Empathy Land and Education

by | Nov 16, 2022 | 0 comments

                         Empathy Land and Education

                                                                                      Jan Vincent Meertens



Abstract: As of 2006, Dutch primary, secondary and special education schools legally have to provide lessons on culture and offer citizenship classes. The purpose of this part of the curriculum is to raise awareness of the diversity and multiculturalism in today’s Dutch society.

This article explores the use of a simple board game to enhance cultural intelligence (CQ) for young schoolchildren aged 8 to 14. It will discuss the process of CQ development through 5 components: knowledge, attitude, skill, reflection, and behavior.
The core of the article will review the inception and development of Empathy Land, how it can contribute to citizenship education and how its impact can be possibly measured. The article explores, in the context of Dutch culture, how Empathy Land can contribute to preventing stereotyping and prejudice from being instilled in children before they become teenagers.

Empathy Land is a game developed by the Connect2Us Foundation which focuses on helping children understand what we have in common and that our cultural diversity and differences create opportunities to strengthen the fabric of our society. The essence of the game is to foster dialogue between children. Whilst playing the game, children are encouraged to explore their differences. This exploration, in a non-judgmental fun game, builds acceptance of differences and raises awareness of what they have in common. The short dialogues that take place whilst playing aim to build understanding, not only about cultural folklore but also deeper values and norms. The aim is to nurture positive imaging, and discuss cultural characteristics in an open way from the perspective of equivalence and respect. This will help children understand the relationship between their own and others’ identities, seeing them as complementary and not opposing.

  1. Context: The Need To Build Cultural Understanding and Competence in the Future Generation


21st-century society is multicultural in essence. The Dutch population comprises a majority with long-time Dutch roots and minorities who live in the shadow of the dominant cultural ideology, the “majority culture”. Most minorities have qualitative dimensions linked to their specific cultural and socio-economic characteristics.  Such characteristics can produce value systems and lifestyles that are very different from the “majority culture”.


To strengthen democracy, education systems need to consider the multicultural character of society and aim at actively contributing to peaceful coexistence and positive interaction between different cultural groups. Education systems need to be responsive to the specific educational needs of all social groups, including minorities. Among the issues to be considered is how to foster the cultural, social, and economic vitality of such minority communities through effective and adequate educational programs that respect the cultural perspectives and orientations of the learners, while at the same time developing knowledge and (social-emotional) skills that enable them to participate fully in the larger society and contribute to a spirit of solidarity and cooperation among diverse individuals and groups in society. In other words, learning to live together, in a spirit of respect for the values of pluralism.


Educational institutes, therefore, play a major role in promoting social cohesion and peaceful coexistence, especially in this world in which social upheaval challenges traditional ways of life. Citizenship education can make an important and meaningful contribution to tolerant and sustainable communities by fostering dialogue between students of different cultures, beliefs, and religions. Understanding each other’s cultures is key to the reconciliation of group identities within a framework of social cohesion. Citizenship education does not simply address a problem but contributes to the foundations of our society and enables individuals to exercise their freedoms and thus help shape a tolerant society (Eidhof, 2019). Many definitions of the “good global citizen” value empathy as an especially important disposition for understanding others across national borders and cultural divides; however, it may be harder to develop empathy for those whom we perceive as psychologically and physically distant (Bachen et al., 2012). The idea of culture itself is potentially counterproductive as it can easily lead to the fixing of traits, habits, opinions and essentialism, which is still very much present in research on intercultural pedagogy (Dervin, 2016 in Iaboni, 2021). Storytelling and playful cultural exchanges in the context of a game appear to be a promising approach to help students reconsider their ethnocentric framework once they have been aware of it. This Cultural intelligence (CQ) allows assumptions about others to be questioned before being considered the truth. The construct of cultural intelligence does not stem from a cultural way of seeing and interpreting the world, but rather it is an openness to different ways of thinking, behaving and living without a cultural reference.


Within the last decade, European schools for primary, secondary, and special education were ordained by the European Commission to offer a citizenship curriculum and to consider culture when creating the curriculum to ensure inclusivity. The Netherlands, following through on this directive, accepted amendments to several education laws in connection with the clarification of citizenship duties to schools in primary and secondary education. The current core objectives for primary and secondary education that were established in 2006 provide guidance for the educational practice in the Netherlands. They are the legal framework for educational content and outline what is important to teach students. The core objectives are very broadly defined. The legislator thus gives schools the freedom to determine the content of their education themselves.


