Today I have a guest post by Andrew of The Adventurous Mailbox. The Adventurous Mailbox provides subscribers with stories from their main character’s travels around the world. I asked Andrew to share with our readers his passion for kid travel. So, today he delves into some of his thoughts on the benefits of travel and a personal experience that taught him more about himself.
I launched The Adventurous Mailbox because I think it is awfully important for kids to not only learn about other cultures, but also to develop an international perspective as they grow up. The ability to understand and appreciate the way other peoples think and live their lives may not be assessed on standardized tests, but it is vitally important for every kid’s future.
Prepares them for the future
For starters, the most obvious reason cultural education is important is that as countries of the world become more and more connected, chances are that the kids of today will need to work or cooperate with people from other cultures. Whether conducting business or collaborating on a design project, it would be helpful to know, for example, that when communicating with people from many Asian cultures it is very important to never let them lose face. With Confucius having a mighty influence on the region as well, it is also important to understand and operate correctly within the established hierarchy.
Beyond Eastern Asia, there are little nuggets to learn about cultures from all over the world that will make collaboration and communication more fluid and more successful. More, if kids can develop the ability to learn about and truly understand other cultures, as well as to see things from entirely different perspectives, they will have a major leg up in the future with much more opportunity available to them. This ability will also benefit them in other areas of life as it strengthens open-mindedness and the ability to empathize. Kids who are raised to study only their own culture and believe other cultures should adapt to their own way of thinking will be left behind in future work and social spheres, just as adults are starting to learn firsthand in today’s world.
Allows for personal growth
The amount of personal growth that comes from exploring other cultures also makes the endeavor time well spent. We all want our kids to grow up into fulfilled adults, but we also know that for many of us life as an adult isn’t easy and that happiness and contentment aren’t things that are easily acquired. Even if one “succeeds” by having a healthy family and a stable job, so many of us fall into ruts. We get into ruts at work, and we get into cultural ruts at home where the only new inspiration comes from Netflix.
How, then, do we get a kid on a path that leads to more fulfillment? If a child learns to study and appreciate other cultures or even pick up another language, more prospects and ideas will be available that make life richer. Just learning about other cultures opens up a world of options and choices that would have otherwise been undiscovered. Over the course of adulthood, options would be continuously revealed. As Marcel Proust advised, “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” One great way to “see with new eyes” is to learn about how other folks live their lives.
Along the same lines, studying other cultures also helps kids who may feel out of place in their own. Whether they don’t fit into their small town, urban environment, suburbia, or even the country as a whole, learning about other countries and cultures can give them the inspiration to push on and not be limited by the surroundings that don’t suit them. It can serve as a “window out” and ease the massive pressure kids feel to conform.
Learn about your own culture
Finally, another great benefit from studying other cultures is the insight you gain into your own. As you learn about other cultures and even grow to understand and respect them, at the same time you may think, “Thank God my culture is not like that.” That is entirely okay to think because this process of negation reveals your own culture.
To illustrate, when I first moved abroad I had no idea what it meant to be American. I mean, I knew what Americans did, but I wasn’t aware of what was unique or defining about American culture or American people. Like many Americans, I was raised to think the rest of the world was learning to act like us, and I assumed people everywhere would be about the same. Of course I knew other countries had different religions and governments that would impact daily life, but what I didn’t know would be different were operating philosophies, perspectives, motivations, ways of processing information, strategies of communication, and even things like how one walks down the street or waits in line at the post office.
My experience learning more about my own culture
Three years into my ongoing stint abroad, I was hired at a South Korean university as part of their international team staffing their foreign language department. My contract stated that I would have 16 teaching hours a week, plus would need to maintain four office hours. I was also guaranteed three months of paid vacation a year, which was extremely important as it allowed me much-needed visits home to see family are friends. On the first day of the job, though, things had changed. All foreign workers needed to stay in their office, when not teaching, from 9-6, five days a week, to be available to students for one-on-one tutoring. Times when not tutoring would count as office hours that could be used for grading. This never happened, however, and I was usually grading papers a few hours every night. On top of this, the school had decided to keep their foreign teachers around for the summer, taking out two of my promised three-month vacation.
Needless to say, I was furious. I had left Shanghai for this new position and felt betrayed after trusting them enough to relocate to a new country. I asked the other foreign teachers about their contracts, and they were similar to my own. The other teachers, from Japan, China, Russia, and New Zealand, simply accepted the fact that the boss had lied. They were happy that they still had a job. I couldn’t picture spending two years in this sort of circumstance, however, and called a meeting with the dean. That meeting taught me a lot about being American.
For starters, I was rude and arrogant. Having just met him, I spoke to him angrily and in raised voice. I called him a liar, told him that this would never happen in America, and in general lost my cool. Taken aback, he had a few harsh words for me for speaking to him in such a way and for forgetting that I was no longer in America. Even so, he admitted that the contracts were not being honored and gave me the responsibility of organizing new office hours for the team of foreigners. Our total work hours were split in half, and summer work became a voluntary opportunity for overtime pay. Even though I got the dean to honor our contracts, I paid for my rudeness by the earliest of class times and in general a chilly attitude whenever I walked into the department office.
Over time, I mended the relationship with good old-fashioned humor and American goofiness. I also endeavored to learn the local language as well as go above and beyond when the school needed help with any editing or writing needs. My boss later explained to me after we had gotten friendlier (over dinner and a couple bottles of soju) that it is common to request things of employees until they say no. Until then, no one had. I learned later from my New Zealand colleague (a wonderfully friendly Mormon Maori) that the team of foreigners already in the department were allowed to choose the new hire (me) from a pool of applicants. She told me that I was chosen primarily for being an American because they had hoped I would be loud and arrogant and stand up to the dean.
