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Anne Fox, Assistant Professor, Norwegian University of Technology

Anne Fox, a freelance consultant and teacher at Norwegian University of Technology, told The PIE about her experience adapting Diversophy, a conversation card game, to bring refugees and locals together in Denmark – and how language schools and universities could use it.


"We had one principle: everybody in the room was equal"

The PIE: Can you tell us more about Diversophy, and how you started using it?

Anne Fox: I have quite a long history of exploring the intercultural communication side of things – for example, I have been running a podcast called ‘Absolutely Intercultural’ since 2006 – and one of the big organisations in the field of intercultural communication is SIETAR (the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research).

One of the eminent people in SIETAR is George Simons, and George developed a game in the 60s that had its origins in the civil rights movement in the US at the time, to try and get students talking to each other in halls of residence in America where he was based.

“The refugees here are under huge pressure to get a job”

He then adapted the game for business people moving to other countries as part of their acculturation training. The game was hugely successful and when the refugee crisis started in 2015 he was about to celebrate his 80th birthday, and he thought it was time to give something back

When the refugee crisis started he thought the game could be adapted to promote communication between refugees and the native population, and he put out a call for collaboration. Initially, he started working with a university in Finland and they did the first version and then they put out a call for further collaboration. I was in Denmark volunteering in an asylum seeker centre as well as helping refugees settle in my local village, and with my background, I thought that would be a good idea.

I teamed up with an intercultural consultant, and we decided we would adapt the game. George Simons has a version of his business game for many different countries across the world but he didn’t have Denmark, so we had to start from scratch. Our idea was that we knew that in Denmark networking in order to get a job is really important and the refugees here are under huge pressure to get a job as soon as possible although they just don’t have that network.

By creating the game we could maybe make a small step towards creating connections between natives and refugees. This is how it started.

The PIE: How did you adapt the game?

AF: We applied to the Ministry of Integration for money to be able to translate it and test it, because one of the features of the game is that it’s multilingual, and we decided, in the end, to make the cards in Danish, English and Arabic. With funding from the ministry, we could get a translator and create events to test it out.

The first event was in a Danish folk high school (a uniquely Danish phenomenon, a residential education centre for adults). We tried it out there because we allied ourselves with our local folk high school which at the time was focused on culture and teaching Danish and would receive refugees for periods of three months to learn Danish. We had their students and invited Danes who came and tested the game for us.

“We always tried to include a food element, because that tends to make things run more smoothly”

We were trying to develop the game in a way that would benefit everybody. We had one principle: everybody in the room was equal. It’s not the Danes saying “this is the way it is in Denmark,” it is 50% learning about Danish culture but also 50% learning about the refugee culture. So that’s one of the principles that we were very firm on.

We had four events in the end, and at each event we always tried to include a food element, because that tends to make things run more smoothly, and because our take on the game was creating connections.

We also developed a way to have an element at the end where we tried to get people to share their wants and wishes – a giving and receiving tree, we called it – so people could go up to this graphic of a tree and hang Post-Its on one of its branches that said things like “I’d be happy to offer a cup of coffee,” or “I have too many apples in my garden, you are free to come and pick them” or “I’d like to learn Danish conversation, I’d really appreciate the opportunity to practise”, so we wanted to create a sort of exchange at the end.

We tried to make them public events: these are not courses or classes, they were public events to test the game.

The PIE: How did you get people to join in?

AF: It was difficult for us to get Danes and refugees together, for lots of reasons. One reason is that the refugees tended to cluster in their own networks, and so I think they are afraid to come out, which is understandable, so we had to work out how to get refugees to come. But the people that came to our session were very positive.

“I think that international students are still often quite disconnected from the home students”

They really appreciated the game and the exchange, and there was a lot of conversation – that would be of interest to language teachers.

It really does promote conversation. We allied ourselves for two of the events with a Food Waste project, where volunteers go around the supermarkets once a month collecting food waste, and then they bring what they collected to an agreed venue and then volunteers decide what they are going to do and cook it and then everybody can come for a free meal.

We thought this was an ideal setting for testing the game. After the evening one of the Danish participants said: “oh, it’s so nice to do something where you are not just talking about the weather!”

It was more difficult than we had anticipated because food is normally something that brings people together, but there are cultural differences of course that we had to be aware of and ensure that the food was acceptable to all.

The PIE: How can this be used for language teaching?

AF: It’s not for beginners, but we tried to help by having other languages on the cards. If you were in an English setting you would have perhaps more leeway to add more languages. I think this is not the only game that acts as a conversation prompt. There are many more. These games seem to work.

“The game gives people a voice”

When you put a room full of strangers together it can be difficult to start the conversation, and this really does work – I saw it work at IATEFL as well! There was some really animated conversation. It means that people are engaged in the content of the conversation and I think what you saw at IATEFL was that it makes people want to communicate. This is not by any means a structured grammar-led exercise, not at all, but as a conversation exercise,  and people seem to be very engaged in it.

The PIE: How could it be applied to universities?

AF: It would be great as an intro activity, I think that international students are still often quite disconnected from the home students, and I don’t think one game is going to work miracles, but if it was part of the program perhaps it would fit very well at the beginning of the session, as an ice breaker. I think it helps you learn something and it does help you understand more about the people around you. From that point of view, it’s helpful.

Everybody in the room is equal – the game gives people a voice. It makes what they know important, and from that point of view, it’s very useful.

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