You asked and Homa Sabet Tavangar has taken the time give us some really great answers and information about how we can "raise our children to be at home in the world." That's the tag line on her book, Growing Up Global. So without further ado, enjoy the questions and answers and you'll find out who wins a copy of the book at the end. Keep checking Homa's website Growing Up Global.net for even more ideas and news about the book.
Before I answer the (great!) questions you sent, I wanted to thank Lori and her readers. My American Melting Pot, like Growing Up Global, is all about blurring the lines that divide us and living out authentic connections. And the community that’s grown around the blog has potential to learn from and support each other. This is so refreshing!
I'm myself an "international citizen" grown up in both north Africa and north Europe (Scandinavia) and have always felt torn between two very different cultures and I would want some day that my kids live in an international environment but I wouldn't want them to feel like they don't belong in either places like I do sometimes. How can one avoid that?
Homa Satbet Tavangar (HST): I think you’re describing a reality millions have felt, split between multiple cultures. This is the situation described and addressed in the book Third Culture Kids, by Ruth Van Reken and David Pollock. It’s generated a movement of people who feel like what you’re describing. For your kids I think a few things can be done: first, talk about all of these feelings and the fact you have navigated and they will navigate so many different cultures – but they’re not alone. You can show “heroes” that have done the same, like Barack Obama, a soccer star (sorry – I can’t say Tiger Woods anymore), or someone you know personally. You can celebrate the merging of your cultures. Is there a favorite Scandinavian dish alongside a North African food you love? Even pointing out how rich this makes your life (on a regular basis) is worthwhile. Metaphors demonstrating your multi-cultural richness can help: I always remember how bored I’d be if my box of crayons only contained white ones. I love magenta, gold, aquamarine, sienna… In a way, isn’t that like the cultural experience your family is having? This mix of cultures is much more ordinary than a few generations ago, so this also helps our kids adjust to the “new normal” – they’re not alone! Finally, I hope that your care about their feeling torn between cultures won’t hold you back from living abroad or experiencing many cultures. The benefits far outweigh the challenges!
Anonymous (Wendy) asked...
How do you deal with other´s who only see you as the country you come from and not you?
I always feel drawn into debates about how the United States does things from war, food, culture, etc. I often have a hard time dealing with the arrogant behavior of others who are pointing out "American" arrogance. I have been in an international student, traveled A LOT and have now hosted an international student.
I tend to avoid these discussions whenever possible. But with being the host, it has been much more difficult. A simple explanation of how something works here (when asked) turns into a debate. Can´t we exchange ideas without judging?
HST: I certainly hope we can exchange ideas without judging – and as I’ve noticed, some people around me seem to be better at that than others, sort of like a muscle they’ve developed for having honest, non-judgmental, exploratory conversations. Maybe they were raised this way, in a more open-minded, diverse environment. Growing up, I dealt a lot with others’ judgment of me for my country of origin. I was in junior high in the Midwest when the Iranian Revolution happened and suddenly it was as if my own family had taken the hostages and burned American flags (I describe this in more detail in Growing Up Global). My name was always a dead give-away and point of curiosity. Some people approached it painfully – squinting, contorting their mouth trying to pronounce, immediately wanting to know where the name/I was from. With all the negativity, it was hard to admit I was Iranian. Ways to deal with this: look at the points of pride from your culture. When people point out stereotypes then (especially as you get older) you have an identity of the beauty, joy and strength of your culture and are less vulnerable to the misconceptions. It’s nice to have friends from your own background to help validate your identity, though that’s often not possible. Parents might want to try to arrange social occasions with families of similar background or philosophy – surround yourself in acceptance.
You’re also pointing out the flip side: defending Americans from stereotypes abroad. One common element to both sides is that we are not our governments. We don’t have to feel like we must defend our government’s decisions – we didn’t make ‘em. Reaching out to show your human side while overseas, not feeling like you need to represent your entire people, can be liberating, fun, educational for both sides.
I love Wendy's question and look forward to hearing Homa's answer. When visiting Nigeria, I often find myself deconstructing generalizations about the U.S. and Americans.
My questions are more out of curiosity (having missed Homa's blog-sorry): How did your children, particularly your "tween" adjust to the Gambia? Did they view it as an adventure? Did they have food issues??
