we have decided to lead by example, trying to encourage and foster innovation as the only way to remain relevant to our society. Innovation especially in our programmatic contents that are the mean to achieve our educational goals. In line with this, we strongly believe that we cannot promote a more just and peaceful world if we are not able to achieve that in our “backyard”. That is why AFS ARG & URU since 2010 (two countries working together under the same structure and organization) has is aiming to encourage our students to become global leaders that act locally. How? Basically, combining intercultural competencies with social entrepreneurship skills. And we found this combination quite exciting and relevant. In summary, we see international education as a mean to encourage people to engage in improving our world, our societies, but especially our local communities.

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.

I would say this is the 1 million dollar question in these days as it is becoming more and more relevant to NGOs to find ways to reach more and more people in order to have real impact and become more relevant.

Here a few suggestions:

  • Have a clear understanding of the territory you are working in. E.g. in our case we face a significant challenge creating awareness across the society to a) develop intercultural competencies and b) consider other destinations or type of programs. We should develop a thorough strategy to address these aspects in order to reach more people.
  • Embrace technology and embrace innovation, thinking out of the box, challenging our own paradigms. As a learning organization, learning starts at home.
  • Embrace collaboration with other like-minded NGOs. NGOs must understand that in order to have impact we cannot do it alone. I am not sure why the NGOs have follow certain practices that come from the corporate world when our goals are completely different. We should work with others, even similar NGOs that promote intercultural learning. Sharing knowledge, learning from others and leveraging each other.

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? 

Indeed, schools are one of our most important partners to carry out our programs. Back in 2005 we realized we needed to change the approach that could help us develop a more consistent and fluid relationship with the schools. The idea behind was to help schools to understand the benefit of being part of an international network. To do so we launched a national plan with two areas:

  • At local level, we created new roles for our local volunteers that would be in charge of the relationship with the schools at the local level. We also should identify a contact person in each of the schools that work with us or are interested to join. The idea is also to provide additional benefits to these schools. For example: webinars and trainings for teachers, international programs for teachers, etc.
  • At national level, develop a solid relationship with the national educational authorities to develop better regulations that promotes international experiences.

We still have a long way ahead of us to conclude we are successful on this initiative. But we are sure this is the only way to go.

There are of course some barriers or prejudices from the school system since AFS is considered a non-formal educational entity but this is something that we have to work as well.

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?

This is another great question as there are several and very different challenges and trends that we must tackle at the same time. Let me share some of these challenges and trends we find:

  • The need for the organization to find a balance between the social impact and the roles volunteers have while they carry out the routines and tasks to achieve consistency in our services (what we promised to our participants and parents).
  • The way millennials would like to engage. More and more, our volunteer composition is influenced by this. This is affecting those tasks and roles where volunteers are not inspired to continue working.
  • The challenges we have find in terms of diversity in our volunteer structure. This is something important and difficult to change. But we must lead by the example

To address In AFS ARG & URU we have tried and carried out different plans to address these challenges. Let me share a couple of them:

  • We are working in terms of the aptitudes or competencies our volunteers need to develop to engage and fulfill their responsibilities. Basically, this is done through training. A critical one is our “Leadership School” as we strongly believe that these our main change agents in the field.
  • We are launching a new recruitment plan which includes: a local assessment to identify the type of profiles we would need to recruit to have the volunteers capable to do their job and strategies to deploy the plan on a local level. As part of this, we encourage the local chapters to develop a more diverse volunteer group.
  • Collaboration and Knowledge management. We have launched a virtual platform as a knowledge community that foster collaboration between volunteers and staff. This is a great way to democratize information and share knowledge among the volunteers. This platform also creates incentives to volunteers to share their knowledge by recognizing their contribution with different levels of expertise.
  • Support. We offer different ways to support the work our volunteers do. In order to do so we follow different indicators and measures that help us understand the areas that need to be developed on a local but also on a national level.

How has the AFS experienced/helped you?

The AFS experience is still helping me as find myself learning every day. Meeting extraordinary people and their different ways of thinking that helps to learn, more about me and improve myself.

The AFS experience has helped me to question myself, to doubt and by doing so, opening the door for learning.

During my life, I could say thanks to AFS I have been able to adapt to different circumstances, many of them, feeling quite uncomfortable at the beginning but thanks to the learnings I was able to live the experience as a journey of learning.

Finally,  the AFS experience has helped me to find friends all over the world and live amazing moments!