WORKSHOPS ON INTERCULTURAL COMPETENCE FOR VOLUNTEER KEY ACTORS
1 September through 31 December, 2015
In collaboration with Doris Wietfeldt, Idil Efe and Deniz Eroğlu.
A project of Bürgerstiftung Neukölln
sponsored by the Federal Ministry of the Interior
No seminar chairs. no seminar tables.
Instead stools, benches and tables from wooden slats.
No exercises. No roleplays.
Instead real encounters.
KulturTester. Dialogs with shop owners in Neukölln.
Installations. Giving Baniza to the neighbors on the street and in the house.
Selfmade soup. Coffee and tea personally served. Berlin Wedding. Five TransformationsRäume at an allotment community’s meeting room. Fixed stools. Dialogues in slippers. Conversations with oneself and others via a mirror.
Basically it is quite simple: Talking to people in an intercultural context. Working with them. Getting involved. It is both interesting as well as varied plus we learn new things. On the other hand it can as well be challenging and even difficult. Either way, cultural competences are useful assets. During the months of September through December 2015 we were offering training sessions in intercultural competences for 120 voluntary key actors on behalf of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. The sessions took place on Friday afternoons and on Saturdays and there was a common event with all groups on December 4th. Participants were active volunteers from cultural clubs, neighbourhood representatives, mediation collectives, theatre projects, allotments, refugee organisations, sports clubs, mentoring projects, church districts, multi-generation houses, mosque districts, intercultural garden projects and many more.
The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend
Ahead of the training, all participants received the KulturTester. Using creative means, they could sketch intercultural experiences from their every-day life and solve minor tasks. With the help of this instrument we were able to breed first sensitivities for this subject. Information gathered with the help of these means goes by the name of Cultural Probes in design research. It is a way of getting closer to the participants’ experiences and emotions as well as their organisational culture.
So what is culture? And what does intercultural competence involve? Friday afternoons‘ introductions conveyed first impressions on these issues as well as helping the participants to find out where they themselves are positioned with their thinking about culture. What happens if we face each other with all our differences? These sessions helped opening up towards both the cognitive as well as the emotional confrontation with the topic. Culture is the context in which we move day in, day out. It is so familiar to us that we do not (anymore) reflect on the fact that it is just one context of many more out there. It shapes how we face and reflect the world and other people. It is our pattern of perception. To become aware of manifest patterns, it is necessary to create a distance to them, but to do so we need an occasion, an inner motivation without which cultural learning would be impossible. Intercultural competence does involve realising which patterns we do not like or which we even oppose, and how to find a way to still stay capable of operating.
The participants went to places which were new to them and started discussions about intercultural competence with both owners and employees. Experiences from these encounters were taken to the seminar group and analysed. It was possible to pass on knowledge on intercultural processes and –models thanks to the examples that have been experienced. The emotional reactions were also important for the participants. Some of them shared that they had been reacting with joy or curiosity; others were feeling uneasy or even a little bit scared when confronted with this unexpected interaction. When the challenges got bigger, we downsized the groups. The intimacy of smaller groups creates an atmosphere which is tolerant of mistakes and experiments. Because taking pictures would have changed the character of the encounters, we decided not to allow the camera during these moments.
On Saturday, we started with an installation. Sound cubes containing two recorded stories had been installed underneath the tables. The first one told of a neighbourly give and take in Berlin, the second one told the tale of the honeybird in Tanzania. It leads humans to honeycombs. If they do not leave honey for the bird, next time it will lead them to another place: a place where a lion is awaiting them. Both stories tell of real everyday situations.
All participants were given half an hour in this room, which they could fill however they wanted. New installations were created; conversations took place sitting on the carpet, etc. Meanwhile we prepared Banitsa, a Bulgarian pastry, as well as cake and sweet chestnuts. The participants put those on plates and, in teams of two, offered them to neighbours in the house or passers-by on the street.
After they returned to the seminar room, we offered them drinks, sat on the benches and discussed the things that had happened this morning. Many new questions and even some irritations had risen. The main focus was put on the personal reactions to the events. A setting enabling the participants to make their own specific learning experiences had been created by the initial installation. Each of them had been challenged by it individually. Some of them liked the aesthetics of the room, others felt uncomfortable, some of them were seeking the closeness of a discussion group and created the well known atmosphere of a seminar. However, the latter were then disappointed to realize that the uniqueness of the room was gone suddenly. All participants listened to the others’ various reactions to the room. Soon it became palpable that each person’s reaction was connected to his or her imminent experiences and their situation in life. Questions like: ‘How do we give?’, ‘How do we receive?’, ‘Why did this person on the street react positively when I offered my snack, but not when this other person from our group did the same?’ Again it became obvious that there were interconnections between the input we ourselves gave to an interaction and what the other person added. By experiencing these situations it was possible to come to conclusions on models, possible courses of action and patterns of thought.
