Quesillo Venezolano: Childhood Memories

Food is an important part of cultural heritage and national identity. Cooking and eating together can connect us to people and places, bringing friends and families together with the same goal: to discover a new culture.

If we really want to deeply explore the beauty of Hispanic traditions, learning to prepare a couple of traditional recipes is a must!

When I was eight years old my mother enrolled me in cooking classes. Every Thursday for six months in a row, I discovered the beauty of cooking different dishes that somehow impacted my way of seeing food in daily life. For me eating a meal together means sharing values, traditions and building memories for the future. 

Quesillo, a delicious Venezuelan custard. Photo credits to Little Nómadas

Today I would like to share with you a recipe to prepare my favorite Venezuelan dessert Quesillo. This decadent dish is a treat that I frequently make for my husband and children when I see their need for some comfort food and also for special occasions.

Quesillo is a typical Venezuelan dessert made with eggs and condensed milk. The whole surface of the mold is cooked in a water bath and caramelized. It is usually served as a dessert specially on birthdays, however, I make Quesillo whenever I feel homesick or want to emotionally connect to my roots. 

History of Quesillo

Many historians relate the origins of Quesillo to the well known Leche Asada Española, a traditional Spanish flan originated in the Canary Islands (Islas Canarias) and brought to Venezuela by the Spaniars during Colonial times. The name Quesillo means “little cheese” and comes from the fact that this dessert has pores reminiscent of cheese holes. These pores are produced by being made with whole eggs (unlike the flan in which only the yolks are used). 

My Recipe

By giving all of you my go-to recipe for Quesillo, I feel like I am sharing a piece of my childhood memories and also letting you in on my culture and values. Quesillo brings to me memories of my mother, family reunions, the smile of my children and holiday traditions. 

Quesillo Venezolano a la Flor 

Quesillo before taken out of the baking dish. Photo credits to Little Nómadas

Ingredients:

6 Medium Pastured Eggs (kept at room-temperature) 

1 Can Condensed Milk

1 Can Whole Milk 

Vanilla Extract

Dark Rum (optional) 

For the caramel:

1 cup of sugar 

1/2 cup of water

How to do this delicious dessert?

Heat oven to 325 F.

Pour 1 cup of sugar in a warm pan over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup of water. Constantly stir the sugar and the water while they heat until they brown and turn into caramel. It should be like a dark-brown liquid.

Immediately pour caramel in a custard dish or large ramekin, tilting it so the caramel swirls around on the inside. Work quickly, as the caramel will cool and harden almost as soon as it hits the dish. Reheat caramel in the pan if it thickens too much to work with.

Blend all other ingredients until smooth. I use the blender, but my mother preferred the electric mixer. Your choice.

Pour the custard mixture into the caramel-lined dish. Place this dish in a large glass, ceramic, or metal baking pan. Pour hot water into the baking pan around the custard dish to a depth of about 2 – 3 inches. This process is called “Baño de María” or hot water bath. 

Enjoy Quesillo on Birthdays! Photo credits to Little Nómadas

Bake the Quesillo for 60 minutes in the water bath. Check with a knife inserted just off-center into the dish; if the knife comes out clean, the Quesillo is ready.

Remove the large baking dish from the oven and carefully take the individual dish out of the hot water. Let cool to room temperature, then place in the refrigerator for three hours or overnight. (Leave Quesillo in the dish it baked in until time to serve.)

To serve, invert dish onto a serving plate or platter, allowing the Quesillo to drop out and the caramel sauce to flow over the custard. Enjoy! 

¡Auxilio, mi hija no habla español!

En un ámbito tan lleno de cambios como lo es la transición migratoria, la única constante que encuentro en todas mis consultas es el temor y la queja constantes de los padres hispanohablantes que ven como sus retoños pierden el idioma español en frente de sus ojos y sin poder hacer nada.

Y es que este es un tema que ha sido abordado por psicólogos, lingüistas y educadores desde la época de los 70 cuando comenzó el flujo migratorio de México, Centroamérica y el Caribe a los Estados Unidos. Es un tema delicado que debe ser abordado sin prejuicios, mitos ni cuentos de camino.

Mi historia personal y profesional como madre y educadora me ha permitido comprobar que siempre que continuemos exponiendo a nuestros hijos al español y sigamos hablándoles en nuestra lengua, todo lo aprendido, lo escuchado, lo que se ha almacenado en su cerebro no está del todo perdido. Con las herramientas adecuadas, motivación y mucha paciencia, nuestros hijos recuperarán el español y podrán comunicarse sin problemas en la lengua de sus padres.

¡Comencemos!

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Hablar español se hace cada día mas fácil… más espontáneo. 

 

La persona bilingüe receptiva

Primero hay que entender el concepto del hablante bilingüe receptivo o en inglés “receptive bilingual speaker”. Una persona considerada bilingüe receptiva es aquella que ha tenido suficiente exposición a un idioma en su niñez como para tener fluidez de nativo, comprende el idioma, pero posee poco dominio del mismo. Este es el caso clásico de nuestros hijos: nos entienden todo lo que les decimos pero no nos responden en español.

Existe una discrepancia considerable entre lo mucho que entienden y lo poco que pueden expresar en español 

Una vez armados con esta perla de conocimiento y sabiendo que nuestros hijos presentan las características propias de esos niños que viven entre dos o más lenguas, nos toca profundizar un poco más en los procesos mediante los cuales esa receptividad se lleva a cabo y como encontrar paliativos. Al final, nuestra meta principal es cultivar el orgullo y amor por la lengua castellana, no se trata de imponer una orden arbitraria.

Atrición. ¡Adiós español, welcome English!

Aunque nuestros niños crezcan escuchándonos hablar en español en casa, es importante reconocer que están expuestos la mayor parte de su tiempo al idioma dominante del país en el que vivamos. Sea inglés, francés, mandarín, o alemán, los efectos son los mismos: pérdida progresiva de vocabulario en español, renuencia a continuar comunicándose en español y uso de la lengua dominante en las diversas situaciones cotidianas de su vida.

Como resultado nos encontramos con niños y adolescentes que se comunican con sus padres y familiares en un binomio lingüístico, pues mamá y papá les hablan en español y los chicos responden en su segunda lengua, la cual dominan con tal fluidez que se convierte en su nuevo idioma nativo. Nuestros hijos pasan a tener dos lenguas nativas: la materna y que debido a la atrición se vuelve receptiva, y la dominante, que por exposición y motivación se adquiere a niveles avanzados y constantes.

Esa atrición, o fenómeno de perder la capacidad de expresarse en un idioma, pero conservando las bases de dicha lengua en el cerebro, es la clave para lograr que nuestros pequeños sean adultos bilingües. Muchos estudios están de acuerdo en que si exponemos a una persona a su idioma de niñez (nativo-materno) de forma intensiva por un determinado período de tiempo, trabajando todas las destrezas del lenguaje, los restos “dormidos” de esa lengua en el cerebro que parecieran estar perdidos, se pueden recuperar satisfactoriamente.

