Summertime with Kids: A Trip Around the World Via Local Neighborhoods

children attending Sri Lankan New Year’s celebration on Staten Island. Photo Credit: James Estrin/The New York Times

The internet is lighting up with things to do with the kids during our northern hemisphere summer vacation. There’s something for every helicopter- or free-range, unschooling- or intense-schooling parent; and yes, something for the “global” parents too.  Breaking out the passports and traveling abroad is the ideal, but for most families tickets to overseas destinations may be prohibitively expensive. This summer in particular I’ve found the fares beyond reach. Maybe the rebounding economy is fueling demand? Or maybe I’m a procrastinator.

So, the next best thing: Discovering ways in which the world comes to our own cities and neighborhoods. Last Sunday’s New York Times includes a terrific Guide to New Immigrant Enclaves in the Metro section.  So if a visit to New York City is in the cards for your summer (or you live in NYC, you lucky duck) you can start planning “trips” to Ghana, Guyana, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Bangladesh, Ecuador, and many other international destinations.  Immigrant enclave neighborhoods aren’t confined to NYC; rich, far-flung cultural heritage can be found in every city I can think of in the United States and Canada. Video: Guyana in NYC

As I describe in Growing Up Global, you can anchor an entire weekend devoted to a particular culture by visiting one or more of these neighborhoods. Look for concerts, readings, cultural festivals, food fairs, and other events to help you pick a date for your outing.  Prepare in advance by reading picture books, non-fiction travel, history, or country guides; watch YouTube videos of popular songs or dances from the country; and look for friends who may have personal experiences in that country or culture.

Once you’re in the neighborhood, arrive hungry or time your visit so you get hungry before partaking of the local cuisine. The simplest and surest way to build memory and connection in a new culture often comes from the food. Remember the adage: “the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” The same applies to connecting hearts to new cultures. While in the new restaurant, don’t be afraid to chat with the hostess, wait staff or proprietor — remember, you’re tourists now!  If in NYC, you may also have the benefit of browsing art collections from the culture, whether in a large museum, a specialized museum, or a gallery.  And while in the “neighborhood enclave” look for a shop that sells little gifts from that culture. Taking home a small reminder can have a big impact on young minds.

Thanks to pricey airfares and complicated schedules of my older daughters, we’re staying in the U.S. this summer, but I can’t wait to venture into Sri Lanka, Guyana, and Ghana during some of our unstructured summer days.

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