This section offers several practical clues that will make the path more pleasant for everyone and guide and structure the learning that can emerge from an intercultural encounter.

“Living with others is never easy, even with people who speak our language and come from our environment. Members of a family or group may be different in terms of gender, age, personality, expectations, preferences. No family or friendship relationship can be taken for granted forever unless it is built, developed and maintained with care and intelligence.

Cultures add yet another dimension of difference, more subtle.

While other differences – mainly those of gender, age or family roles – are obvious, cultural differences are often hidden: they belong to what we at AFS call the submerged part of the iceberg.

They are hidden not only from others but also from ourselves, in the sense that the majority of us are unaware of our cultural limitations and tend to identifier our behaviour as “normal” and “universal”. Anyone who behaves differently is perceived as “strange” and is viewed with a certain degree of méfiance.

AFS puts people at défi in this field, by introducing a young person into a family who is different not only in visible aspects (language, education, tastes, habits) but also in invisible aspects: his values, his vision of the world, his relationships.

The people AFS brings together – a host family and a foreign student – learn to appreciate their different individual personalities, as well as their distinct cultural backgrounds, slowly and almost by accident – often through trial and error.

The boundaries between nature and culture are often thin and it takes time and patience to discover what belongs to a person’s nature and makes him or her different from others, and what rather demonstrates a different cultural tradition: to understand an individual as a person on the one hand and as a carrier of a different culture on the other.

This process is even more complex today, as young people around the world tend to dress the same way, listen to the same music, have similar lifestyles. Digging below the surface of these similarities superficielles is yet another défi. However, the reward for embarking on the path of discovering others – which ultimately leads to deeper self-discovery – is a joy that is well worth it.

This manual offers several practical clues that will make the path more pleasant for all and guide and structure the learning that can arise from an intercultural encounter. I congratulate AFS Interculture Canada for this effort and wish all readers a safe journey!”

Roberto Ruffino
Secretary-General, AFS Intercultura Italia
Founder EFIL – European Federation for Intercultural Learning