raising global citizens
When it comes to raising kids to be global citizens, traveling abroad can be a great character-building opportunity, providing up-close and personal experiences for children growing up in the 21st century. While some lessons in global citizenship can be taught and learned at home through books, ethnic events and restaurants, movies and playing with Google maps, traveling to foreign lands with your kids can offer them lessons and skills relevant to everyday life, including:
Navigation and exploration skills. Any time you take your kids abroad, they’ll learn a lot from watching you in action. Take the time to chat with locals, and make sure to include some leeway in your itinerary so there’s opportunities to discover and enjoy any hidden treasures along the way. The first time I took my sons to Paris, we decided after one costly cab ride that the subway was the most practical choice for reaching many of our destinations. The Paris subway can seem pretty overwhelming to the uninitiated, especially if you’re like us and have little to no subway experience. But we were excited to give it a try, and within minutes the boys figured out how to navigate the dark, monolithic tunnels and platforms leading to the trains. Whether you rent a car, use taxis, public transportation, bicycles or any combination of modes to get around in a foreign country, the more experience navigating new places your kids get, the better prepared they will be to live globally as adults.
Environmental and wildlife conservation. Something most international travelers don’t realize they’re missing until they visit a country for the first time is exposure to new and different ecosystems and wildlife. When the Vaughan family visited Tanzania for six months, they were able to observe a wide variety of exotic creatures—from white rhinos to baboons, tortoises, giraffes, lions, elephants and so many more—in their native habitats. Sam, Reid and Tate Vaughan witnessed first hand how some of the world’s most magnificent (and iconic) animals actually coexist in the African bush, and that experience has deepened their appreciation for habitat and wildlife protection.
Patience, a true virtue. International travel requires a lot of waiting, sometimes for hours, at airports, train stations, or bus stops. Children learn patience from you, so be sure to lead by example. Be prepared with books, a deck of cards, a laptop or portable video player to pass the time. Kids learn to self-entertain during international travel, and establish lifelong skills in patience and flexibility.
Communication skills. Today’s world citizens do best when they can speak a second, or even third language. My sons learned to speak Spanish in school, and they’re both fluent enough to ask questions and order from menus. Their Spanish skills have proven handy in French, Portuguese and Italian-speaking countries too, since there are many similar words between the three languages. Exposing your kids at a young age to different languages through travel gives them an advantage in communicating effectively that most of us never had growing up. Of course, if your kids haven’t yet mastered a second language and you can still muster some of your high School Spanish or French when pressed, it’s a good way to impress them (especially since they won’t be able to tell if you’re rust).
The art of introspection. Traveling to foreign countries provides opportunities to examine one’s own core beliefs, habits, worldview and culture. Check out books and websites for information about the country you’re heading to in advance. Once you arrive, try and keep a dialogue going about the cultural differences between the country you’re visiting and home. For instance, table manners or the way we address strangers we meet have different protocols in different countries. Teach your children the value of gratitude, for instance when visiting countries in the developing world where extreme poverty is the norm, or something as simple as getting around locally is challenging due to poor road conditions or lack of transportation. Never underestimate the value to your child’s global education when you visit struggling communities; gratitude, compassion and empathy are qualities that help formulate your child’s outlook.
What I love about Laura and Brannan Vaughan’s story is the ease with which they made their decision to raise their children globally. Both were well traveled before they married, and once their third son entered the world the couple committed to one, 5-week trip to a new destination each summer. That way, by the time the kids graduate from high school they will have traveled the world together over the equivalent of one year.
And that’s what they did, visiting Key West, Pompeii, Yellowstone Park, Peru, Bolivia, the Galapagos, Vietnam, Honduras—10 years of world adventures so far have turned out three very global young citizens.
With Sam, their oldest boy, heading for high school, this fall, Laura and Brannan felt an urgency to plan a six-month, live abroad trip for the boys that provided lessons in philanthropy, education and flexibility. They chose Moshi, a small community in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, and remained from December through June, 2015.
The Vaughan’s left Moshi last week, traveled to Zambia for a few days before heading into Zimbabwe and Botswana before they return to California in early July.
Laura and Brannan have found a way to empower their kids to help change lives in impoverished Tanzanian villages, and shared the opportunity with friends and classmates back in their Menlo Park community. By collaborating long-distance via social media, the Vaughan kids and their Menlo Park peers raised more than $22,000 for bridgepipelunch.org projects.