By Omer Ongun

Diversity has been a point of interest in the latest discussions in the field of Intercultural Learning. In the era of rapid flows of information through various communication channels, mobilisation of individuals, services, goods and ideas, organisations and individuals need to consider the diverse working and learning environments. But how do we understand diversity? How can we develop further concepts around the term while embracing diversity? How can we see diversity as an enriching aspect of our organisations rather than a challenging matter of fact? Bearing these questions in mind, the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL)’s seminar taking place in the University on Youth and Development (UYD) in September 2014 in Mollina, Spain focused on “Embracing Diversity”. The UYD is organised by the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe and hosts different youth events (mostly seminars and trainings) from youth organisations from all over Europe and beyond. Celebrating its 15th Anniversary, UYD 2014 brought together  300 young people from all around the world. “Embracing Diversity” focused on diversity education, but also linked to events from other youth organisations. Participants were able to take part in the overall programme focusing on Youth Opportunities.

“Embracing Diversity” aimed at creating an attitude change in how we deal with diversity on a personal and organisational level towards more tolerance while providing a space for participants to explore diversity education in the framework of youth opportunities and the youth exchanges context, discuss projected differences through language, images and texts and give a thought to how to prevent stereotyping. The seminar also offered possibilities for engaging youth in Intercultural Dialogue Day through mini activities as Intercultural Dialogue Day took place during the UYD. It was an example on how to create youth opportunities within diversity education while linking EFIL’s approach on the topic to other youth organisations and interlinking the events and developing new opportunities for youth within the AFS/EFIL network and beyond.

Diversity: A Challenge or Enrichment?

According to Meriam Webster diversity is “the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.” and/or “the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organisation.” This definition tends to limit diversity into race or culture, but as thirty participants from all around Europe and Middle East discussed, diversity is much more than that!

Working on the topic of “diversity” in a “diverse” group requires facilitators to create an environment where participants can explore about their identities, how they describe and identify themselves while having a similar understanding of the term diversity itself.  It is important and inspiring to have individuals that are eager to learn about the other, relate to the global issues and otherness and be interested in diversity.

There is no fixed definition that can be applied to all organisations at all levels though personal level, mindset and personal reflection are important in diversity education. The methodologies used during “Embracing Diversity” followed the steps of context and definition, personal reflection, organisational reflection, future steps on personal, organisational and local levels in diversity education.

During the seminar, participants had opportunities of collaborating with other youth and intercultural learning organisations such as European Educational Exchanges – Youth for Understanding (EEE-YFU) and the African Diaspora Youth Network in Europe (ADYNE).

“Embracing Diversity” has been one of the inspiring seminars where volunteers from all around Europe and the Middle East brought reflection, critical thinking and exploration of concepts of diversity in intercultural learning, diversity education and embracing diversity in AFS on personal and organisational level into the learning environment. It was particularly important for seminar participants and facilitators to self-criticize ourselves and our works by asking the following questions;

  • How much do we embrace diversity in our daily life?
  • How do we see intercultural learning in diversity education?
  • Are there any limits? What are the limits of embracement? Who and what decides on those limits?
  • Are we able to provide sustainable, effective and useful diversity education trainings in our network?

Overall 94% of the participants expressed positive feedback in the general evaluation of the seminar and the majority stated that contents and different sessions were very relevant to them while some participants were recommending to see more tools and ways of running the workshops AFSers are not used to with more provocative questions and improvement in sharing ideas.

Last but not least, I would like to thank all the national offices for supporting their participants and acknowledge committed trainers of this event for designing and facilitating a great programme for the seminar: Inga Menke, Fareeda Atwan, Eliza Popper, Viviana Galli, Noomi Sophie Peter and myself, Omer Ongun.


Embracing Diversity group picture 1