July 2018
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Zsuzsanna Kozák & Ildikó Lázár, Visual World Foundation, Budapest, Hungary

Zsuzsanna Kozák

Ildikó Lázár

“At crucial junctures,
Every individual makes decisions,
and…every decision is individual.”

- Raul Hilberg, Holocaust scholar

Do we notice if a person living next door is in trouble? Do we want to notice it? Do we dare to confess to ourselves that we have something to do with our neighbor? What does it imply that in one language the word neighbor includes its Biblical sense (a person for whom we have moral responsibility) while in other languages we have two separate words for those who just live close and those about whom we are supposed to care? Also, why do we have the concept of bystander in English when in other languages it does not have a precise equivalent? Lacking certain words is one of the many tremendous internal and external obstacles to communication about and with our neighbors. How can we still speak about individual choices and social responsibility across cultures? What’s the difference between our current neighborhood and the community in the Germany of 1938 where people let their neighbors’ windows be shattered during “Crystal night”?

To explore possible answers, the Visual World Foundation (VWF) has been developing an innovative international project for 3 years now, using the exciting metaphor of The Neighbor’s Window and building on the basic concept of an amazing United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) exhibition about bystanders and the Holocaust. We hope that the description of our project will provide you with both inspiration and concrete activities for your classroom.

The essence of the USHMM exhibition was to approach the Holocaust from the point of view of neighbors, onlookers, and other ordinary individuals, instead of focusing on the perpetrators and victims, as often done by traditional studies. This approach seemed extremely relevant to teaching, because it is much easier to identify with ordinary people than with heroes and villians The distance of historical times provides a safe environment to discuss human behavior patterns, including the mechanisms of discrimination and scapegoating, which are also painfully relevant topics today.

VWF launched a unique project for training bystanders to become upstanders with six partner schools in Hungary using some seed money from the USHMM; its own resources; and financial, professional and human support from the Embassy of Canada in Hungary. 243 students and 17 teachers (of English, media literacy, history, and visual arts) and psychologists worked together to teach about human behavior in different periods of history. We used historical photos and videos with their descriptions provided by the USHMM to learn about history and individuals’ role in it. The photos were incorporated in installations by the participating students and gave a visual and textual reflection of the situations depicted in the original images.

Selectivity: an interactive non-game”: The work of the Szombathely Secondary School of Art shows that labeling anyone will make us face ourselves in the end.

Same patterns in different places and times: The picture shows the work of Kürt High School. There was consensus in the class: Four patterns should be pointed out in different historical photos taken in Germany in 1938 and in Hungary in 1943—incomprehension, pressure from authorities, shifting responsibility, and indifference.

The uniqueness of this collaborative effort is the broad spectrum of partner schools: from a primary school for the visually impaired, through four different high schools (including one in the countryside), to a university for the Reformed Church. The series of installations created by the participating students was turned into a mobile exhibition. It received patronage from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in spring 2016 and since then we have been using it as a teaching tool. The exhibition has been traveling to different places to engage and sensitize new and sometimes not necessarily open-minded audiences.

Students Kata Martincsák and Eszter Csordás passionately introduce their installations to policymakers and teachers at a conference.

Most of the student artists, peer guides, and their teachers were present and contributed substantially to the success of the events that accompanied the exhibition (Guensburg, 2016). For example, last year at a conference for media literacy, teachers and representatives of UNESCO-associated schools held at the headquarters of the Hungarian Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, participants listened to the students describe the creative phases of the project and their motives in contributing to the awareness raising about the role of citizens in times of crisis.

Miklós Réthelyi, UNESCO chair, gives a speech before presenting The Neighbor’s Window project at a conference at the Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights

In spring 2018, the exhibition was hosted by the Israeli Cultural Institute in Budapest. In the course of 3 months, five workshops were organized to accompany the exhibition and help disseminate the idea that we need to take the initiative and speak up when human rights are not respected. Activities included simulations and debates with follow-up reflections about the role of witnesses of discrimination, the key role of speaking up for others’ rights, and the great importance of participation in decision-making, including local and national elections. Students, educators, NGO-representatives, visual artists, journalists, and decision-makers all participated together. That The Neighbor’s Window is a traveling exhibit with diverse accompanying events depending on the local audiences’ needs and interests contributes to its sustainability.

At one of the workshops, students, teachers and journalists participated in an activity with Éva Fahidi, Holocaust survivor. Éva suggested that we create a glossary of key terms and she cited her old definition of a decent person: someone who always stands up for the values of the community and never lets any of the members be offended or attacked.

Activities for the Classroom

Here is a description of four activities from our project that can easily be adapted to any English class with the aim of having participants explore social issues and the nature of individual responsibility, solidarity, and advocacy.

Péter Gács, a student from the Primary School for the Visually Impaired is examining a group of same-age Rwandan students to look for similarities between Rwandan children and his own friends.

1. Becoming aware of our own relationships with neighbors (conversation and map design)

Aims: This activity helps learners realize how little we know about people living close by and sheds light on relationships and alienation, as well as typical language use in such situations. Drawing the map of communication channels helps explore the possibilities of improving relationships with neighbors.


  1. Raise the following questions for pairs or groups to discuss:

  • Whom from your neighbors do you like the most? Why?

  • Whom from your neighbors do you like the least? Why?

  • Can you share a typical dialogue that happens between you and these two neighbors?

  • Which neighbor of yours knows the most about you? How does it feel?

  • How did s/he get all this information about you?