After lunch we introduced the Gemischtes Doppel. All participants got together in pairs and then chose one encounter which they had already recorded with the KulturTester, or they focused on another interaction which had been meaningful to them. Describing their experiences to each other, they were asked to agree on three assumptions on why their chosen situation had developed as it did and what had steered both their own as well as their counterpart’s actions.
Now the pairs formed teams of four and they were asked to draft presumptions on why each pair had chosen their specific assumptions. The whole group then discussed these new insights and came to conclusions. Individual core assumptions became visible and it was concluded that it might be helpful not to decide on the interpretation of a situation without seeking a dialogue about it with the vis-à-vis. Within each group we then collected questions and requests for the TranformationsRäume (transformative rooms). Those were issues which returned repeatedly during our work and which as of that point remained unanswered.
The event bringing all our groups together took place on a Friday afternoon in the meeting room of an allotment community. We had chosen this venue because allotment culture is considered to be typical German. At the same time it was a place which many of our participants had not set foot on before. For this venue we had developed five TransformationsRäume. By chance, five groups were formed, each of which went through two different rooms. In both rooms they worked on the same topic. Dialogues were changing depending on the room which they used. It soon became obvious that an encounter’s context has an important influence on both contents and ways of interaction.
A tent made of soft red fabric, bringing people together in a close circle. A table with honey for everybody placed in the middle.
‘Your workshop including the concluding session was great, it was inspiring and touching! Not only did you pass on knowledge, as it usually happens, but you initiated experiences, provoked emotions, you allowed situations of interaction which were uncomfortable at first but which in the end lead to insights on one’s structures of thought and –prejudice. Only encounters with different, diverse people within unexpected and uncontrolled contexts can lead to changes in attitude. This is what I particularly liked about your concept!!! Also, your ways of leading the seminar made me feel very comfortable; you were precise, open and encouraging participation – and full of life.’
Wolfgang Wendlandt, Playback-Projekt Theater mit Flüchtlingen
Political discussions came to life inside the room which was a light wooden construction covered with plastic foil. This room was bleak and narrow, equipped with simple chairs.
‘In this white room with its transparent walls you were face-to-face with otherness. Plans for the future, exceeding the presence, became visible supported by this clear view.’
Stools were arranged in a circle. Seemingly. Because two of those stools had been fixed to the ground. This created the impression that those participants who were seated on these stools did not want to get involved with the discussion until it became clear that they were simply unable to move their stools.
‘First of all I thought it was fantastic that we could switch between two TransformationsRäume. Of course those rooms did something to us and they influenced the course of the conversations. First, our group was inside the mirrored, dark room, followed by a visit in the airy, light room. It was particularly fascinating to see that different people were actively speaking up or even speaking less in one room and more in the other, depending on the room we were in at the time. I had the feeling that more personal experiences were shared in the smaller room, whilst the lighter room invited more political views and ideas for the future. Fantastic group dynamics for this short amount of time!’
Renate Merkel, Senior Partner in School e.V.
Two walls of this room were equipped with large mirrors; benches were standing on the other two. There was hardly any light. The reflections doubled the levels of perception while at the same time creating a huge closeness within this room.
‘The mirror room inspired me to change my perspective and even to look at the other participants differently. This stimulated new thoughts and unveiled surprising things. All the rooms were shaped by their constructed frames which made me leave my comfort zone and work on one topic fully concentrated. Learning on a higher level without just collecting facts has been made possible by this method. This was a little unusual for the critical, result-oriented Germans that we are 😉 However, in the end this was enriching and leaving lasting impressions!’
Tania Wehrs, Verein zur Förderung des Martin-Luther-Viertels e.V.
This room had two long benches, covered by colorful cushions. Slippers for each participant were provided in small white bags. There was this tension between feeling closeness as well as wideness within this big room.
‘I feel I am losing bits of my stance and my security when I take off my safe shoes in exchange for some slippers unknown to me. (Good idea though!) Also, the heads of the other people were pretty close physically. The personal space already is invaded a little by the counterpart. (Arranged cleverly as well!) ‘Close down or open up’ – that is the question now.’
Wolfgang Wendlandt, Playback-Projekt Theater mit Flüchtlingen
‘Very often I have the feeling of not working enough in the actual surroundings, of not reaching enough people. What you did proved the opposite to me. It was incredible, meeting so many interested people willing to spend their time for this. Thank you so much!’
‘The theory of approaches has been accompanying me since the seminar. Also it was a great insight that a successful group situation always involves food. Thank you very much!’
‚Thank you for your great ideas, your creative implementation and for giving us the room to make and share our own experiences. We want more!’
‘Hannah and I are still thinking of Gemischtes Doppel so often. We have hardly ever visited a workshop which really taught us something. But by considering individual needs within the group, the group was able to unfold individually and everybody could learn for themselves…many new experiences – many new ideas – a lot of fresh motivation – many great people.’
Luise und Hannah
‘A great experience: Thank you. It was not always easy for me to understand everybody or tolerate his or her opinion. But as team leaders you were understandable and made me value your opinions.’