Exchange 2.0- Weighing the Benefits of Increased Intercultural Awareness


This is part one of a two part series on Exchange 2.0.

Even though I never had the chance to do a study abroad, for ten years of my life I had over 150 international students live in my house, which practically made up for it. They all came to learn English, but after sharing a dinner table, a bathroom, and a TV with them I learned quite a lot about their culture too. My family noticed after a few years that the amount of students that would come from each country would fluctuate depending on their nation’s economic health. Now with highly accessible online interaction, a new type of youth exchange program has formed that isn’t dependent upon travel and accepts exponential amounts of students— it’s called Exchange 2.0.

Judith McHale coined the United States Institute of Peace Exchange 2.0 event in these words, “Exchange 2.0 is not a replacement for the tried and true methods of exchange, it’s a complement rather than a competitor.” Sixty percent of the world’s population is under thirty-years old. They are not only the primary activists of the communication movement, but they will be “the drivers of change in the coming decade.” The event explored structured methods that organizations, businesses, and governments are combining social media technology with education, because without a structured interaction, as Ambassador Adam Ereli warned, contention can still grow in conversations without moderators.

The conference highlighted some very innovative organizations and the way that they are leading the Exchange 2.0 pack. First, iEARN, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary not long ago, collaborates over 30,000 schools in over 130 countries to help students work on projects with each other. Forums and conference calls are set up between classes from different countries to build relationships, understanding of cultures, and increase tolerance. For example, one school in Redwood City, California and another in Karachi, Pakistan discussed in a Skype conference call how they can be producers of news and media rather than just consumers. Second, Global Nomads Group links school curricula with video conferencing with individuals that have been affected by important world events and where students are facilitated in discussions about international issues.  We watched a video of a classroom of students talking with Rwandan genocide survivors to be able to develop a personal understanding of the tragedy that occurred. Another classroom of students of Katrina survivors video conferenced with a classroom of Haiti earthquake survivors and they got to share how they each overcame challenges. Third, Soliya has partnered with the United Nations to connect and train university students on conflict resolution and leadership skills that are used in the video conferencing Connect Program. Their aim is to increase peace and tolerance between the West and Arab regions by engaging the youth in these chat-room type discussions that supplement their university education. We watched a video of about ten students, each appearing to be from a different country, all discussing the role of religion in their countries. By the end of the video conversation, many students were commenting to the effect of, “Ohhh, that’s what Christianity means in your country. I wish I talked to you about this a long time ago!”

Source: www.soliya.net

 

These three programs show how online discussions, when done right, establish empathy across international borders in a way that has never been done before. Now practically all students of all ages and economic backgrounds can develop relationships with one another, which adds up to a lot more peace in the future.

The social capital that Exchange 2.0 can generate is astounding. Now you can be trained to be a leader right from an Internet café screen. Within the next two to three months, noted Ambassador Ereli, a new country will be born in the Sudanese region. It won’t have roads, but it will have cell phone towers. People will be able to organize more effectively than ever and with growing cultural understanding, they will be able to do so more peacefully than ever.

I remain with two concerns about Exchange 2.0. As I quoted in the beginning, digital intercultural conversation is meant to be a complement not a replacement to face-to-face interaction. But for most of the world that doesn’t have the means to travel, this will be the only option that they have. It won’t be a complement nor a replacement, it will just be the only way that they develop relationships with others across borders. Even though it is incredibly cost effective in terms of audience reach, how can we ensure that these relationships go deep enough that they actually change behavior? One way that was discussed in the event was to start off students at a young age and assimilate them into an intercultural world. Also, we will need much more investment and innovation from the public and private sectors so Exchange 2.0 can not only be truly universal, but somehow foster meaningful relationships. And secondly, if the exchange of information is going to be increasingly easy, what messages do we want to be sending to other nations? Collective actions studies have shown that the Internet can get entire groups of people to act in a certain way, even if many of the individuals within the group disagree with the behavior. While I don’t think Exchange 2.0 will lead to a homogenization of culture, I do believe that we want to be sure we are promoting the right messages, because as Judith McHale said, “we are all citizen ambassadors.”