It is interesting to note that this approach is typical of the Dutch national culture. In the framework proposed by Wursten (2019) the Netherlands fits the ‘Network’ culture profile. Keywords for this culture are consensus, cooperation, co-optation and shared administration. A useful analogy to illustrate the Network culture is that of the shopping mall. The mall hosts many shops which are run independently, with their own profit and loss accountability. However, the individual owners benefit from the unity within the concept of a mall. Although the owners will not accept authority, they willingly participate in discussing and agreeing on mutual interests such as opening hours, security, branding etcetera. This approach is quite prominent in Dutch society, including the school system. Hence the broad definition of core educational objectives. This broad definition can, however, be Often to the dismay of schools that lack time, resources, and knowledge to develop their own curriculum.


Citizenship competencies do not exist in a vacuum. They consist of knowledge, skills, and attitudes, and are often related to a subject – about which, among other things, a pupil needs to have specific knowledge to be competent. A widely used classification of citizenship has four core competencies:


1 Acting democratically

2 Acting in a socially responsible way

3 Dealing with differences

4 Dealing with conflicts

  1. The NL Curriculum and How Connect2us can Assist


In 2019 a series of Grand Objectives were defined by a workgroup named Curriculum.nl. 125 teachers and 18 school leaders identified the knowledge and skills needed (building blocks) for nine learning areas. The building blocks serve as a basis for the revision of the core objectives. For Citizenship, eleven building blocks were recognized.


Th Connect2Us foundation has recognized the gap in the specifics of a school cultural programme in the Dutch school system. The building blocks created in 2019 then allowed the Connect2Us Foundation to identify the ones matching its mission and develop a tool to help schools meet part of the aims of the building blocks.


Connect2Us has the mission to help people recognize, understand, and accept cultural differences so they will see they have more in common than not. Because children have been found to respond more empathically to those who are perceived as similar to themselves than to those who are perceived as dissimilar (Barnett, 1987), Cotton (1992) proposes that children should practice focusing on similarities between themselves and others as these types of exercises can increase affective and cognitive empathy; ongoing practice in imagining/perceiving another’s perspective represents an effective means to increasing levels of empathy. The adoption of this mindset is key to the development of CQ as they help children understand that others might be similar to them in ways they do not expect and can also help them reconsider stereotypes as a dysfunctional way to define others (Iaboni., 2021).


Connect2Us aims to reduce prejudices and its motto is ‘from astonishment to connection’. In the framework of this mission and with the citizenship competency of ‘dealing with differences’ and Curriculum.nl building blocks in mind, Connect2Us designed the board game Empathy Land for specific use in schools with children aged 8 – 14. Empathy Land was developed as an awareness-raising tool for interactive learning aiming at stimulating pupils’ intrinsic motivation to want to win the game and in the meantime inviting them to acknowledge the importance of communication and understanding differences in values and to also recognize similarities.


The game is proposed for students in groups 6,7 and 8 of primary education and 1 and 2 of secondary education, approximately aged 9 to 14 years old (Dutch educational system). The game is detailed below, but in essence, it is a simple board game. As children move around the board they land on a square and have to select a card. Each card contains a statement about society which prompts a discussion amongst the group about that behaviour in their own family and culture.  The emphasis of the game is on the routine habits and beliefs of the players: what are we in fact talking about? what exactly differs and where do those differences come from? Do these differences really matter? what is the logic of one versus the other way of thinking and how can we discuss these differences, even being satisfied without necessarily reaching a consensus? Do we need to reconcile these differences? By discussing these scenarios the game ultimately aims to build curiosity about our differences. By understanding our differences we help remove (potential) prejudices and make clearer what we have in common.


Below we have laid out the core Curriculum.nl building blocks and highlighted where Empathy Land can help deliver against core aims:


Building block: Identity

Aim: Students discover their primary and secondary emotions, ambitions, talents, and points of development. They become aware of identity development and reflect on traditions, celebrations, and rituals.

Activity specific to Empathy Land: Students explore their ambitions and future expectations. They explore which group(s) they feel connected to and why. They learn about tensions between aspects of identity.