So there I was, far away from home and any kind of support network in a brand new country where I couldn’t speak a lick of the language. I also did not have a great deal of savings to rely on. It never occurred to me to be scared or to accept the bad treatment because I was in an unstable circumstance. Instead, I made demands of my new hosts, told them that I simply would not stand for it, and that I would be happy to let all those who would listen know how the university treated me. I am not special because of this, as I firmly believe this is what most Americans would have done.
What I’ve learned about Americans is that more than other cultures, we stand up for personal rights and individual freedoms, and that we cannot tolerate these freedoms being infringed upon. It had never occurred to me that in countries that had known centuries of oppression, this idea of individual rights was not a given. It is with us, and that makes us different and changes how we interact with others. Others make criticize us as being entitled, but really it is just the way we are.
Along the way, as I’ve traveled and lived in different countries, I’ve learned a lot about Americans, some good some bad. For starters, when not arrogant, we can just be goofy and “unformed”. You know how tourists from the Midwest look out of place walking around Manhattan? Well, that is how Americans (even New Yorkers!) look walking around the world. That is only the fault of our youth, though, as we are babies learning how to walk in a world of ancient cultures. You know what else is weird about us? We love top-ten lists (beaches, baby names, livable cities, movies of the year, etc) and ranking things in general. Other countries aren’t so obsessed with this. Americans also love to be watched and assume everyone is doing just that, like we are walking around with our very own imaginary film crew thinking our lives would be a show everybody would tune in to.
Why study other cultures?
In truth, there are probably a million more reasons studying other cultures is vitally important for kids, and no doubt I will still learn many more as I continue running The Adventurous Mailbox from abroad. This option is not available to most, though, and it remains difficult (especially in North America) to get immersed in or even gain access to other cultures. This, again, is why I launched The Adventurous Mailbox. There are also many other great resources online for kids, as well as great pen-pal programs for kids to contact other kids around the world. There are also a lot of other things families can do to learn about other cultures, like attending festivals, adventure eating, watching foreign films, learning world languages, or even hosting an exchange student.
However, you bring other cultures into your home, prepare for a bit of adventure, inspiration, and new perspectives: three things every kid could benefit from.The benefit for kids to learn more about other cultures? Find out here. Click To Tweet
Thank you, Andrew, for sharing your thoughts on why it’s important to learn about other cultures and about your experiences working in a new workplace as an American. I agree with you that I learn so much more about what it means to be an American when I travel. I love that your future coworkers wanted to work with you because they felt “the American” would be quicker to say no. And I love even more that they were right!
Jump start your kids interest in learning about the world by introducing them to new places via books. I’ll be reviewing The Adventurous Mailbox soon, but in the meantime check out their website now.
About Andrew and The Adventurous Mailbox
After his formative years in Cincinnati, OH, Andrew Bliss lived in Santa Fe and New Orleans before heading abroad. Taking the idea of slow travel a little too literally, he has settled for long stints in China, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, as well as travelled extensively throughout Asia. Before launching The Adventurous Mailbox, he was a university lecturer, creative writer for a software company, editor and translator, and freelance writer. When not writing new books for his company, he travels as much as he can, studies languages, and binge watches the TV series he has missed while abroad whenever he can find them.
Andrew writes his books through his main character, Crameye Junker, who would prefer to introduce himself:
“First off, let me give you the lowdown on who I am and why I’m writing these books. My name is Crameye Junker (don’t laugh…) and I’m 12 years old. Real quick about my name, I know it’s kind of a ridiculous one for a boy. No, I don’t have things crammed in my eye, and no, I’m not full of junk. You see, my mom and dad gave me a different name when I was born (even more embarrassing than Crameye Junker), but when I was about three, I asked if I could change it. They asked me to what, and Crameye Junker just kind of flew out of my mouth. After that, everybody called me Crameye, and it just kind of stuck. As strange as my name is, I’m just really glad my three-year-old self didn’t pick something like Dog Doo or Potato Peel.
Now, why am I writing these books? Well, my family and I now live in Taipei, Taiwan – where my dad says we’re going to settle down for “quite some time.” Everything is really different here, but I’ll adapt pretty quickly, like I always do when we land in a new place. Adapting quickly is one of the things I’m really good at. I don’t have a lot of things, but we all have at least a couple, right? What are yours? Have you figured them out yet, or still trying to find them? If you figure out you can do something cool like levitate or something, be sure to let me know. I’m lucky that I live abroad and travel a lot, because that puts me in situations that let me find out pretty quickly what I’m good at. My adapting ability has really been put to the test, too. You see, my dad has to travel all over the world for his mysterious work, and he always brings the whole family along with him. He’s a big fan of family togetherness, and because of that, I’ve been to 27 countries and have been to every continent except Antarctica. Since I’m not an Emperor penguin or covered in fur, I’m okay with that.
Don’t even ask me what my dad does here in Taiwan, because I have no idea. I only know he dresses really well and that he’s kind of important. I picked up on that last bit because people even a lot older than him call him “sir”. He also has this file cabinet at our home in Taipei (the capital city here in Taiwan) that I am told in his “I mean business…” voice that I can never try to open. He’s got nothing to worry about, though, because it has some sort of electronic lock with an alarm on it. I’ve tried, but it seems impossible to crack.
So, the fact that I live in Taiwan and am always traveling to all over the place is the reason I’m writing these books. I hope it’s cool with you. I mean, I love the craziness called my life and all, but sometimes I do get lonely not being in a normal school. Writing books for friends back home kind of connects me. It’s like I’m some kind of kite flying around everywhere, and you all are holding the string. Also, sometimes during my adventures I really wish someone were with me to share some of the craziness – like when I see something amazing and turn around to say to someone “Look at that!” but no one is there. And I’m serious, craziness always seems to find me.
Or rather, I find it :-)”
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