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Hablar con los abuelos se vuelve fastidioso porque no quieren usar el español. 

Entonces mi sugerencia, para ti que me lees, basada en estudios y mi experiencia propia, es la siguiente:

Construcción de bloques esenciales de comunicación

La cantidad de español que se recuperará en el futuro depende mucho de las bases o bloques fundamentales que establezcamos para nuestros hijos durante su niñez. Por eso, es importante enfocar nuestra atención en la concentración del niño, sus gestos y otros elementos comunicativos, y habilidades sociales.

En lo referente a la concentración, padres y educadores deben motivar al niño a participar en actividades en español que se ajusten a la edad e intereses del pequeño. De nada me sirve sentar al niño frente a la TV si mi hijo corre por la sala y lo que quiere es jugar con la pelota. Sería mejor jugar con él en el jardín utilizando la pelota como medio de aprendizaje, refuerzo vocabulario y doy instrucciones de forma clara y precisa. Todo en español.

Así mismo, la comunicación cuenta con diversos componentes. Los gestos y entonación son parte importante del proceso comunicativo y deben ser trabajados con empeño para que nuestros hijos adquieran las señales necesarias para descifrar el idioma cuando no entiendan una palabra. Enseñarles a nuestros hijos el vocabulario de emociones en español tendrá mayor impacto a futuro si incorporamos cierta mímica al expresarnos. Recuerden que queremos “bombardear” los sentidos de nuestros hijos con estímulos en la lengua meta: español.

Cuando nos referimos a las habilidades sociales buscamos que nuestros hijos interactuen con nosotros y con sus familiares y amigos en español. Puede ser que el niño no le hable a la abuela en español, pero si él entiende lo que su abuelita le dice e interactúa con ella de forma positiva, se da el proceso de aprendizaje. Receptivo, pero siempre existente.

Maximizar la absorción del español en casa 

La forma en la que les hablamos a nuestros hijos influye directamente en el nivel de adquisición de su idioma materno. Cuando les hablo a mis hijos (siempre en español) lo hago de forma clara, gesticulo y pronuncio cada palabra con detenimiento (a excepción de cuando estoy mandándolos a recoger su dormitorio), hago contacto visual, si es necesario repito la instrucción y recalco cada palabra, especialmente aquellas que sé deben aprender mejor (esto se llama “teacher talk”). Debemos asegurarnos de que nos escucharon y entendieron lo comunicado.

Otra forma efectiva de maximizar la adquisición del español en casa es través del juego. Dependiendo de la edad los chicos se benefician enormemente de las noches de juegos en familia, juegos de mesa, bingo, pantomima y afines. Para más ideas de juegos didáctico revisa mi artículo Game Night and Language Learning

En casa los libros son los mejores aliados de los padres. Asegúrate de crear un rincón de lectura y arte en donde el idioma español sea el instrumento de aprendizaje pero no la meta principal. Queremos que nuestros hijos lean o simplemente exploren libros ilustrados y se cree una atmósfera de entretenimiento y armonía, todo ello mientras la lengua materna los guía en la actividad. Si buscas ideas para una biblioteca casera te invito a revisar mis consejos aquí Leyendo en español I y Leyendo en español II

Motivación y buena actitud 

Muchos niños y jóvenes viviendo en el extranjero pasan por el proceso de atrición de su lengua materna y esto es normal. Entiendo que como padres resulta frustrante ver como nuestros hijos pierden su habilidad de producir frases completas en español y eligen siempre expresarse en una lengua que para nosotros es extranjera… de cierto modo extraña. Sin embargo, mantener una actitud positiva, respetuosa y sobre todo amorosa nos traerá resultados positivos. Se los aseguro. Y si estamos de buen humor y dejamos de querer forzarlos a lo “general” a que hablen español por “su bien” o porque “así lo mando yo”, el proceso de fomentar nuestra lengua en casa se hará más llevadero y entretenido.

Mis hijos se resistían, no me respondían y aún lo hacen pero cada vez menos, le huían al español. Yo continue expresándome en mi lengua porque así me siento más cómodo, mas auténtica. El resultado: satisfactorio 100%. Ahorita que tienen clases de español en la escuela los veo floreciendo, construyendo frases gramaticalmente correctas, con una pronunciación muy cercana a la nativa (aunque uno de ellos no me dice la “rr” con fuerza) y paseándose del inglés al alemán y de vuelta al español con una agilidad mental y comunicativa tremenda.

Vamos a hablarles en español, motivémoslos con música, vídeos y hasta recetas de cocina. Seamos pacientes y amorosos. Respetemos su proceso evolutivo y comunicativo. Pellizquemos su intelecto para que los pedacitos de español adormitados en su cabecita se despiertan y florezcan. Usualmente los hijos de inmigrantes recuperan su lengua materna siempre y cuando sean motivados y expuestos al idioma de forma constante y efectiva, y eso ocurre en un período de tiempo relativamente corto, lo sé y lo he vivido.

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Ella merece disfrutar de su idioma materno. 

¡Manos a la obra!

Creating a Culture of Peace at Home

Last week I had the honor to be invited to the  World Law Congress  in Madrid, Spain. The Spanish capital became the international center of the legal world, where a numerous group of jurists, lawyers, politicians, entrepreneurs, and professionals of diverse fields from different countries gathered to present their ideas, research, and innovative proposals to achieve peace through law.

For two intensive days I listened to distinguished personalities from the international legal world, many of them prominent figures from Spanish civil society, all united to recognize the importance of the Rule of Law as a mechanism to guarantee democracies in the world. Many of them talked about society’s imperative need of peace, the rebirth of extremist movements in Latin America and Europe, and the relevance of respect and tolerance in a context of global governance crisis. 

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Sunny break. World Law Congress, Madrid 

Then it happened. 

During an ecumenical act in the Almudena Cathedral of Madrid, I attended the speech of the president of the World Jurist Association  Dr. Franklin Hoet-Linares and his words left a deep impact on my heart. ¡Vamos a educar para la paz!, he said. Let’s educate for peace… Hearing these words made me conscious of the level of responsibility we have as parents and educators with the world and the future of human kind. 

All of the sudden those endless appointments at the doctor’s office, sport tournaments, music lessons, and art presentations seemed futile when confronted with my “real” duties as a mother of three. Am I raising children of peace? Are we, my husband and I, giving our kids the tools to resolve conflicts in a peaceful manner? 

How do we educate for peace? 

How do we raise future leaders pro democracy and diversity?

Then it hit me. 

Everything begins at home. 

