It can be scary to venture into a new country and its culture. But after you do it enough times, you start to notice something.
These people who speak a different language and eat unfamiliar foods are just like me. They’re families trying to enjoy life and raise their kids to the best of their ability.
As humans we fear the unknown. But when we (and our children) live in such a globalized world, we need to step out of our comfort zone and get to know and understand the cultures around us.
There’s no substitute for living among a people group in order to get to know their culture. Even a short visit exposes you to their food and way of life and some of their beliefs.
But neither of these options are possible for most of us most of the time.
So how can you still get to know other cultures?
Bring them into your home.
What I’m suggesting here would offer only a glimpse of other cultures. But it’s a step in the right direction toward helping the next generation appreciate the different people on our planet and the wonderful things they have to offer.
How do we experience other cultures from afar?
Consider their arts: Culinary, musical, visual, literature.
Cultural Exploration: Food
There’s nothing like ethnic cuisine to help you realize what amazing things another culture has to offer. Ever been invited to a family’s home for a home-cooked meal representative of their culture? (The best Chinese food I’ve ever had was prepared by my friend’s Chinese mother – unforgettable.)
Since my husband’s family is half Honduran, we put that food on the menu as often as possible (fried plantains anyone?) to help our daughter develop an appreciation of the culture her Daddy and Abuela grew up in.
Don’t have any friends that can invite you for an ethnic feast? The next step is an ethnic restaurant. If it’s a food type you’re unfamiliar with, ask a friend to join you and help you order. Or be brave and venture in on your own. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into spice wise, or you’ll end up like my dad who ordered the hottest spice level at the Thai restaurant and couldn’t eat a bite.
Or try to recreate the food at home. Thanks to Pinterest and YouTube, we can make (nearly) authentic ethnic meals in our own kitchens. You probably already do Taco Tuesday (which is a weak tribute to the beauty of Mexican food). What other ethnic theme dinners can you attempt to recreate?
If you’re struggling with inspiration, sign up for a subscription like Try the World. (Not an affiliate) They’ll send you a box each month filled with food items (and informational tidbits) from different cultures around the world. I think our favorite was the box from Brazil. I’m still salivating over that churrasco meat rub.
Cultural Exploration: Music
If you’re trying your hand at some cultural cuisine at home, amp up the ambience by finding some music to match.
Making Cuban sandwiches? Put on some Afro-Cuban jazz to play in the background.
Thanks to modern day conveniences like iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and the music channels on cable tv, you can find just about any genre of music out there. Or do some research to find recommendations. The online music section of The New Yorker is a great place to start.
Cultural Exploration: Visual Arts
You can think of this as performing arts (film, dance, theater) or fine arts (photography, paintings, etc.).
This can take some research in order to find foreign films you’re comfortable exposing your kids to. (Different cultures have different comfort levels with nudity.)
Festivals are a great way to experience cultural performing arts. But also check your local library, local theaters, and chamber of commerce websites for smaller cultural experiences.
If you can’t travel to the festivals, bring the culture into your home using the internet.
For fine arts, turn to museums.
Families can learn a lot about a culture’s history and beliefs by exploring an exhibit in person. But if you can’t do that, try out some online museum tours. There is a lot of cultural information available online thanks to museums around the world. And since it’s a visual platform, kids are drawn to the quality images. You’ll be surprised how much time your family will spend learning from the online exhibits (and related links) once you get started.
The Smithsonian Institute is a great place to start. It’s made up of several smaller museums including National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Museum of the American Indian, and much more.
Cultural Exploration: Literature
Books are probably the easiest way to expose your youngest kids to other cultures. Since I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in Multicultural Children’s Book Day since it launched in 2015, I have seen just how vast the collection of diverse books is. They’re out there if you look for them. You may have to request that your library acquire specific ones, although their collections are growing quickly too.
Side note: One of my favorite multicultural books for babies is Beautiful Rainbow World with gorgeous photographs of kids from other cultures. You can read more about it here.
If you purchase through the Amazon affiliate links below I earn a small commission at no cost to you.Beautiful Rainbow World
Older kids are often more interested in biography picture books. There are some really beautiful ones out there these days. I always learn so much from them.
Do me a favor and just go download the audio book of Ella Fitzgerald and listen to the silky voice of Billy Dee Williams narrate while Ella’s voice and upbeat jazz music plays in the background. Or at least listen to the sample. You’ll love it.
Of course, reading multicultural books isn’t just for kids. We adults should be increasing our own understanding of other cultures so when our kids ask questions, we have some answers. Last year I read Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton. Even though it’s a novel, the modern setting and historical events mentioned are accurate. I learned a lot, and now I’ll have a little bit better understanding of the country before we travel there (whenever that may be).Next Year in Havana
If you’re looking for grown-up multicultural book suggestions, come try Global Reads for Grown-ups at All Done Monkey. Leanna has an online book club with curated lists of diverse books open to anyone. It’s a friendly group full of humor. Come join us.
My favorite read from her 2019 list was Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It was thought-provoking to read about the experiences of a Nigerian woman who comes to the U.S. to attend college. (Go read the Amazon review below, because I can’t do it justice here.)
These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. Order some books and take-out and start looking for ways to visit other cultures even if you can’t travel.
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