We could hear the beat of the music as soon as we stepped out of our car. We grabbed our things and joined the line of people making their way toward the music. I could sense my son’s apprehension—he kept his head down, watching his every step as he shuffled behind us.
“Come on, Oliver. This will be fun,” I nudged him.
He didn’t respond. My daughter, Emma, looked at me and rolled her eyes.
It wasn’t until after we passed the food trucks and saw the clouds of color billowing above the crowd that Oliver’s expression changed. I handed each of them a packet of color, and the next time I saw them they were covered in green, blue, and pink powder.
“Happy Holi!” they shouted as they threw handfuls of powder on me in celebration of the Indian festival of colors.
We danced to Bollywood songs and ate paneer tikka roti wraps and samosas from the Bombay Food Junkies food truck. Even Oliver, the world’s pickiest eater, tried a samosa.
We would find traces of pink powder in the seats of our car weeks after the Holi Festival, causing Oliver to smile each time he had to dust it off his pants.
In our interconnected world, exposing kids to other cultures is one of the most effective ways to prepare them for a successful future. In his book on cultural intelligence, The Cultural Intelligence Difference, David Livermore contends that “those with high levels of cultural intelligence are better able to adapt and thrive in a complex global society.”
Although traveling overseas provides valuable cultural experiences, there’s a lot you can do at home. You can raise kids who are culturally aware without straying too far from home. Here are four ways to start:
1. Be a tourist. Attend the many cultural festivals and performances that take place throughout the year. Go to ethnic grocery stores, visit different places of worship, and explore shops that sell international goods. Take your kids to international movies. Check upcoming events at local universities, which often have free events that are open to the public.
And dine at ethnic restaurants or cook new foods at home. Food is such an important part of culture that it’s a great expose different regions of the world to kids.
2. Change your approach. The next time you visit an art museum, botanical garden, or local zoo, focus on a particular country or continent. For instance, bring a blank map of Africa with you to the zoo, and color in the country of origin for each animal you visit. Spend the afternoon at the art museum finding art from France and finish the day eating French pastries and macaroons at a local bakery.
3. Bring the world to your home.
Fill your home with globes and maps, books on other places, and magazines such as National Geographic Travel and Afar. You can watch international films on Netflix and listen to world music stations on Pandora. (My favorites are French Café Radio and Panjabi MC Radio).
Another great way to bring other parts of the world to your home is through food. Cook a new recipe, or bring home German chocolates or the Mayalsian fruit, rambutan. We once received an assortment of chocolate from around the world as a Christmas gift. Each evening, the kids would select one chocolate, locate its country on the globe, and find a few facts about the country to share.
4. Model openness and acceptance. Encourage your children to meet and become friends with people who are different from them. Teach them tolerance and acceptance by modeling those behaviors. Host students from other countries, encourage your kids to learn new languages, and allow them to study abroad when they are in college.
A version of this article was previously published in the St. Louis Magazine.