No, we don’t need to enroll our kids in an international congress about law and democracy at the age of 6. 

What we need to do is to bring peace to daily activities both at home and school. 

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Ecumenical Act in the Almudena Cathedral, Madrid Photo Credits Dr. Alexander Loew 

Answering these questions and telling you how to do it would be too pretentious. However, I can give you some ideas of where to start creating a culture of peace at home, thus fulfilling your mission as parents in charge of a better world. Then remember the job is yours and as long as we work together towards the same goal, the results will be beneficial for all of us, specially, our children. Who knows… maybe we are able to plant the seed of law in our offsprings and they become lawyers and jurists in the future. 

Promoting a Culture of Peace at Home

As parents we all have a role in teaching children about peaceful behavior. We need to be role models for our kiddos by showing them peaceful ways of thinking and behaving. 

  1. Let’s cover the basic needs. If a child is malnourished, sleep deprived, sick and cranky he or she won’t behave nicely. Frequent tantrums and aggressive reactions are always present when a child hasn’t slept well or when the child is hungry and thirsty. Then it is our job to make sure our kids get enough sleep, spend a big deal of time playing outdoors in contact with nature, eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of water. You may roll your eyes at these, but believe me, it is so much easier to deal and teach a child that’s well rested and fed properly. Don’t forget to make adjustments that adhere to your family’s routine and means. 
  2. Let’s discover the world together. Another impediment to peace is intolerance of other people. Intolerance can be to distinctions of race, religion, cultures and lifestyles. We can change this through education. Explore with your children new traditions from a different country, get in touch with people with distinct backgrounds from yours, and talk to your children about commonalities and diversity. Promote respect and tolerance of others at home. 
  3. Let’s be conscious about the impact of media. The media is a very influential source of information and learning. It is our duty to promote watching documentaries or programs that present Peace Journalism. Question what you and your family see and hear from the media. It is important to analyze the way our children view violence. Media glamourizes violence and pornography. Talk to your children about behaviors observed in TV, online and video games that project aggressive behavior and war as a normal conduct. I always tell my kiddos that the fact that a behavior is common doesn’t make it good! Counteract violence and criminal behaviors with acts of empathy. The main point here is to avoid our children’s lack of sensitivity to conflict and violence. 
  4. Let’s be role models of peace. Start by yourself, learn new ways to resolve conflicts peacefully, include your children in family discussions and show them how to participate in conflicts resolution with a respectful and non-violent attitude. Through my years as a lawyer, educator and mother I have read many materials that suggest avoiding fighting with your spouse in front of the children. To me this is somehow utopian and unrealistic. We spend a big deal of time together, we travel together and get out of our comfort zones together… how do we avoid marital conflict in front of the kiddos when we are stuck in a small cabin in the Icelandic countryside and nowhere else to go to vent? What are we supposed to do then? We discuss our problems, yes, in front of the kids (please don’t get self righteous). But we always stick to principles of respect, tolerance, compromising, and love. We make sure the children see us reconcile and come to an agreement, we give them, by example, the tools needed to resolve problems in a healthy and peaceful way. 
  5. Let’s get family members, friends, and teachers involved. Everyone is busy and nobody likes to be told what to do. However, there are many ways to bring up the conversation of creating a culture of peace in the classroom with your child’s teacher and school director. Many schools around the world have started including “Culture of Peace” as a subject to teach children about tolerance, mediation, and rewards for behaviors of peace and justice. Be active! Offering to read a book during story time could be a nice and smooth way to teach peace to young children in elementary school. Supporting the debate team of your teenage child in secondary school could be also an effective way to introduce more tolerance and respect towards other’s opinions at such an important age. The possibilities are endless. Be creative.

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Morning view from one of the seminars room. Madrid 2019 

The above ideas are just some of the small steps towards a culture of peace we can take at home. By putting ideas like this into practice I’m hoping to create a more peaceful living for our children and our society. Like Dr. Franklin Hoet said, the Rule of Law is key to guarantee peace and justice in the world, however, the relevance and impact of peace starts with our children, and just by teaching peace can we get closer to the goal of a more peaceful and democratic world. 

Let’s not forget that our children are the leaders for our future and it is through them we will create a culture of peace. 

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Dr. Franklin Hoet speaking at the World Law Congress, Madrid 2019 

The Challenging Path of Bilingualism

Every day I read comments written by parents worried about their children’s refusal to speak the native language at home. Somehow moms and dads out there feel admiration for my three offsprings who speak English, Spanish and German willingly and happily. The reality falls far away from what it is projected in social media.

My kids’ dominant language is English while German comes in second place and Spanish is a desperate cry for keeping mom’s culture alive. Don’t get me wrong. Things have gotten better with Spanish lately, but it wasn’t until their teenage years that my children understood the importance of communicating with relatives and friends from Venezuela using their mother tongue. 

Those first years and people’s expectations 

Baby and toddler years were challenging for our family. We were raising our offsprings in the United States and even though I spoke Spanish to them the whole time, they continued to choose English as their preferred channel of communication. 

No, it wasn’t my fault. 

Yes, I only spoke Spanish.

No, it wasn’t our intention to raise them monolingual. 

Oh those years… and oh, those comments! Every time we traveled to our home country, relatives would want to evaluate the children’s Spanish skills and would highlight their inability to build a full sentence without mixing languages. Friends and teachers in the States weren’t silent either. They were always worried about my kids and the state of confusion and ambiguity we were raising them in. How would their English be good enough for elementary school if they just hear Spanish at home? 

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Thanksgiving Feast, NJ Elementary School, USA

Reality is simple. Their brains are awesome

So years passed and the three little Nómadas (not so little anymore) continued to show dominance in one of the two languages: English. And this was normal. Our kids had a greater exposure to English and needed it more to communicate with people in the immediate environment. 

Please rest assured that this is normal.

The main effect of dominance is that the stronger language is more developed than the weaker one. Therefore, my children learned more sounds and words in English, they had more grammatical structures at hand to communicate and started to transfer English morphemes into Spanish. 

Then came grandma to tell us that the children didn’t speak Spanish nor English, but a dialect composed by a mixture of codes from both languages. Ha! 

The future would include bratwurst and sauerkraut

Little we knew that our life plans would be altered by a job offer and a sudden move to Germany. Our dynamics changed to open the door for a new language. Priorities had to be rearranged to support our children to learn German as soon as possible. They were already in elementary school and enrolling them in an international school wasn’t an option. 

Since we knew that not all bilingual and multilingual children acquire their languages in a simultaneous manner (hello first semester of Language Masters), we weren’t surprised when our kiddos started to acquire the German language naturally by interacting with teachers, classmates and other members of the majority language community. It was fascinating to see them flourish in such a challenging language while their English continue to be superb and their  Spanish started thriving as well. 

