It was 1956 when Walt Disney created his famous It's a Small World attraction, inspired by participating in President Eisenhower's People to People White House conference on international understanding. If the world was small 46 years ago, think how much smaller it has gotten since then. Today's world has been shrunk by a global economy, where materials and products crisscross the planet. Places once thought of as "far-away lands" are now relatively easy and cheap to get to. Immigrants and foreign tourists from those same exotic locales arrive in our country daily. With the Internet and e-mail, we can learn about and communicate with people around the world in a click.
Despite these changes, many of us in the United States had thought of ourselves as separate from the rest of the world and its problems. But after September 11, 2001, it became clear that we must share the burden of healing the wounded places of this world with our fellow Christians from every nation. We recognize that we are just a piece of the global puzzle.
For children, that isn't such a foreign concept. Today's kids have an awareness of other cultures that is unprecedented. I see in my own children, ages 13 and 10, a blossoming interest in the larger world. My older child is especially fascinated with other places, cultures, and languages, and she thinks she might want to work in an international capacity someday—an aspiration I never would have dreamed of.
But even children who have no interest in living abroad will need to be prepared to think globally.
Our children will need to be ready to work with and for people from other cultures.
Beyond merely tolerating people unlike them, I want my children to be open to those who are different and to care about all people around the world, especially those less fortunate. I want them to live out the Great Commission by showing God's love and compassion to all people, regardless of their nationality.
Many of us are familiar with the biblical language of being born again spiritually. Cliff Vaughn of the Baptist Center for Ethics says, "Parents can help their kids be 'thrice-born' culturally, borrowing the term of a famous anthropologist. First is their natural birth. Understanding a different culture is their second birth. Returning to their native culture, with new eyes, is their third birth. Being 'thrice-born' makes them better citizens of both their local and global communities because it gives them a more grounded understanding of self and other." As parents and as Christians, it's essential that we start helping our children prepare for being citizens of the world.
Going Global At Home
Our curiosity, together with resources we provide at home, can lay a foundation of global awareness. Here are a few practical ways to bring the world home:
- Books: Read some of the countless story-books that reflect other cultures in interesting ways. For the whole family, consider Material World: A Global Family Portrait, in which photojournalists offer a glimpse of typical family life in 30 nations.
- Magazines: Subscribe to publications that focus on foreign cultures, from the old standby National Geographic to travel magazines such as Travel and Leisure.
- Television, radio: Look for news, documentaries, or dramas suitable for children. Public television, the Discovery Channel, and the Travel Channel each offer programs that will pique a child's interest and increase her understanding of other cultures.
- Videos: Watch films set elsewhere or that feature people from other cultures who live in America. Younger children will enjoy Panda! Go, Panda!, the animated story of a Japanese orphan girl. Older kids will discover all kinds of great information in National Geographic documentary series on various countries and continents. Don't be afraid of subtitles. They're not as intimidating to kids as you might think.
- The Internet: Discover anything you want to know about the world online. Various websites offer links to help children in grades K-8 find information about the world beyond their backyard. Christian Aid, a relief agency of 40 church denominations in the United Kingdom and Ireland, offers a website packed with high-tech games, stories, and news about kids around the world (www.globalgang.org.uk).
- Music: Play songs featuring instruments or lyrics from other lands to create an international atmosphere. A Child's Celebration of the World (Music for Little People) is a CD collection of world music for children in grades 1-6.
- Food: Serve dishes from around the world, whether it's takeout Chinese (with chopsticks!) or something exotic you cook up. Involve children in the process with a book like Hey Kids! You're Cookin' Now!: A Global Awareness Cooking Adventure .
- Games: Play low-tech games from other parts of the globe, such as mancala, an ancient African counting and strategy game.
- Heritage: Teach children about their own ethnic heritage, including languages, foods, and traditions. If you don't know much about your background, you'll have fun doing the research together.
- Pick-a-culture: Choose a region or country or language (younger children learn languages easily) your family can focus on for a week. Again, the Internet is a great source of information. One site I like is www.afk.com, Asia for Kids, which provides "authentic multicultural materials that educate and build self-esteem."
- One shot: Have a visiting missionary over for dinner, or volunteer to house a couple kids from the overseas youth choir. Be sure your children are around to participate in or overhear conversations.
- Longer term: Host an exchange student from another country for a semester or a year. Or sponsor an immigrant with whom your family can maintain regular contact. Your local school district or Rotary club can help with exchange students, and a social service agency can help connect you with an immigrant family.
- Sponsor a child: Help a needy foreign child with financial sponsorship through organizations like Children International, Compassion International, Samaritan's Purse, Save the Children, and World Vision. Help your children learn about the sponsored child's homeland and encourage them to write letters to the child, exchanging photographs and drawings.
- Other giving: Tell children about other world missions or domestic-refugee causes you support. Through any of the above experiences, keep talking about other people and places. Your interest and enthusiasm will spark that of your children.
Going Global Locally
There are plenty of stateside opportunities to show our children the world, including these:
- Entertainment: Choose concerts, movies, restaurants, and local festivals with an international flavor. Our community has Czech, German, and Greek celebrations, to name a few.
- Exploration: Be creative. My kids and I spent a fun hour exploring a nearby Vietnamese market. If there are ethnic neighborhoods in a large city near you, visit the neighborhood cultural center or walk through the business district and stop in some of the shops.
- Education: Tie schoolwork in with global interests. As children study geography and languages, choose projects of an international nature.
- Friends: Support friendships your children are likely to have with kids from other cultures. My daughter loves hearing her best friend's Iranian-born parents speak Farsi and tell of their traditions. Another friend's parents are from Nigeria, and yet another's mother is from China. Set an example of international friendship by connecting with adults from other cultures.
- Aid: Help your children get involved in church mission programs and giving to world relief causes. Participate as a family in events like Church World Services' CROP Walk, which raises money for hungry people.
Going Global for Real
Nothing increases a person's understanding of other cultures like foreign travel. It can be as simple as crossing the border into Mexico or French-speaking Quebec, or as extensive as jetting to some far-flung destination. There are many ways to travel to other cultures:
- Relatives: If you have foreign relations, why not visit them? My friends Shari and Larry and their two young daughters stayed with family in England for 10 days, mixing sightseeing with views of everyday life.
- Recreation: Our family went to London and Paris for spring break. It was no more expensive than equivalent time at Orlando theme parks. My friend Suzanne and her family, of modest means, saved and saved for a trip to Costa Rica and then a few years later for a trip to India. Talk about eye-opening, especially for teenagers!
- Business: An increasing number of parents are taking children along on international business trips, especially when going to a relatively "easy" location. If you can afford a child's ticket, additional expenses will be minimal, while lessons learned and memories made will be maximal.
- Missions: Another increasingly popular idea is the family mission trip. Our friends Andy and Barbara brought their 9-year-old daughter on a church-sponsored building trip to Brazil. Although unable to work on the construction site, she made friends with a missionary child her age. With lodging and food provided by Brazilians, the main expense was airfare, making for a less costly vacation than a fancy resort and including priceless benefits of mingling with local people while doing the good work of church building.
- Education: If possible, encourage a semester abroad for a college student or consider a high school exchange experience. My middle-school daughter has been invited to tour Australia for three weeks, an option we are weighing.
There is no question that we must all attempt to find better ways to live with those around the globe who are different from us. Positive exposure to other cultures can foster understanding in our children, which can in turn promote peace. And that might be one of the best gifts our children can give the world.
Karen Johnson Zurheide is co-author of In Their Own Way: Accepting Your Children For Who They Are and author of Learning With Molly.
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