The importance of raising culturally-aware children is growing exponentially in conjunction with world affairs. Unfortunately, too many people grow up not being able to point out places like England or France on a map, let alone the more remote Iran, Iraq or North Korea. Here’s a quick example.
A world map hung proudly on the wall of my dorm room next to colorful sarongs from countries around the world. My junior year, I studied abroad in London. The week before I was set to leave, a friend (who was taking honors courses) walked in to wish me luck. He stood by the world map and said, “Wow… you’re going really far!” He was pointing to Australia. That is a true story.
Ignorance can be avoided when children are taught at an early age to be globally savvy. With a British father and American mother who met each other in Amsterdam and took my brother and I on holidays every year, I was lucky. Here are a few tips for raising your own children to appreciate other cultures:
If you can afford to take your children on vacations overseas, the experience will be absolutely invaluable. While you’re abroad, take pictures and write down their memories from each day’s adventures. When you get home, let them help you make a scrapbook so the experience is instilled in their memories. While you’re away, make your trip semi-educational by explaining the history and the culture in a way your children will be able to absorb.
If you have friends who live abroad, encourage your kids to write to their kids. Otherwise, schools are often able to set up an exchange program for children to build contacts overseas. These contacts can turn in to life long friendships that will give both children a chance to visit each other in the future with a place to stay and a local “guide”.
Read to your kids often and encourage them to continue reading as they grow. It’s not possible to travel everywhere, so let them explore other countries through stories. There are many books for children that will transport them mentally to the other side of the world.
Subscribe to travel magazines like Conde Nast Traveller and others like National Geographic with bright vibrant pictures. Children love images and these will spike their curiosity. Curiosity is the key to globally savvy children. They will become wanderlusters before you know it.
Once a week, if your family is lucky enough to eat together, have an international food night. Let your children pick a country and look up recipes for traditional foods from that region. Involve the children in cooking the meal and make it as authentic as possible. If you are too busy, at least take them out to different restaurants as much as possible. I remember the first time I really tried Indian food was in London. Take advantage of the opportunities your area offers.
6. EXCHANGE STUDENTS
If you really want to introduce your students to another culture, volunteer to take on an exchange student for a few weeks or months. Choose someone willing to interact with your children and they will share bits and pieces of their own culture automatically.
If there is one thing I wish I would have done when I was younger, it is to have learned another language. Sure, students have to take French or Spanish courses in America, but how often do they remember what they’ve learned after graduation? Start them young and teach yourself in the process. Choose a language they may use in the future. Not only will it make them better employers, but it may make them some new friends and allow them to travel more easily in the country where that language is spoken.
8. WORLD AFFAIRS
Kids don’t generally like to watch the news. But that doesn’t mean they have to be in the dark about what is going on. There are news magazines out there that break down world affairs into kid-friendly language with pictures and interesting short articles that will hold their attention. Subscribe to one of these. Or toss in snippets of conversation about what is going on in the world.
9. STUDY ABROAD
When your child becomes a bit older, encourage them with all of your soul to go abroad to study for a few months. It may make your incredibly nervous and it may break your heart to send them away, but let me tell you from experience, it will open their eyes and give them a whole new outlook not only on the world, but on life itself.
The list of benefits that come from being globally-savvy at a young age is inexhaustible. This knowledge creates a well-rounded child who will make great connections in life and open up a whole world of opportunity (literally), who will understand international politics and start to understand and accept people of all cultures around the world. If everyone could empathise with others around the world, the planet would be a bit closer to living in peace.