When I was younger and I was travelling overseas, there were a few things that I used to do to help me immerse myself in the culture:
Eat as much local food as possible, get off of the tourist strips and try the interesting street food etc.
Try and learn 5 new words everyday and continue to use them throughout my stay.
Attend music events and buy local music C.D.s. This sounds really cool, but I once made a walk to a square in Brussels (followed the crowd) to see the Belgian version of Cliff Richard sing, the atmosphere was cool because it was in a town square, lit up ; the atmosphere was amazing. Would you believe the real Cliff Richard came and sang a duet for the last song and it was ‘Danny Boy’?
Learn the local games. Every culture has local games. In so many countries you see people sitting out the front of their shops, cafes etc playing board or card games. Look up Ronda from Morocco (admittedly, I learnt this from a new acquaintance in a hostel but I still count it).
Try the local beers was also a given.
When I look at the list they were such small risks to take; compared to some of the other crazy things I did when travelling but they opened my eyes up to new cultures and probably made me even more accepting of others. I found myself in music shops talking to the guy behind the counter about local music, I was asking street hustlers to take me to the best places for food, I was saying yes to people wanting to show me how to cook camel, I would sit with a person teaching me their language and helping me with pronunciation and paid a guy an ice cream every time he beat me at backgammon (he taught me as he beat me).
These cultural experiences brought laughter and learning, friendship and fun. They bought conversation and memories. Many of them have bought good stories to tell in the pub.
I have been thinking: Are kids open to trying new things in this day and age? Are they being prepared to open up to new experiences? Will my kids, when faced with the customs of a new country, be turning their nose up and not participate? Will they miss the experience?
My new mission:
Try different cuisines regularly. We went for YumCha the other day and my lad tried chicken feet; loved them.
Try and expose my kids to people from other countries and learn how to pronounce different words (especially at the restaurants)
Expose my kids to world music – pity my C.D.s are long gone.
Turn off the IPad, t.v. etc and share the love of board and card games.
Wait until they are of age, get a job and they can buy me the beers for giving them such a rich and fulfilled cultural education.