Wednesday, August 27, 2014

let's talk about ice breakers.

Who remembers their first day of kindergarten? I sure don’t, but it’s safe to say that my teacher probably had each kid stand up, announce his or her name, and say something about him or herself. (Five-year-old Calla probably would’ve told you that her favorite color is red.) It usually wasn’t much, but it was a little something to help your teacher and your new classmates get to know you.

I did similar exercises whenever I found myself in an organized group of relative strangers – mostly for summer camps. (At one church camp, we were asked to give our names and our favorite Bible verse. I was immediately branded a heathen when I said, “My name is Calla and… uh… I don’t really have a favorite Bible verse.” GASP!)

These little activities are generally known as icebreakers. Some are pretty basic (name, something about yourself) while others are much more complex. It wasn’t until I got to college that I was introduced to the true beauty of icebreakers.

Until that point, I saw them as a nuisance. Icebreakers had mostly been done in groups of people I would almost certainly never see again (honestly? most of the time, I was counting on it – have you met some of the weirdos who go to church camps??), so why did I care who their favorite Backstreet Boy was? Granted, I had a bad attitude: I never went to camp (be it church camp or Norwegian camp) by choice, and I could think of thousands of things I’d rather be doing.

Enter: the University of Minnesota, Morris. UMM has all of its incoming freshmen spend one day there during the summer – they break you up into groups, and you sit through some welcome sessions, register for classes, and get campus tours. Then, when you show up for good in the fall, they have freshman come a few days early and spend that time in “orientation groups” where you travel around as a pack and do a bunch of activities to help you get your mind off the fact that OH MY GOD MY PARENTS JUST LEFT ME AT COLLEGE AND SUDDENLY I AM TERRIFIED.

Icebreakers were a big part of both of those sessions – but they weren’t the lackluster icebreakers of my youth. These were COLLEGE icebreakers –and you could be just about as crude as you wanted to.

Not that these games were always crude. The college icebreakers were just more fun and more challenging than any icebreaker I’d played before. Even the simple icebreakers were more fun because they turned into a competition. I remember sitting in a giant circle with a bunch of total strangers, and someone would start by saying their name and something that they liked that started with the same letter of their name: my name is Calla and I like caterpillars. (Which is true.) The next person would then say their name and what they liked, plus the name and item of the person in front of them: my name is Mona and I like meth. Her name is Calla and she likes caterpillars. The next person would then have to repeat both of the names and items behind them: my name is James and I like jam. Her name is Mona and she likes meth. Her name is Calla and she likes caterpillars… and so on. The first person to screw up is out of the game, and you keep going around until the best man wins. (Or until you run out of time.)

Another game we played in our orientation groups was the celebrity couple game. (Which, as you may imagine, only works with an even number of people.) Everybody has a piece of paper stuck to their back – you don’t know what name is stuck to you. You have to wander around asking yes or no questions: you’re trying to figure out who you are, and you’re trying to find your match. So if you approach someone, the first thing you might ask is, “Am I a male?” He or she will look at the name on your back and answer accordingly. You will look at the name on their back and answer questions that they might have, but you also need to determine whether or not they’re a potential match. For example: if you stroll up to someone who has the name Bert fastened to their back, you would assume that their match is Ernie. If you know that you are a male, you’d probably want to ask if you’re a fictional character or if you have a stunning unibrow. If you know that you’re a female, it’s safe to assume that Bert is not your match, but you would want to ask a question about yourself all the same. (If you’re feeling adventuresome, you can include couples that aren’t necessarily male and female, like gin and tonic or yin and yang.) The ultimate goal is to find your other half, and while it’s not really a competition, you don’t want to be the last idiot standing. 

My other favorite icebreaker from orientation week was the most complicated of all. This game requires paper, pencils, and a table. Every person gets a piece of paper and a pencil, and each person either writes a sentence or draws a picture. (You do it so it’s every other.) Then, you pass your picture or your sentence on to the person next to you. If you get a piece of paper with a sentence, you draw a picture of what’s going on in that sentence. If you get a piece of paper with a picture, you write a sentence about what you think is going on in that picture. When you’re done, you fold the paper over so only your sentence or picture is visible. You pass it onto the next person, and the cycle goes on from there. Once the pieces of paper have made it full circle, you open them up and see just how far off the end result was from the original. It’s like telephone, but on paper, and it never fails to be completely hilarious.

Icebreakers were also a major part of college band camp. Oh yeah: college band camp. (They called it a “retreat,” but we knew better.) During one weekend each September, the UMM concert band packed up and went to a church camp. The goal was to welcome new members and get a whole lot of practicing in before the October homecoming concert.

The first night of band camp was the best night, because you didn’t do any practicing and just played the shoe game for hours. The shoe game requires a large space and a bunch of people willing to run around in their socks. Everyone takes their shoes off and arranges them in a giant circle. You remove one pair of shoes so that you’ll have one more person than you do pair of shoes. Everyone stands behind a pair of shoes except for the lucky person who is in the middle. The person in the middle of the circle tells you their name and something about themselves: “My name is Calla, and I play the clarinet.” Everyone who shares that in common with the person in the middle must leave their space and run to a different pair of shoes – and the person in the middle runs, too. There will be someone leftover because of the strategic shoe shortage, and that person then stands in the middle and does the same thing.

Unlike the other icebreakers, there really is no end to the shoe game. You just quit when you feel like it – or when you’re winded from too much running around while laughing hysterically. You learn a whole lot about each other during the shoe game – almost certainly more than you want to, but that’s absolutely the point. The shoe game is how we learned that our German director was once a techno DJ and used to drink a pint of vodka each night while in the German army.
My director can drink more vodka than your director.
Sadly, since college, there hasn’t been much of an opportunity to play these ridiculous icebreakers. Maybe I should MAKE the opportunity. I don't have to wait until I'm tossed into a group of strangers: icebreakers are even more fun in groups of people that you already know. You just never know what you're going to learn.

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