Training on intercultural dialogue in Utrecht

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1It was an unusual training due to the composition of the participants. Our 30 participants arrived in the Dutch city of Utrecht from 23 different European cities from 13 countries: from sunny Spain to snowy Russia. The age of participants ranged from 19 to 50 years. Some participants were actively involved in sports people and others had physical disabilities. Some of the participants had already successfully carried out their own trainings; others participated for the first time. Some participants came from NGOs whose main purpose was work with ethnic minorities, youth groups from suburbs of big cities or rural areas, youth with less opportunities, with disabilities, with HIV or AIDS etc., but does not include promoting intercultural dialogue. Many participants felt we should strictly adhere to a schedule and never deviate from it. We, the organizers of the training, felt that the program could and should be modified to meet the needs of the very diverse group of participants and their various expectations.

Our hotel, the Holiday Inn, where we conducted training, was on the outskirts of the city. It was located in a small park, surrounded by fields and small beautiful lakes. This area was essentially a small business park. There were no shops, cafes, nor houses; an ideal place for learning. The training participants lived in large and comfortable double-rooms. We provided two specially equipped rooms for participants with special needs. The training room and the hotel lobby were at our disposal whenever we needed them. When you have many different participants from many different countries, food is always an issue. This particular problem of intercultural communication arose at the very beginning of the training, because the kitchen is an integral part of any culture. Lack of cafes and restaurants around our hotel made this problem even more acute. Food for lunch and dinner had to be ordered by phone. The choice was not great - pizza, sandwiches, soup sometimes, but it was necessary to make arrangements via e-mail within two days to a local caterer. We had Maria Kopelyan (Russia) and Michael Crum (USA) as trainers, and Arman Ayrpetyan (Respect International – West-East Bridges), Geert Ates («UNITED for Intercultural Action»), and Nanette de Jong-Becker («DiggOut») as experts.

2The main objectives of the training were determining the causes of intolerance in Europe and the establishment of project ideas to support intercultural dialogue in society. Also among the objectives were: to promote European cooperation in the youth field; to contribute to developing the quality of support systems for youth activities and the capabilities of youth organizations; to develop solidarity and promote tolerance among young people; to foster mutual understanding between young people in different countries; to promote young people's active citizenship in general and their European citizenship in particular; to offer young people the opportunity to identify common values with other young people from different countries in spite of their cultural differences; to help young people from disadvantaged groups to improve their knowledge and become active citizens; to prepare young leaders able to act as multipliers for intercultural dialogue.
The training began with an introduction. The participants drew numbers and were divided into pairs. After 5 minutes of dialogue between the pair, one participant told the group about their partner and vice-versa. This procedure enabled us to understand who we will work with over the next 7 days. The results were not very comforting. Many presentations were standard, and the results were boring. It was a worrying sign, as it is impossible to achieve good results in training, when participants are not interested in what they say about their colleagues. Next, the participants developed a code of rules that we would abide by in the following days. We voted upon these rules that would suit everyone such as... do not be late, be active, only one person speaks at a time, be polite, etc. After, we began training. We divided the participants into three groups; Western, Central and Eastern Europe based on their current residence. In their groups, they had to create a sketch of the "typical young man" of the region. Next, we asked the participants on the basis of the verbal portraits they created to assign a value, on a 10-point scale, to mark the difference between a "typical young people" in the Western and Central European cities. The group's collective difference was between 20 and 40 percent. Then they estimated the difference between "typical young people," in Central and Eastern European cities. The difference turned out the same. That's the simple way we "measured" cross-cultural differences in Europe. And from this the conclusion we drew that if between "typical people" there is a big difference, it is obvious that the "unusual man" - a migrant from Asia or Africa – would have a much larger difference. And this contrast in itself sets the stage for a conflict on a subconscious level.

