“Will my child get into a good school?” is a question that worries many American parents. But in our new global economy, being “book smart” is no longer enough to guarantee success. Today’s children also need to be “culturally intelligent,” meaning they need to learn how to succeed in a highly competitive, increasingly diverse global village.
David Livermore, Ph.D. and best-selling author of the book The Cultural Intelligence Difference: Master the One Skill You Can’t Do Without in Today’s Global Economy, defines cultural intelligence as “the capacity to function effectively in a variety of cultural contexts, such as ethnic, generational and organizational cultures.” He goes on to say that research has shown that “those with high levels of cultural intelligence are better able to adapt and thrive in a complex global society.”
The ability to interact effectively with others who don’t necessarily share the same cultural norms and to work harmoniously in diverse teams is considered by educators and business leaders alike to be critical to the future success of today’s children. The problem is, cultural intelligence isn’t something children typically acquire on their own—it’s something that needs to be developed.
While taking your kids on vacations overseas can provide some of this valuable experience, you don’t have to travel the world over to raise a child who is culturally aware and ready to live in an ever-changing and increasingly diverse population. Here are five simple things you can do today to teach your children about the world without having to stray too far from home.
- Travel “Virtually”
Don’t keep globes and maps tucked away on a bookshelf—put them where your children can easily see and reach them. Teach your kids about geography by spinning the globe and picking a country for a pretend vacation. Together, imagine life in that faraway land. What would you need to pack for a trip to China? Is it cold in Argentina in December? What’s the food like in Greece? How long does it take to fly to Australia? Integrating geography into your family discussions is an easy way to teach children about the various countries of the world. Encourage your kids to explore further by going online with you. Together, you can “tour” major landmarks in foreign cities, learn about breaking news and other challenges facing countries across the globe, and gain a deeper understanding of the vital connections that link the U.S. to the rest of the world.
- Develop Empathy by Reading
Whether you’re choosing a picture book for your toddler or a novel for your 12-year-old, look for stories that incorporate characters from other cultures and countries. A new report from researchers at The New School in New York City has shown that reading literary fiction provides the opportunity for social connection, helping to improve our understanding of others.1 To spike your children’s curiosity about far-off lands, consider also subscribing to magazines with bright, vibrant photos, such as National Geographic and Conde Nast Traveler.
- Infuse Your Home With Culture
Bring other parts of the world into your home through food. If your family eats dinner together, set aside one night a month as international food night. Let your children select a county, and together find recipes online for traditional foods from that region to make your evening as authentic as possible. If cooking at home doesn’t appeal to you, try different ethnic foods by dining out as a family. Another easy way to explore other cultures is through their music. The Web makes it easy to take a musical tour of different countries and cultures through sites like Putumayo, a New York-based record label that is dedicated to introducing people to music from around the world.
- Be a Tourist in Your Own Town
Go to ethnic groceries; visit museums and cultural centers; and attend festivals, services and events at different places of worship to explore the diversity within your own community. One of the most wonderful gifts we can give our children is teaching them that friends, classmates, and neighbors may have traditions, experiences, and perspectives that are different from our own.
- Model Acceptance and Openness
Open your doors to people who give you and your family a cultural connection, and explore their perspectives. When your children see that you are okay with people who are different from you, it goes a long way toward teaching them the importance of acceptance and tolerance. Encourage your children to learn a new language. And when they are old enough, encourage them to study abroad for a few months. It may be nerve-wracking to send your children far from home, but the experience will open their eyes and give them new perspective on what it means to be a citizen of the world.
Finally, one of the most important lessons parents can teach their children is that “people are people.” When you show them how to effectively and respectfully interact with people from diverse cultures, you take a giant step in preparing them for a lifetime of personal and professional fulfillment.
1Science October 18, 2013: Vol. 342 no. 6156, pp. 377-380.