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Leadership Exchange
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Edtech Advocacy &
Policy Summit

Youth Diplomacy: Amplify Intercultural Understanding through Virtual Exchange

Participate and share

Participate and share : Poster

Monday, June 24, 8:00–10:00 am
Location: Posters: Level 4, Terrace Ballroom Lobby, Table 50

Erin Helland  
Virtual exchange is an evolution in public diplomacy, welcoming youth to experience intercultural exchange as digital diplomats. Explore ways multi-country, online, facilitated virtual exchanges challenge stereotypes and increase empathy while developing global competencies and soft skills. Learn how this type of cultural exchange creates alternative pathways to global citizenship!

Audience: Teachers, Principals/head teachers
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices not needed
Focus: Digital age teaching & learning
Topic: Communication and collaboration
Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: Social studies, World languages
ISTE Standards: For Coaches:
Digital Citizenship
  • Model and promote diversity, cultural understanding and global awareness by using digital age communication and collaboration tools to interact locally and globally with students, peers, parents and the larger community.
For Students:
Global Collaborator
  • Students use digital tools to connect with learners from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, engaging with them in ways that broaden mutual understanding and learning.
  • Students explore local and global issues and use collaborative technologies to work with others to investigate solutions.

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective


In today's hyper-connected world, youth instantly access information and gain real-time insights into events shaping global communities. But, technology does not provide a filter for bias and misinformation. Only through deep engagement - people-to-people - can disparate cultures truly come to understand one another. Tomorrow's leaders must have access to forums that provide opportunities for authentic engagement and youth-led dialogue. Study abroad provides the ideal vehicle for such unfiltered interaction, but there are barriers to entry for too many young people, including cost, protectionist parents and crowded educational requirements.

Virtual exchanges introduce youth to the world, broadening perspectives and making civics and social studies come alive. Explore project-based online curriculum; logistics of international peer exchanges; and programmatic and technological support for educators and students. Learn how online, facilitated, multi-country digital diplomat programs empower the next generation with the knowledge and skills to address local, national and international issues, develop globally-minded solutions and make their ideas and voices heard.

Learning Objectives:
-WHAT IS VIRTUAL EXCHANGE? Define and describe virtual exchange.
-WHY ENGAGE IN VIRTUAL? Understand student and educator benefits.
-HOW DO YOU GET STARTED? Determine program components and consider how virtual exchange can work for you and your students.


-Government Diplomacy
-Public Diplomacy
-Digital Diplomacy
-Virtual Exchange Defined
-Why Virtual Exchange?

-Participant Diversity

-YFU Digital Diplomat Program & Participant Samples


Q&A (10 min)

Supporting research

Soft Power 30: "Virtual exchange, an evolution in citizen diplomacy” by Erin Helland for This annual report and index evaluates nations’ soft power and public diplomacy efforts. The study combines both objective metrics with subjective public perception polling to create a ranking of the top 30 countries based on their soft power potential.

Diplomatic Courier: “Promoting Peace through the ‘Third Place’” by Erin Helland, Director of Virtual Exchanges and Olga Smolenchuk, Fellow at YFU.

Google Blog:“Google Classroom: Now open to even more learners” by Gene Ressler, Software Engineer for Google Classroom

State of Civil Society Report 2016: “Creating a new standing army of young people for peace” by Michael Hill, former CEO of YFU USA

An Ancient Education for Modern Democracy and Global Citizenship

A Policy Review: Building Digital Citizenship in Asia-Pacific through Safe, Effective and Responsible use of ICT

Virtual Exchanges, the Next Big Thing?

The Impact Compendium on Youth Exchange, published by Intermundo,
Offers scientific research results on the impact of intercultural exchanges of YFU alumni who went on program between 1951 and 1987. The Summary of Results section opens with the following, which is also relevant to virtual exchange: “Contact with people from hitherto unfamiliar groups reduces the prejudices held about the other group and its members. This conclusion, which is as simple as it is far reaching, is based on an immense quantity of social research whose roots reach back into the middle of the 20th century. It is a finding that points to one of the most important impacts of international youth exchanges and is extremely relevant for all forms of exchange. Through exchange experiences, be these in the context of a school exchange, a work placement, as part of their studies, or in a completely different form, young people are given the opportunity to increase their tolerance towards foreigners and to reduce their prejudices about foreign countries and cultures. This effect of increasing tolerance is shared by all the demographic strata and can be observed to a disproportionate extent in young people who demonstrated a low tolerance towards foreigners.”

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Erin Helland, Youth For Understanding USA (YFU)

Erin Helland is Director of Virtual Exchange at the international educational nonprofit Youth For Understanding (YFU). Erin is in charge of program development, partnerships, and the overall execution of virtual exchange, which has brought intercultural learning opportunities to underserved communities around the world. She served four years as Marketing and Communications Director for YFU driving advocacy, PR, and global branding efforts in support of in- and out-bound study abroad programming for 70 countries. She previously worked in international healthcare and once upon a time she owned a community coffeehouse. Helland holds an MSc in Business and speaks 3 languages.

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