How do you respond when someone asks you what the one thing is that you want your kids to be when they grow up? For me, the answer has always been unconditionally “global citizens.” I raise my own children in a particular way that inspires them and makes them excited about the world.
Children of the 21st century live in a “global village” and in communities with people from all different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs. They grow up facing global challenges for people and planet that affect all of us, not just an isolated few. And their future will require them to work with different people in unknown environments.
Young global citizens are aware that everything they do has an impact on the whole world and that everyone, no matter their age, can make a difference. The interrelation of things is significant to these children, as is the ability to comprehend them.
There is no question that schools play a big part in teaching children the competencies to become global citizens. They introduce children to the world, of course, through the power of history and reading, but they often don’t provide enough of the critical knowledge and awareness kids need to become global citizens. I believe, from my own experience and research, that global citizenship must start at home and at an early age.
While travel is a great way to introduce your children to the world, it is not the only way to expose them to other cultures. Here are some ideas about how you can raise global citizens without leaving your hometown.
Share a short anecdote or fact with your kids every day that you learned from somewhere in the world and make it a daily ritual.
Did you live abroad before you had kids, or have you traveled extensively both personally and professionally? You’d be surprised how many exciting bits of information from around the world you have picked up in your lifetime, as well as your social media feeds, the news, and from random conversations with friends and colleagues. Make it a habit to tell your kids one story about something international each day — on the way to school, at the dinner table, or before bedtime. Encourage each family member to look out for and share interesting facts or anecdotes they encounter.
Designate one night a week to an international family supper
How about dedicating every Sunday dinner with foods from a different country? Cooking together or trying a new restaurant adds to the family experience. Each week have your kids pick a country and find a local restaurant that serves their cuisine. Introduce them to the flavors, tastes, and spices from that country. Inhale them together and talk about the countries. Get your kids to be adventurous with their taste buds and try new foods. We have a wonderful cookbook from Women for Women International which we use to prepare dishes from different countries together and read their stories. And once a month a member of the family needs to find a restaurant from a nationality we haven’t tried before. I’ve picked Ethiopian for our next outing.
Explore the uniqueness of ethnic neighborhoods
Do you live in a city? Then you can explore areas of town where people from one particular country live and preserve their cultures. Take a walk and look at the stores. Shop in them. Eat their foods. Go to their places of worship or parks to get a glimpse of their daily lives and talk about everything you see with your family. I live in New York City, and my kids and I have an arrangement where we go to different neighborhoods to eat different foods at least once a month. This has been a great way to expose them to new cuisine and have adventures. We have had Chinese egg waffles in Flushing, Pad Thai in Sunnyside, moussaka in Astoria, and falafel in Brooklyn.
Watch films that deal with global challenges
One of my favorite movies of recent times was “Lion” which stars actors Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman. Not only does this film give a glimpse into aspects of life in India and Australia, it falso shows the harsh inequalities many people are facing. Watch it with your kids and talk about the global challenges it explores. “An Inconvenient Truth,” a documentary by former Vice-President Al Gore, explains the reality of the climate crisis that is devastating our planet. Talk about the movie as a family and find out what most concerns each of you. Then discuss what you can do about climate change and how you all can make a difference.
Pick one Sustainable Development Goal your family is most passionate about
Every person in the world is needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs) created by the United Nations to make the world a better place by 2030. Read about these goals with your kids and explain them in depth. Then brainstorm ways they can help. My own family chose Goal #14: Life below water. We do beach clean-ups and try to avoid single-use plastic. We also make sure that the fish we eat was caught sustainably. I have made sure that my kids understand that it’s an exciting time for global development with the SDGs in existence, as leaders around the world have committed to a seriously ambitious set of goals to make the world a better place, not just for some, but for all.
Honor the culture where you are from and instill a sense of pride in your kids
My kids love the traditions and special customs of where my husband and I were born. To honor our culture, we observe holidays and festivities like the Oktoberfest, speak German at home, eat foods that are typical to our culture, and tell stories about our upbringings. It is our hope that this gives them a sense of belonging and will provide them with the roots they need to thrive.
Choose festive holidays to be a part of
All over the world, people have festive holidays they celebrate that are fun for kids and involve participation. In Germany, where we are from, for example, you put your boots out on the night of December 5. St. Nicolaus comes and fills them with sweets and presents (if you’ve been good). In Japan, kids throw dried soybeans at their fathers on March 3 to celebrate the New Year. Which do you observe?
Most of all, I recommend that you have open conversations about what is going on in the world and make friends from different cultures yourself. After all, our kids mimic what we do, so it’s important to set a good example.
And those are the ingredients of what creates a global citizen.
Constanze Niedermaier is the founder and CEO of Whyzz, a company that develops online and offline tools for young global citizens. As a mom and global citizen herself, she feels positive that we need to raise globally-minded kids by educating them from an early age about the world, how everything in it is interrelated, and by instilling in them the belief that they can and should make a difference. For more information, visit whyzz.com