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Raising children to be global citizens is important to millennial parents. As the U.S.-born daughter of foreign born parents, I was exposed to food, ideas, traditions and customs that were different from those more typical in the U.S.
As a child, I also traveled often to Mexico and Guatemala. I learned how to navigate between all these cultures swiftly. Having been raised in the States means that my customs and norms are a mixture of what I learned from my parents and my experiences as an American.
The first time I hopped on a plane by myself, I was 9 years old. This experience set me on a path to become independent and fearless. The idea of children experiencing the world alone never struck me as odd. I knew from a young age that the world was much larger than the city of Los Angeles.
I want my son to know this, too, but in a culture known for helicopter parenting, I think I'm in the minority. I'm also left wondering how I will give him the same level of consciousness I had about the world growing up. So I decided to ask an expert.
Rebecca Bernard is a mother of two, and a multicultural world traveler who spent over a decade in global business. Through work, she had the opportunity to travel all over the globe, learning different languages and about different cultures. Today she co-owns a preschool that focuses not only on making sure children speak other languages but that they develop an appreciation for all cultures—even those outside of their own ancestry.
I took full advantage of the fact that you can travel with kids under 2 for free.
She recently launched a new venture, FamilyGo Global, which focuses on providing families with cultural immersion experiences around the world. This summer, her program will travel with families to Costa Rica and Spain. She shared her insights on the importance of raising global citizens.
Q: How has having children impacted your views on travel?
"I wasn't willing to give up my passport just because I had a baby. I wanted the adventure to continue. I took full advantage of the fact that you can travel with kids under 2 for free.
"Wherever I went, my daughter went. It was awesome. As she got older, she was awestruck by everything. Once we did a 3-hour hike and, rather than being fussy, she just kept saying, "Mommy, it's so green." You want them to have those experiences from a young age."
Q: Why is it important to raise children with a global perspective?
"A lot of the hate that is going on today is the result of not having conversations about globalization and of not being exposed to other cultures. Those who have been insular and monochromatic in their experience tend have less understanding about the world around them.
"We are all a product of experiences, and the more colorful that experience is the better children will be for it. It is also important to start by giving your child their own strong cultural foundation and sense of self. Teach your child about your background and cultural practices. Instill a sense of pride in that heritage. A child that is confident in their own sense of self does not need to degrade another for being different, but can more readily accept that it's just another way of being without having to dismantle it. That is why the travel piece is so huge for me. There is no better way to blow out the box of our limited experience than by immersing ourselves in a different environment and culture."
According to the most recent statistics released by the State Department, over 50 percent of Americans do not have a passport.
Q: How can parents benefit from traveling, even if they have never traveled before?
"Traveling helps you appreciate how different cultures parent their children. It also helps put a critical lens on American parenting. My travels have impacted how I approach my kids and teaching other kids. I've seen 3-year-olds in France sit through a 3-hour meal, which could have never happened with my own children at that age. You appreciate, you learn, and it also reminds you that there is a common thread that binds us. It has also helped me feel empowered about my choices and embrace my multicultural background. Sometimes my Latina mom comes out, but so does my Kansas mama, my black mama. I choose what works for me, regardless of others or what our North American culture dictates. According to Rebecca, traveling will also force us to examine our own biases and prejudices."
This is significant given that the United States is a key player in global affairs and our own country's complicated relationship with race and immigration. According to the most recent statistics released by the State Department, over 50 percent of Americans do not have a passport. Of course, money and anxiety over traveling with young children can prevent families from going abroad.
Q: What do you say to parents who are hesitant to travel abroad with their children?
"What makes it easier is when you are with people whom you trust and know. If you don't want to do it alone, go with another family. Use a travel company if you feel unsure of where to start. That's part of my goal with FamilyGo Global: to create experiences that foster meaningful cultural exchange and to create a community of like-minded families who want to give their children the advantage of being culturally aware citizens. We take the stress away by taking care of the logistics. In my years working in globalization services I learned that being savvy about these issues is not just good for your development but is also an asset in the professional world."
Raising culturally aware citizens might take effort, but Rebecca argues it is well worth it. She says it goes beyond celebrating holidays from other cultures and eating the food that others eat. True global proficiency is also about having an on-going dialogue about the experiences of other people. Raising global citizens, "[I]nvolves teaching compassion for all of humanity, embedding a sense of responsibility for the state of the planet and those that we share it with."
I plan on learning more about raising global citizens by reading the book, "Growing Up Global: Raising Children to be At Home in the World." In a world that is increasingly inter-connected, the fate of humanity may very well depend on our generation teaching our children to honor and respect other cultures.