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Teaching culture in grades 10-12
BaFa BaFa, a role-playing activity, simulates the experience of “culture shock.” It has been used by government and industry to prepare adults for service overseas. I experienced BaFa BaFa during an orientation for an NCTA study tour to China. In all of these cases, the game participants were adults who were planning to travel. Yet, I would like to suggest that this game can and should be used with high school students to teach cross-cultural interaction. In fact, I would suggest this activity especially for those students who have not had experiences with other cultures or little experience travelling.
I presented BaFa BaFa to a group of 30 sophomores from two single-sex schools. These sophomore boys and girls were enrolled in the Scholars Programs (honors and AP course tracks) at their respective schools. The game requires patience and concentration to learn the rules of the two cultures. It also requires a certain maturity and comfort with role-playing. While the game worked effectively with this group of sophomores, the game may be more appropriate for juniors and seniors.
The students were divided into two groups, the Alpha Culture and the Beta Culture. Each culture is given a set of rules for their culture. We had two teachers in each “culture” room: one to teach the culture’s rules and the other to facilitate the movement of students between culture rooms for observation and interaction. As one increases the number of student participants, more adult proctors may be needed.
When facilitating BaFa BaFa with high school students, there are two important factors to keep in mind. First, I would suggest simplifying the game. There are certain rules (e.g., signing of the Alpha cards) that take up too much time. The game itself takes about one hour. We set aside one hour for the game and thirty minutes for debriefing and discussion. It is most important for the students to learn the basic rules of the cultures and then observe and interact. The debriefing is equally important to put the experience in context.
Second, I admit with great regret that when working with high school students one must be vigilant concerning cheating. In my experience, adults seem to understand that the goal of the game is to engage in the process well. There is nothing to “win” in the game. In our 10th grade simulation, I had the experience of a few boys and girls sharing the cultures’ rules with one another, essentially revealing information that had to be discovered by the intercultural interaction itself. If I was facilitating this game in the future, I would state strongly and explicitly from the beginning that the point is not to “win” anything and that one can only achieve the game’s end by following the rules closely. It is also important that the faculty proctors help the students to follow the cultures’ rules but also to look for cheating and immediately intervene. It should be noted that cheating may have arisen in our case because these students know each other well and wanted to help make the process easier for their friends. Participants, whether adolescents or adults, who do not know one another, might be less likely to cheat.