Kaleidoscope Project

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In a new study designed to enable AFS to better understand the different impacts of living abroad on participants’ well-being, stress, and cultural learning, University of Essex researchers Dr. Nicolas Geeraert and Kali Daemes have begun working with AFS Intercultural Programs to survey participants from 48 different countries, including AFS-USA.

This ambitious three and a half year project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), one of the leading British research councils, and will address intercultural contact issues key to AFS, such as:

  • the rate at which one adapts to a new cultural environment,
  • personal developmental outcomes of intercultural sojourns,
  • changes over time in sojourners’ perceptions of others, and
  • the impact of cultural difference between home and host cultures.

To measure these elements, AFS year program students sent from participating countries will be invited to complete online questionnaires at different times before, during and after their stay abroad. The questionnaire exists in 10 different languages so that many students will be able to respond in their native tongue. A control group drawn from AFS students’ non-traveling peers will also be surveyed. A pilot survey is currently being run the main data collection period for the 3.5 year study will start in late October 2009. (Special thanks to Lila Pigott and Meryl Lewis for ensuring that Global Link set up to allow our students to participate!)

The researchers emphasize the importance of high participation numbers in this project, saying, "To be able to fully appreciate the experience of intercultural exchange and to make comparisons between students traveling to and from different destinations, high participation numbers are essential!"


Bi-Monthly Updates

Promoting the Project: Website, Flyer, Promotional Video and Fact Sheet

Volunteers and staff of each AFS organization will play an important part in encouraging high participation amongst their participants. The researchers have created a number of materials including a project flyer (below) which directs the reader to the fun and interactive website for the project Kaleidoscope Project Website and a video available at Kaleidoscope Project Video.

Kaleidoscope Project Fact Sheet for Volunteers and Staff

With high levels of participation, the project findings will contribute to the future development of training programs and materials for AFS participants and host families. Dr. Geeraert explains, “This initiative will try to unravel what factors enable participants to better adapt to different cultures. Once we know the optimal factors for intercultural learning, AFS can work to create the best conditions for each participant.”

For AFS students, this will include more information about managing expectations about their exchange, giving them advice about how to enhance their year abroad and making them aware of the outcomes they may experience as a result. Results can also be used in materials and training content development for host families before, during and after their hosting experiences.

The study will also contribute significantly to the scientific community and is likely to generate substantial media attention. Dr. Geeraert concludes, “This project will help future exchange participants, as well as helping to improve global understanding and citizenship.”

For more information about the study, please contact Robin Weber.

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