Did you attend Exchange 2.0? What impressions did you come away with? How do you think Exchange 2.0 will play a role in foreign relations building in the future?

If you’re interested in learning more about Exchange 2.0, take a look at UPEACE’s class, New Technologies for Educational Practice that starts July 4th in Costa Rica.

  • http://www.iearn.org David Potter

    Thanks for the excellent summary and good questions about behavior change, fostering meaningful collaboration and promoting the right messaging.

    iEARN-USA director Ed Gragert fleshes out some of these idea in his recent Huffington Post article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ed-gragert/global-c

    Although, iEARN has 23 years of evidence that virtual global K-12 classroom collaboration has positive impact (from language learning to modern skills development to mutual understanding) iEARN is a hybrid program that has used physical exchanges and conferences tactically to bolster its virtual efforts. As several on the Exchange 2.0 panel mentioned, most in the international exchange community are in new territory and we're not exactly sure how and when virtual exchanges will make deep impact on behavior.

    What we do know is that physical exchanges are not scalable. iEARN and others have reached into underserved communities worldwide to reach young people with very little chance to ever travel abroad. A good example of this is our English Access Microscholarship Program in Pakistan. A few Access students may be future YES program scholars, but almost all of them will only engage to their peers in the US and worldwide virtually. I believe State and US Embassy in Islamabad considers this program a very important model to expand worldwide.

    Global Connections and Exchange is another model program to replicate, as Undersecretary McHale underscore in her Exchange 2.0 address.

    Exchange 2.0 needs the experience of the traditional exchange community to help shepherd the next generation of globally aware youth to make the most of their virtual interaction. For us, the future is bright for mutual understanding.

    Cheers,

    David Potter
    Director of Development
    IEARN-USA

  • TJ Thomander

    David,

    Thanks for your comment and details on the work of iEARN USA. I 100% agree that exchange 2.0 is the most scalable exchange solution we've found yet. As online intercultural communication rapidly passes the threshold to most parts of the developing world, it will take time to properly assess the ROI. I think that sensitive decision-making will be key as all parties involved are embarking into new territory and it's great to see that such a great organization like iEARN is at the helm.

  • http://www.gng.org Tonya Muro Phillips

    Thanks, TechChange! Great article! We look forward to the second installment.

    I echo many of David and Ed's sentiments, especially as one of iEARN's strategic partners. The time has come for Exchange 2.0 programs to become the norm as a critical step towards peacebuilding, as a compliment to physical exchange programs where possible. But, we must remember that so many erudite educators are already involved in the virtual space, making those critical intercultural connections far better than we can. There is much we can learn from them.

    As the Program Director for Global Nomads Group (GNG), we are very excited about the new wave of physical/virtual exchanges that will take place as a result of the support that Exchange 2.0 is receiving in the public and private arenas. Since 1998, GNG has connected over 1 million young people in over 45 countries through virtual exchanges among secondary students. One such example is GNG's Global Connections and Exchange (GCE) program called ONE LENS: Look. Engage. Network. Sense: Cultivating Cross Cultural Literacy Through Film and Digital Stories, in partnership with American Field Service (AFS): http://www.vccontentproviders.org/viewprogram.php…. One LENS is dedicated to increasing media literacy among youth in Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam and the United States so that they can harness the power of media to navigate their place in the world as 21st century citizens through dialogue and mutual understanding. GCE's One LENS program illustrates Judith A. McHale's (Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs) words:

    “Connective technologies…create the sense of shared belonging and mutual respect that is so critical to lasting peace and understanding.”

    We look forward to hearing the feedback from others about their thoughts on the concept of Exchange 2.0.

    Dr. Tonya Muro Phillips
    Global Nomads Group
    <a href="http:// (www.gng.org)” target=”_blank”> <a href="http://(www.gng.org)” target=”_blank”>(www.gng.org)

  • Pingback: A Strong Second-Half Team | Connect All Schools Blog

  • Pingback: Four Lessons from Training International Exchange Alumni in Pakistan | TechChange | The Institute for Technology and Social Change

  • Pingback: A Strong Second-Half Team