The usual evening parody

» Intercultural learning at its worst?

It hurts

In every training course, there is one morning where you wake up with a terrible headache.

While trying to orient yourself – Where am I? Where is my head? Is this my room? Who are you?! – you vaguely remember the previous night, and the enlightenment hits you right there and then: it was the Polish Vodka.


During the next training, you stay away from the vodka, but the Armenian Brandy is just the same… In fact, you can easily recognise regular training course participants – they are the ones who stay away from most of the drinks during the infamous, obligatory, intercultural night.

A night of drinks and snacks, songs and dances.

A night that is rightfully confronted with some fundamental questions: How to make sure that intercultural evenings do not become a parody of what intercultural learning is about? How to avoid the nationalization of culture in an international environment?

This way

These are just two questions asked in the introduction to the seminar on

«Intercultural Learning – which ways forward?»

organised by the Directorate of Youth of the Council of Europe at the end of November 2007 in the European Youth Centre Budapest.

And it seems as if such questions are not asked very often: most intercultural evenings indeed are a parody of what intercultural learning is about.


They have little to do with the people,
they reinforce stereotypes,
they have no educational meaning.

As Laimonas writes in an article for Coyote
to be published in the beginning of next year:

«Recently hardly anyone takes into consideration whether or why such an evening is really needed.»

You see only what you wanna see

Laimonas uses the widely known – and also widely disputed – iceberg concept of culture to make his point in saying that

«the majority of intercultural evenings are keeping people just on top of the iceberg. The underwater parts of the iceberg simply remain undiscovered.»

You can dislike the iceberg concept as much as you want, Laimonas does have a point.

So we ask you: how can we do better?

Fire away with ideas – and in January, hold them against Laimonas ideas and experiences on how to get from floating on top of the iceberg to diving into the depth of the cold water underneath.

We can’t say no more but this: it is worth the wait (and we will obviously link to the article once it has appeared in print)!

Happily co-written by Laimonas Ragauskas, Bastian Küntzel and Andreas Karsten.


  1. Hmmm, another one of my favourite topics in training! Of course I totally agree with you on the big doubts about the ritualized intercultural evenings – but lets not overrate the importance of that evening when it comes to ICL. Lets not call them Intercultural Evenings and ask people to bring food and drinks from where they come from and enjoy an “ice-breaking” evening!!! Because for warming up the group they normally work quite fine. Or if you call them ICL-evenigns then lest use them on the days afterwards for an ICL session – no simulation exercise is so good as a real experience shared by the group.
    But anyway I think they is more to reflect on how to deal with Interculturality in our training practice. Lets start with the fact that starting from the application form we are so concerned about the nationality of people – WHY???? what difference does it make (if it has no visa implications)? Once a colleague told me that they asked participants in a training course in the first two days NOT to say where they come from (or even which nationality they have). Lets try to get to know first the person before putting him/her immediately in our “national stereotypical boxes”. “My name is Peter, I have two kids and I have a passion for trains.” or whatever a person chooses to disclose about his/her culture. In a long-term ToT we asked participants to share with the others one “passion” they have, sth. which they miss if they do not see/hear/do it for more than a week, sth. which really engages and relaxes them in times of tension and stress… it had to be presentable in 5 minutes but it could be whatever. We had two “sharing your passion evenings” on teh 2nd and 3rd day of the course – and it worked out brilliantly in the sense that it allowed the diversity of the group to appear at a very early stage in the group development. From one talking about his passion for god, to another one about stars and the sky,to music, to poetry, etc…. and if someone wanted/needed to present sth from where s/he comes from – fine! Of course there is different levels of “individualised” cultures in Europe – but thats also beautiful to discover; ICL is still about making the effort not to ut people too easily into boxes but to make the effort (and it is an effort!) to discover the diverse aspects of a person. Celebrating diversity is not celebrating dozens of different national rites, hymns, languages and so on. But in a Europe which is since more than 30 years marked by global immigration what sense does it make to try to differ between the French and the English, or the Germans and the Austrians – but see and hear how the youngsters born in Vienna, with parents born in Anatolia perceives his/her life in comparison with a youngster living in the banlieues of Paris with grandparents having immigrated from Africa decades ago – and so on…
    I do not think we have to really invent sth. new when dealing with ICL – we just have to reconsider and reawaken the core aims and principles of it. Allow people to learn and appreciate living in and with diversity!


  2. Funny thing is – the name is so common nowadays, that people expect an intercultural evening, and they expect it to be that one particular way. (Do we reach the same people ever again too often? Probably.)

    Laimonas has a wonderful example of that in his article. I guess the better option is probably to use the evening for an icl session the next morning. But what do you do when there is no time for that?

    The idea of NOT saying where one comes from is absolutely delicious! And I can just imagine the magic of the passion-sharing :) «My name is Andreas, I have five Macintosh computers and a passion for passion fruit.»

    Something else I would love to try out is asking people to introduce themselves with the name they would like to have. Names are so loaded with stereotypical imaginations as well, and often a very distinguishable sign of their time and context – chosen by one’s parents… What would I call myself?

    (I play that game every time at Starbucks when they ask for your name to shout three minutes later: «One café latte with low-fat milk and cinnamon for Klaus please!»)

    Something I have tried already is to organise intercultural breakfasts the first morning of the course – to varying degrees of success.

    Much better, to my mind, has worked to ask people to bring food and drinks that have migrated to their country from elsewhere. We arranged everything nicely and played a quiz with everyone: where does this food originally come from?

    It is very funny, and can be powerful through using this to address exactly what you point at – that migration is a fact of life today. (And, in fact, goes back much longer than 30 years or any time-span the times we our our parents and grand-parents can remember.)

    And one last point of – finally! – disagreement: in today’s world of politicised funding, we do have to invent something new. It might be that it turns out to be a new name for the good old core values – but try to explain a project funder that you want to reverse recent developments… Not a good idea.

  3. Hello
    very interesting discussion and lots of good points – I agree that these events are not intercultural but more a way to have some social exchange that sharing food and drink can bring around. I wonder if a better experience would be to give a small group certain foods and send them off to a kitchen to try and cook together….
    However, we need to rethink what really is intercultural – and that does not have to be international.

    On a lighter note, I was once on an international evening where the Swedish particicipants ordered in Pizza for their fellow participants.. as this was the most typical food for teenagers in their country.. not reindeer meatballs as we may all think…
    ta ta

  4. I love the idea of cooking, and get goosebumps thinking of all the administrative crap we will face (hygiene, to begin with), but I would be willing to try!

    Yet, the real question is obviously:

    Where have all the reindeers gone?
    Long time passing
    Where have all the reindeers gone?
    Long time ago
    Where have all the reindeers gone?
    Hunters have shot them every one
    When will they ever learn?
    When will they ever learn?

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