GUIDELINE NO.7: Intercultural Exchanging Activities

To conduct a youth training – though for different purposes, it usually requires common activities to build a key understanding for cooperation among the trainees.

[Download PDF: No7_iMekong_IntercultExActivities]

Specifically, conducting a training for diverse groups of people, in terms of cultural, social, and political backgrounds, it is essential to bring a concept to everyone that, “we are different, but that is not to be judged.”

This iMekong’s factsheet No. 7 ‘Intercultural Exchanging Activities’ offers a few activities and games, which have been done in the past, for training young activists and writers. iMekong hopes that this factsheet will come in handy for current and future young trainers, to help build the desired Mekong community where the young people are engaging more in the socio-political and environmental issues.

You may start with: “Welcome everyone. We, the organizing team, believe that we are all here at the right time and place, with the right people, with the right minds, and with the right reason.”

These selected activities are commonly used in interactive trainings, e.g., media, advocacy, and campaign strategy workshops, etc. For most activities, it is strongly recommended that you always follow these three steps:

Opening: introduce a proposed activity, explain rules and terms, try to make sure that everyone understands, be patient because some of the trainees might be working on English as their second or third language;

Conducting:  perform the activity with patience, in case someone may request a translation/ interpretation, discuss among themselves in clarifying a certain thing;

Closing: always conclude the activity right after an activity ends – how does the activity we just did relate to the lesson (or content) we are trying to learn?

The following activities are divided into two categories: (1) Warm-up activities; and (2) Integration activities, which are mainly used for exercising the critical-thinking skills, group dynamic interaction, and post-training reflection.

Warm-up Activities

[Download PDF: No7_iMekong_IntercultExActivitiesP1]

1st – Greetings. A total of 398 languages are spoken in five of the Mekong countries. It will be very interesting to have your trainees firstly saying ‘Hello’ in as many languages as possible to each other, and shortly introduces themselves with names and where they are from.

OR “Check-in”. Get everyone sit or stand in a circle. Ask each person to (1) introduce their name with ONE expression in action (e.g., jumping, waving, dancing, etc.); and (2) introduce their community livelihood in action as well such as fishing, farming, teaching, etc.
2nd – Beyond the appearance. This activity is to deepen some understandings about our Mekong fellows’ socio-cultural and political backgrounds. Simply ask all trainees to stand up and go in ONE line and you may ask them these questions, in this case they will start talking to one another:

2.1) Can you all stay in line by ranking the youngest person to the oldest person?

2.2) Everyone please stay in line (for some questions they could stay in groups, circles, instead of lining up):

  • whoever English is their first language, please take one step forward (English as native language);
  • whoever English is their second language, please take two steps forward (Native, English);
  • whoever English is their third language, please take three steps forward; (Local dialect, Native, English);
  • whoever English is their fourth (and fifth…) language, please take four steps forward (Local dialects, Native, French, English, etc.);
  • OR whose community is on the bank of a river/ located in urban/ rural area.

No7_iMekong_IntercultExActivitiesAny questions are applicable, may apply at this stage (depending on your diverse groups of trainings, regarding their ethnicities, nationalities, religions, etc.)

2.3) Ask everybody to get back in the circle and do a small reflection by asking a few further questions: what do you see/ notice from this activity?, How diverse we are in this room? etc.

In this case, it is very important that we all are mindful and patient as we speak, because for many people might be working to understand the questions and to answer, on their second or third language.

3rd – Get frozen! Dealing with power, get frozen or get helped. This game will help you connect more with your trainees and among themselves, and to observe how expressive they are. More importantly, it is always a good idea to move our bodies!

3.1) All trainees are out in a yard/garden or an open space, where they can walk and run around;

3.2) A facilitator explains the rules.

  • There will be one person who has a magical power to freeze other people by tagging them.
  • Anyone who get tagged will be frozen, and will call for help.
  • The rest could help the frozen ones by having two people holding hands around the frozen one, and say “I love you” three times. Then, the frozen one will be set free and walk again.
  • The number one rule in this game is everyone can ONLY walk fast step-by-step (foot-by-foot), no actual running!
  • Let’s see whether the magical person can get everybody frozen or not.

3.3) After the game running for about 5-8 minutes (depending on a number of trainees you have), you may ask these following questions. “May I ask,…”

  • The person who had the power to freeze people, how do you feel?
  • The person who got frozen, how do you feel?
  • The person who got frozen, and did or did not get rescued, how do you feel?
  • 3.4) A facilitator concludes this session of how people may feel from different perspectives, when they have power or have no power, which cause people to feel and to react differently.