The next day we organized a role-playing game. Participants in several groups had to come up with cases where a conflict situation arises due to cultural differences. To enhance the effect, our group of coaches took part in a role play "migrant family in Sweden." It is a real story. The father of the family comes home in a bad mood and begins to beat his wife, where in country they used to live, is normal behavior for men. A Swedish neighbor calls the police. The police detain the man and put him in jail. Later, the abuser's wife demands the release of her husband, because she is quite sure her husband did not commit any crime. Our performance was the last one. We did it well, although most of the participants, particularly those from Western Europe, could not believe that in some countries it is considered normal. After discussion of the role-playing games, we told participants that the best way to resolve conflicts is to find compromise solutions. A civilized society insists that a conflict is resolved not by confrontation, but by compromise. There should be a compromise between the authorities, concerned citizens, the accused and the plaintiff. In this regard, we asked the participants in small groups to discuss compromises that could be used to resolve the incident. To do this, participants were divided into three groups: the "local authority", "local gender organization" and "local ethnic organization", whose representatives were members of the ethnic minority. The results were as follows:


Ethnic NGO

Gender NGO

  • Protect family
  • Therapy for both (family)
  • Prison
  • Social service
  • Save the family
  • Save the culture
  • Inclusion


  • Violence is never the answer and cannot be accepted
  • Peer support (give opportunity to get out of the situation)
  • Rights of children and women
  • Women empowerment
  • Point out how many rights (and which) have been violated
  • Intercultural dialogue is not a one-way street
  • Negotiation


After that we asked the participants, also in four small groups, to identify the reasons of the xenophobic attitudes towards the representatives of other ethnicities and cultures. We compared the results of all groups and marked the points that were present at least within three groups:

  • Religion
  • Lack of education
  • Economic crisis/reasons
  • Family/culture/friends
  • Fear


3According to our program, we had to carry out a number of activities for the teambuilding. Normally, we do a lot of active games that help participants not only make friends, but also to remove fatigue. The presence of people with disabilities in this training did not allow us to use a standard methodology. It was obvious that creating a team from such a diverse group is a hard job. We had to use the technique of “good cop/bad cop”. Arman was a “bad cop”. He was the oldest and does not speak English. He constantly interrupted Maria and Michael and demanded something from them. He never smiled, always sat on the “sidelines”, and never joined the group during free time activities. Maria was the “good cop”. She was always polite, laughed a lot, tried to make friends with all the participants, and spent free time with them. The desire of the "bad cop” was to force the participants to be more active in the discussions, to "push intelligence", to involve mathematical laws and formulas to explain the different processes, which the participants did not like. Originally, we planned to have the participants organize and execute a “flash mob”. It can be done only if you have an active and well-organized team. The process of preparing and carrying out a flash mob is usually a good way to create a cohesive team. But we were not the usual case. As mentioned above, the participants were from different countries with different laws, traditions and customs. As would continue to be the case, most of the participants were eager to actively participate in the discussions, while others were constantly trying to find ways out of participation. Arman Ayrpetyan proposed that the “flash mob” would take place on a Sunday in the city center. Most of the participants expressed their willingness to participate in the flash mob. After a few rehearsals, they developed and demonstrated several interesting options. Others complained that because they are citizens of other countries, they should not take part in the “flash mob” in a foreign country, fearing legal repercussions. It should be noted that two months prior to the training, the organizers sent a letter containing a TC program to the City Council of Utrecht and asked them to support the event. Unfortunately, we did not receive any answer from them. This time, it was necessary to find a compromise to an actual predicament, and a solution was found. We moved a free afternoon from Monday to Sunday. Organizers booked buses for all participants from the hotel to the city center. Participants could do whatever they wanted with their free time in the city center. Those who still wanted to execute the “flash mob” could and those who did not want to could choose not to participate. Michael found a place in the center of the city where the disabled could also participate. We also agreed to call the city council of Utrecht and ask if we could hold a “flash mob” in the center of the city. Alas, Geert Ates, a longtime friend from the Dutch organization “United” was in Germany, and Nanette could not attend the training so she sent another representative named Chelsea. As a result, the next day we asked Chelsea from the NGO “DiggOut” to call the city government. She called and received a vague reply that essentially said doing a “flash mob” in Utrecht wasn’t really legal. It turns out that citizens of other countries had no problem going to coffee-shops, but doing a “flash mob” in support of intercultural dialogue was illegal. Maybe that’s why the situation with intercultural relations in Europe is getting worse each year? In the situation being different we could call the City Council once again, but seeing the group’s attitude we gave up. It seemed that most people wanted to only do theoretical work with a pen and paper.

