About Virtual Exchange

In the palm of their hands, everyday global citizens hold the power to influence personal networks, greater communities, and ultimately, nations. The rise of technology has paved the way for a new type of public diplomacy through online engagement. Virtual exchange promotes intercultural learning that encourages technology-enabled, facilitated, interactive people-to-people dialogue in a digital space.

Why Virtual Exchange?

Underserved and marginalized youth who may not have the opportunity to travel past the border of their own communities have equally as much to contribute to the intercultural exchange dialogue. Based on the Theory of Change that virtual exchange reaches a wider audience and is an appropriate alternative to physical exchange for participants to develop global competencies and 21st century skills, YFU’s virtual exchanges encourage open dialogue among youth worldwide. 

5 Reasons to Join a Virtual Exchange

  1. Marketable Skills: explore and develop global competencies and 21st century skills necessary to meet the challenges and benefit from the opportunities of a fast-changing global community

  2. Leadership: enhance university applications and future prospects for education; grow as thought leaders and cultural ambassadors; become inspired to take action within your community

  3. Communications: expand written, listening and speaking skills; practice effectively communicating with speakers of other languages and backgrounds

  4. Cultural Exposure: share interests and fun cultural traditions, gain awareness of your own values and learn about others; build tolerance for other ways of thinking; consider embarking on a physical exchange experience

  5. Relationships: build connections with new friends from foreign locations in a safe and open forum

become a digital diplomat

YFU “digital diplomats” experience intercultural learning through curriculum that harnesses technology to engage them in dialogue that combats stereotypes, builds international connections, and enhances diversity of thought. YFU aims to:

  • Shrink the achievement gap, addressing disparities in educational opportunities based on ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status
  • Counter extremism by influencing attitudes and combating radical views
  • Counter disinformation by increasing media literacy
  • Provide personal growth and empowerment opportunities


+ More

In today’s hyper-connected world, students have access to volumes of information and can gain, in almost real-time, insights into events and activities that are shaping global cultures. 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 programs with traditional intercultural exchanges provide 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.

Erin Helland, Director of Virtual Exchange (YFU USA) with Holly Zardus, Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer (Public Affairs US Embassy Jakarta) and students at Daar El Qolam in Indonesia.

“I want to see the world in a bigger picture…I want to connect and share thoughts with people from around the world to develop mutual understanding and tolerance. I want myself to make every decision and to take actions not just as me, but as a global citizen, capable of making an impact. If we face humanity’s biggest problems as a collective community, they will be easier to overcome.” -Afina, 17, Indonesia

Develop Global Citizens

YFU virtual exchanges are designed to benefit youth who participate as part of a classroom, civil society organization, and independently. Integrating virtual exchange into your program helps:

  • Advance the global perspective of students and brings course curriculum alive

  • Utilize diversity within classrooms

  • Provide opportunity for students to become the teachers by sharing their cultural experiences

  • Invest in human capital, enhancing global competencies, 21st century skills, and soft skills – invaluable assets in a global economy

  • Provide a “third space” environment for youth to step beyond predefined social roles and express themselves as individuals

“One of the most rewarding elements of the virtual initiative is that these programs aim to be inclusive in nature, ensuring a voice is given to young women, minorities, migrants, the academically vulnerable, socially isolated and underrepresented students and others who may typically be unable to embark on a physical exchange. As a YFU alumna, I’m honored to guide YFU in the expansion of growth opportunities for tomorrow’s leaders.” – Erin Helland, Director of Virtual Exchanges

YFU’s Role

YFU supports our digital diplomats every step of the way. We thoughtfully review applications to select the most motivated and qualified candidates, while working with our partner schools and youth organizations to ensure diversity and balance in each virtual classroom. We match participants in age-appropriate virtual classrooms with representation from a range of countries. Orientations and topic introductions prepare youth to successfully engage, and ongoing feedback loops enhance training and curriculum to make a greater impact on our future global citizens.

Educator Considerations

Students at Global Prestasi, a participating school in Indonesia.

Students at Global Prestasi, a participating school in Indonesia.

Consider the following factors when identifying which type of virtual exchange program is best for your organization or school:

  • Participants: Who will and should participate? What is the age group?

  • Location: Where does the exchange take place? Classroom? Home?

  • Logistics: How will it work? How do they access the internet? Language? Time zone?

  • Motivation: How will my students stay motivated and engaged?

  • Technology: What tech level are my students at? What skills will be developed?

  • Curriculum: How will the exchange fit into my course curriculum or organizational mission?

To learn more about integrating virtual exchange into your classroom, watch our Virtual Exchange Specialist’s presentation at the Global Education Conference!

“While peace-building is the ultimate goal, YFU knows that the first steps of the program will be helping youth recognize a community of values in which the aspirations they share are greater than the cultural differences that separate them. To achieve this understanding, however, participants must get to know each other as people, a particular challenge, but one that YFU is committed to achieving.” – YFU Trustee, Ambassador (Ret.) Larry Wohlers

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