Integration Activities

[Download PDF: No7_iMekong_IntercultExActivitiesP2]

After the warm-up activities, one of below activities can be further conducted to engage your trainees in your topic of discussion. Besides engaging your trainees, some activities can help you demonstrate the beauty of cultural diversities and opinions such as “Drawing faces”.

“Walking debates” will enhance trainees’ abilities to express themselves, to patiently listen to other people’s opinions, and to practice to be a critical thinker. “Looking up & looking down and Columbian hypnosis” can stimulate the feelings and thoughts when they are dealing with power.

“How do you think vs how do you feel?” will help demonstrate about a communication strategy – how we should ask the right question to have a more comprehensive answer. Moreover, “Paper (musical) chairs” is to help the least participating trainees to express their opinions and thoughts. To wrap-up a whole training session by doing a self-reflection activity, “Random words, one story”.

Drawing faces

Trainees are paired up and asked to get to know their fellows a bit more by asking each other questions. In the meantime or right after the questioning session, they will have to contour (draw) on a paper. Questions might be: What’s your name?/ What does your name mean?/ Where are you from?/ What is your favorite local food?/ What do you like the most about your community?/ What is a key challenge of your community?

After a 3-5 minutes asking each other questions, all trainees sit in a circle and present about their partner. All trainees will learn different cultures and stories about their Mekong friends and communities.

This activity aims to stimulate the participants to communicate to one another beyond question-and-answer. By drawing each other’s face and observing emotions, they will make eye contact which results in a more mutual communication.

Walking debates

A facilitator presents several statements one at the time (can be applied to different topics) to the trainees, and ask them to take sides. If you ‘AGREE’ walk to stay on the left side of the room, if you ‘DISAGREE’ walk to stay on the right side of the room, and; if you are ‘UNSURE’ walk to stay in the middle of the room.

Let three parties DISCUSS the reasons why they agree, disagree, or are unsure of that statement within that group. Then ask for a representative from each side to share with the whole group the reason why they are expressing Agree/Disagree/Unsure.

During this representative sharing, some people may change their decisions and walk to the side, they wish to belong to, which is very okay. All party members may ask further questions of their opposition members as well.

Statement examples:


  • Government development project is always ‘a progress’, that is benefiting all people in our society.
  • Formal education is crucial for all children.
  • Natural resources are meant to be used for wealth and happiness to all citizens.
  • Alternative media are very different from mainstream media because they are not profit-oriented.

Note: The facilitator could also write AGREE/ DISAGREE/ UNSURE on the papers and put them on the wall. So that it is clear and easier to visualize which side they are taking on each statement.

This game enhances a debate while moving the body, walking, psychologically helps the participants think deeper and carefully about a discussed topic. This game also relies on trust and respect among the participants to patiently listen to each other.

Looking up & looking down (feeling the power)

Asking all trainees to pair up, and at their positions sitting or standing next to each other to observe each other’s faces quietly, no talking.

For a couple minutes, ask them to change position, one person may stand up and one person may sit down – then look at each other. Again, after a couple minutes, they will have to change position, the sitting person may stand up and the standing person may sit down – then look at each other.

End the session and ask everyone to go back to their seats. A facilitator asks for a few volunteers from the group to share their feelings of how they FEEL when they look up to their partner, at the same time, how they FEEL when they look down to their partner.

This activity helps trainees to experience the feeling of power themselves by simply change angles and look up or down to their pair. Most participants could feel the impact.

In other words, when you look up to someone, you might feel small and powerless. While you look down to someone, you would feel more powerful.

OR some people experience a feeling of wanting to look after other people, to take care of them, and to be a good leader for the people they are looking downward at. OR some people experience a sense of wanting to be a follower of a person they are looking upward to.

[Download PDF: No7_iMekong_IntercultExActivitiesP3]

Columbian hypnosis (dealing with power)

It is a concept that came from a Theatre of the Oppressed, has been used in a community that is suppressed and struggling for a social justice. For more information, please see: http://organizingfor 5).

First divide all trainers into pairs and they decide who is “A” and “B”. Ask “A(s)” to hold their palms up to about six inches from their “B’(s)” faces.