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Enjoying the German summer months in Nuremberg 

The more languages, the better

Eager to find the right way to support their bilingual upbringing I decided to deepen my knowledge about the human brain and the way kids learn foreign languages. I reviewed all the material from my Masters years, enrolled in many seminars about diversity, expats and bilingualism. Tons of information and talks to experts about the bilingual brain reassured me that as long as we promote exposure to their three main languages, our children will be fine and multilingual. 

Please grandma, trust us! Your grandkids will be able to communicate and strive! They don’t speak an unknown dialect, they are using code mixing as strategy to produce and balance their weaker language. 

Things that you need to keep in mind

Raising bilingual children is a rewarding experience that can be challenging and exhausting to pursue. You need to stay strong, confident and believe in the reason why you are supporting your kiddos in this path. Languages are excellent tools to communicate cross-culturally and raise diversity awareness. To me, giving my children the chance to live overseas and learn other languages is an invaluable gift. This is the inheritance we are leaving for them. (Do you think that with all that traveling we have money left in the bank? Lol) 

So I did the homework for you and listed the things to be aware of when bringing up bilingual kids:

  • Children can become bilingual at any age. The long-standing myth that the earlier a language is acquired, the more fluent a person will be in it is just that: a myth. What it really seems to influence their capacity to acquire a second language is the learner’s attitude toward the other linguistic group. My children started to develop their Spanish skills in depth when spending time with grandparents and other family members during holidays in Venezuela and Mexico. They began to identify themselves with the Spanish speaking group, enjoying long walks with grandpa, dinner at their favorite Mexican restaurant, the freedom of being able to order their own meals at the local Venezuelan bakery, and so on. They were motivated and their Spanish began to flourish fluently and meaningfully.
  • Forcing your children to speak your mother tongue won’t help. Threatening, grounding and screaming at a child because he or she didn’t answer in your native language will not give you positive results. Language learning has to be a process of joy, fun, and motivation. If the only reason for your children to speak French is an upset mom or judgmental uncle, language acquisition won’t be fruitful, but resentful and hateful. 
  • Create an effective strategy and stick to it. Does you son refuse to speak Spanish with his cousins? Then create a healthy and fun environment where they can play together. If your child is having fun with his cousin, soon enough he will be more motivated to communicate using the cousin’s language. A detailed but flexible plan of strategies will be your best tool. Think about resources, tools, trips, native speakers, games and opportunities to expose your children to the target language and be consistent. Watching a movie in Russian every four months won’t be of much help to encourage your 5 years old daughter to communicate with grandma in Moscow. Follow a daily routine. 
  • Build a network system. Working alone sucks. Languages are all about communication and interaction. Start by following blogs, IG accounts and other social media outlets of families going through the same process. You need to build a sense of support and belonging for you and your family to stick to your resolutions. Additionally, search information in specialized journals and magazines. There is also the possibility to visit bilingualism workshops and seminars to acquire more knowledge and meet people in the field. 

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Proud mom of a German speaker. Zurich, Switzerland 

Just remeber, whatever you do, do it with passion. Believe in what you are doing and don’t hesitate to let others know about your plans. Avoid comparisons and trust your gut. Raising bilingual children has been an amazing experience for our family and many others out there.

You will not be disappointed!

Embrace bilingualism and its many benefits and become a motivator for your children. They will thank you for it in the future. 

Holiday Season Recipes to Promote Diversity at Home

“One cannot think well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

Virginia Woolf

Eating is esencial to human survival. Eating is the centerpiece of family reunions, friends gatherings and traditions all around the world. Therefore, using food to raise cultural awareness at home is an easy and effective way to get our families familiarized with the flavors, aromas, and costums from other cultures.

This holiday season it is my pleasure to bring you a compendium of delicious recipes from around Latin America with the characteristic flavor of rich ingredients, savory spices and tradition. Most of these dishes are the result of the combination of the three main heritages that existed in our lands many years ago. The flavor of these recipes are a reflection of the powerful language of love and tradition mainly coming from African, European (Spanish, Portuguese among others), and Indigenous People (here I refer to the natives originally living in Central and South America and the Caribbean before colonization).

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Our table, our Christmas Dinner 2017. Photo credits Little Nómadas

Put on your chef hat, apron and best smile and invite relatives and friends to a day of cooking and spending time together while enjoying the deliciousness taste of Latin America! Don’t forget to get your children involved in this activity! It is always a good idea to read a little about the recipe beforehand and include some key cultural facts that would enhance this experience. After all, we want to raise diversity awareness through ingredients and preparation.

1. Pan de Jamón (Venezuelan Bread with Ham)

Our holiday table isn’t complete without the warm and dense texture of Venezuelan “Pan de Jamón”. A delicious bread filled with ham, bacon, raisins and olives to create a symphonic taste you won’t forget. This bread has been baked in Venezuela since 1905 when Gustavo Ramella created the recipe to be sold in his family-owned bakery in Caracas. It was meant to be a fulfilling bread for the folk of the capital city. Later on the recipe was spread out all over the country.

The Pan de Jamón recipe by Marian Blazes of The Spruce Eats is easy and delicious, the one we use at home when we want a quick answer to our prayers for traditional Venezuelan bread. Check it out!

https://www.thespruceeats.com/pan-de-jamon-ham-olive-bread-3029372

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Delicious Venezuelan Bread with Ham and Olives. This was made by my 11 years old daughter. Photo credits Little Nómadas

2. Buñuelos Colombianos.

buñuelo is a fried dough ball typically served in Colombia, Venezuela, México, Guatemala and Panamá. Buñuelos Colombianos are traditionally eaten in December as an important part of the holiday season customs. Family members cook the buñuelos together and then enjoy them with friends and neighbors, and are usually eaten accompanied by a creamy Natilla Colombiana, a vanilla custard that you can always find at homes in Colombia during Christmas festivities.

This recipe by my dear friend Johana of Mamá Tortuga is easy, affordable and fast! Three important factors if you have a big family, because I’m pretty sure they will devour these buñuelos in no time and will ask for more. You can always make these as snack or pack them for school lunches.

https://www.mamatortuga.org/bunuelos

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Golden and tender, the perfect combination for an authentic Colombian Buñuelo. Photo credits to Mamá Tortuga

3. Arroz con Leche Vegano (Milk Rice Pudding Vegan Edition)

Milk Rice Pudding is one of the guests of honor of any Latin table. Its rich and creamy consistency makes Arroz con Leche the perfect dessert to end a holiday meal. This delicious dish has its origins in the Moroccan cuisine, however, it was brought to South America by the Spaniards.

Since I didn’t want to leave anybody out of enjoying this decadent dessert, my friend Diana of Recetas Latinas Veganas gave me the perfect recipe for those following a vegan nutritional plan. Check it out! She even included a YouTube video as visual support.

