Children of today – the Generation Z cohort – will enter the workplace with a very different mindset from their parents and generations before them. These kids are growing up in a world that’s increasingly connected; a world that’s embracing diversity, breaking down traditional barriers and in terms of the ease of travel, shrinking. So how can you equip your child to be prepared for the cross cultural environment in which they will one day work?
1. Lay the groundwork
An effective intercultural communicator knows how to listen and observe. They will weigh up the facts and try to interpret the message in context before jumping to a conclusion. Teaching children to listen and watch before butting in is a valuable skill. Encourage curiosity in the world and at the same time, respect for others. Read books about different cultures; there are plenty of suitable books for the smallest children upwards.
2. Set an example to your children
Look at your own social circles and interactions with others. We all harbor some prejudices but are you communicating this to your children, even if it’s unknowingly? Try to convey respect, tolerance and empathy when you are talking about people who are ‘different’. Ranting at the TV news and making politically incorrect jokes is all well and good, but remember that children pick up your messages.
3. Speak a second language
Being able to communicate in other languages is essential and children pick up languages quickly, so start them young. What language is up to you and depends where in the world you live; in Australia, for example, Mandarin is useful because of the country’s strong economic ties with China, while in Europe, French, German and Spanish are obvious choices as they are all taught in school anyway. Once a child has attained a reasonable standard, look out for age-appropriate TV programmes or box sets in other languages. If you speak a second language yourself, devote time to conversation and make it fun, or silly, for example, doing the supermarket shop and only speaking French to each other.
4. Create a culturally rich home
Children can and should be exposed to other cultures from the earliest age. Teach them about different food and introduce them to dishes and flavors from around the world – the Middle East, France, India, Thailand, for example. Play music from other cultures. If you live in a city, take them to festivals that celebrate other cultures, for example, Diwali, or Chinese New Year. Pick a couple of the less heavy topics from the United Nations’ ‘international days’, for example, World Wildlife Day or World Oceans Day, or even Zero Discrimination Day – and talk about of it. Some days have decent outreach material that’s free online.
5. Host an exchange student
Actually living with someone from another culture gives young people first-hand exposure and is fun and rewarding. When children are secondary school age, you can participate in exchanges through school but before that, getting an au pair can be a cultural adventure for the whole family (and the au pair, hopefully). In Europe, the au pair system is regarded as a cultural exchange scheme, whereby you host a young person from another country and provide them with English lessons and pocket money in return for light childcare duties. Many au pairs remain lifelong friends with their host families and the children they’ve cared for.
6. Make holidays educational
Of course, family holidays are supposed to be fun and relaxing, but there’s no harm throwing in an educational element as well. For example, choose somewhere you and your children will have contact with local people, rather than a version of your home town transplanted somewhere sunny. This could be anything from a game of cricket on the beach with local kids in Barbados to a family home stay in India or a hosted Airbnb in Budapest – or just camping in France. Go out for dinner in the evenings rather than dining in your villa or hotel. Visit museums that have child-friendly activities. Try street food and shop in local markets.
7. Volunteer with your children
This doesn’t have to be a family gap year; there are plenty of companies that will set up shorter family volunteering holidays, from marine conservation projects to beach clean-ups and working with schools in developing countries. As well as being educational, holidays like this can be both humbling and incredibly rewarding.
8. Take a job abroad
If you get a chance to spend a spell working and living abroad and it fits in with your kids’ schooling, take it. Full immersion in another culture, even in the context of the expat community, is invaluable life experience for children.
9. Don’t be overprotective
Let children have their own experiences of cultural immersion, for example, having a go at haggling for whatever trinket they want to buy in a Moroccan souk, or learning how to order different gelato flavors in Italy. When they’re older and want to do their first Interrail trip round Europe with their friends, take a deep breath and let them go. It’s a rite of passage and travelling without a parent for the first time gives a young person a whole new perspective on another culture, as well as building confidence.
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