My children have been traveling the world since they were infants.
Amaris had just turned three-months-old when I took her to apply for her passport. It came a few weeks later and we were off to the Dominican Republic for her first international trip. Ariela was two-months-old when she received her passport and traveled to Panamá three months later. Nasir was just barely a month old when he got his passport expedited and we hopped on a plane to Argentina two days later.
Since then, we have visited nearly thirty countries together and the impact of international travel is evident in their lives—they are so globally-minded, aware of cultures and respectful of traditions.
Their knowledge of currencies and customs is beyond impressive, and their passion for equality should be emulated. My babies are truly amazing human beings, but they didn’t become inspiring from travel alone—this awesomeness was formed by conscious choices about how we live every day.
Brace yourselves because I’m about to drop a dose of reality that may hit some of you like a ton of bricks: being a traveler and having loads of stamps in one’s passport is no assurance that one will become an open-minded and culturally respectful person.
Really, it doesn’t.
In fact, some of the most ignorant, entitled and close-minded people out there consider themselves to be “well traveled.”
There are those whose travels have expanded their world views and made them into more open and compassionate people; then there are those whose travels have only heightened their sense of privilege and superiority.
travel does not GUARANTEE you a membership in the “woke club” of higher CONSCIOUSNESS.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
Over the years, I’ve had many parents tell me that they wish they could raise their children to be as aware of the world as mine are, but felt that it was impossible to do because they don’t travel as much as our family.
Okay, now brace yourselves because I’m about to drop another truth bomb: it’s completely possible to raise globally-curious children without travel when utilizing resources that you may already have around you.
raising global citizens is not about how much you travel overseas.
Raising true globally-minded, and socially conscious, children can happen right from your own home and community—no passport required.
With a few tricks and tips, families who do not travel can be empowered to raise children who are globally-conscious.
7 resources that give your children authentic global experiences at home:
Movies are a great resource to bolster your child's global curiosity. They familiarize little ones with the customs, beliefs and languages of those around the globe—expanding their world views. If you know my girls, then you already know they have been crazy about all things Bollywood since they were toddlers. They learned so much about the varying cultures, practices, languages and faiths that exist within India… just from watching movies.
It was films that sparked their interest in learning more about Indian culture and films that gave them their deep love and appreciation for it.
Bollywood movies are a great way to introduce one’s children to foreign cinema as most will enjoy the singing and dancing, despite not understanding the language.
Watching international movies has become a special bonding time between the kids and I. We still sit back and talk about all of our favorite films, and we’re always searching for new ones to watch. With streaming services like Netflix, it’s easier than ever to find a variety of great movies to enjoy.
how can I get my children to watch Foreign movies?
Find movies with children as the center of the story. It’s often easier for children to relate to a story when the actors are also kids, and when the storylines have adolescent-centered themes. Even if a movie is in another language, children relate to stories that center around childhood.
Find movies in English. Not every international film has to be in another language. There are many English-language movies that tell diverse stories.
don’t shy away from films with complex global themes
While my children are huge fans of the glitz and glam of a Bollywood film, they also watch movies with challenging storylines like the occupation of Palestine, the global refugee crisis, poverty, child brides, gender disparities, immigration and the Holocaust to name a few.
There are many films with children at the center of these subjects, and these movies have been tools that aided in developing awareness and empathy within my children.
Don’t be afraid to expose your child to harsh realities.
Have discussions with your children about the social and historical narratives taking place within the film. It’s important to spend time talking about the tough issues they may see taking place in the films.
Let them ask questions. Be sure to let your children ask questions. My girls always have tons of questions about conflicts they see taking place, and you’d be amazed by how deep your children can think and process conflicts and emotions.
Get involved. There are so many injustices taking place around the globe and right in our backyards—get your children involved in becoming a part of the solution. Kiva is an amazing organization that connects people from all over the world looking for microloans. These loans are used to help get a small business started, for the purchase of livestock, to help fund education and so much more. Kiva is rated as one of the top global organizations, and 100% of the money collected goes directly to recipients. What I appreciate about Kiva is that it doesn’t just throws around charity, making recipients dependent on their funds. Kiva’s model simply connects those in need of start-up funds with individuals who are able to provide a small loan. The money is promised to be paid back, and often times life-long friendships are formed between both parties.
Ditch the popcorn and watch international films with global snacks
“When I Saw You” is a brilliant film by the talented Palestinian director, Annemarie Jacir. The movie also stars Saleh Bakri, who is the brother of close friends of ours. The film is set in 1967 Jordan and tells the story of a young boy, Tarek, and his mother who live in a Palestinian refugee camp.
In one scene of the movie, Tarek is offered pomegranates by an elderly Jordanian woman and it’s a very heartwarming moment. The girls and I ate pomegranate seeds instead of popcorn as we watched, and it brought elements of the movie to life for them.
