Learning more about other cultures is increasingly important in our globalized world. You will likely work with people of different cultures in your job, and it is also likely that your kids will interact with people of different cultures at school.
Things have not been easy for people of color, especially those born outside of the United States. There has been an increase in xenophobia, fueled in part by the previous administration. There has also been a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Since the pandemic began, there have been nearly 3,800 hate incidents against Asian Americans. These incidents include reports of harassment, shunning, slurs, and physical violence. From January to mid-March 2021, there have been over 500 reports of violence.
Sometimes, it seems like hate surrounds us. As adults, we know how to think critically about what we hear, and we know how to push back against false, harmful sentiments. However, our kids do not have these same skill sets. They are far more impressionable. If we allow them to immerse themselves in racist, xenophobic sentiments, there is a chance that they will adopt these views as adults.
As adults, it is our responsibility to help children to become the best that they can be. But it seems like such an overwhelming task. How do we help kids to keep an open mind towards people who live differently than them? How do we encourage them to suspend their judgment and keep an open mind?
I firmly believe that the best way to combat ignorance is with knowledge. In my experience, the best way to do this is by traveling. Nothing compares to immersing yourself in a new culture. It allows you to hear the native languages, try authentic food, and talk to the locals. All of these things force you out of your comfort zone and give you an authentic experience of what it is like to experience a different way of life.
Sometimes, though, what is ideal is not always practical or possible. As of this writing, the Covid-19 pandemic has been making life harder for people around the world. Some countries have mostly contained the spread of the pandemic within their borders. Others have not been able to do so. Either way, the pandemic will not be under control until officials can vaccinate the vast majority of the population. In the meantime, we still need to take preventative measures. Right now, the U.S. State Department and the Centers for Disease Control have both recommended against unnecessary travel. Even if you are fully vaccinated, the U.S. State Department has level 3 and level 4 travel advisories for many countries (Reconsider Travel and Do Not Travel, respectively).
For many people, finances are also getting in the way of traveling. Many have lost their jobs or experienced reductions in their salaries and hours. In fact, according to the most recent information available, there were 770,000 jobless claims in the week ending on March 13th. That figure is near the lowest levels since the start of the pandemic, but the economy still needs more time to recover. Even if you found another job, it will likely take time for you to get back on your feet.
Because of these limitations, we need to get creative.
Fortunately, with the right strategy, you can expose yourself and your children to other cultures on a limited budget without leaving home. With summer around the corner, it is the perfect opportunity to explore new countries and cultures and learn about what makes us human, all from the comfort of home.
With that, here are some ideas and things to keep in mind as you explore world cultures:
Choose a country. Before you get started, you need to select a country. How you decide on a country is up to you. You can use this as an opportunity to learn more about your heritage. For example, if your family has Japanese heritage, consider studying Japan and its culture. If you live in an area that has a lot of Mexican immigrants, consider learning about Mexico. Regardless of the country you choose, make sure your choice will be relevant for your kids. This will help your kids to forge connections with other cultures and expand their horizons beyond their own culture.
Monitor your attitude and words. As a parent, you have the most important influence over your children. They will pick up on your emotions, even if you are not showing them outwardly. If you view this process as a frustrating waste of time, your children will think that learning about new people and cultures is a waste of time. Also, be careful with the language that you use when you talk about other cultures. Even just saying that something is “weird” can encourage your child to view their culture as “normal” and unfamiliar cultures as “abnormal.”
Once you pick your country, do your research. While you research, take the opportunity to teach your kids critical thinking skills, such as how to search for information and how to find truthful information. Help your children use kid-friendly websites, such as Nat Geo Kids, to learn more about the country. You can also take a trip to your local library and check out books. While you are there, see if you can find historical fiction or folklore from your country.
If the Covid-19 pandemic prevents you from going to the library, see what resources are available online. You might be able to reserve books online and pick them up in a drive-through or via curbside pickup. Contact your local library and see what options are available.
Look up the country on a map, and look at a picture of the flag. You can use a map or a globe. You can also use a digital option, such as Google Earth. Looking at the country's location will help your kids to see how far away it is. This activity will also introduce them to basic geography, which they will learn more about as they advance in school. Children tend to be concrete thinkers. By showing them the country’s location and the flag, they can better understand that these are real places.
Plan a field trip. Find a nearby place connected to your country, such as a museum, cultural center, or even a grocery store. Field trips will help your experience to come to life. Do some research and see what places are available near you.