  1. Ask participants to design a map by drawing the communication channels in the group and also between the group members and their neighbors.

  2. Ask them to rewrite their dialogue with the disliked neighbor with I-messages showing more respect.

2. Better understanding and interpreting dialogues (making subtitles for a video)

Aims: This activity teaches empathy and promotes a deeper understanding of the meaning of words and body language by practicing respectful (accurate) interpretation and taking the spectators’ viewing habits into consideration.

Resource: The video introducing the USHMM exhibition serves as an excellent medium to design dubbing and editing tasks.


  1. Ask participants to watch the video and prepare a transcript.

  2. Tell them to translate the sentences, including concepts, into their mother tongue and then shorten the text into subtitles (42 characters x 2 lines/screen max).

  3. Editing the text and copying the subtitles on the video are optional. At more advanced levels, you can screen a video in the participants’ native language and they have to write subtitles in English.

3. Neighbors’ participation in public humiliation (sharing associations/vocabulary with others)

Aims: This activity helps explore the visual language of propaganda and invites learners to extend their vocabulary, communicate with like-minded people, and tune in to a discussion about inclusion.

Resource: A video from the website of the exhibition allows students to compare their responses to others’.


  1. Screen the video.

  2. Ask participants to open a new textbox by clicking on the Tags icon on the website.

  3. Students enter a word to describe what they have seen in the video.

  4. Then they can take a look at what words people from all over the world entered when completing the same task.

4. Advocacy (discussions and cooperative group work, adapted from TASKs for Democracy (Mompoint-Gaillard and Lázár, 2015)).

Aims: This activity promotes equal participation, parallel interactions, interdependence, and individual accountability and raises awareness of the need to take the initiative and remember our resources.

This is the “window” pattern that participants can use to sum up how many agree on challenges and available resources in advocacy.


  1. Put participants in groups of four and have them draw a window on a large sheet of paper. Write the topic in the center, and divide the window into four panels.

  2. Ask participants to individually think of a group of people they (would like to) represent in society to help them let their voice be heard.

  3. Then have them think of all the challenges they face when trying to speak up for this group.

  4. Instruct them to individually write a list of these challenges in just a few key words, and mark on their lists the two most difficult ones.

  5. Ask participants to take turns at the table to share these most difficult challenges and count how many in their group face the same difficulties.

  6. Have participants write these challenges into the appropriate panel in the group’s window according to how many of them at the table share the same difficulties.

  7. In the next 10 minutes, encourage groups to add resources they could count on when trying to overcome these challenges. These are added to the windows on yellow Post-its to make the posters visually brighter as well as more positive and motivating.

  8. Finally, pin the windows to the walls, and have the groups present the challenges and resources in advocacy.


What helps us speak up for our neighbors? How can we best represent the rights of a group of people? How can we ensure that our voice is heard? What are the challenges we need to overcome in advocacy? As the motto at the beginning of this article says, it depends on us individuals what we do with the neighbor’s window. Perhaps none of us would break it intentionally but we might not notice if our neighbor is unwell behind that window. It may be a useful strategy to occasionally knock on that window and start a conversation.

Developing empathy, promoting solidarity, sustaining meaningful conversations through art, and language learning activities are the focus of our complex educational project entitled The Neighbor’s Window. We are grateful to Lydia Stack and Elisabeth Chan for having presented our project at TESOL Conventions in their sessions entitled, respectively, “Bystanders Becoming Upstanders: Media Literacy Education for Secondary ELL Students”(2017, Seattle, Washington, USA) and “Creative Media as Tangible Advocacy for Global Educators” (2018, Chicago, Illinois, USA).

We are also thankful to Rosa Aronson, former TESOL executive director, and Dudley Reynolds, former president of TESOL, for the letter they sent to all TESOL members on 31 January 2017. Their speaking up for international students and teachers clearly and eloquently followed TESOL values, which gave our core team in Hungary an injection of braveness. The public statement they made was a great example for an upstander’s actions that we were lucky to witness at the right moment during the development of our experimental project in a moderately supportive environment.

We would be delighted to receive offers to host the exhibition and the accompanying workshops. Please contact us at neighbors@visualworld.org if you would like more information. Photos: Judit Kocsis, VWF


Guensburg, C. (2016). Holocaust lessons inspire Hungarian students’ art.Voice of America. Retrieved from https://www.voanews.com/a/holocaust-lessons-inspire-hungarian-students-art/3298721.html

Mompoint-Gaillard, P., & Lázár, I. (Eds.) (2015). TASKs for democracy: 60 activities to learn and assess transversal attitudes, skills and knowledge. Pestalozzi Series 4. Strasbourg: Council of Europe. Retrieved from https://www.coe.int/t/dg4/education/pestalozzi/Source/Documentation/Pestalozzi4_EN.pdf

Zsuzsanna Kozák is a media literacy education advisor and a documentary filmmaker—with this background, a passionate TESOLer. She is the founder and executive director of a Budapest-based NGO, Visual Word Foundation, which produced several educational documentaries for teachers of English and peace educators starring former TESOL presidents (e.g., Philotimo and Teaching Tolerance Through English).

Ildikó Lázár is a senior lecturer at Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary, offering courses on English language teaching methodology, cultural studies, and intercultural communication. She has also worked as a researcher, materials writer, and facilitator in many Council of Europe projects. She has been coordinating a voluntary community of practice for teachers’ continuous professional development for happy schools in Budapest for 5 years.

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