HST: I probably viewed our life in the Gambia as an adventure more than my kids did. A great thing about our time there was the fact that we arrived on a Friday and school started on Monday. This meant that my tweens (2 of ‘em!) were able to dive in to a routine, meet peers and not have too much time to think about home, friends, other things they missed. I realize this may not be “PC” these days, but the structure was terrific for us. We also were very busy with our service in the neighborhood school, though, particularly for my younger daughter, this was trying. It was her first experience with overt injustice, even abuse (witnessing it on other kids). Here is a blog entry touching on that. The second week our 3.5 year old started pre-school. It was truly adorable and this became another thing for us to enjoy – sort of entertainment for the older ones in the family. Speaking of entertainment: watching satellite TV was taken to the level of a sport. After school kids would come home and have their big meal of the day while American Idol was shown on Dubai satellite TV broadcast there. This was considered the ultimate cool.
The Gambian food was great – we were very fortunate. On top of that, thanks to positive peer pressure (cousins who grew up there and new friends) they liked the food – especially “domoda” and “benichin”! Rice is the dominant staple, so they didn’t have to adjust to the foo-foo/ugali staple found in other African regions. My kids have been raised to eat pretty adventurously. I also talk about this in Growing Up Global: how to get your kids to eat new foods.
Preparing my children to be global citizens, I feel is one of the most important jobs I have as a parent in today's society. While having the opportunity to live in a foreign country, my children attend the local public school there. I am very thankful for this. We have now moved back to the states and I am always searching for ways to continue their global education. I am very interested in this book.
HST: Thanks so much for this note. A big reason I wrote Growing Up Global is that I too was searching for ways to instill a global mindset, global education and knew that foreign travel and living was not always in reach. I hope it will provide useful ideas for your family – it’s meant to serve as a toolkit, with ready-to-implement ideas.
Also, I hope you will check if your local public library carries it. Given tight budgets, libraries will more likely purchase new books if their patrons ask for it.
I am not an "international citizen", nor is my son. We are both home town people, and probably will always b, aside from traveling. Do you believe it is possible to raise my son with a more global perspective with out moving?
HST: Absolutely! Just by starting conversations at the dinner table, having a map or globe handy, listening to music from around the world, trying new foods, watching films from other countries, reaching out to diverse friends in your community, and more (ideas in the book!) you will create a powerful example for your son that the world is within reach, and it’s something to be excited about, feel connected with. I’ve spoken with so many adults who were raised in the U.S. by parents who valued world cultures, had diverse friends, and engaged in stimulating, sincere conversations. They never doubted they were “world citizens,” though on the surface it might not have looked like it. Your example and interests are powerful, and today we really are more connected than ever.
What are some things that your children had to get use to regarding climate, culture, and any other tidbits growing up in another part of the world that wasn't so mainstream?
HST: So many things, but here are a few:
o Because of extreme poverty everywhere, class differences were stark, while they weren’t so aware of them in the US.
o Climate: We stayed there during dry season, and at the tail end of the “harmatan” where sand/wind storms reminded us of the desert’s encroaching on fertile lands. This was a tangible example of climate change we’d not experienced.
o A bit of chaos: no line for school snacks – a free for all, from my kids’ perspective; livestock roaming the streets, including major roads; open-air markets, bargaining, lack of punctuality.
o The fact that we weren’t African attracted much attention from anyone passing us on the road. Young men continuously approached any of us, trying to start a conversation, sometimes closing in (very close) to our personal space – very uncomfortable.
o Islam was ubiquitous. We were woken by morning call to prayer, schools and offices let out by noon Friday for prayers, and 98% of the nation is Muslim.
o Polygamy was so common that my 3.5 year old played dolls where they would be the first wife and second wife (!).
The Golden Papaya asked...
I'm raising three little "global citizens" here in Brazil. My question is, how did class play into your international living experience? How did this experience change your perspectives on class? My children are enrolled (as scholarship students) at a fancy international school, and it is interesting to me how the intricacies of class play out, and what our sons may be learning about this.
HST: As I mentioned with the previous question, class issues became starkly apparent while we were there. One of the dangers of living in a “poor” country is that kids, even from middle class families in the US, may easily gain a broader sense of entitlement living there, as they commonly would have servants and their lifestyle is clearly in a highly privileged category, even if you try for it not to be. I was happy that things weren’t “black and white” so to speak. Unlike my experience living in Latin America, there was no assumption of class privilege that went with skin tone (i.e., lighter = elite). At the same time, the poor were mind-bogglingly poor. When we hear about those who live on less than $1 per day, from UN statistics, it’s these people. A vital lesson we learned, however, from some of the poorest people we met: they lived in compounds and took care of each other. So, no one went hungry and somehow they made ends meet. The ultimate show of poverty in their society is to be alone – then no one can help you.
Wow! Thanks Homa. And the lucky winner of a copy of this wonderful book, Growing Up Global is Amy!!! Amy, please send an email with a name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org and you'll get a copy of the book, just in time for the holidays.