Building block: Diversity

Aim: Students learn to give words to what others do and want and discover similarities and differences between them. They learn to resolve mutual conflicts peacefully.

Activity specific to Empathy Land: Students explore the diverse society in the Netherlands; paying attention to values and convictions.


Building block: Solidarity

Aim: Students develop ways of looking after their own and others’ interests; as well as recognize and name exclusion, injustice, discrimination, and unequal treatment.

Activity specific to Empathy Land: Students develop an understanding of the principle of equality and of issues of inclusion and exclusion, and justice and solidarity.


Building block: Ways of thinking and acting
Aim: Students learn critical thinking, ethical reasoning, and communication and develop empathic abilities.
Activity specific to Empathy Land: Students develop communication skills, including active listening and providing feedback.

  1. From building blocks to core learning objectives


As discussed earlier in the analogy of the mall, the Ministry of Education, the landlord of the educational system, had defined ‘grand objectives’ for school curricula. On 1 August 2021, the Dutch law clarifying the citizenship mission came into force. The Act obliges schools to formulate a targeted and coherent offer for citizenship, forcing schools into action. Despite these legal requirements, citizenship itself does not have its own grand, let alone core, objectives. The SLO (2021), an institute that, in the analogy of the mall can best be described as the janitor of the Dutch educational system, did however identify core objectives from related learning areas that correspond to citizenship. For primary education, the core objectives that most closely relate to citizenship can be found in the learning area of ‘orientation towards yourself and the world’ (OJW). Some core objectives can be directly and concretely linked to certain citizenship aspects, while other core objectives are more remotely related to citizenship. In addition, there are core objectives with skills that are important for participation in a pluralistic democratic society. These can be found in the learning area of Dutch (NL).


Specific to Empathy Land we can identify the following core objective: OJW 37: The students learn to behave with respect for generally accepted values and standards.

Methodology: knowledge, attitude, skill, reflection, and behaviour

With the building blocks of curriculum.nl and the core objective OJW 37 in mind, Empathy Land is designed to generate shorter and longer discussions between participants.

To be able to properly discuss cultural differences and to prevent stereotyping, three five things are important:

  • Deepen: do not only discuss “cultural folklore”, such as eating habits and celebrations but also deeper values (knowledge)
  • Positive imaging: discuss cultural characteristics in an open way and from the perspective of equality (attitude)
  • Navigate variation within cultures (skill)
  • Exchange views respectfully and develop cultural sensitivity (reflect)
  • Develop a positive, inclusive and empathetic presence in the community (behaviour)


The cards of the game have statements that prompt players to address the issue at hand in a playful manner, respecting their cognitive and emotional development. Not only will the players be able to exchange little nice-to-knows but they can also get ahead of the game if they have a lucky roll of the dice. Observers have seen children discuss habits from one home to the other with remarkable depth. Facilitators listen in at the different tables on which the game is played and collect cards they feel are interesting to use in the plenary debrief.


  1. Theoretical Framework: Key Concepts of Cultural Theory


Facilitators of Empathy Land and citizenship development, in general, may benefit from a basic understanding of cultural theory. Three insights of cultural philosophy are important to relate to and understand somebody from a different culture. First, our ways of being, our ideas, and our convictions are not universal. Second, our thinking is based on several core values that influence our worldview and the way we act. Third, the subject, the I, is part of and a product of an environment, a tradition, and a variety of interactions with other beings. Approaching reality from a completely neutral or objective point of view is impossible (Gadamer, 1960).


Social anthropology has developed the conviction that all societies face the same basic problems, only the answers differ. Social scientists Alex Inkeles and Daniel Levinson suggested that the following issues qualify as basic social dilemmas:


  • Relation to authority.
  • The relationship of the individual to the group.
  • The individual’s concept of masculinity and femininity.
  • The way people deal with conflicts, including the control of aggression and the expression of feelings.


Exploring this concept further we can include the work of Geert Hofstede, who found empirical evidence that these problem areas represent dimensions of cultures. He named these dimensions power distance, collectivism versus individualism, femininity versus masculinity and uncertainty avoidance. Dimensions that can be measured relative to other cultures (Hofstede 2010). Wursten (2019) combined these dimensions into cultural profiles, mental images as he named them. These profiles give a practical framework to Empathy Land facilitators. Understanding this concept, the Empathy Land facilitator will be better able to anticipate the potential cultural gaps between the participants. Although this framework cannot predict individual behaviour it does provide more context to different habits and values indicating possible cultural differences between the Empathy Land players.


