Date: June 1, 2012
Exploring various cultures is an increasingly important activity that, according to N.C. State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison, young people need to successfully compete and collaborate in a global market. The current business environment demands that children have the "ability to solve problems, embrace diversity, honor differences and work collaboratively with their peers around the globe," Harrison says.
"Reading is the next best thing to being there," says Elizabeth Howdeshell, principal of Atlas International School in Raleigh. It's a first step that, when combined with other experiences, "brings another culture alive," she says.
Check out the library
If you aren't sure how or where to set your child on a cross-culture adventure, Howdeshell suggests exploring multicultural literature at your local library. Start with the children's librarian and consider your own ethnic background. Chances are there are books about it. After locating some fiction books about the culture your child wants to explore, browse the travel and cooking sections, as well.
Author Mitali Perkins writes books that allow young readers to travel the globe through rich characters and settings children may not otherwise be exposed to. Born in Calcutta, India, Mitali had lived in Ghana, Cameroon, London, New York, Mexico and California by the time she was 11 years old. While she made friends easily, she says books were her "rock" while she navigated between California suburbia and the Bengali culture of her traditional home.
Perkins encourages parents to start reading to their children about a variety of cultures as earlyas possible. "It's a great time to strengthen the imagination, and by making connections to characters across borders, it can lead to globalconnections with people in other countries," she says.
While reading about a particular country or culture, pay attention to appropriate news stories that provide additional meaning and strengthens children's knowledge of geography and world events.
Make a meal
Sharon Mujica, an instructor at CHICLE Language Institute in the Chapel-Hill Carrboro area, says familiarizing young children with the customs, food and languages of other countries "make these cultures seem closer and not so exotic. Exposing them at an early age helps children be tolerant and promotes curiosity. Also, what you learn when you are young usually stays with you."
Because best learning practices include immersing all of the senses, explore cultural cookbooks as well. After reading about a particular country, try making a popular meal from that country.
Akram Khater, who has a doctorate in Middle Eastern History and is director of Middle East Studies at N.C. State University, says neighborhoods are more heterogeneous than they used to be, so a multicultural block party featuring different foods is a great way to expose children — and their parents — to different traditions.
Visit a museum
Triangle museums currently feature exhibits highlighting various cultures and regions. For example, "The Story of North Carolina" at the North Carolina Museum of History uses multimedia presentations, hands-on interactive components and artifacts from the
earliest settlers to share the state's cultural story. "Al Norte al Norte:Latino Life in North Carolina" recently opened, highlighting North Carolina's growing Latino Community.
Museum exhibits are always changing. Khater currently is putting together an exhibit that will be available in 2014 about the history of the Lebanese American community and its contributions to North Carolina.
The North Carolina Museum of Art steps into the cultural arena this summer by offering a variety of concerts, ranging from AfroCubism to Les Primitifs du Futur. Art exhibits complementing the concerts include "El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa." And a UNC-Chapel Hill exhibit highlights African-American families in North Carolina. (See the Getting Out section, page 47, for more information.)
Go to camp
Reading, cooking and visiting area museums this summer will keep your child engaged in activities until school resumes. Why not also try a camp or summer activity that encourages your child to explore various cultures?
Numerous language and international schools in the area offer summer camps for children of all ages. The Carolina Chinese Academy, for example, offers a one-week camp in
July for children ages 3-5. CHICLE offers summer camps that encourage learning about various areas through language lessons, crafts and music. Each camp session has a different theme and is taught by a trained native speaker.
The English as a Second Language Division of Raleigh Parks and Recreation is another great source of cultural information and activities. In addition to offering various camps, the division hosts classes and activities.
Because there are so many opportunities for exploring other countries and cultures right here in the Triangle, the question isn't "How should I get started?" but rather "Which country should I explore first?" Deciding is half the fun!
Julia Garstecki is a freelance writer and teacher.
Books worth reading
It Jes' Happened by Don Tate
Burro's Tortillas by Terri Fields
Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo
Rickshaw Girl, Bamboo People by Milati Perkins
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano by Margarita Engle and Sean Qualls
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Bless Me Ultima by Rudofo Anaya