Simone says, “I have been working for Intercultura national office since October 1991, before as Chief Financial Officer for 15 years and since 2011 as the Executive Director.
I was a member of international committees on IT, Finances and Programs. I also was an EFIL Board member for two years (2012 and 2013) and in the last three years I am PDR representative in the Board of Trustee. I had the honor to be also a part time consultant for AFS IP on financial matters, from 2006 to 2011 – mainly supporting AFS partners in NPPR and providing training for international events. One of the most important project that I followed for AFS International on 2006, it was to help the creation of the new AFS India. I hope to have the possibility to come back to India soon, I love your country!”
How do you feel that AFS as an organization can contribute to fostering intercultural competence around the world especially during these times of uncertainty?
This is of course no short term project; but we can have an influence on the educational systems of our countries. By sending pupils abroad and by hosting foreign pupils into our class-rooms, schools are forced to compare their approach to education with other approaches abroad and to question their own way of educating future citizens of their country. As the world has opened in terms of economy, politics, trade, etc., schools have tended to remain very national (sometimes nationalistic) in their teaching. AFS is a strong opportunity towards internationalization.
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?
A German philosopher of the 18th century said that people become educated by welcoming the world within themselves. AFS translates this aspiration into a concrete educational project. Pupils – at a certain stage of their development (and 16-17 is a good age for that purpose) – benefit from being taken out of their environment and from looking at their reality/country/history from the outside, through the eyes of people who have grown up in a different system. They also benefit from being placed in a “minority situation” in a new country, where they have to learn new ways to make themselves accepted by the host society. It is an exercise in humbleness and flexibility.
What initiatives has AFS Italy undertaken to shape the international education worldwide?
Our former director Roberto Ruffino was involved for decades in international working groups at UNESCO, at the Council of Europe and at the European Union, dealing with pupil and student mobility and with international education. Much of that work translated into programs such as ERASMUS in Europe or in other mobility projects. Currently, through our “Intercultura Foundation” we promote international think tanks on this topic (such as the annual Forum on Intercultural Learning and Exchange) and large conferences on topics related to intercultural learning: most recently a conference on “The Unspoken Sacred” – why is it so difficult to talk openly about religious differences and their impact on cultures?
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.
We strongly believe that schools are the main avenue to generate interest about this topic on a larger scale, beyond the participants in an exchange.
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?
Since 1979, we have organized hundreds of seminars and workshops (today also web seminars) for teachers and Principals on intercultural education and pupil mobility. It has been one of the largest investments of Intercultura in its future. We started with teachers and Principals of schools where we had exchanges and then we moved on to all the other schools. For years we have also produced booklets and material to be used in the class-rooms. A strong supporter of our activities has been the National Association of School Principals and – more recently – the Ministry of Education.
(Photo Above: Simon with his wife and Argentina daughter)
Volunteers are the pillars when it comes to the functioning of AFS. What more initiatives be brought forth to garner motivation amongst the volunteers?
Volunteers must be challenged and given responsibility after adequate training. Over 1400 volunteers participate every year in Italy in week end trainings in fall and spring on program basics. Many other are invited to higher level conferences and workshops and in study groups. They remain loyal and dedicated if they feel that they keep on learning things that are useful also for their own personal development. Today we have 155 active local Chapters all over the country and most of the work to publicize the programs, selects the participants, prepare them for the experience, find host families, find scholarships, link with their local schools – all this is done by them.
How has the AFS experienced/helped you?
I started to work for Intercultura when I was 20, just out of secondary school, as an accountant. I had grown up in a small town of 55,000 people where local traditions are very strong and inhabitants are not very open towards outsiders and other ways of thinking. Working for AFS has opened many windows for me and has made me a different person: much more curious and pleased to travel and to meet other kinds of people. This change has been appreciated within Intercultura and I have climbed up to different roles, till I have become the Chief Operating Officer of our organization. Also privately I have made intercultural choices and I have married a Russian girl!