The Little Travelers
One of the best ways to raise an intercultural child is to provide them with a variety of intercultural experiences - travel, food, books, and learning. I've written here on Wandering Educators before about this, and every day we purposefully live an intercultural life with our daughter.
Recently, I found an excellent resource for teaching children about different cultures. The bonus? It is so much fun! The resource? The Little Travelers website and dvds. Created by Angelina Hart, this set of three (so far) dvds explores different countries through the eyes of her two daughters.
When we watched the Japan dvd the first time, our 6-year old daughter, Lillie, had this to say, "I liked it! The dvd was great, great, great.
We were laughing at when she was eating noodles and was dropping them and then ate them. I liked the monkeys, one got too close and that was a problem. I liked seeing other kids, and seeing them play. I liked looking at the food. It was awesome!" Her reactions to the other dvds were similar in enthusiasm and eagerness to learn about a different culture.
I had the good fortune to sit down and talk with Angelina about these wonderful dvds, and her kids, and traveling abroad. Here's what she had to say...
WE: Please tell us about your site and dvds, the Little Travelers...
AH: The Little Travelers DVDs are observations of foreign countries from a child's perspective. They are not scripted or staged. I follow the girls with a camera and record their experiences. The series is often likened to Globe Trekker for kids, as it is a single camera perspective of travel off the beaten path. However, the series delves deeper into the each culture than Globe Trekker does in that their trips are usually a few days and ours are up to three months. We aspire to know what it is like to live there- to meet neighbors and go to the local parks and find what children do in that particular country. Since it is a foreign perspective though it tells much about how other cultures embrace travelers. So really the series portrays what it's like to be a foreign child in another country.
WE: Where did you come up with the idea to create these wonderful dvds?
AH: I've always had a strong tendency towards wanderlust and traveled quite a bit in my younger years. In my 20's I worked in Jamaica and Japan, but then at 30 I had my first child and my travels abruptly stopped. I always had in mind that when the girls were three and five we'd be off traveling again. At that age they are out of diapers and strollers, can eat everything and pull their own suitcases. The girls' dad was leading art tours in Japan at the time and spent about a third of the year there so that was the logical first place to try out. Less than a week before leaving I had the idea to capture it on film. I've made the DVDs that I wished I could buy for my girls and the ones I wished I'd had as a child. I was always intensely interested in other countries but most of the information geared towards children is so fact based because it's trying to be 'educational,' which unfortunately usually equates to boring. I wanted to cover things that interested me as well as my children: people, food, bathrooms, kitchens, parks- just the daily life and what's happening rather than information about population, land mass, GNP, and major exports.
WE: Is the process difficult, in working with your daughters? They seem so natural in front of the camera.
AH: I film in the same way that I have always parented, which is very heavy on observation and very little direction. When I film the camera is usually on my lap or next to me rather than in front of my face so I am still 'there.' I have never been a parent who puts the camera in front of my face and says, "Hey, what are you doing?" so they are used to my style and go about their business while I lurk from the bushes. Luckily, children often do repetitive motions so it allows me to move about them. It may look like I've set up a shot and shot with two cameras because in editing you'll see them from the front and then from the behind, but it's only because they've done that particular thing twenty times and I got a shot from each angle. It doesn't always work and many scenes don't get shot in a way I'd like because someone walks in front of me or bumps into me or what not and then I've lost that shot. I don't tell the girls to do something again for the sake of a good shot because they're just playing. That's their part of the job and mine is to do the best I can to capture it without interrupting them.
WE: How would you suggest that people teach their kids about other cultures? Your daughters seem very curious and eager learners.
AH: Under the age of seven I suggest focusing on experiences rather than information. Have some dress up pieces from other countries, visit small ethnic restaurants and neighborhoods, read a wide variety of books, get a pen pal and of course if possible travel to other countries. I would also urge people to lose a bit of their own cultural self-consciousness. Both girls eat with their right hand at our local Indian restaurant. They slurp their noodles at ramen shops and eat with chopsticks at the sushi bar. They are usually the only ones doing this and yes, some people stare and give me odd looks that I'm 'allowing' that, but wait staff love it! Most importantly have fun with it!
I had some Hollywood producers interested in the concept of these DVDs and they wanted to make them more 'educational' by pointing out all the differences between the US and Japan. For instance they put into the voice over "…and they sell octopus! We've never seen that in the US before!" Well, when I reviewed their version with the girls they both retorted simultaneously, "Yes, they do!" We've always shopped at ethnic markets here in the states and of course they sell all those things.
Lots of major cities have really great ethnic neighborhoods but I find most people don't actually venture into them. Either they're afraid or don't know where to go or feel intimidated by being an 'outsider.' I suppose my travels at an early age got me over that aspect. When I worked in Jamaica I went with a friend who was Korean American. The entire summer our bosses called us Whitey and Ms. Chin. She spent the three full months protesting, "I'm not Chinese!" When we went to local places at night she was often let in and I was not on the account of being "white." When I hiked Mt. Fuji in Japan I was not let into the warming shelter on account of being "geijin" or a foreigner. So, when I go into a restaurant in Little Ethiopia or Little Saigon or Litle India in Los Angeles and we are the only Caucasians in the room it doesn't really bother me. The girls have never said anything to me that they are even aware that we are the only ones that are different, and we usually are.
