Raising children in a multicultural environment is great: the children will learn that speaking different languages, having various customs and traditions, or different skin colours is normal. But not everybody lives in a place where that is the case. And for some more than for others, teaching cultural appreciation to children in a non-diverse environment is not easy because of everyday chores, work or lack of time.
Many different books, articles and blogs, this one being one of them, give great advice on how to teach children to appreciate other cultures: through travelling, learning other languages, reading diverse books, trying out different cuisines and projects. And I agree with them with all my heart and include these tips in my everyday life.
The approach I would like to show you today, however, is slightly different. It is based on the theory that cultural appreciation starts at home. And I don’t mean in your actual home, I mean, it begins with your culture. Here’s what you can do to foster cultural appreciation when living in a low-diversity environment.
Start at home: Tips for appreciating different cultures in a non-diverse environment
1) Reflect on your culture and language
Just because we live in a certain culture, doesn’t mean we know all about it. If you ask people why they do something a certain way, they would often say: “Because we’ve always done it this way”, or “My parents did it”. There is nothing wrong with holding on to traditions. But maybe we could become more understanding of our own tradition? Let’s start asking questions: “Why do we celebrate this holiday?” “Why do we eat that way?” “Why do we talk/communicate that way?”. I also believe that many people already know the answers to these questions. But have you asked yourself: “What do I like about my culture?”, “What seems weird or even unacceptable to me?”, “What traditions do I particularly like?” and “Which would I rather get rid of?”. “What do I want to do differently?”
2) Resist peer pressure
If you decide not to celebrate a holiday, or to celebrate a holiday in a different way, or maybe raise your children differently than it is done in your culture, you may encounter lots of peer pressure, and negative comments. Try to explain your reasoning behind your decision and just keep on doing whatever you’re doing. Try to explain to your children why you’re doing what you’re doing. Get together with like-minded people. Actually, many people are already doing it by for example not celebrating Halloween or Santa Claus, so you may not be alone in this!
3) Connect to something bigger
Faith gives the feeling of belonging to something bigger. One of the reasons is because it gives them a purpose in life and provides rules for what passes for good behaviour. Notice also that religion, while an important part of culture, actually crosses borders between countries and cultures, and that way, can connect people from all over the world. But it doesn’t have to be faith. It can be a belief in the Universe, a mission (whatever you think that is) or anything that gives your life a purpose. Not only will this make you feel less alone, it will help you appreciate your life more.
4) Find subcultures in your neighbourhood
I called this post living in a non-diverse environment, but that is not entirely true. Diversity is everywhere. Don’t believe me? Look around: you will see diversity: old people, young people, people of different professions, handicapped people, and people of different political beliefs. They all have opinions and perspectives that are different from your own. You can even start with your own children – don’t you feel sometimes that they speak a different language and you have to work hard to understand them? Don’t you feel that, if you work as a writer, accountants or lawyers seem as if from another planet? This is quite a good exercise in cultural appreciation, even though it happens at a much smaller level, because you can practice seeing things from different perspectives.
5) Be proud of who you are
Just because you learn to appreciate other cultures, doesn’t mean that you can’t appreciate your own! There is a difference between patriotism and nationalism. But also consider other things that make you unique: your job, your talents, your family background, your experiences. You can take pride in these things because they make you what you are!
6) Create your own culture
I think this is the most important part of this post: you create your own culture. It just takes realizing this simple fact. You can use elements of your culture or change the ones you don’t like, and think of ways how to make it better.
In the end, it is about balance between your culture and your individual choices. Think about it. Make your choices. Act. It’s that easy!
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13 thoughts on “Tips for appreciating different cultures in a non-diverse environment”
I’ve been thinking quite a lot about these sorts of issues since becoming a dad as the area we live in is in some ways maybe not the most diverse part of the UK. I think that what you say about the importance of having a certain mindset and seeking things out is really true. I hope we’ll manage to do this as our kid(s) grow up!
I was also thinking about this, Jonathan. I believe it is possible to raise children who appreciate differences even if these differences aren’t that visible at times. But they are there! All people are different! I also hope to think about this, although as an expat I am daily reminded of diversity and cultural diffences!
Yes, I agree…. “Create your own culture” is the most important part. Family traditions begin in your home. And traditions can spread out for the enjoyment of others, or not. Resist peer pressure is a good one for our tweens and teens, who often just want to fit in. This is where teaching our children by example to respect cultures other than our own is key. I like this post!! Thank you for sharing.
Hi Lisa, thank you for your kind comment. I’m glad you liked it and I think everyone could use these tips in their own home!
I really like this idea. Being more conscious of one’s own culture should breed an awareness which can then be applied externally. Nicely done.
My points exactly! Thank you for putting this so eloquently.
Great choice to share as the Best Of 2013. I remember this post and loved it. So much wisdom.
Oh I’m so touched, Jennifer- thank you!
I like your simple advice in different ways for appreciating cultural differences. I would add, children should also be encouraged to ask questions. When something isn’t understood, sometimes…and most of the time, negative thoughts (fear) or automatic rejection occurs.
Oh asking questions- children or not, is the most important part of cultural appreciation- and life in general! And it is also important to answer these questions!
I really like the ‘Little Human Planet’ videos from the BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00y00mz/clips
They are aimed at preschool children (the kids in them are aged about 3-6) and show snippets of the lives of children around the world. What I like is that they focus on the positives, which is important for introducing kids to other cultures, so they don’t think different is bad. Although many of the children live in what we would consider inferior circumstances, they are not portrayed as ‘poor people we need to feel sorry for’. Obviously children do need to learn about poverty and our responsibilities, but it helps if they learn that in a context of respect for others, and also that less material stuff is not necessarily bad. Sorry – I’m rambling!
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