If you cannot find any places near you, try going on a virtual field trip. Many museums offer free virtual tours, and you can even experience other cities. Virtual tours are also a good option if you are not comfortable going out in public or your area has Covid-19 restrictions. Google has partnered with over 2,500 art museums around the world to provide virtual tours. Here’s another link with tours to other cultural sites, including all seven wonders of the world.
Learn a new language. Language is a crucial aspect of any culture. It helps connect you to other people within the culture, and it reinforces your identity and your sense of who you are. There are many opportunities for language learning, and they fit a variety of budgets. I would recommend learning at least a few words and phrases, such as “hello” and “thank you.” However, if your kids enjoy learning the language, consider signing yourself and your children up for a class with ReDefiners World Languages. We offer classes in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic. You can choose online classes or in-person classes, as well as group or private lessons, to meet your needs. In courses, your child will learn how to speak the language, and they’ll learn more about the language’s cultures and influences.
Play games. Every culture has ways to have fun. Many activities in other cultures draw similarities to American games. For example, French children play a game called “Escargot” (pro. EHS-car-goh), a game that is similar to our hopscotch. Children learn best by playing and moving around. Playing games will let your children have fun and learn about a different culture.
If possible, participate in cultural events. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, you might have to wait to do this until it is safer to gather in groups. However, once you can do so, this is an excellent way to experience other cultures. My church has a large Spanish-speaking population, so every Christmas, the Hispanic ministry organizes a Las Posadas celebration. Make it a habit to participate in other cultural events. These events are often free, and attending them will expose your children to new ways of life, and it will help them appreciate the beauty in other cultures. Look for events at churches, schools, universities, museums, and cultural centers.
Try new foods. Food is a big part of any culture. Like language, food unites a group of people. Trying new foods will allow you to experience another culture on a deeper level. Do some research and see if you can find an authentic restaurant or a bakery near you. This task will be easier to do if you live in or near a big city. For example, I live in a state with a large population of Mexican immigrants. As a result, there are many options for authentic Mexican food and desserts. Not only will you get to experience another aspect of the culture, but you will provide support to restaurants that have struggled during the pandemic.
If you are not comfortable eating inside a restaurant, see if they offer delivery or curbside pickup.
Create artwork. Each country has art and hobbies that are central to its culture. Art evokes unique emotions, allows us to explore our humanity, and connects us as human beings. For example, in Mexico, a traditional craft is the “Ojo de Dios” or “God’s Eye.” These use glue, sticks, and yarn. If you are studying China or Japan, consider making origami. You can buy a package of origami paper from any craft store, often for less than $10. Paper cranes, such as this one, are symbols of healing in Japan. To make your arts and crafts experience successful, consider the ages and attention spans of your kids, your tolerance for messiness, your budget, and the amount of time that you’re willing to set aside. Being honest with your limitations will help you to have an enjoyable experience.
Listen to music. Music is a crucial part of any culture. It will evoke specific emotions in you, regardless if you speak the language or not. Many say that music is a universal language, and there have even been studies that back up this claim. If you do not know where to start, consider listening to the country’s national anthem on YouTube. Listen to artists from other countries. Doing so can help you understand what the culture was like in the past and the present.
Talk to someone from the country. If you know someone who has lived in the country or has significant ties to the country, it would be an incredible opportunity to learn more about their culture. Have your children ask about their experiences. Does this person have any special memories of celebrating holidays? If you have the opportunity to talk to someone from the country you are studying, it will make your study come to life.
Sometimes, the amount of racism, xenophobia, and hatred can be overwhelming. As a parent, you want your children to grow up and become kind, loving people. It can seem like a daunting task, especially when the world rears its ugly head.
As a parent, you have the most influence over your child. They will look to you for guidance about how to approach new situations and new people. If you model kindness and respect towards other cultures, they are likely to imitate you. Eventually, that attitude will become second nature to them.
By implementing the ideas above, you can expose your children to other cultures, even if you cannot travel. Doing so will allow them to practice interacting with unfamiliar cultures with your guidance. That way, they will know how to do so in the future.
Give your child the gift of global citizenship this summer. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
If you or your child are interested in a more in-depth study of a particular culture, consider taking a class with ReDefiners World Languages! We offer classes in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic. Not only will you learn about the language, but you will also learn about the cultures and influences of each language. Classes are available online and in-person, as well as group or private lessons. For more information, please visit our website or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.