As discussed earlier, The Netherlands has a ‘network’ profile. The key characteristics of this profile, which is shared with Scandinavian countries, are:

  • Equality
  • Autonomy
  • Consensus
  • Cooperation
  • Shared responsibility
  • Co-optation (trying to get the opposition onboard).
  • Sympathy for the underdog
  • Downplaying winners and heroes
  • Emerging insights
  • Decisions are based on shared interest
  • Reflect before you act
  • Spare the praise
  • Reluctance to enforce rules


To Dutch Empathy Land facilitators, it is important to remember that these cultural preferences are often those of the Dutch majority. The network profile is the dominant profile in The Netherlands and most likely also in the classroom. This is the perspective that most of the players will have in an average Dutch school class. It is also often the perspective of the teacher. This awareness is important in order to understand that, as the player progress, other, divergent, views emerge in a cultural context and not just as a personal view.


The Netherlands has a multicultural society. After the Second World War there were different episodes of immigration into the Netherlands. The first was the former Dutch colony of Indonesia in the 1940s and 1950s. The second episode was when labor from EMEA countries (Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Turkey and Morocco) was attracted in the 1960s and 1970s, coinciding with the arrival of immigrants from the Dutch colony of Surinam. Starting from the nineties, the Netherlands accommodated asylum seekers from different countries such as Iran, Iraq, former Yugoslavia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Afghanistan and more recently Ukraine. In addition, there are migrant workers from Eastern European and India. Furthermore, individuals from most other countries have settled temporarily or permanently in the Netherlands. There are 180 nationalities in Amsterdam alone. In practice, this means that Empathy Land facilitators may have participants from all seven cultural profiles.

In summary, according to the Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS), 4.652.927 people with a migration background were living in the Netherlands on 1 October 2022. This represents 26.2 per cent of the Dutch population. Of the total Dutch population, 11.5 per cent have a western migration background and 14.7 per cent have a non-western migration background. The top 4 culture profiles of migration background are:

  • Pyramid (Turkey, Morocco, Surinam, Middle-East)
  • Family (Indonesia, India)
  • Well-oiled Machine (Germany, Central Europe)
  • Solar System (Poland, Latin Europe)


The remaining profiles are Contest (Anglo-Saxon countries) and Japan.


  1. The significant cultural differences


Let us first consider the significant cultural differences that may emerge between schoolchildren from the network culture and the four main culture profiles present in the migrant communities in the Netherlands. It should be noted that these general characteristics apply to the culture, but not necessarily to individuals. In the context of groups, such as family and friends, individuals often tend to show behavior and cultural preferences in line with values predominant in that culture.


Pyramid Profile

The first profile, Pyramid, applies to children with a Moroccan, Turkish, Portuguese, and Surinam background.

The Pyramid culture is highly collectivistic. Family and in-groups are very important and loyalty to these groups essential.  The Network culture, in contrast, is very individualistic. People are focused on their smaller inner circle and create or join (music, sports) groups based on their personal preferences.

In Pyramid cultures hierarchy is respected and enforced by a centralized authority. Inequality of power is generally accepted. There is a need for structure and clear instructions. In the Network cultures, and therefore the Netherlands, equality and autonomy and hence personal freedom are the foundation of society. In Network cultures hierarchy is accepted only to coordinate matters. Autonomy is important, the individual can complete the tasks to the best of her or his abilities.

People in pyramid cultures value an intellectual and expert approach to issues. Intellectuals and experts have a high status. An academic background is very important for the credibility of people, it creates followship. Wisdom comes with the years. In Network cultures, intellectuals and experts are respected but do not necessarily have a high status. Equality prevails and age does not automatically contribute to earning higher esteem.

People in Pyramid cultures prefer a deductive, epistemological, approach to finding solutions. In a Network culture an inductive, best-practice approach, is the common thinking style.

The top-down approach and deductive thinking style lead to a ‘guru’ learning style in Pyramid cultures. The teacher sends and the learner receives and copies.

