When I first became pregnant, one of the first books I brought home (even before What to Expect) was Homa Sabet Tavangar's Growing Up Global. Like many pregnant women, I was as nervous as I was excited; scared not only of how to handle motherhood but how I would maintain my personality and interests in the face of something so all consuming.
Growing Up Global was my guide to sharing my love of food, travel and culture with my baby. I am sure it has more than a little to do with planting the seed of the idea that would eventually become CultureBaby! It has been a reference for me both while we were home in the States and as we travelled abroad. I continue to get more from it as the baby becomes less and less of a baby everyday.
Homa Sabet Tavangar is a clear and powerful voice for global citizenship; in many ways the grand dame of the movement. With an exciting new website and new book just over the horizon, I was over the moon when Homa agreed to take time to sit down and speak with CultureBaby about her life, her loves (her three daughters especially) and how she came to advocate for making kids "at home in the world".
When did you first realize the importance of helping children to be more at home in the world?
I think this idea – being at home in the world – has always been part of my identity, based on the values with which I was raised. It really clicked as a term, however, in 2007 when I took my three daughters to spend a term of school in the Gambia. I was invited to write a blog (I’d never even read a blog in 2007!) for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the main paper where we live, and as I searched for a name that would adequately represent what I was seeking for my children, “At Home in the World” just stuck!
CultureBaby offers parents the option to shop a global array of products for their little ones, either items from a culture with which they share a heritage or items from a country that fascinates them. Please tell us why teaching kids about new and different cultures other than their own can be just as rewarding as learning about family history...
First, I think it’s vital to know one’s family history, or as much as we can piece together. Knowing where you come from helps you navigate where you are going. Similarly, if you feel “at home in the world,” or recognize the oneness of humanity, then the lines between various cultures become fuzzy – in positive ways. Whether it’s strong distinctions or similarities, they can be appreciated.
For example, my family is from Iran, but I haven’t been there since the 1970s, when I visited as a child. Though I yearn to go back, the current regime makes it dangerous for me to do so. In college I spent my junior year living in Peru and traveling through South America during long breaks and frequent university strikes. The year was exhilarating and fascinating. I made close friends I still have today, 25 years later, became fluent in Spanish (and some Portuguese), discovered the various cultures which I’m still in awe of, and learned so much about myself.
One of the things which I believe facilitated my comfort in these very “different” cultures from my “own” (whatever that means) was the connections with my own Persian culture I saw in so many unexpected ways. Abundant hospitality, food, certain ideas around politeness or social convention weren’t so hard for me to grasp, as I already had some wider cultural perspective. Learning about and immersing in a variety of cultures helps bring out our own interests, talents, and joys.
Since your book was published, it has met with high acclaim and very positive reviews. Do you feel that more people are catching on to the importance of growing their kids global?
Yes and no. There are some for whom this idea is just a natural part of their life and they yearn for meeting more people who share those ideas and look for resources that can deepen their interest – that’s where I was and there is the natural audience for Growing Up Global and related ideas. Then there’s a large group that really doesn’t want to talk about global citizenship. After reaching the first group, I’m hoping to tap into those who fall somewhere in between. I think more of them are catching on, but it’s still such a vast group, and there’s so much “noise” with 24/7 media, internet, demands, that the task is very very challenging.
How do you live the lessons in the book with your own girls? How have your activities changed as they've grown? How have you seen your efforts to expose them to global cultures reflected in their actions now that they are older?
I think the key with my own children is to make it a constant conversation, but not a nagging one, and not an agenda item. As I discuss in the book, this is an ongoing conversation that grows with their interests, moves to where their head is at, and sometimes stays quiet, too. Certainly the activities and resources change. Less lullaby music from around the world, and more considering college majors, study abroad locales, strategic decisions about languages to study in college – it gets complicated! Yet, if the conversations are regular and open, even those “strategic” conversations in college aren’t as difficult. My eldest daughter studied two summers in high school in China (which seemed a natural thing for her to do, and was totally her initiative), but now in college she is considering spending a semester in Cape Town. We kick around the idea that it might be nice to go where she can use one of her languages (French and Spanish since high school, Persian at home, Chinese study later), but she is eager to go somewhere that is very different from her other experiences. This makes sense in context, and she hasn’t decided yet, but it’s a healthy exploration and conversation.
What activities or ideas can you recommend for "welcoming baby to the world" even before they are school age?
At the very, very early stages, I’m a big believer to talking to baby in the womb, even before they are born. Studies show they hear your voice, recognize it, and start to make cognitive connections. It seems a natural extension that switching between languages pre- and post-birth will help a child become multi-lingual. Age 0-5 is the crucial developmental stage which forms the foundation for the rest of their lives. Love, compassion, inclusion are the core values of global citizens and more than any flash card or academic program I think these qualities (which can be demonstrated through games, food, music, cultural visits around town and travel if possible) are the most important.
How do you define a "global citizen"?
In the book I explain that I came upon this quote in the Bahai Writings: “Be a friend to the whole human race.” Global citizenship might be challenging for many to get their heads around, but friendship is easy. I’ve been traveling far and wide and I always ask audiences to define “friendship” and share what it looks like to be a good friend. It’s been amazing to see completely universal answers across totally diverse, disparate groups of people. If we can consider ourselves as friends – on a wider level, to the whole world, and begin this process in incremental steps, I believe we will go so far in realizing what global citizenship means, and looks like! So, I think a global citizen is one who is a “friend to the whole human race.”