For over 50 years, The American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) has been committed to cross-cultural exchange. Under the guidance of founder Sir Cyril Taylor, AIFS operates as a social enterprise based in Stamford, Connecticut. The organization maintains a double bottom line: financial results and social outcomes.
AIFS has global offices in six countries. It has expanded the programs it offers to include The Study Abroad College Division, CampAmerica, Au Pair in America, Academic Year in America, Summer Institute for the Gifted and Cultural Insurance Services International, as well as summer work and travel programs in Australia and New Zealand. Since 1964, more than 1.5 million students and teachers have participated in AIFS programs worldwide.
Its goal is to bring the world together, and technology plays a big role in that vision; it has acquired online platforms such as Blackboard Open LMS to help connect with the world. Investing in technology can provide companies with a wealth of benefits, especially those that provide a broad spectrum of services not only to clients but also to their employees. AIFS can also provide efficient alternatives to more traditional methods of record keeping in internal processes.
One example of this is the Au Pair in America program, where applicants need to be interviewed as part of their application. Blackboard Open LMS is therefore used in this program as a training platform for the staff (interviewers) who interview applicants from about 60 countries worldwide. Au Pair in America celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and since the mid-80s, the idea has been to send girls who want to travel and have an experience in the United States on a J-1 Visitor Exchange Visa to acquire a better understanding and appreciation of American life while living with an American family and taking care of their children.
As well as the applicants, the interviewers also come from all over the world, so AIFS needs to make sure they are properly trained. Until not long ago, each one of them was trained by phone, face to face where practical and via printed handbooks in order to ensure that they understood what needed to be done, “but a year ago we saw that having an online training program makes things easier because we work in so many countries and we need to make sure they have easy access to the same content, rules and regulations”, said Au Pair* in America Training & Business Development Coordinator, Chiara Galli.
They launched the platform in September 2015. They have had it for longer, but it took time to set it up, carry out the internal training and prepare the content for all the different partners they have around the world. According to Chiara, this wasn’t easy; it’s still taking time to get everyone to sign up and do the courses because they work with a lot of countries and in some, people aren’t used to online training.
Even though they don’t have problems with the language of the courses – it’s a requirement that all interviewers and applicants speak English -, the hard thing is to get them there. “It’s normal that you are skeptical if you’ve done something for 25 years and if, after that time, someone tells you to do your training online”.
However, once they understand what it is and are able to log in and do the training, they are very happy because Chiara and her team try to make it as interactive and easy as possible. The fact that the videos and activities are more visual and interactive has had a favorable impact on the interviewers. “We have done a couple of surveys to see if they think the content we are providing is good and helpful. Most of them replied positively”, explains Chiara. They started out with 500 users, but the number has now increased to 800.
*Au Pair: “on par” or “equal” in French, is a term for a child care provider who lives with a host family as part of an international cultural exchange program.
* Chiara Galli, Training & Business Development Coordinator, The American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS).
* AFP Jack Taylor.