Most participants felt more comfortable when the discussions were in small groups. Therefore, we asked the question, "What tools and actions should be used to carry out support of intercultural dialogue in society?" They talked long and hard in small groups. Here are the final results:

  • Sport
  • Dance
  • Party
  • Language courses
  • Campaigns (fb)
  • Traveling
  • Mediation
  • Individual approach
  • Including people in creative and fun activities
  • Short programs
  • Common public events
  • Peer groups
  • Personal perspective
  • Unprofessional facilitator
  • Two schools, one roof
  • Social networks
  • Forum theatre
  • Mixed participants
  • Open “taboo” topics in confident and safe space/environment
  • Giving responsibilities for common projects
  • Intercultural activities (cooking, soccer teams etc.)
  • Guidelines of successful communication
  • Flash mob
  • Calendar with important dates in every religion
  • Multicultural seminars
  • TV/radio programs
  • Workshops in schools
  • Choir of civilization
  • sport


44863 10151602067476322 1162462725 nOne of the main reasons for the popularity of xenophobic ideas is negative ethnic stereotypes. In order to successfully treat the disease, it is necessary to properly diagnose it. A couple of years ago, we developed a technique for exposing naturally held suppositions about societies in schools with an activity. Our methodology received praise by the Alliance of Civilizations Forum, held in December 2011 in Qatar. The essence of the game is as follows: children draw a random piece of paper with a nationality written on it, they open it up and form into groups of other children who have drawn the same country, next, and they organize a presentation about their drawn country within twenty minutes. From the results of the first experiment, we learned that the children organized their presentation based on the negative stereotypes they had about the country. Therefore, the next time we implemented the experiment with children, we told them only to write nice things. The results, of course, were very different. With the participants of the training on intercultural dialogue, we decided not to put such a restriction. Our experience shows that the less time a group has to prepare and the more exotic the country (i.e. the more a country’s culture is different from the participant), the more stereotypes they will rely on in their presentation. Therefore, we chose China, India, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Israel. Participants were given twenty minutes to prepare a five minute presentation about their country. The participants took this game very seriously, preparing various costumes and props for their presentation. They all acted passionately and convincingly. They made the audience laugh numerous times and expected high praises for their performances. And they got it, but… Arman spoiled all the fun.

It is certain that if we gave the participants a few days to prepare a presentation they would have done research and given a “politically correct” answer. Instead, the participants only had twenty minutes to prepare so they drew upon their stereotypes, which is a normal psychological function of humans. Unless we truly understand something, we rely on little fragments of information that we store in our brains about something to form an opinion.

310093 10200621811361335 480042024 nArman asked the group why they didn’t speak of how the Chinese invented gunpowder, of how Arabs invented trigonometry, of how Nigerians were masters of trade, of how Jews produced some of the world’s most renowned scientists or of how India had one of the first civilizations.

After hearing this, the group became outraged. They felt like they were being called racist and some participants even left the room. They united to fight a common enemy (Arman) to defend their pride and honor. The teambuilding was successfully achieved!

We ended the day shortly after. Tensions in the room were very high, but dinner had arrived. We assured the group that we would discuss the results more at a later time.

All the next day was dedicated to the sessions led by the participants to share the experience of their organizations. It started with the session “Disability and Intercultural Learning” led by Wolfgang Mizelli and Inga Baltina from the Austrian NGO «Youth in Progress». Next to present their session were  Ana Krizanovic and  Marina Sarar from Croatian «Raplection» with a “Living Library”. The day succeeded with some workshops used by the Ukrainian NGO “Integration and Development Center for Information and Research” presented by  Irina Brunova-Kalisetska and  Antonina Smirnova. The session was called  «Intercultural dialogue and intercultural communication in education: Crimean approach»образовании. Крымский подход». Some games were performed by Firat Soydemir (“Fortuna Youth Union”, Turkey) and Adela Galesic (“The Norvegian Helsinki Committee”, Bosnia and Herzegovina).  Olga Hartmann from the German NGO «Culture Goes Europe» facilitated the session «Gender sensitivity within intercultural sensitivity», and the day ended with a beautiful presentation «Spring Customs and Traditions» from Mara Traistaru and Luminita Traistaru (Romanian NGO “Adapto”).

