Through the Eyes of an Educator: Eyes Wide Open

by Stacey Ebert /
Stacey Ebert's picture
Nov 06, 2017 / 0 comments

When I was thirteen, the term ‘cultural diffusion’ didn’t often come up in conversation, yet sitting in my best friend’s kitchen eating her favorite mint chocolate chip ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s was sort of the same thing. That same summer, another friend introduced ‘Pringles’ potato chips into our bunk at sleep away camp. At this point in life, I’m aware that it’s not really the same thing, but these ideas came from another and wound up infused into my life for a long, long time. Thankfully today, the true idea of ‘cultural diffusion’ happens in my life on a far more regular and grander scale. My kitchen cupboard and refrigerator are filled with items we’ve been lucky enough to experience all over the world. Today we incorporate flavors and attempt to recreate dishes from international travels, and things such as Vegemite (Australia), Lizano Sauce (Costa Rica), Brai salt (South Africa), and Branston Pickle (UK) are staples in our meal repertoire. 

The other day, I spent some time with high school students in San Diego. After their Spanish class, one young lady couldn’t wait to talk about how her teacher had explained the Mexican traditions of El Dia de Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), what happens then, the foods associated with the holiday, and the vegetarian pastries she thought I needed in my life. Her excitement was palpable. The husband had a similar experience with a colleague at work. I love those conversations. These and many like them are the lifeblood of travel. Like many travelers, we’ve had them in coffee shops, on busses, on beaches, in hotel lobbies, and of course, in airports. The idea of keeping one's eyes and mind open, welcoming other cultures and ideas, and sharing the stories of each other’s lives is a large part of travel. Why can’t it be a large part of our education system as well?

Finding British fish and chips in San Diego. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: Eyes Wide Open
Finding British fish and chips in San Diego

We know people attending traditional school who create an international Thanksgiving on the Wednesday before school breaks. Students are asked to bring in a dish that represents their culture, heritage, or something that is significant to their special table. We know teachers who bring their multicultural identity into the classroom, and those who invite their students to do the same. The textbooks don’t make it easy. The rubrics don’t make it easy. The standardized testing doesn’t even recognize the idea. How can we bring more of the magic of travel and the three-dimensional version of cultural diffusion into the lives of our students? How do we continue to cultivate ideas of embracing diversity and sharing ideas while clarifying the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural diffusion? How do we elevate the heritage, traditions, and cultures of our students, colleagues, families, friends, and neighbors - even though the textbooks often choose to disregard them and focus more on dates, battles, and legislation?

Learning from a survivor of the Cambodian genocide. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: Eyes Wide Open
Learning from a survivor of the Cambodian genocide

Travel is often the answer. Travel puts us in places inviting conversation and learning at every turn. Often, ‘different’ smacks us in the face and travel entices us to embrace it rather than dismiss it. Meeting people from different backgrounds, sharing meals together, discussing traditions, debating ideas, and expressing interest in lives other than our own open lines of communication, destroys stereotypes, and elevates levels of understanding, empathy, and discovery. Although worldschoolers, roadschoolers, homeschoolers, and unschoolers might do this on a regular basis, how do we invite those ideas into the more traditional classrooms? How do we pepper in the good amidst the required? How do we encourage a mindset of eyes and minds open while still dealing with the rigors of data-focused learning and testing?

Window shopping for Turkish Delights in Istanbul. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: Eyes Wide Open
Window shopping for Turkish Delights in Istanbul

Perhaps it’s up to us now. Perhaps it’s up to individuals to advocate for the real world cultural diffusion rather than solely the answer to a multiple-choice question. Perhaps it falls to students, teachers, parents, and community members to ensure that different cultures are not only shared and embraced, but also granted the respect they deserve. Let’s bring those conversations to our classrooms, foster that empathy, and increase the compassion and understanding for the different. Let’s nurture that desire to learn from others in a way that truly means something.

Touring a spice plantation in Zanzibar, Tanzania. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: Eyes Wide Open
Touring a spice plantation in Zanzibar, Tanzania

Take your blooming sociologist on an excursion to a museum, a human library, or discover the inner workings of another culture at home or abroad. Invite a refugee to share a meal, attend a festival from another area of the world, or even check out the cuisine of a different kind. Ask your local community center, school, or religious institution to introduce a day where members can wear their traditional dress, share traditional cuisine, and explain customs from their ancestor’s homeland. Have your budding scientist chat online with scientists from other universities or medical institutions to explore new ways to look at the world. Bring your young culinary enthusiast to a cooking class of another culture, or better yet, travel and take one in your visiting location from a local. Encourage your fledgling historian to look at more than dates, names, and places while promoting an attitude of acceptance, interest, respect, tolerance and compassion. 

Taking an Indian cooking class from a local family in Jaipur, India. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: Eyes Wide Open
Taking an Indian cooking class from a local family in Jaipur, India

We all have stories to tell; travel acts as both a vehicle and a conduit for sharing those stories. Local ethnic supermarkets, diverse recipes, and folktales from another culture enrich minds and open eyes. Transporting to a different location (whether in miles or in minds) truly unlocks desire for greater learning. Regardless of whether or not these things hit standards or will help a student on those state assessments, they’re important, significant, and life affirming. Sure, I reminded my ninth grade students that when shared ideas were mentioned in a question and cultural diffusion was an available answer, it was often the right one - but showing them real papyrus from Egypt, how the ancient Chinese made paper, reading Greek mythology, having a colleague who visited Russia speak about her experience, bringing the Australian husband in for a talk, and also sharing an encounter with a child of the San People tribe in Namibia (where he wasn’t familiar with a plastic water bottle as he always drank water out of the shell of an ostrich egg) was far more meaningful and memorable. Share the wonder of cultural diffusion, the excitement of learning, and the positive changes that follow wide eyes and open minds - travel and your students will thank you.

Making traditional damper in the Australian Outback. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: Eyes Wide Open
Making traditional damper in the Australian Outback


Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand. Check out her website at for more of her travel musings.


All photos courtesy and copyright Stacey Ebert