6/14/2006 - Promoting Intercultural Exchange and Cultivating International Understanding in China
AFS Intercultural Programs held a seminar on the impact of intercultural exchange programs and international understanding this past April in Beijing, China. The seminar was attended by over 50 persons among whom were professionals and experts in intercultural studies, AFS alumni, AFS volunteers and teachers, students and others interested in intercultural learning. Speakers included AFS President Francisco “Tachi” Cazal; Professor Wayne L. Edwards, former AFS Chair of the AFS International Board of Trustees and current head of the School of Educational Studies of Massey University in New Zealand and Mr. Edward Smith, the managing director of the Beijing Consulting Group. Ms. Chen Xuefeng, the UNICEF education officer in Beijing, also attended the event and addressed the assembled guests.
Mr. Cao Wenchun, the deputy director of the Development Research Center of the Oriental Comprehensive Research Institute on Public Administration delivered the opening address. He established the tone of the seminar with his opening remarks which highlighted the theme of harmony which is key for achieving the goals of advancing intercultural exchange programs in today’s world.
Edward Smith, who as managing director of the Beijing Consulting Group helps Western companies set up in China and Chinese companies to expand overseas, was an AFS student who went to China on his exchange program. In his speech on “Promoting Intercultural Exchange and Cultivating International Understanding.” Mr. Smith said that “intercultural exchange is a crucial part of many key processes underlying globalization today.” He also said that his “own intercultural exchange experience enables me to assist Chinese and foreign companies to smoothly operate joint ventures – which let me assure you, is by no means an easy task. Many such ventures fail because the partners cannot understand each other well enough and cannot cooperate and communicate effectively. I count myself very fortunate indeed that my own intercultural exchange period in China enables me to manage a team of foreigners who work closely and very successfully with Chinese colleagues.”
Mr. Smith emphasized that as we continue to globalize we will need more people who are familiar and comfortable operating in more than one language and cultural setting. This intercultural workforce will be needed to “combat global health threats like Avian Influenza and SARS, they are needed for prevention of conflicts, for the rebuilding of failed states and for ongoing diplomacy so that nations can peacefully co-exist. They are needed for negotiating global trade agreements and for achieving global cooperation in fields such as the environment and education.”
Professor Wayne Edwards presented the results of an independent research study that demonstrated that high school students who study abroad as participants in AFS intercultural exchanges show impressive educational gains. The research demonstrated, among other significant findings, that students who participate in an AFS experience show increased intercultural competence; experience less anxiety in intercultural encounters; develop greater intercultural networks and increased friendships with people from other cultures and become more fluent in the language of the host country.
AFS President “Tachi” Cazal, who delivered the keynote speech, said that AFS began its program in China some 20 years ago by hosting a dozen Chinese teachers in the United States. He said that “China now hosts and sends nearly 300 AFS program participants per year, not only teachers but students as well as other young people. To date, more than 1,000 Chinese teachers have participated in AFS Programs.” Mr. Cazal remarked that “in a nation of 1.3 billion people, a nation that is determined to provide better and qualitatively more significant educational experiences to its people, we think that AFS can do more and can do better. He said that AFS could do more “with the collaboration of other organizations in China to extend the extraordinary benefits of intercultural education to a wider segment of the population, in both the urban and rural areas of China.”
The event drew attention from major media including China Central Television – China’s most influential television network; China Daily Newspaper – China’s number one and also most influential English newspaper; China Radio International – China’s central and multi-language radio broadcasting entity; Sohu.com – the most influential privately-run news web portal in China; Modern Education – a new and fast-growing educational newspaper and from the Voice of China Youth – China’s first youth internet radio under the All-China youth federation. The CCTV’s report was broadcasted twice on April 13th at 12:30 and 18:30; China Daily’s article was published on April 24th and was immediately quoted by People’s Daily (which is the most published official newspaper in China). There were also young journalists from the , which has 38 branch colleges across the country.