Ten Ways to Increase Your Children’s Cultural Awareness During Foreign Travel

my worldcultural awareness

Our family left Utah for a vacay on March 24 and with the exception of an 8-hour stop in between trips, we haven't been back home since.

Our trip started in Central America—Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—to visit my parents. And then, thanks to a trip from Royal Caribbean, we visited the Eastern Caribbean, where we have stopped at St. Thomas and St. Maarten and are en route to the Bahamas.

As a mom on a family vacay to foreign lands, I have a goal to help my children experience the cultures in the places we visit, learn about the people's varying traditions, and not only come away with a knowledge of, but also an appreciation for our similarities and differences.

Here are 10 things to help increase children's cultural awareness during travel:
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  1. Teach your children the language. Teach them key phrases before you leave and practice with them while you are traveling, pointing out when you hear others use those phrases while you are out and about. When you return from your vacation, keep using the phrases with them around the house, especially when you talk about your trip.
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  2. Encourage your kids to play with other kids in the area(s) you visit. If you are in a place where you can do so, arrange play dates with other children. Even if they don't speak the same language, kids are great at getting past language barriers. When we were in Guatemala, we invited the son of my parents' friends to go with us to the children's museum. We had an advantage, because my parents live there. On the Royal Caribbean cruise we are currently on, we have our kids meet up with other kids almost daily at Adventure Ocean in the Kids' Zone. They have made friends from all over the world in the time they have spent there.
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  3. Call out cultural traditions. Making a point to call out similarities and differences is key to helping kids appreciate new and exciting cultures. In Guatemala, we visited the ancient capital—Antigua—during Semana Santa (Holy Week). This gave us a great opportunity to share rich Catholic traditions of Alfombras (carpeting the streets with saw dust, fruit, and pine needle in religious designs) and Processions (the celebration of Christ's death).
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  4. Have them write a Travel Journal. Capturing the most meaningful parts of their day(s) in a travel journal is a powerful way for kids to process their experiences. Encouraging your kids to use the travel journal in a way that works with their personalities is important. My older child is more structured, so we came up with a list of questions he answers every day. My younger child likes to draw and write about whatever comes to his mind. Both ways work.
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  5. Act like a local. "When in Rome, do as the Romans" applies well to increasing your children's cultural awareness during foreign travel. Some things we've done over the past 3 weeks include: going to church in Spanish at a church in Guatemala; playing at a public park with the other kids; eating at a Guatemalan restaurant recommended by a local; swimming at a public beach and public lake (not the tourist destinations) in El Salvador; instead of going on a cruise-arranged excursion in St. Thomas, creating our own schedule and going to a beautiful local beach by taxi.
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  6. Try the food. Food plays such an important role in a country's traditions. Eating local dishes gives you a rare insight into their day to day lives. Many people in the US think that they will have tacos and enchiladas in Guatemala. We were determined to help our kids see that wasn't the case. They ate fish, rice and beans, chicken from the national fast food chain (not McDonald's), and fell in love with a drink called Limonada con Soda. Mmmmm!
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  7. Have your children take pictures. Equally as important as encouraging your children to write in their travel journals is making it possible and encouraging them to take their own photos. Even young children love snapping pics. The lens through which they view the world and that with which they snap pictures from will enlighten you as well as help them capture their memories.
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  8. Prepare a travel report. If you travel when class is in, help your kids prepare a report of their trip when you return. For us, this will consist of putting together a slide slow of our favorite pictures (no more than 3-4 minutes). The goal with this is to have the kids go through the pics, choose their favorites, and have a keepsake, not to mention something they can share with their classmates.
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  9. After the trip, make a book. Nowadays, photo books are so simple to make. Blurb, Snapfish, Cherish Bound, Shutterfly, and others offer great deals and a streamlined process. My friend Aimee from Greeblemonkey went to Ireland with her family and created a beautiful book with photos from her trip. It is not only a keepsake for her family, but it is for sale. The pictures are that beautiful! Have a look!
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  10. Decide as a family which culture you'd like to learn about next and start planning! Appreciating diverse cultures is exciting and can be contagious. Once you learn about one or two, you realize that there is a whole world of rich traditions and cultures to explore. So why wait? Start planning, begin a savings plan, and research the next destination and culture your family would like to learn about. For us, my 6YO is dying to meet the people of Senegal. I hadn't envisioned a trip to Senegal, but why not? If Connor has the excitement for western Africa, we should maximize on that! Where do you and your kids want to go?

I'd love to hear what other tips you have, especially what has worked for you and your family.

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An active part of the Mom It Forward team, Jyl primarily writes about parenting, social good, and all things travel related. In a past life, Jyl was an award-winning copywriter and designer of corporate training programs for Fortune 100 companies. Offline, Jyl is married to @TroyPattee; a mom to two teen boys and a beagle named #Hashtag; loves large amounts of cheese, dancing, and traveling; and lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Topping her bucket list is the goal to visit 50 countries by the time she's 50.

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