By Shirley.

I think the International Encounters Group is one of the most interesting groups in IN. For those of you who do not know the concept of the group, I can tell you that International Encounters is the most democratic group in IN. To start with, the group does not have a leader.

Not too long ago, I was able to have a chat with Maja, the group coordinator. We talked about how the group works now and how she thinks the transition to Zoom has changed the experience.

This is a group where every member and every country and culture is treated equally. Every month, a different member of the group makes a presentation about a country which she is acquainted with. It might be a member’s birthplace, one where she has resided or one she has visited.

The presentation can take different forms depending on the imagination of the presenter. When the group met in person, the presentation was usually accompanied by food dishes representative of the cuisine of that country. But food is not the only way to learn about a culture. Maja told me of a wonderful demonstration of Ikebana (Japanese Flower Arrangement) by a member of the group.

Members volunteer their presentation, so nobody should shy away from signing up to the group. But English fluency is not required for the presentation. The Ikebana demonstration is an example where big explanations were not necessary. Teaching the steps to a country’s typical dance is another example that doesn’t require a lot of explanation – although it requires good motor coordination.

Before the pandemic, as the popularity of the group increased, so did its membership. Although it never became a problem, when the group met at someone’s house, there was a limit on the number of attendees that could participate in each meeting as a homeowner might not be able to accommodate 40 members. Nowadays, with Zoom, there is space for everyone. And everybody is able to see the presentation from an advantageous point – no more big heads in front of you blocking your view.

Maja also thought that Zoom would allow moms to tune in to the presentation even while taking care of their children. There is no problem if a member has to excuse herself to change a nappy or to go feed a baby.

Maja has big plans and big hopes for the group this year and she believes that the transition to Zoom gives the group the opportunity to grow its membership, while keeping the exchange of cultural experiences alive. We can all learn with friends, be enriched by it and become more understanding of what racial and cultural equality is really like.

Some of the countries “visited” by the group last year, were: Croatia, Brazil, Ukraine, Mexico and Indonesia. For this year, a presentation on Antarctica is already being prepared.

The group meets once a month, on a Friday, for about 2 hours.

You can find the description to the International Encounters Group on our website where you can also sign up to join. If you have questions that are not answered by the description in the website, you can email them to Maja at tea@international-neighbors.org