New Beginnings: Intercultural Exchange in a Modern Context

Promoting a sense of common humanity, and reinventing the intercultural exchange movement for the new age, YFU invites select global education partners to interact in a dynamic virtual forum in which students examine modern society while building 21st century leadership capacities. Through online exchanges, utilizing messages, images, videos, and other media, students are provided opportunities to engage in cross-cultural discussions that may lead to increased appreciation of differences, embraced similarities, and greater awareness of self and one’s global counterparts.

Increased Connection: Broadening Access to Intercultural Exchange

The YFU Virtual Exchange Initiative draws upon six decades of leadership in international education to expand the mission and cultivate greater understanding and empathy through increased access to cultural exchange. Having supported in-person experiences for more than 260,000 students in 70 countries, the YFU Virtual Exchange Initiative encourages interpersonal diplomacy through virtual dialogues amongst teenagers around the world – with emphasis on reaching girls, displaced youth and other underrepresented groups who may not easily be able to embark on a physical journey abroad.  

The program introduces opportunities for secondary school students and qualifying YFU alumni to engage in broad-topic, multi-polar dialogue across global classrooms, after-school clubs, and youth centers; the first of which are located in the United States and in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region.

PARTICIPANTS Secondary schools students aged 14-22

DURATION 13 weeks – Fall and Spring semester cycles. Piloting March 2016.

PLATFORM The YFU virtual exchange portal captures participation details and utilizes the IEARN Collaboration Centre to support asynchronous (not real-time) interactions via text, images, videos, and other media.

STRUCTURE Following a 4x4xP structure, each cohort begins with four core conversations; continues with up to four additional topics as suggested by facilitators – based on curriculum requirements, student interest and world news; and concludes with optional cross-collaborative projects.

Sustainability, Growth and the Future of YFU Virtual Exchanges

YFU has a vested interest in ensuring program sustainability and a significant capacity to scale. As the Virtual Exchange Initiative grows, YFU will invite select student (and teacher) participants to a blended virtual and in-person youth summit in which they will further engage in YFU curriculum and train as virtual exchange facilitators. In collaboration with the YFU partner network, this program will expand to additional countries in the coming years, including locations absent a YFU office, and those where YFU has strong and active national presence – with priority given to areas supporting the ongoing resettlement of displaced people.  

“In many areas of the world – including the US – there are circumstances limiting opportunities for in-person study abroad experiences. YFU’s new virtual exchange program not only aligns with our founding mission, but removes barriers for participation to help close a very real gap, building cross-cultural bridges of understanding amongst individuals who might typically never travel past the borders of their home communities.” – Michael E. Hill, President & CEO

Are you interested in collaborating with us? YFU is collecting inquiries to participate in the Fall semester project and will review and make selections in the summer. Organizational representatives may submit an online inquiry. Be sure to tell us a little about you and state your organization’s capacity and interest in the YFU Virtual Exchange Initiative.

If you are a student, please have your teacher or an authorized party submit an inquiry on behalf of your institution. YFU USA Alumni enrolled in high school during the program period should work through the Director of Alumni Engagement. 

We have a profound ability to influence one another. Through the YFU Virtual Exchange Initiative, we can widen perception and shrink the globe – but we cannot do it alone. Your support will allow us to engage more students in more countries. For more information on individual, corporate and foundation giving to this initiative, visit our Support Virtual Exchange page. 

Check out other opportunities to study abroad, host or volunteer with YFU at Discover our group and classroom excursions, too.

“One of the most rewarding elements of the virtual initiative is that these programs aim to be inclusive in nature, ensuring a voice is given to young women, minorities, migrants, the academically vulnerable, socially isolated and underrepresented students and others who may typically be unable to embark on a physical exchange. As a YFU alumna, I’m honored to guide YFU in the expansion of growth opportunities for tomorrow’s leaders.” – Erin Helland, Director of Virtual Exchanges

Pilot Partners

YFU is fortunate to collaborate with several partners for the Spring 2016 pilot program. These partners share a passion and enthusiasm for learning through an intercultural lens.


iEARN was launched in 1988 as a pilot project between the US and former USSR to demonstrate that students could use emerging new technologies to work together on meaningful educational projects that enhance the quality of life on the planet. iEARN has grown to become the world’s largest educational network for project-based learning on pressing world issues, with programs in more than 125 countries. iEARN-USA’s mission is to enable young people worldwide, working in collaboration and dialogue, to make a meaningful contribution to the health and welfare of the planet and its people. 

New Directions Secondary School – Bronx, New York, USA

New Directions is a secondary school offering disconnected youth of the Bronx an opportunity for educational success; career and post-graduation planning as well as the necessary supports for each young adult to grow the healthy social and emotional habits necessary to thrive in early adulthood. “From this amazing collaboration, we envision supporting our school’s general theme of discovering and defining student identity, teach and promote advocacy to our youth, and most importantly, provide our students an authentic context through which they can learn more about life, geo-politics, migration, political power, and many more social justice themes.” –James Waslawski, Principal and YFU USA Trustee

Theodore Roosevelt High School – Des Moines, Iowa, USA 

Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa is as diverse socio-economically as it is culturally. Des Moines Public Schools is fast becoming a district where whites are the minority, and the refugee population continues to grow; therefore, encouraging our youth to develop an understanding and an empathy for other cultures is paramount to creating a generation of forward-thinking, compassionate adults who will have a positive impact on the future of our national and international societies. With focus of English IV on world literature, veteran teacher Andrea Sutton will facilitate the exchange with her senior-level classes. She says, “Roosevelt High School is an environment where students are eager to go beyond what they know in their own communities. We are excited to provide an opportunity to our students in which they establish positive connections and relationships with students in a very different part of the world.”

15th October Pioneer School – Bizerte, Tunisia

15th October Pioneer School of Bizerte is a magnet school in northern Tunisia, admitting students of the highest academic standing through a competitive entrance examination. Serving as youth facilitator for his debate team during the pilot is former YFU student, Yassine, a 2014-2015 academic year Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Scholar to San Antonio, Texas, who also coordinated YFU’s introduction to his school. Sonia Annabi, an English teacher who has been with PIoneer for 22 years, is pleased to introduce this project to her students while also providing programmatic oversight. She says, “My students are extremely excited to take part in such a project. They like the English language and it is a good opportunity for them to practice and get to know new students, too.” 

Kalaat El Andalous Youth Center – Kalaat El Andalous, Tunisia

Soukra Youth Center – La Soukra, Tunisia

Access Youth Center Sidi Bennour – Sidi Bennour, Morocco

“While peace-building is the ultimate goal, YFU knows that the first steps of the program will be helping youth recognize a community of values in which the aspirations they share are greater than the cultural differences that separate them. To achieve this understanding, however, participants must get to know each other as people, a particular challenge, but one that YFU is committed to achieving.” – YFU Trustee, Ambassador (Ret.) Larry Wohlers