The preferred communication style in Pyramid cultures is high-context, indirect, with respect to the listener and subtle face-saving strategies. In Network cultures communication is very direct, it is a low- context. This concept will be elaborated on below.


Family Profile

The Family culture profile applies to children with Indonesian, Indian and Chinese backgrounds.  This culture profile is largely congruent with that of Pyramid. The same differences with the Network culture apply. For Asian cultures, it is important to take Confucianism into account. This philosophy has a great influence on most Asian cultures – it is a system of behaviours and ethics that stress the obligations of people towards one another based upon their relationship. The collective good is prioritized above individual needs. Family is the strongest collective and the cornerstone of society. Respect is usually shown to those with status, power, position, and age.

There is one other, significant, distinction: people from Family cultures can adapt more easily and are more flexible to changes than people from Pyramid cultures. They have less need for predictability. Bureaucratic rules are unimportant; it is the boss who decides everything. Usually, it is easy to gain access to the boss if you have a good idea. This relaxed attitude toward predictability we also find in the Network culture.

Network cultures differ strongly from Family cultures on the hierarchy and individualism dimensions, as with Pyramid cultures, but are more in tune with a more relaxed attitude towards predictability, rules and bureaucracy. This suggests that Network cultures have fewer core differences to reconcile with Family cultures than with Pyramid cultures.


Solar System profile

The Solar System culture profile applies to children with Spanish, French, Greek, Italian and Polish backgrounds. This culture profile is largely congruent with that of Pyramid. The variation is on the individualism dimension. This profile shows a special mix of value dimensions with a high acceptance of hierarchy in combination with high individualism and a high need for predictability. There is a tendency to look first at all available expert information before actions are taken. Deductive thinking (theory first then practice) is the preferred approach. In Solar System cultures being called an intellectual is very positive. However, if the authority overplays its hand, then the people will rise, driven by their individualistic traits.

Network cultures differ strongly from Solar System cultures on the hierarchy and need for predictability dimensions but are more in tune with individualism.


Well-oiled Machine profile

The Well-Oiled Machine culture applies to children with a central European, mostly German-speaking, background. This cultural profile is, like the Network profile, egalitarian and individualistic. Unlike Network culture, however, the culture is characterized by a relatively strong drive for competition and a high need for structure. Expertise is highly valued, and the preferred thinking style is deductive (theory first, then practice).



Storytelling is a strong way of sharing thoughts and beliefs and exploring the common ground between cultures. Empathy Land invites players, through random prompts, to share their stories on a certain aspect of life. Communication itself is subject to cultural bias and Dutch facilitators should be aware of communication patterns common in the cultures described above.

The Empathy Land player creates an idea of what (s)he wants to share and transforms his or her thoughts into words that will transmit the meaning. The listener converts the information into his or her ‘own’ meaning. This de­coding is subjective. We hear things as we are, depending on our cultural profile. Two predicaments have been widely seen as the most influential on the style of communication: the dilemmas of how to deal with authority and how to deal with the relationship between the individual and society. These two dilemmas can be linked to two contrasting communication styles introduced by anthropologist Edward Hall in his book ‘Beyond Culture’ (1976). He distinguished the ‘high-context’ style and the ‘low-context’ style. Hall argued that some cultures prefer communication through inference and implied ideas (high-context), while other cultures entertain more explicit, low-context, communication. Low-context communicators tend to, based on the belief that there is always objective truth, emphasize logic and rationality. This allows for an inductive and linear, monochronic, process of communication. High-context communicators will contemplate an issue with circular logic, polychronic and deductive thinking, accepting that there may be more than just one single truth. (Würtz, 2006; Hofstede 2010). In high-context cultures, therefore, intimate relationships, well-structured social hierarchy, and social norms serve as a broad context in which interpersonal communication takes place. Most communication relies on the physical context or is presented non-verbally, and less information is contained in the verbal part of the message such as in words, sentences, and grammar (Hall, 1976).

The individualistic and egalitarian Network culture is low context, whilst Pyramid and Family are high context. This also applies to the Anglo-Saxon profile. Because of its more individualistic nature, the Solar profile is high context relative to the Network profile, but lower relative to the Family and Pyramid profiles.