They love pomegranates to this day, and the fruit holds a special place in their hearts because of the connection to the movie.
If watching a film set in West Africa, the Caribbean or certain parts of Latin America? Try eating plantain chips for your movie snack as they are commonly eaten across these regions.
I recently wrote a blog post entitled “How to Use Books to GiveYour Children Global Experiences at Home,” detailing the impact that books had on my life, and how they’ve played an intricate role in raising my children as global learners. It also provides ideas on how to incorporate craft projects and activities to bring the books to life for your child.
Books are one of the best tools one can use to raise true global citizens at home. My children journeyed to Egypt and the Great Pyramids long before our recent trip, and it was the power of books that brought them there.
We have visited distant shores together through the magic of books, and we go on never-ending adventures through the written word.
Books can also be used to teach religious tolerance and understanding. They open doors of friendship, respect and moral lessons from around the world—one doesn’t have to leave the country to acquire these principles.
where can i find global-themed books for children?
The library. The library is going to be your greatest resource for multicultural children’s books. Look at your child’s library card as his or her passport as it gives them the power to discover the world. My kids and I sit in libraries for hours, searching for books that teach us new customs and cultures.
Alibris. Alibris is an online bookselling community, filled with unique and even out of print books. When you purchase on Alibris, you are dealing directly with an independent online bookseller.
Local, independent bookstores. There are so many independent bookstores in our communities that are falling by the wayside due to large online carriers. Not only could they use our support by purchasing books from them, many of these stores carry books with diverse themes.
Independent black and brown-owned bookstores. I cannot stress enough how important it is to buy from black and brown-owned bookstores. These curators of the literary arts are lifelines to their communities and serve as cultural meccas. They sell more than just books; they are meeting places of brilliant minds that hold black and brown cultures together. Many black and brown bookstores also carry children’s books that tell culturally diverse stories.
Use music to give your children global experiences at home. I’m not lying when I say that Ama was able to rap in Portuguese when she was three because she was obsessed with a song, “Wuege Wuege”, by Buraka Som Sistema. The group became famous for mixing the sounds of the Angolan music style, Kuduro, with electronic beats.
We had the song on repeat and listened to it over and over again while singing, laughing and dancing. We listened to it so much that Ama memorized the verses of the female emcee. She would grab her toy microphone and spit the lyrics like nobody’s business…in Portuguese.
The girls grew up listening to music in both English and Spanish, and were also exposed to a wide variety of musical styles from all over the world. They, of course, loved contemporary music from India but also jammed to Samba and Bossa Nova from Brazil, Cuban Jazz, songstresses from Cape Verde, traditional Chinese instrumentals, Flamenco, French R&B and Reggae classics.
They grooved to Pop music from the U.S., Salsa and Reggaeton from Puerto Rico, Middle Eastern beats and Korean K POP. These girls also love Prince, hip hop and their fair share of Bach and Beethoven—they’re not feeling my Jonie Mitchell Pandora station, though.
Early on, I made exposure global music a priority, and we took journeys around the world through songs. They don’t necessarily listen to all of these styles now, but they still respect the diversity that exists in music.
where can I find international music for children?
The library. Never underestimate the power of your local library. The library is a goldmine of international music, boasting large collections of CDs from all over the world.
Youtube. Youtube is another great resource for international music. Not only can you find music here, but also videos to accompany the tunes!
Streaming services. Pandora, Apple Music, Google Play Music, Spotify, Tidal, Sirius XM are just a few streaming services where you can find international music.
Friends and family. If you have friends and family from different backgrounds, ask them who their favorite singers and musical groups from their cultures are.
4. Toys and games
Global-themed toys and games are another great resource for incorporating international learning into the lives of children. Kids all over the world play—it’s a common connection that unites them.
There are also many toys that encourage global exploration. Senet is a board game created in Ancient Egypt and still enjoyed today. Briscas is a Spanish card game played throughout Spain and Latin America, using a special deck of Spanish playing cards. Pachisi was played in 16th century India and Shogi is a Japanese game similar to chess. Ludo is a simpler form of Pachisi, and is played in various countries that were under British colonial rule.
let your children play with dolls of varying ethnic backgrounds.
White parents, give your children dolls of color to play with. I have white friends who only give their children black and brown dolls to play with first, then after a few years they introduce white dolls to their collection.
Parents of color, also diversify your child’s doll collection to include those of different ethnic backgrounds. Black and brown children need access to dolls that represent themselves, but they should also have a variety of dolls from other backgrounds as well.