Ask all B(s) to imagine that their partner’s hand has hypnotized them and they have to follow it anywhere it goes and keep the same distance between their face and palm at all times. As “A(s)” moves around in any way they wish, they are the leaders and “B(s)” are the followers (see an example click here).

No7_iMekong_IntercultExActivitiesP3After a couple minutes, they will switch roles. “B(s)” will lead and “A(s)” will follow. Remember that the whole game is in silence. However, a facilitator may interrupt at a certain point such as announcing to switch roles, or ask some questions:

  • How are you going to keep your partners safe as you move along?
  • How do you think you are a good leader/ a good follower?
  • How do you feel about following your leader with no participation in the leader’s decision?

After this section, gather and reflect on what everybody feels about being a leader and a follower (for more info click here). This game aims to help trainees exploring the roles of leader and follower; who is in control, who is following, and what if one could be leading and following at the same time? How does this game have implications to a real life situation (back to their communities)?

What do you think vs How do you feel?

This is an experimental activity to demonstrate one of the communication strategies.

By asking ‘what do you think’, you will obtain more logical and statistical-based answers; while asking ‘ how do you feel’, you will obtain more of the first-hand information and personal experience-based answers.

A facilitator will divide a big group of trainees into two smaller groups. Then ask the similar questions to the two groups. Let them answer to the questions individually by taking notes on a paper. Then they share their answers within a small group.

Asking for a representative to present their concluded answers from the small group to the big group. The facilitator compares the two small groups for both different and similar answers.

Question examples:

  • A1: What do think about hydropower dam?
  • A2: How do you feel about hydropower dam?
  • B1: What do think about a generation gap?
  • B2: How do you feel about a generation gap?
  • C1: What do think about young people?
  • C2: How do you feel about young people?

This activity helps the whole group members understand the power of asking the right question, and deepen their scope and degree of communication. In some studies also show that by asking ‘how do you feel’ is producing more convincing and powerful answers, including empowering the responders.

Paper (musical) chairs Like a musical-chairs game, but instead of walking around a few chairs, everyone will be asked to walk around a paper and sing a song. You will write a question on that paper and press it facing down to the floor, so that no one can see the question. Sing or play a song, randomly stop the music and for all trainees to run into a paper and try to stand on it.

Only a few will be on the paper and answer the question on the paper. OR some people who missed to be on the paper are the ones to answer the question on the paper.

Question examples:

  • Why do we need an advocacy campaign?
  • What do you think are the key factors of a successful environmental campaign?
  • What are the challenges the local communities are facing? What is your desire development?
  • Who do you think are the main players in this problem? And etc.

This game is meant to help facilitate a group’s reflection after a heavy study session. What they have learned from a lecture/ a documentary film/ a campaign video/ etc.

[Download PDF: No7_iMekong_IntercultExActivitiesP4]

Random words, one story (individual’s reflection)

This last activity is used in an evaluation process. Beyond having your trainees filling up an evaluation form after the training ends, or after a key session ends, you can ask all of them: A) To come up with one word or a phrase to describe their experience at the training; OR B) to come up with one word or a phrase that they think it relates to the topic of discussion.

After everyone writes their words on a blackboard, all of them will be assigned to write a short essay, which is made up from every word written on the blackboard.

Their stories must make sense in one way or another, if not logical, they must be reasonable and non-fiction. In that way, the training organizers can read those stories of how things are put together like a picture made up from those jigsaw puzzle pieces.

This helps evaluate about how many trainees have learned from the training, and to what extend they have applied the information they gained from your training.

For example, these are five words appeared on the board on the topic of ‘development’: river, local community, no public participation, national wealth, environmental challenges.

In a short essay, a person may write:

No7_iMekong_IntercultExActivitiesP4“A Mekong local community heavily relies on Mekong river for food, transportation, and as a core to their spiritual expression. Although the locals support a national wealth and economic growth, when it comes to extract some natural resources to generate financial gains, we want to be part of a private sector’s and the government’s decision as well. We must be able to evaluate a project’s Pros and Cons as well. In fact, in reality, there is no meaningful public participation in those development projects that often cause many environmental challenges and negative impact to our local Mekong communities and the nature.”

Important note: Share and post the stories among the trainees so that they can read and learn from each other’s stories.

*Many thanks for a wonderful contribution to a group of Mekong trainers: Tom Weerachat,  Da Nawa and Noud Savanh, and many youths who have involved in our Mekong workshops and trainings for the pass years.

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