I bet that many of you reading this article can look back to an intercultural experience of some sort. Did you go on a high-school exchange? Or maybe you did Erasmus? Or maybe even an international degree where you studied with people from different countries? Did you have any work experience abroad?
Experience abroad awakens you
All of the above are true for myself. Going on high school exchange raised my interest in politics, the environment and how it is all interconnected. I started volunteering and being interested in intercultural learning – which allowed me to reflect more deeply on my exchange abroad. Each experience after that awakened another character trait on myself that I am proud of today. I feel that this is what defines me: a responsible global citizen with roots in beautiful canton Uri.
It was the experiences described above that turned me into a NOWer. Someone who doesn’t just accept things as they are, but wants to improve the world we live in. And I don’t think I should wait. I want to do it NOW! I’m quite sure many of you identify with being a NOWer yourself.
Limited to a few
Over the last years, however, I have started to reflect on the privilege that lies behind the experiences described. According to a study by Intermundo, more than 90% of participants in intercultural exchange programs come from families of higher socio-economic background and have access to higher education. Estimates on how many people worldwide have the possibility to travel abroad are hard to get by, estimates assume between 100 and 500 million travel abroad every year – but these are often the same who will travel abroad again the next year. In short: intercultural experiences are limited to a few.
Together with a diverse group of friends that I met along the way, I have decided that it’s time to start changing that. While we don’t necessarily want to increase international air travel and collapse our climate even more, we decided to re-think intercultural youth exchange. We truly believe in the power of reflected and facilitated intercultural encounters to generate more solidarity and mutual understanding in the world. And the more diverse we can make these opportunities, the bigger the impact they will have in the world.
Creating NOW now!
In late 2015, we created NOW to make these empowering learning experiences possible for young people who do not normally travel abroad to learn a new language and who don’t usually have the chance to participate in global youth events or international study programs. We call them the “unlikely participants”. But of course we don’t want to create a program just for them. Instead we want to create a space where intercultural learning is not based on our cultural differences among different nations, but rather reflects on the diversity we find anywhere in the world. We call this approach “inter-diversity learning”. And from what we found out, there’s no one else out there doing that.
Inclusion is challenging
Creating an inclusive program is challenging: it goes from communication (Did you know that google forms are the best choice if you want to make a form accessible to blind people?), to creating an inclusive financial model (NOW participants chose how much they pay for the program) to the program design itself (our program combines online and offline elements because not everyone can just leave everything behind to go on a program for half a year). Luckily, we have found a growing number of partner organizations that help us to make this learning journey a reality.
Inclusion and learning from diversity is one thing, but re-thinking intercultural youth exchange goes much further. After all, we’re offering this program to Millennials! We have started analyzing this generation and their take on the world. As a result, our NOW Journey combines online and offline learning and is hyper-personalized. Each participant has their own learning pace, their own starting point and, most of all, their own interests and area of focus.
Using a peer-to-peer approach
One of our favorite trait of Millennials is that they want to have an impact. At the core of our program is a social project that each participant implements in their own community. Learning will happen when our participants face a challenge – and solve it. And to accomplish that, an individual coach will accompany each participant. Our peer-to-peer approach will make sure that those learnings will not be limited to the individual participant, but rather shared in the group and lead to even more learning.
Our logo, a colorful unicorn, reflects another core element of NOW: we want to activate our participants’ creativity, have them learn outside the box. NOW shall be a safer space where everyone can find their way of expressing themselves and where everyone can learn from everyone – including ourselves who facilitate the program.
For myself, NOW is the proof that dreams can turn into reality if we dream them hard enough. As the first applications are coming in and we secured the first funding from foundations, we have one more step to take to make the pilot Journey happen: our crowdfunding campaign. Can we count on your support?
Support our crowdfunding and make powerful intercultural experiences possible for youth who don’t normally have that privilege. NOW says thank you in advance.