For a variety of affordable dolls of varying ethnic backgrounds, hair colors and textures, check out Our Generation dolls. I am so impressed by their effort to ensure children of varying skin tones, ethnic backgrounds and hair textures have dolls that represent them. With most dolls starting around $25, it’s easy to build a diverse collection— you can buy five Our Generations dolls for the price of one American Girl. The line also includes tons of affordable accessories: clothing, campers, horses, cars, ice cream shops and so much more! Our Generation dolls, and all their bells and whistles, are available at Target.
where can i find global-themed toys and games:
YouTube. Go to YouTube and find out what games kids around the world are playing.
This blog. I recently wrote an article, “Affordable Gifts for Kids Who Love Travel”, highlighting a variety of toys and products with global themes. I will continue to provide resources for families looking to expand their children’s minds through global play.
Exposing your children to global art, artist, architecture, dance, poetry and theater allows them to experience the world without traveling overseas.
Artistic expressions are the gatekeepers of culture and traditions that carry the stories of many generations past. For those of us who are apart of the African diaspora, it’s the drum beats, rhythms and dancing that our ancestors carried to the Americas that keep us connected to the Motherland.
Indigenous peoples faced genocide and near extinction, yet music and dance have kept their cultures alive.
Hmong embroideries convey tales of village life, Mayan weaving holds spiritual significance and Chinese puppetry tell stories from long ago.
You can learn so much about a people through the arts.
My children and I spend time digging into famous artists from around the world, and we explore how their work often reflect intimate parts of their cultural heritage. We’ve attended dance performances, art museums and studied global architecture.
You can use the arts in the same way to bring the world right to your home.
how to use the arts to give global EXPERIENCES to children:
Go to the theatre. Find theatre performances that tell diverse stories—this gives children the opportunity to have a glimpse into the world of others. It is also very important to make sure that one is not exposing one’s children solely to narratives of black and brown people’s suffering. Find theatre performances that center their themes around positive global experiences and not just those of pain and trauma.
Go to dance performances. There are so many amazing dance troops that perform across the world, displaying beautiful cultural expressions. Shen Yun takes viewers through a magical journey of China using dance, music and acrobatics. My girls will never forget the time they saw the Dance Theatre of Harlem perform live—it was pure magic to see beautiful black and brown dancers floating across the stage like whimsical beings. Bomba y Plena are traditional Puerto Rican dance styles that are rich in percussions and African movements, and you can find performances all over the United States. Traditional Native American dancing will take one’s breath away, and Riverdance mesmerized the world with Irish dancing. There are many South Indian, South-East Asian and Middle Eastern dance companies to experience as well.
Visit art museums. Visiting art museums often brings global art and artists right to your family. Mexican painters, Frida Kahlo, and, Diego Rivera, used their works to depict acute aspects of culture, and gives one a glimpse into authentic Mexican identity. You can also find clothing, sculptures, pottery, furniture and artifacts from diverse cultures from varying time periods in art museums.
Another way to give your children authentic global experiences without travel is through food.
Food is one of the greatest cultural expressions as it brings people together and is a source of national pride.
Food is a love language of its own and is often used as a way to show appreciation for another person. It can be an offense to refuse a meal when dining in a person’s home because many cultural identities revolve around traditional dishes.
One of the many beautiful things about living in melting pot communities is that they provide a variety of culinary options from around the globe. I love when new immigrants populate a city because they bring delicious food with them.
Having a family meal at a restaurant owned by someone from another culture gives your children the opportunity to experience the world without ever getting on a plane.
I’m basically telling you that dinner at Chipotle or a hipster-owned sushi fusion restaurant doesn’t count, okay.
Find restaurants in your area that will give your children unique global experiences through food.
Ethiopian food is delicious and eaten communally with a special type of bread called injera. Most food is served on a large platter with a variety of aromatic stewed meats and vegetables that are drenched in spices. Diners grab a piece of injera and use it to wrap up their choice of food in it. This would be a memorable way for any child to learn the eating customs of others.
It is believed that coffee originated in Ethiopia. Ethiopians feel a great sense in pride their country’s connection to coffee and they love to share this history with others. Many Ethiopian restaurants will perform a special ceremony that tells the history of coffee in the country if you call ahead and request it prior to your visit.
Traditionally, Ethiopians drink coffee with salt rather than sugar—try it with your kids. Notice that Ethiopians commonly drink coffee from beans that are green and not black—ask about this.
Do Gursha. Gursha is translated as “mouthful” in the Amharic language and is the act of wrapping food in injera and placing it into the mouth of another guest eating with you. It is viewed as a sign of love and respect and shows that a relationship is valued. Let your kids show honor through food the Ethiopian way by allowing them to feed you and each other.
It’s easy to get caught up in the Instagram profiles of traveling families riding camels through deserts and zip-lining through rainforests, and forget that building community is one of the best ways to give one’s children authentic global experiences.
I’ve enjoyed many of these exciting activities with my own children and we have incredible memories from them. But for the most part, they don’t necessarily lead to raised sense of cultural awareness.