Arroz con Leche Vegano

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Creamy Vegan Milk Rice Pudding. Photo credits Diana Rodriguez Recetas Latinas Veganas 

4. Hallacas.

Hallacas are usually known as Venezuelan tamales, and even though they look somehow similar to Mexican tamales, the ingredients and preparation differ greatly. Venezuelan families gather together to make this holiday dish and kick start Christmas season. The hallacas ingredients vary based on the region of Venezuela you live, but rest assured that you are up for a treat no matter what geographic area your hallacas come from.

I want to warn you: to make hallacas is extremely time consuming. Therefore, I suggest you gather a team and set aside two days (at least) to prepare this delicious meal. It is totally worthy, I promise! Also, it would be a good idea to get in touch with a Venezuelan friend or acquaintances that might help with the process. Many of the ingredients are already sold in supermarkets around continental United States.

This recipe by Venezuelan Cooking is the best! Try it out!

https://venezuelancooking.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/recipe-hallacas-venezolanas-venezuelan-christmas-dinner-hallacas/

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My son Eddie enjoying his delicious Hallaca made by @lacocinitavenezolana of Düsseldorf. Photo credits Little Nómadas 

5. Ponche Crema (Venezuelan Eggnog)

Ponche Crema is a traditional Venezuelan beverage enjoyed by friends and family during the holiday season. Similar drinks are spread out Latin America with a few variations, but the main ingredients typically include milk, eggs, sugar, rum, nutmeg and cinnamon. At home we make an alcohol-free version of Ponche Crema for the kids.

This Ponche Crema Venezolano recipe by Mamá Contemporánea is deliciously simple! Please, make sure you prepare enough to last until Christmas Day. It is such a comfort drink that you and your family would want to enjoy it frequently. Watch the waistline as well!

Como Preparar Ponche Crema Venezolano Casero (Receta Familiar)

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Ponche Crema is usually served cold in short glasses. Photo credits Rory of Mamá Contemporánea 

Isn’t your mouth watering yet? 

I hope you get to include these recipes in your Holiday menu and invite friends and relatives to enjoy them as well. Raising global awareness doesn’t have to be political, extenuating or boring. Eating traditional recipes from around the world can be the perfect way to promote diversity at home in an entertaining way.

Please, don’t hesitate to write your comments about the recipe and ask questions! I’m here to help!

¡Buen provecho!

 

 

 

 

 

G.R.A.C.I.A.S. Spanish Word to Experience this Thanksgiving

Living in the United States was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I married in Fort Worth, Texas, my children were born there as well, I learned to speak English and found wonderful friends. The States were my home for twelve years and that means that I have spent most of my adult years there surrounded by the American culture, its charm and challenges. 

There are so many American traditions that we love and treasure! And even though we left the United States five years ago, we still practice many of them on a regular basis. It is important that our children know and appreciate the culture of their birth country… I think it is part of their cultural baggage. 

Thanksgiving Celebration at school in Texas.

But from all of these traditions, the one that better resonates with us is the celebration of Thanksgiving. This is a holiday that keeps coming back to us and that means something very personal to us. It is our opportunity as individuals and as a family to consciously appreciate the wonderful things we have, the amazing personal traits we were born with, and the many experiences we live regularly.

It is a time to  say ¡GRACIAS! Thank you! 

Gracias is such a powerful word in the Latino culture. It is the term of choice to appreciate good service, to close business deals, end a telephone conversation or to simply show how important someone is to us. 

Gracias isn’t just one more word in the vocabulary list my children review every week to further their Spanish skills. Gracias takes a whole new meaning during the holidays of Thanksgiving, and this is how we experience it at home:

The blissful acronym G.R.A.C.I.A.S

G stands for GRATEFULNESS. We encourage our children to think of things and experiences they are grateful for. How do we do it? Starting the week before Thanksgiving, we make a list of the things we appreciate: material things, experiences, flavors and aromas, lyrics, and so on. The main goal is to practice gratefulness daily and learn to appreciate the beauty of the small details.

We write down very specific things, for example: I’m grateful for my beautiful curly hair or my brown eyes. Avoid being too general or you will run out of reasons to be grateful for and your children will not experience the power of finding grace in little and simple things. Be precise.

Visit to a Pumpkin Patch in Germany 

R stands for REACHING OUT. Living far away from relatives and American friends means that we need to make our best effort to communicate with our local friends in order to involve them in our Thanksgiving celebration. That means inviting our friends for the big feast or simply having and afternoon of coffee, tea and biscuits to celebrate friendship and strength our relationships with people from the host country.

If you don’t live abroad, this is the time to try to reach out to your relatives, friends and colleagues to show appreaciation for their friendship and to makes them feel special. For us is very important to help and appreciate others to achieve truthful happiness, that’s why we like to share our Thanksgiving traditions with the ones with love and care about. Even with the ones with different traditions. 

A stands for ACCOUNTING. Today’s generation need to be taught to be responsible for their actions. This includes the great responsibility of being in charge of our own happiness. During Thanksgiving week, we make time to seat on the couch with a warm blanket and background music and chat about the different ways we can achieve inner joy and help others to reach their potential. 

By brainstorming, we encourage self-reflection practices. Together we reckon the amazing things we have, the goals we have met and the ones to be achieved, the negative words we have said and the steps to take to improve ourselves. 

Responsibility to love each other and ourselves. 

C stands for CARING. As an expat family, we pay close attention to our relationships to stay strong and united. Throughout our mobile life, my husband and I have become best friends and our three offsprings have built a strong emotional net that allows them to endure transition with love and optimism. We care about each other and during these holidays we make an effort to do it even more. 

We all have our own list of things we can do for the others that will make them happier, healthier and more grateful. This year the boys have chosen to help each other with school work, and my daughter is buying snacks for family movie nights. She is using her allowance and she feels very proud! I decided to pack healthy lunches for my hubby during this week and he is doing amazingly well by rubbing my awfully dry heels with coconut oil every night before bed. (I wish this will last the whole year!)

I stands for IMAGINATION. Connecting with others implies to disconnect ourselves from technology gadgets (as much as possible) and going back to the simple things. This isn’t easy at all and requires tons of creativity. 

I have lost count of how many times I have given my children ideas to entertain themselves without electronics! Oh boy! But for the last two days it has been a blessing to see them using their imagination to play board games, paint paper rolls (still don’t know what they plan to do with them), write a poem, learn a new piano song and so on. Then we reward ourselves at night with a family movie, snacks and hot cocoa. 

Imagination to live Thanksgiving overseas. 

