From 29 November to 2 December 2017, EFIL’s Member Organisations met in Reykjavik, Iceland, for the annual Heads of Office meeting (HOO).

We welcomed several colleagues attending their first HOO meeting, including Brian Jurczik-Arnold of AFS Belgium French, Laure Metro-Savelli of AFS France, Yukiko Kobayashi of AFS Germany, Vlady Kasperaitis of AFS Netherlands, Eva Hörwing of AFS Sweden, and Jonas Andersen, interim National Director of AFS Norway. We also had the pleasure of the company of Divya Arora, National Director of AFS India. From AFS International, Magnus-Andreas Solvberg-Aase attended the meeting, and also with us was Herman Croux, expert on European law and working together closely with the legal department of AFS International. Joining us via ZOOM, we had the opportunity to discuss topics with Hal Denton, Maria Grazia Brizi and Urs-Rainer von Arx, all joining us from the AFS International head office in New York, and Elisa Briga, EFIL staff in charge of advocacy matters.

We had a very full but appealing working agenda. During the first morning, sessions focused on the promotion of destinations, including the presentation of the project to promote the CEE (Central and Eastern Europe) region facilitated by Rita Bangane Jarecsni of AFS Hungary, followed by short separate presentations about the AFS programmes in Egypt, Tunisia, and in India.

From Herman Croux (supported by Hal Denton and Maria Grazia via ZOOM) we got an update on the European Union’s GDPR – General Data Protection Regulation – which will come into force as of 25 May 2018. The session focused on what we need to know and do in order to be GDPR compliant. With data retention as a specific point, the initiatives taken by AFS International were clearly outlined.

A separate session focused on the topic of School Relations, with specific attention for Class Exchanges including examples of best practices and a proposal to design a more structured European approach, potentially spearheaded by EFIL, to make the topic more widespread.

Joining us via ZOOM, from Elisa Briga, EFIL’s Advocacy Coordinator, we received a well appreciated update on the advocacy strategy as approved by the EFIL Board, to implement the motion that passed the EFIL General Assembly earlier this year, aiming at more funding for  pupil mobility within Europe.

A lot of time was reserved for the Future AFS Strategy. Caroline Steyaert, National Director of AFS Belgium Flanders and member of the Future AFS Strategy Think Tank, first summarised the key points of the new Strategy including the impact areas and the areas of action. Magnus-Andreas Solvberg-Aase from AFS International elaborated on one of the first strategy projects to be delivered, the new Participant Application and Lead Management System, an exciting initiative that will change not only the way we interact with our prospective applicants and participants, but how we work too. In a separate session, Rita Bangane Jarecsni of AFS Hungary (supported via ZOOM by Urs-Rainer von Arx of AFS International) presented the findings and decisions of the Finance Think Tank on how the network will be able to ensure necessary resources for the implementation of the network projects and how the completed projects will add to growing impact and – as a consequence – to an enhanced financial stability of the network.

To close the HOO meeting, a group excursion to explore some of the natural highlights of Iceland around Reykjavik, was very much enjoyed by all. On Saturday evening, the group was kindly invited by AFS Iceland to attend the gala event on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of AFS Iceland.

A big thank you goes to Gudmundur ‘Gummi’ Gunnarsson and his team of AFS Iceland who were the perfect host of the event and did an excellent job in taking care of the logistics. It was hard for all of us to leave behind Iceland, the land of fire and ice, and go back to our desks, the e-mails, and the daily routine of our offices…

We’re looking forward to the next gathering of all the European National Directors, our HOO retreat hosted by AFS Denmark in May/June 2018.