Doing adventurous activities while traveling is fun, and travel should definitely about fun. But travel should also lead to a shift in one's worldview and an expansion in one’s perspectives.
Many people travel overseas and never connect with residents of the countries they visit; there is no immersion experience nor cultural exchange that takes place the entire trip.
This is why I do not believe that travel alone produces true global citizens.
I’ve made intentional efforts to ensure that my children live everyday life in multicultural environments. We do our best to truly engage with, and celebrate, the diversity that exists within our own community.
Many of us who live in diverse metropolises spend very little time with those whose cultures and world views differ from our own. Even as a person of color, it would be easy for me to gravitate to circles that were similar to mine and never build relationships with those outside of them.
how can i use my community to raise global citizens?
Visit cultural festivals. I make it a point to visit varying cultural festivals across the Minneapolis/St. Paul area with the kids. One of our family traditions is to visit the Festival of Nations and the kids look forward to it every year. Our community has many other festivals to attend: Somali Independence Day, Mexican Independence Day, Puerto Rican Picnic, Lebanese Fest, Juneteenth, Italian Fest, Egypt Fest, Hmong, Lao and Vietnamese New Years just to name a few. What cultural festivals are happening in your area?
Visit story time at libraries in another language. Check your local libraries to see if they offer a story time in languages other than English. In Minneapolis, many of our libraries have Spanish, Somali and Hmong story times—attend these and build relationships with families there.
Learn from other cultures and NOT just about them. Although I am a lover of books, food, films, art, toys and music as resources for raising a child’s global awareness, I also believe that it is most important to build authentic bonds with people. It’s imperative to learn directly from other families and individuals and to view them as one’s equal. Seek genuine relationships with those who are different than you—share in life’s triumphs and disappointments and build true community.
Visit global markets. The kids and I frequent different Asian, African and Latin American grocery stores for items that we may need, and visiting the Somali Mall has become a tradition of ours. I get Somali tea, the girls love looking at outfits and head scarves, and Nasi can’t get enough of the $1 scoops of ice cream. The Somali Mall is special to my girls as it is where they love to get adorned with henna. They have special Somali aunties who have decorated their hands for years, ones who have watched them grow from toddlers to beautiful young ladies. We chat with our friends and sit quietly in respect if they need to take prayer breaks. We love socializing and meeting other women embellishing their hands and feet for weddings, Muslim holidays or just for fun!
Plan interfaith/inter-belief dinners. Planning dinners for interfaith/inter-belief families is a great way to build community. Having loving relationships with those of differing spiritual beliefs, or no spiritual beliefs at all, teaches the important lessons of tolerance and respect. Have open and meaningful discussion about varying faiths and non-religious beliefs— you’d be surprised how many of us share similar perspectives on life.
Get invited to a wedding. There’s nothing like a wedding to give you and your children a true cross-cultural experience. There are so many different wedding customs from around the world, and you can experience many of them in your own city. Weddings are full of food, music, dancing and traditions.
Worship with people who don’t look like you.
The great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once said that 11am on Sunday morning was the most segregated time in the United States as Christians of varying backgrounds rarely worshipped together. There is so much truth in this statement though I do not believe in the forced integration of churches. People worship in different languages and styles that are connected to their cultural upbringings—this is precious and should not be lost in attempts at “colorblind” Christianity. Nevertheless, children should experience different worship styles.
Dedicate one Sunday per month to visiting a church different than your own. Are there any Chinese or Korean churches in your area? Visit one if there are. There are plenty of Latino churches across the U.S. where services are held in Spanish, along with churches from varying countries of the African continent. There are also many Eastern European, Armenian, Caribbean and Middle Eastern churches, to name a few.
There are mosques in the U.S. that are divided by African, Arab and South Asian racial groups, and people aren’t always praying side-by-side as brothers and sisters united in Islam. If your mosque is of your own predominate ethnic group, visit ones that offer more racial diversity.
Most synagogues in the west represent Ashkenazi Judaism, and the Jewish cultures of Ethiopians, Mizrahi, Sephardi and those of other ethnic groups are often erased. Find a synagogue with a non-Ashkenazi rabbi and a diverse congregation to attend. If there are no multicultural synagogues in your area, incorporate Jewish cuisine from around the globe in your Shabbat and Passover meals.
I am very grateful for the privilege to travel all over the world with my children. These experiences and opportunities have impacted their lives in many ways. In fact, one of my passions is to empower parents to travel with their children; I also love to teach them how to do so in an affordable and approachable manner.
But again, travel alone will not produce true global citizens.
True global citizens are not made by having massive amounts of passport stamps, cute outfits and perfect photos in front of landmarks; true global citizens are made by intentional parenting and sincere cultural exchanges.
Parents, you have what you need to raise your children to be international learners with or without travel.
is raising global citizens important to your family?
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