How to Learn About the World from the Suburbs
OK, so maybe the suburbs tend to have a reputation for being more homogenous than diverse. But don’t let that stop you! Perhaps you will have to go looking for learning opportunities, but I guarantee they are there.
Here are a few suggestions of where to find the world at your doorstep:
Perhaps all the houses on your block look the same, but that doesn’t mean that the people who live in the houses are identical. It is highly likely that there are people from other countries that live right in your neighborhood. Keep your eyes open to notice the people around you. Make a neighborly visit to a family you notice is from a different country and culture. While this may sound like stalking, don’t be stopped by appearances. Remember that some cultures consider it normal and acceptable for local people to be curious about foreigners. Also, keep in mind that people living outside of their home culture probably want to get to know people within the host culture. You taking the initiative to get to know them is not creepy – it’s kind.
Of course, if your children attend a local school, you may also encounter people from other countries in your child’s class, at a PTA meeting, etc. Again, if you notice a family from another country, take the initiative to get to know them. It is OK to be honest with them that you would love for your family to learn about other countries and cultures, since you have little opportunity. You are not “using” your newfound friends – most people are honored by someone taking an interest in their home culture. You don’t have to hide the fact that you are interested in learning about them!
***Note: As a foreignercurrently living in a country other than my own, I can say honestly that I appreciate genuine efforts on the part of locals to understand my home culture and country. Of course, there is an annoying way to do this and a sincere, kind way to do this. The annoying way consists of someone clearly wanting to get to know me only for what they can get out of me – namely, they want me to teach their children English. While I don’t mind helping children out with their English, I don’t want that to be a basis of a friendship. I also don’t appreciate it when that is someone’s “hidden” motive for wanting to be my friend. On the other hand, if someone is sincerely interested in me and my culture, that is refreshing! Perhaps they would like to try some of my favorite foods or watch a favorite television program with me. Perhaps they want to see pictures of my family and friends from home. The difference is that a learner caters to the one from whom they are learning. A posture of learning is a posture of humility and openness.
Music, Food, and Art
While people make the best teachers, music, food, and art also offer great windows into a culture’s traditions and society.
- Pick a country in which you or your family is interested and use Pandora or Spotify to explore that country’s local music.
- Find a restaurant that serves that country’s cuisine or search the internet for recipes you can try at home. Better yet, if you succeeded from the above suggestions in making some international friends, invite them to cook for you! Encourage your family to try anything that is put in front of them. If they don’t like it, that’s OK, but encourage them to explore and try new things! Trying foods from abroad can be one of the best and most fun ways to learn about other cultures. Not only is food an integral part of a society, it also offers a way to enjoy community and conversation – even if it is just your family eating at a restaurant together.
- Search online or in newspapers for art exhibitions that feature art from other countries. Take your family to these exhibitions or check out some ethnic art books from the library.
Computers and the Internet
The technological age in which we live presents a whole host of opportunities for learning about the world.
- Google Earth is a great resource for exploring geography and topography. Try having your family pick a place in the world that interests them and then use the features on Google Earth to research what the land looks like. Click on some pictures and have your family plan an itinerary for an imaginary (or future) vacation to that location. Have your children pick out festivals they would like to attend, famous sites they would like to visit, foods they would like to try, etc.
- Consider purchasing a quality language-learning software like Rosetta Stone. Not only does language give a unique glimpse into a culture, learning another language helps expand our minds and see the world through a different lens.
- Use email, Facebook, and Skype to correspond with friends who live abroad. Perhaps your family knows some missionaries, businessmen, or teachers who are living abroad. Write to them! Ask them questions about their lives and have them describe their surroundings. Ask them to share the names of their favorite foods, artists, movies, etc. from the host culture in which they are living.
The festivals that a culture celebrates are yet another way to experience and learn about that people and society. Look online or check local listings to find out if there are local celebrations of various ethnic holidays. Perhaps there is a community celebration of Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year, or Rosh Hashanah. Chances are, there are a variety of local celebrations in which your family could take part. What wonderful ways for you and your family to learn about the values of another country, while enjoying a fun event.
The world is at your doorstep, and you do not have to spend a lot of money (or even leave your house, for that matter!) in order to learn about other cultures. A minimal amount of research, a little creativity, and a lot of love and respect for the diversity of the world around us breed the best kind of cross-cultural learning experiences.
What do you do from home to learn about the world?//