Linguistic diversity is a reflection of cultural diversity and is central to concepts of education. Linguistic competencies are fundamental for the empowerment of the individual in democratic and plural societies, as they condition school achievement, promote access to other cultures and encourage openness to cultural exchange. The use of language teaches us how people communicate. Are they direct or indirect? Do they pay much attention to form or rather to content? What about the context in which things are said or not said? The use of language says a lot about how people interact with each other, including whilst playing Empathy Land.


Empathy Land is a bilingual game. The prompts are in Dutch and in English. This allows Dutch and English language teachers to use the game in the context of their lesson. English is commonly referred to as the lingua franca of the world. And it is true, there are many English-speaking people. The Dutch are known for their relatively good command of English. However, it is the English through the minds and cultural filter of the Dutch. There are not only lexical and linguistic skills, Dutch speaking English are (unconsciously) influenced by own cultural filter, they speak with a cultural accent so to say.. People listening to the Dutch speaking English will also listen with their own cultural filter. Expats from India, for instance, speak English. However, it is most likely their second language, as there are dozens of mother tongues in India. It is an English that the Dutch often understand but struggle to really comprehend. In addition to the English words, communication is via gestures, silences, adverbs and facial expressions as communication in India is high-context. The addition of non verbal communication adds to the challenge of true understanding. It is very different from Anglo-Saxon, low-context English. But even then, when conversing with an Anglo-Saxon, aside from lexical and linguistic issues, people in the Netherlands tend to be more direct and explicit. The Dutch need everything on the table and to be transparent; it is not so much how it is said, but what is said. The Dutch look for meaning, not always the beauty of the language.

A common language may open doors, but behind the doors, there might not be a common (mental) space.


Summary: Key Differences Between Dutch Culture and other Minority Migrant Groups

In summary, we can distinguish the following broad cultural differences between the Dutch and migrant communities.

The Dutch have a very direct, low-context, communication style. What you read or hear is what you get. The Dutch do not like hidden messages and expect people to speak up if they have something on their minds.

Equality and autonomy are non-negotiable. Authoritarianism and collectivism are the dimensions that provide the most aversion to the Dutch. Culture is always reciprocal and the (negative) impact of a strong need for equality and autonomy to people from Pyramid, Family and to a lesser extent Solar cultures can be quite strong.

The need for predictability in the Netherlands is much more contextual and negotiable than in the Well-oiled Machine, Solar and Pyramid cultures. The seeming carelessness for structure and expertise may upset people from Pyramid, Solar and Well-oiled Machine cultures.


Finally, the strong need of the Dutch for a well-balanced private and work life, with only a selective drive for excellence and achievement (sports) can be excruciating to the strong achievers from the Well-oiled Machine (and Anglo-Saxon) cultures.


The table below summarizes the framework in which Empathy Land was developed and the prompt cards were designed. Understanding this framework will help facilitators to better manage the dynamics of the game and have meaningful discussions around these central themes of culture.



  1. Practical application: How Empathy Land Bridges the Cultural Differences


Empathy land is an interactive board game in which students reveal at-home habits, and the others guess whether the habit is true or false for the student’s home life. The game will be followed by a teacher-led class discussion.


Learning goals

  • Cultivate an understanding of differences and similarities
  • Insight into the diffused existence of differences; subcultures; grey areas
  • Habits and behavior are often (not always) an expression of deeper cultural

Empathy Land can be played with up to six players per board. The game will take around one hour for a class to complete and allow learning objectives to be met. The game itself will take up to 30 minutes resulting in one ‘winner’ reaching Empathy Land first. The teacher can use the remainder of the time to debrief and facilitate a discussion between the children. Cards that generated interesting discussion can be laid aside to use during the debrief.

The teacher has the option to remove cards from the deck if (s)he feels they may be too abstract, complicated or confrontational for the players at their particular stage in life. As children grow older or become more experienced with the game the card deck can be expanded. The card has a prompt on one side and some basic explication on the other.


One, designated, player draws a prompt card from the set of cultural statements and reads it aloud to the other players. The other players indicate whether they believe the statement is true or false for the reader’s family. The reader and all other players who guessed correctly are allowed to roll the die and move their game piece according to the number on the die. The person on the left of the reader gets to play next, beginning by drawing a card from the pile of cultural statements, and then the game continues in the same way as above, until a player lands on space “50”. The players will encounter obstacles and bonuses along the way. If they land on a space with a happy smiley, they follow the green track and airplane to advance to the allotted space. If they land on a space with a sad smiley, they follow the red track and submarine to go back to the allotted space.