A stands for ACCEPTING. Relationships aren’t always a walk in the park. And that is a fact our children need to understand since they are young. Arguing, disagreeing and struggling to accept somebody else’s opinion are part of healthy relationships as well. That‘s why we motivate our little ones to accept each other just the way they are. Obviously, there are limits set for offensive behavior and hurtful language. But it is important they learn to appreciate diversity and develop tolerance. 

Thanksgiving holidays are the perfect time for accepting. Being tolerant is easier when we recognize the good in others. Appreciation anyone? Thanks to the GRACIAS practice, we have seen a more peaceful and tolerant attitude in our family during these days. We are more loving and caring, we don’t react as much and we act with respect. 

S stands for SHARING. Happiness is deeper when we share it with somebody else. Pumpkin pie tastes sweeter when eaten with friends and family. This is all part of the Thanksgiving spirit. Innovative ideas to share at home?

Since our motto for the last years has been “buy less stuff, enjoy more experiences”, when we approach sharing at home we focus mainly in distributing our time to live life fully, for example, reading a story for the family to enjoy, alloting part of our day to help a neighbor in need, helping brother with his geometry homework or seating by the fireplace with daddy. These days are all about sharing our emotions, time and skills. (Also sharing cookies and a spoon of chocolate spread is always a good idea)

We share our time, our passions and skills. This is harvest time. 

So this is how we experience Thanksgiving at home, four Americans and  a Venezuelan mamá living in Germany. This is how we started giving the Spanish word GRACIAS a deeper meaning. This is how we combine our cultural background to find happiness and promote gratefulness and tolerance. 

What’s your “word” for this Thanksgiving? 

Improving your Child’s Cultural Intelligence with Joy Sun Bear

Nowadays developing Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is a task that should be added to any parenting goals list and to every teacher’s lesson plan. In an ever growing and changing world, having high levels of diversity awareness and being able to cross-culturally interact with other people are necessary tools to succeed in the future. 

While many of the resources found online advice traveling as the number one step to promote cultural intelligence in children and young adults, I strongly believe that the world is an open book that can also be discovered through many relevant printed materials and enjoyed from the comfort of our own home. Magazines, online articles, travel brochures, and especially books are great allies when it comes to the challenges of becoming culturally intelligent. 

*Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book below for review purposes; however all my opinions and those of my daughter are our own.*

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The Adventures of Joy Sun Bear: The Blue Amber of Sumatra

For grownups to improve CQ is imperative to acknowledge biases, unlearn and refine all of our prejudices, habits, and beliefs that hold us back. This “unlearning” process can be quite difficult for many adults, because these aspects remain in a person’s core, thus requiring constant self-assessment. But for children, with the right guidance, developing CQ can be completely natural. 

So how can we bestow our children with the inspiration and experiences to carry on becoming culturally intelligent? Where do we find age-appropriate information to motivate our kids to explore other traditions? The answer is BOOKS! And The Adventures of Joy Sun Bear: The Blue Amber of Sumatra is a great way to start! 

Buy the book here

When I first received the book I thought it was just another children’s book intended to entertain with beautiful illustrations and a fun message. Boy was I wrong! Joy Sun Bear is a character that represents the personal traits children need to increase their CQ and be diversity aware. Joy is curious, courageous, risk-taker, and with a strong sense of loyalty to friends (even those friends that don’t look like him at all). His adventures will take you and your little ones to a wonderful world of friendship, bravery, magical creatures, family support and camaraderie. But how to use this fun and colorful book to foster curiosity about diversity and inclusion?

I present you with 5 easy-to-follow steps to begin your child’s CQ journey using the book The Adventures of Joy Sun Bear: The Blue Amber of Sumatra by Blanca Carranza and John Lee. 

  1. Talk about your own physical characteristics, talents and community. 

It is imposible to develop Cultural Intelligence if we don’t learn about our own beliefs, culture and talents. Use description to talk to your children about Joy Sun Bear, how he looks, what he eats, where he lives. Bring those questions to your own family. How do we look? What do we eat? What language do we speak? Initiate your kids in the path of self-awareness. 

Tipah looked at Joy’s long claws on her shoulder, 

“Are these how you climb so well?”

Joy pulled his arm back and spread his claws wide, 

“Yup! I also use them to collect honey. They help open 

the honeycomb. It’s my favorite treat!”

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2. Introduce distinct cultural values. 

Perhaps we have a friend that speaks with a strong accent. Or maybe there is a classmate who dresses differently than your children. Connect real life situations with the facts presented in the book. Tipah is different from Joy, but that doesn’t prevent them from becoming friends and having a good time. Both have different features that make them unique, COOL! CQ is based on self-awareness and diverse values. Talk to your kids about distinct values and beliefs from other countries. Choose a country or an ethnicity and inform yourself about it. Then share your thoughts with your children while reading the book. Take your time! This book isn’t intended to be read in one night. 

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3. Plant the seed of cultural knowledge. 

CQ knowledge is your understanding of how cultures are similar and different. Work with the chapters from the book “Introductions” and “Tricks”. Share with your children your thoughts about what you would say to someone you just met that looks very different from you. Highlight how Joy was afraid of Tipah even though he hadn’t met her before. The unknown is always scary. 

Mama leaned over, “A refugee is someone who had 

to flee their home because of something dangerous.”

“Like them,” Ayu said, waving her paw at all the 

newcomers, “they had to flee because humans cut 

down their forest.”

Develop a plan, a strategy, to approach people from other cultures, encourage language learning, and rehearse what to say when your kids ask the “wrong” questions to a person with different cultural values. Explain to them that it is always okay to make mistakes, and that just like Joy Sun Bear did, we must apologize and keep going. 

4. Embrace feelings and recognize assumptions.

Papa Bear does a great job recognizing the courage of Joy and helping him embrace the fact that he was sad because he thought he had made a mistake. There are no good or bad emotions: they are simply feelings that must be embraced. Your children need to know that it is okay to feel fear of strangers that look differently or speak a foreign language. Consequently, our fears invite our mind to create scenarios that aren’t real. This is also normal. 

But once we recognize what we feel and imagine, it is time for empathy. Some of the diverse people we encounter in our communities are victims of terrible experience, their homes are gone and they still have a long trek ahead of them. Guide your kids through this process. Use age-appropriate terms, explain current world news, but always keep in mind that as parents and educators it is our job to show children diversity in a fun way. 

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5. There is more than one way to be a hero. 

Reading is a great way for children to encourage empathy in characters and situations completely unlike their own. Reading teaches us that there is more than one way to become a hero and that heroes come in many sizes, colors, sometimes wearing colorful clothes, a cape, a headscarf or a plaid skirt. 

Joy smiled. He wasn’t used to such bold ideas, but 

he liked this one. The thought that he could charge in 

and save the day made him feel strong, and important.