The entire three months we were in Japan the girls did not appear to be aware of the fact that they did not look Japanese or that there were certain features that are distinctly Japanese. They did notice the dark hair but said nothing of facial features. Nakia said to me one day while wearing a sun hat, "Now people will think I'm Japanese because they can't see my hair." Pointing out differences is not something that has ever been part of my parenting style, so I just said, "Oh, could be…" and left it at that. Of course they were three and five at the time so that is no longer the case.
Children definitely pick up on parental energy around things that are new or different. Whenever we go somewhere I am interested and curious in what's around me. When I see a vegetable I don't recognize I ask a shopper how it's used and what it tastes like and we buy at least on thing that we have never tried before. That's part of our ritual- to find something new. We don't really care if it tastes good or not.
WE: How do you plan trips with your kids?
AH: It's definitely a process I'm still trying to figure out. In Japan we found a house to rent in Kyoto and that was all the planning that went into that trip. However, I had lived there for three years ten years prior so I knew what I was getting into. The experiences you see on the DVD simply unfolded as you see it. The girls' dad was also working in Japan at the time so when he was in town we would sometimes visit him at work, which is when we met the mask maker and the calligrapher, both exceptional artists and well known for their craft in Japan.
In Bali we planned even less than that. We did not have a single hotel booking for that entire trip. Where the wind blew us, is where we ended up. Often people have a hard time believing this because it seems so 'set up.' We picked up a brochure at the airport with a coupon on it for a bungalow that had all the dancing children and that all unfolded in a way that was truly magical. It really is a magical place. But again, I had traveled there before so had an idea of what it was like.
For the British Isles the girls were getting older and were more interested in the planning process and we spent a great deal of time researching through guide books and online where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see. None of us had been there before. We found a cottage online and booked it and had reservations for one week on the horse caravan. That part was necessary and I wish in retrospect that we would've stopped there. But then we looked at everything that we wanted to do and see and made a big list. The problem was that everything we wanted to do came with beautiful pictures and even better descriptions. So when we looked at pictures of all the wonderful things we were incredibly excited.
In once instance we found a series of caves right near the cottage we would be staying at. We could hardly sleep that night we were so excited to go explore it! Then when we finally got there two months later and were guided though the cave with a group of people and had to stay on the path to the left of the rope (none of which was in the photograph on the excellent web site) it really felt disappointing. The girls didn't say anything until dinner when Chantelle said, "Did you think it would look like that from the pictures?" And then Nakia blurted out, "I thought we'd be able to climb on the rocks and explore the cave!" We had quite a few of those experiences there and I realized we really over planned and I won't be doing that again. It's definitely a challenging balance to strike to get excited about a place and learn a bit about it but yet not plan it out ahead of time. It's the difference between following directions vs. exploration. There's little magic in arriving at a planned destination, but the experience of discovery is exhilarating. So, for our next trip we are currently listening to language tapes in the car trying to pick up a bit before we arrive and steering clear of picture books.
WE: When you travel overseas, how do you find cultural opportunities to
discover? Have you found ways to give back to your local communities?
AH: For the most part I like to ask the locals and keep a relatively open schedule so that we can be flexible to what is happening around us. It really depends on the country though. The next country we are planning to visit will be very different for me since it will be with a tour guide, something I'm not used to at all. But the issue of a visa depended upon it. So, in this case it will be up to our guide to show us these things although I've stressed to her that we would like time to go to parks and just hang out - something she was not used to.
Giving back is a tricky issue for me. It's easy to look at the orphans on the Bali DVD and think, 'oh, they're so poor.' The average salary in Bali is less than US$3000 a year. Materialistically yes, they are poor. However, socially, culturally and spiritually they are far more wealthy than we are here in the west. Bali is the richest place I have found on earth so far. So I do not feel good about giving to them monetarily. They lack for nothing in my eye. Their food is far more nutritious than ours due to lack of processing and their lifestyle healthier.
I believe the simplicity of their material world actually contributes to the richness in the other areas. And the most important aspect of all is that they are not asking to be helped, so to do so would be insulting and a detriment to their culture.
The places I do love giving to are the Heifer organization and Kiva, the micro loan program- both organizations helping people to help others and improve the lives of those that are asking for help.
WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
AH: The most rewarding aspect of producing this series is the response I get from children. When they rush up to me and ask me when I can take them to Japan or Bali or to Beatrix Potter's garden and hear them talking about things like Balinese dance or visiting a temple or having 'high tea.' It is delightful beyond expression.
Equally rewarding is the response I get from parents who say, "I never had any interest in traveling to that country until I saw your DVD. It's a perspective I've never seen before and now really would like to go there myself someday." My goal is to remove the 'them' aspect of another culture to one of 'us.' We're all just having a shared human experience here on earth. We're mothers, daughters, fathers, brothers, aunts and uncles parked on different land masses.
WE: Thanks so much, Angelina! We just love your dvds, and each time we watch them, we find something new.
To learn more about The Little Travelers, please see: http://thelittletravelers.com/