644709 513357795392842 1919549674 nOn Sunday afternoon we all went to the center of Utrecht. It was the only sunny day we had the entire week. The group had been looking forward to going to the city center for quite some time. And the first us organizers saw was, ironically, a “flash mob”. Large groups of young girls dressed in black, marched along the waterfront of Utrecht. They carried some placards and chanted loudly something in Dutch. After a few minutes the girls quickly disappeared into the neighboring small streets, from which we drew the conclusion that they had not sought permission from the city government. Perhaps these girls were significantly more motivated than participants in the training on intercultural dialogue.

Utrecht was wonderful like the rest of Holland because of its canals, old houses, cleanliness, etc. In addition, Holland is one of the most secure and democratic countries in the world. And it was certainly liked by all our members.

The turning point of the training was on Monday. We had guest speakers from Respect International Dutch partners - Cor van de Griendt from “United for Intercultural Action” and Kester Jansen from “DiggOut”. Then, participants discussed how to work with youth from different social groups: affluent, low-income, ethnic minority representatives, nationalist groups, etc. Some of the participants did not fully understand the objective of the discussions and had to adjust their target audience. Here are the results:

Happy POSH

Disabled young people

Ethnic Minorities


  • Needs to be activated
  • Interested in society
  • Promote empathy and solidarity
  • Train them to be inclusive
  • Activities: sport, trainings,campaigns, project action, social events, parties, charity workshops
  • Find them
  • Ask what they want
  • Find support
  • Provide information
  • Depend on age, institution, family
  • YiA (effective)
  • One to one
  • Workshops
  • Centre with daily activities
  • Sport
  • Dance
  • Theatre group
  • Have fun!
  • Language market
  • Interactive linguistic games (at schools/religious places/organizations)
  • A day of each culture mixed (With intercultural events on a special topic – like spring holidays)
  • Intercultural concerts
  • Low cost workshops (like paintings/sculpture) with artists from different minorities followed with exhibition in city in center and suburbs etc.
  • Peer education (camps)
  • Different kinds of theatre projects inside school with minorities
  • Sports/dances
  • Ethnic crafts made by youth with exhibition
  • Join their activities (no critics), ask questions
  • Find common interests (camping, sports, music, party etc.)
  • Organize activities
  • Make them think/reflect about what they represent (ideology)
  • Personal talks (avoid group dynamics)
  • Distribute information

 One day before the end of the training, we began with another role-playing game called "Press Conference". We gave the group 30 minutes to prepare a mock press conference. They would choose a few members from amongst themselves to portray Arman, Maria and Michael. They could dress however they wanted and say whatever they wanted to poke fun at us. We (Arman, Maria and Michael) would do the same except we would dramatize members from the participant group. Everyone had a great time and we made sure to perform this task in a polite manner where no one would have their feelings hurt or become offended. It was a nice change of pace and the group seemed to really enjoy the fact that we opened up to them in such a way. They finally had a chance to be a leader and us participants. Later on, we gave out awards to "best actors/actresses" based on group voting and presented them with a small gift.
First half of our final working day was dedicated to Youth in Action program. We divided participants in two groups – those who were actively involved in this program and knows near everything and those who participate for the first time ever. The participants from the first group has become "experts" that, once again in smaller groups, provided all the necessary information about the opportunities this program provides, its different Actions, Youth Pass.
mainAs the last activity before the evaluation we divided the participants into four groups. They were given the task to create project ideas to promote intercultural dialogue among European youth. We decided to help their creativity and suggested a budget of one million Euros and the duration of two years. As usual, the group argued over the amount we would give them. Many said one million Euros is too much and unrealistic. Unfortunately, this idea is also common among European funds that support NGOs working for tolerance and intercultural dialogue. Keeping in mind that all the business offices in the district where we implemented our training exceeded tens of millions each, it was naïve to think that such important for the successful development of Europe buildings as multiculturalism and tolerance could be built without funds.
Nevertheless, we decided to limit the budget of our project ideas to 500,000 euros to be more realistic. After lengthy discussions, the participants presented their project ideas. They had a lot of creative solutions. We hope that someone will try to use these ideas to prepare a complete project and receive a grant to implement it. But the search for young people who are ready to do practical work for intercultural dialogue in the streets and squares of European cities is as complex as the search for the funding.
The training ended with the group chanting the slogan "Who, if not us? Where, if not here? When, if not now? "