In this book, as in many other real life scenarios, adults are always supposed to save the day, to come with great ideas and solutions to important problems. However, Joy Sun Bear shows us that courage and intelligence begin at a short age. He is a hero and so are your kids. 

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I invite you to be creative. We are our children’s role model. They look up to us to know how to act and how to behave. Invest time and resources to create a safe environment for your kids to experience diversity. Don’t be tempted to think that thinking cross-culturally is for expats, and also the rich and famous. Improving our Cultural Intelligence is a great way to prepare ourselves and our children for better job opportunities in the future. 

This task might sound scary, but start simple. Build your own home library and include The Adventures of Joy Sun Bear: The Blue Amber of Sumatra in your book catalog. 

Great tool! Great adventures! Great hero! 

Click on these links for fun adventures with Joy Sun Bear:

Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/GyUdYOAz9OY

Free Character Coloring Sheets and Reading Comprehension Crossword Puzzle for Download: http://joysunbear.com/blue-amber/

About the Authors

Blanca Carranza: Co-Author

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Blanca Carranza is a former preschool teacher and globetrotter. Born in New York to Colombian parents, she spent her early life traveling around the world and listening to her grandmothers’ stories. She has visited fifteen countries across four continents. Her passion for exploring the world, combined with her study of child development, created a unique atmosphere in each of the daycares and preschools she has owned and operated.

From international music, to food, to art, she brought the world to the children she cared for. Before retiring from childcare, she was inspired to create Joy Sun Bear and his adventures so she could continue to help children be happier and learn more about the world. She has two kids of her own, both all grown up, and lives in Southern California with her husband.

John Lee: Co-Author/Illustrator

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From driving tanks in the U.S. Army, to problem solving in the IT world, to writing and drawing cute and cuddly animals on magical adventures, John’s life has been fun and diverse.

Drawing and storytelling have always been important hobbies for John. Fueled by books, video games, and copious amounts of coffee, he is always excited to read, watch, or create some adventure-filled fiction.

John adores time with his wife and daughter, who provide a limitless supply of love, inspiration, and motivation. Together they live in sunny Southern California.

5 Things We Learnt by Experiencing Religion Overseas

Hurry up, mami! We are going to miss the bus! These words are commonly spoken by my husband and children when we travel. They need to remind me of our schedule for the day and the time for the bus, tram, or metro. I get easily distracted by churches, temples, mosques and other religious buildings. 

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Notre Dame Cathedral, Laon-France. Photo credits: Little Nómadas 

We love to use public transportation as a way to better connect with the places we visit. Call us crazy, but we also like to take the bus during rush hour, so we get to see the real life of the commuters, not just a vehicle full of tourists. My children love to hear the different languages that are spoken, sometimes eavesdropping a local talking on the mobile about his day at work. 

But my desire to connect with the locals doesn’t end with the adventure of taking the tram at 4 pm in Istanbul or the subway in New York City on Christmas Eve. No. It extends to the religious sites, from Gothic catholic cathedrals to Byzantine anciente mosques. If you take a look at our itinerary, you will find for sure many temples listed, all of them waiting to be visited by this curious family of five. It would be painful for us to list our favorite churches; we have simply fallen in love with so many architectural masterpieces around the world that it is almost impossible to have predilections. 

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Grundvigs Church, Copenhagen- Denmark. Photo credits: Little Nómadas 

But how these marvelous representations of mankind’s love for their Gods have influenced our view of religion? 

Coming from a country with a very homogeneous religion population, mostly catholic, it was somehow a shock to find out that there weren’t many Catholic Churches in the small town in Texas where I moved to sixteen years ago. It was a nice thing though. I had the chance to visit other temples and meet people of different religious backgrounds that have the same values as me. Also, I came to appreciate more the time spent at church every Sunday after a 45 minute drive to our closest catholic parish. 

Then we had children. My husband and I agreed to raise our children with our same belief system and religion. However, we saw the need to expand their view of religious practices around the world and  we committed ourselves to prepare them for the many different traditions about God that they would encounter in their lifetime. Let’s not forget that moving abroad and traveling include a great deal of exposure to somebody else’s beliefs and values. Let’s remember that many of the problems of history have originated due to religious intolerance. I thought this was enough reason to start promoting religion awareness at home and I think this is also something you should do with your family to develop tolerance to diversity. 

This is what we have learned so far from our expeditions to religious sites and how we apply this knowledge to our daily life:

  1. Many people worldwide believe in a Superior being. Call it God, Jesus, Yahweh, Allah or Brahman, humans tend to look for the answer to the quintessential question “What is the meaning of life?” Our family has discovered through traveling that for many folks trying to find answers to life’s mysteries is the place where the religious impulse begin. It has also given us a better perspective of how and why we want to answer this question for ourselves.  

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    Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, Xi’an – China. Photo credits: Little Nómadas 
  2. Many people worldwide make religion part of their daily routine. Catholics and the Angelus prayer at noon everyday, Islamics and the five-times a day prayer, Hindu and the personal offerings, all these rituals are incorporated by believers in their day to day schedule. Ever since we saw our driver in Bali attaching his personal offering to the dashboard of the taxi he drove us around, our family constantly tries to integrate some special moment of gratefulness to our day. We realized that as believers, folks worldwide create traditions and celebrate festivities revolving around religious practices. 

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    Saraswati Temple, Ubud-Bali (Indonesia) Photo credits: Little Nómadas 
  3. Many people worldwide are fearful of other religions. Humans are usually scared of the unknown. Humans are constantly bombarded with out-of-the-context information about other cultures by the media. But believe me, it is so different from what you experience once you visit a place of contemplation, a religious site, a mosque during prayer time. Prepare yourself with different tools: books, videos, online articles and then try to understand why certain folks behave the way they do. Look at yourself and your own biases. Are your own prejudices holding you back from discovering more about a country and its religion? Our family has learnt to criticize less when referring to the behavior of others. We now understand that their religion influenced the way they communicate and operate in society. 

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    St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. Photo credits: Little Nómadas 
  4. Many people worldwide communicate better due to religion awareness. You don’t need to be Muslim to learn about Islam, you don’t need to convert to Judaism to understand the history of Jews in Poland, you don’t have to be Catholic to marvel at the degree of love showed by pilgrims that visit Saint Peter’s Basilica every Easter. We have met so many people open to learn about others’ traditions and how amazingly they communicate interculturally, that our family has added to our priorities to read about any religion at least three articles a month. Our ability to communicate cross-culturally depends greatly on our level of knowledge of other people’s religious beliefs. 

