By Tara Hofmann, President and CEO of AFS Intercultural Programs/USA

Nicholas Kristof’s recent article “The Backpack You Need Isn’t for Carrying Books”, highlights the ever-growing importance for young adults, especially, to have intercultural education and international experiences.

“…as the world becomes increasingly interconnected, another component of a complete education is some international experience.” – Nicholas Kristof

AFS-USA has provided life-changing student exchange programs for over 75 years. Students who have an authentic cultural immersion program return with a newfound appreciation and knowledge of another place, culture, and people and become, in a very real sense, the kind of global citizens that the world needs now, perhaps more than ever.

As mentioned in Kristof’s article, “Time spent abroad corrodes stereotypes (of the kind one hears these days about Israelis and Palestinians alike) and shores up our empathy by reminding us of our common humanity. It also makes our country more competitive.”

To further our goal of making a study abroad experience available to all students, regardless of personal finances, AFS-USA recently launched an exciting new approach to scholarship giving called Global Citizens Scholarship and Aid. When students apply, AFS-USA works to understand each family’s needs and provides as much financial support as possible. 100% of accepted applicants with demonstrated need receive scholarship funds to help ensure that the cost of studying abroad is not a barrier to participation.

If after reading this thought-provoking article, you want to get out of your comfort zone, identify and work through your stereotypes (we all have them), grow your empathy, and have a real intercultural experience, but studying abroad is not an option for you, AFS-USA has two options that don’t involve getting on a plane.

The first is hosting an international high school exchange student. Living with someone from a culture different than your own offers an amazing opportunity for personal growth and learning. We offer individuals and families the opportunity to bring the world to their home, school, and community through hosting a young person for two months, a semester, or full academic year (typically August to June).

The second is volunteering with AFS-USA. As an AFS volunteer, you will help to create a more just and peaceful world through fostering meaningful connections with students, families, and schools. You’ll also gain access to personal and professional development opportunities through AFS-USA.

I’d like to express my thanks to Nicholas Kristof for bringing attention to the importance of intercultural learning and introducing yourself, regardless of your age, to other countries and cultures.

I extend this invitation to everyone: join the AFS-USA community and make a positive difference in today’s world.