The plenary discussion can be initiated with open questions posed by the teacher. What did you notice? Are there things that have surprised you? Was it always the same for everyone in your group? Where were the differences?

Once the class has identified a behavioral difference the following questions are examples of creating a dialogue between the participants. How did you discuss these differences at your table? How did you avoid exclusion? How did you respond if you were in the minority? What do you think of those differences? Where do you think the differences come from?


The cards

The more than 100 cards have prompts that invite players to talk about a range of cultural topics connected to everyday life but also connected to the deeper value differences discussed above. The prompts will likely reveal cultural differences that manifest themselves in day-to-day habits and activities. Below are several examples showing the prompt, the cultural dimension it is mostly linked to and the profiles that are likely to show the highest difference with the Network cultures, the Dutch in particular.


Prompt Related to dimension Related to profile
When I speak, I also use my hands to express myself Communication style (high-context vs low context)





everyone eats from his / her own plate

family usually comes a little less often

we have pets as “companions” at home

my parents think it’s best that children remain at home until they marry

I often spend time with my cousins

my parents trust me in what I watch on TV

we respect each other’s personal space

Individualism vs. collectivism (I vs we) Pyramid



father (or mother) make the important decisions

children do not contradict parents

older children are expected to be responsible for younger children

the teacher is right

Power distance Pyramid



we wash our hands before dinner

we recycle at home

there is a difference in clothes we wear inside and outside the house

as a family, we are generally very punctual if we have an appointment, we will be on time

my parents are overprotective about who I date

we only drink bottled water

Need for predictability (UAI) Pyramid


Well-oiled machine

Father helps more in the household

my father or mother is a volunteer

I can talk easily to my family members when I’m feeling sad and lonely

Masculinity vs. femininity Well-oiled machine

Anglo- Saxon



Measuring impact

Empathy Land is in the early stages of roll out and Connect2us are dynamically collecting data to explore its impact.


The aim of the game is to contribute to social and emotional learning (SEL), in particular to cultural sensitivity and empathy. SEL involves teaching children to effectively manage their emotions and interactions, become effective problem-solvers, gain a better sense of self, and learn empathy.


To date, we have had anecdotal positive reactions from both students and teachers. Next, we need to build a body of data to measure the short and long term impact on CQ. We are in the process of building the research methodology to measure if the board game Empathy Land does indeed foster cultural intelligence?


SEL skills can be measured through a mixed-method approach at both the student and classroom levels. We are looking to build studies that include quantitative data collected through a questionnaire and qualitative data collected through participatory observation have been combined to answer the research question.


Three key initiatives are underway to build this evidence base:


  • Game facilitators are feeding back qualitative data on reactions to the game at the end of each session. These observations include:
    • Student participation
    • Facilitator observation during the session
    • Teacher observed impact in the short and medium term


  • The University of Groningen is currently preparing a study with clear and actionable data on students’ social and emotional skills to determine the impact of Empathy Land.


  • Francesca Laboni conducted her Master Thesis on Empathy Land (2021) and posed the following four hypotheses


  • Pupils refrain from drawing assumptions about their schoolmates (Metacognitive CQ; the mental capability to acquire and understand cultural knowledge).
  • Pupils acknowledge cultural differences between themselves (Cognitive CQ; knowledge about cultures and cultural differences)
  • Pupils are interested in learning more about their schoolmates and their differences (Motivational CQ; the capability to direct and sustain effort toward functioning in intercultural situations)
  • Pupils adjust their behaviour with schoolmates with different cultural backgrounds (Behavioral CQ; the capability for behavioural flexibility in intercultural interactions, which includes verbal and nonverbal actions resulting from mental processes).


Connect2us are working to develop four statements to measure these dimensions that schools could incorporate into an annual survey.





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Jan Vincent Meertens (1959). Meertens was born in the Netherlands and went to school and university in The Netherlands, Colombia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. He lived in Colombia, Guatemala, and the United States and is currently based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Meertens has managed worldwide public-private partnerships. He is currently an author, speaker, and trainer in intercultural communication and Chairman of the Connect2Us Foundation.





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