Cultural Introductions: “Where in the world are my new classmates or co-workers from?”

I love interactive training exercises and am constantly looking for new, engaging ways to bring concepts to life in the classroom and get students up and moving and learning from each other. I’ve been fortunate to have opportunities to learn from some of the best, like the great training game designer and facilitator, Thiagi, and the brilliant improvisers/experiential facilitators at On Your Feet.

One of my favorite interactive exercises is also one of the simplest.

I call it the Living Map and it’s the most memorable way I’ve discovered to quickly introduce a group of people from around the world to each other.  It gets people up and moving and “seeing” their classmates or work team members differently, through the lens of culture.

Here’s a brief description of the activity and instructions for facilitating it:

Objectives

To quickly introduce a large group of new students or team members to each other from a cultural perspective. To increase awareness about the influence of “place” and culture on personal style, communication preferences, leadership and decision-making.

Materials Needed/Set-up

  • A map of the world (large wall map or projection on a slide)
  • Open space for participants to move around easily

How to Run this Exercise/Activity

  • Tell participants to imagine a map of the world on the floor. Identify North, South, East + West and clarify which continents are in the center, left + right. (NOTE: Depending on where you are in the world and/or the nationalities represented in your audience, you may want to adjust the central location).
  • Ask a series of questions + instruct people to walk to the place(s) on the map that best represent their responses. In each location, instruct people to talk with the people near them, ask where they “think” they are standing, and re-orient themselves if necessary. Some sample questions (feel free to make up more of your own!):

– Where were you born?
– Where did you live most of the first 18 years of your life?
– Where did you learn an important lesson that influences you in your work today? When and from whom did you learn this lesson? How does it “show up” in your work style today?

  • OPTIONAL: In small groups discuss the lessons learned and present a summary back to the larger group. Identify the most relevant themes and connect them to the program or class agenda.

NOTE: this activity has been adapted over the years from other similar activities to the point that I can’t remember the first time I was exposed to something like it, and I don’t know the original source Please let me know if you do and I’ll be sure to include it next time!

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