A few years ago, one of my mates (also a Marshall Scholar) started "Dorm Room Diplomacy" at his undergraduate university.
From their website: "Dorm Room Diplomacy uses twenty-first century virtual exchanges to
connect university students around the world. With a focus on dialogue
between the West and the Middle East, Dorm Room Diplomacy is based on
the belief that dialogue can humanize cultures, helping students to see
the individuals behind reductionist cultural stereotypes."
The format has changed over the years, but this semester, groups of ~10 undergrads from around the world have an 1.5 hour conversation at the same time every week - about family, community, religion, politics, favourite movies, culture, food and recipes, should the US intervene in Syria, the best kind of vacuum, you name it.
I've been asked to facilitate a group this term...and I have a totally awesome gang. We have origins and family in the US, Malaysia, Singapore, Pakistan, Palestine, Lebanon, India, and the UAE. We're scheduling across 5-6 time zones every week...it's quite exciting from a logistical perspective. lol.
Our first group conversation was yesterday. I met one-on-one with everyone last week to make sure the tech worked and they were comfortable with me. Yesterday, we did intensive introductions focused around family and community. We shared stories about our names (including fascinating accounts of legal name changes, family histories, absurd friends, and language lessons) and then played a guessing game with everyone's introductions. I gave a different question for each person to make a total guess at. Everyone typed out their answer and pressed "enter" in the group chat window at the same time. I asked them to guess my mother's name. (No one guessed it. I know, shocking. "Kendall" is sweeping the nation...) For others, we guessed number of siblings, favourite thing to do with friends, how well they get on with their parents, etc. It was a really fun conversation, and the friendly banter is already beginning...I bode lots of really fascinating and meaningful dialogue to come.
I'm currently working on a map illustrating where all of us have families and close friends. I know we're going to hit all of the continents except Antarctica. I don't think we'll quite hit every country, but we're going to be impressively close.
Read more about the work of Dorm Room Diplomacy on their newly launched website!
Check out http://www.dormroomdiplomacy.org/.