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    Hagia Sophia, Istanbul-Turkey. Photo credits: Little Nómadas 
  5. Many people worldwide deepen their own beliefs by getting to know other groups’ traditions.  There are many people that think their beliefs would be in danger if they visit a temple or site from other religious denominations. The truth is that we can actually improve our relationship with our own God by experiencing first hand the traditions of other folks. Learning about Yom Kippur with our neighbors, visiting the Blue Mosque during the sunset prayer and washing our bodies with the holy waters of Tirta Empul haven’t made us doubt our Catholicism. To the contrary, our devotion and beliefs have grown deeper, as well as our respect for other people’s traditions and ceremonies. 

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Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik- Iceland. Photo credits: Little Nómadas 

So now I invite you to reflect on your own beliefs, biases, and expectations. This is the time to raise cultural awareness at home, work and school, and religion plays a huge role in many distinct countries in the world.  Don’t forget that humanity’s search for the meaning of life is one of the main reasons that people are drawn to religion, one of the many reason human history has been so enriching and perturbing at the same time. The answers to our questions, althought different from religion to religion, give people’s lives purpose and hope. Learn about it, grow with it. 

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Cologne Cathedral, Cologne- Germany. Photo credits: Little Nómadas 

Kids and the 4 Stages of Transition

Transition is the only constant in life. Ever since we are born we have to deal with changes that somehow shape our personality. Nowadays, moving overseas is commonly found and encouraged by cross-cultural trainers, families and employers. The Global Expatriates Forecast for the Worldwide Market Report stated that there are roughly 58 million expats worldwide and according to an article by Ute Limacher  one expat moves abroad every 44 seconds. Consequently, living cross-culturally is a phenomenon that is continuously establishing new rules for families who need to overcome the challenges of transition to successfully integrate to a new place. 

But how to assist our children during transition when we are also dealing with the obstacles of moving abroad? 

There are many resources that we can consult to find the right answers and I do really encourage you to reach out to people who has gone through the same process to have a better grasp of what happens when the security blanket of our homeland is removed. Keep in mind though, that every person, every family is different and that the way others handle emotions may differ from the way we manage our feelings during transition. 

Personally, every big move has been different for us. We have walked the path of transition and its stages in a very distinct way… I guess age, job conditions, destination country, and language have influenced our positions towards expat life and its challenges. Nonetheless, we have experienced sadness, frustration, euphoria, diversity awareness, and pride. Like a huge wave that comes inadvertently, these emotions came and went, living my kids, my husband and I a little bit shaken but also stronger and happier. 

So to help you better understand transition when moving overseas, I have divided this period of change into four distinct stages as follows: The Honeymoon (usually harmonious), the Critical Fall, the Recovery, and the Adaptation (finding balance and sense of belonging). Be aware, many of us don’t go through all of these phases during a big move; others experience the four stages in a different order, jumping from the honeymoon to the adaptation with no apparent trauma.

Like I said before, every human being is a small universe and two situations are never identical. However, these stages will allow you to develop awareness of the process and its many challenges, and this can be very benefitial for you and your family. 

The Honeymoon Stage

We just arrived and feel so happy about it! Everything is new and exciting. We are in “exploring-mode”, walking down the streets of our new home, breathing the fresh air and tasting new flavors. Oh my! How fun! The place may look like heaven on earth and we are dealing with a rush of joy that makes us see everything perfect… La vie est belle. 

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Excitement is the main ingredient of the Honeymoon stage.

How to connect with our children during this phase?

Start by creating new routines while keeping old ones as well, don’t forget that in the middle of so much change stability is always welcome. If we are able to connect the frugality of the initial excitement with the permanence of a pattern, our children will be able to still enjoy the new place and new traditions when the euphoria of the first days has disappeared. Visiting a new restaurant is always fun, but what about agreeing to eat lunch in this place every Sunday? Your kids will look forward to the recently discovered dining experience and will begin a routine that can be easily associated with the destination country. 

In addition, keep the communication bridges strong. Your children need a safe place where to express their emotions, a safe harbor where to come when sadness pays a visit. These connections should be established before the big move and must be nurtured every stage of the way. 

The Critical Fall Stage 

Many factors impact the way we see our destination country. Usually after the first euphoric times comes the melancholy, the remembrance of the hometown. Those luscious gardens don’t look that beautiful anymore. The old church bell doesn’t sound as inviting as the first weeks… Winter has arrived and made everything gray and somber. We already had the first bad encounters with the local language and we are desperate to master every single aspect of our lives. Parents and children are sad immersed in comparison that brings no good. 

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During the Critical Fall stage, sadness can be overwhelming.

What to do to help our kids overcome this phase? 

Optimistic attitude anyone? It is our responsibility to take care ourselves, to promote our very own positive thinking in order to support our children during the sadness stage. This is the moment to take advantage of those communication bridges built before and talk to your kids about emotions. Try to connect with them through your own feelings… please let them know that it is absolutely normal to feel unhappy and disappointed. 

Remember the new routines established during the first stage? Well, now is the time to visit the already discovered places but with a different lens. Encourage your children to focus on specific aspects of places, traditions and people. Invite them to go beyond the superficial… Use the patterns to create connections with the locals, this will help your family to feel part of the community. It is commonly known that losing the sense of belonging deepens the melancholy when moving overseas. Feeling that we belong can make us feel a lot better about ourselves and the host country. 

The Recovery Stage 

There you are smiling again!!! And there are your children smiling as well. This phase opens a new chapter for the family. We have accepted and embraced the reasons for moving abroad, we have acknowledged the need to integrate to the community, and we have started to create connections with the local life. The sun is shining again and our newly discovered places, aromas and taste are growing roots in our hearts. 

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 Recovery happens when family members stay connected to each other. 

 

How to be our children’s best companions in this phase? 

This is the time to promote diversity awareness, motivate your children to take part in extra curriculum activities and bring new friends home. Encourage your children to write about their experience overseas and send letters or emails to relatives and friends abroad. The important part is to help our kids appreaciate the new traditions while still treasuring our own culture. Please keep in mind that comparing our home country to the host place doesn’t do any good. Instead, allow yourself and your family to fall in love with your new home. Our hearts are big enough to love many lands worldwide. 

This is also the time to re-evaluate strategies: do we need extra tutoring for the target language? Is it possible to work less hours on Fridays so we can have a picnic with the kids in the park? Anything that strengthens our relationship as a family should be taken into consideration. Pay close attention to milestones achieved by this phase. Pay compliments to your spouse and children for their good attitude and bravery. Living abroad isn’t for the faint of heart. 

The Adaptation Stage

David C. Pollock called this phase the Entering Stage. Others refer to it as the “adjustment period”. To me this is the phase of acceptance, we accept the fact that we are where we need to be and that it is the time to become part of the new community. It is also the period of ambivalence. One day we feel like fish in the water and some other day we just blabber the local language without successful communication. 

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Adaptation doesn’t come naturally. We are responsibles for our own well-being. 

How do we support adaptation of our kids as well? 

Having a mentor is always a good idea. We need someone who can show us how to function effectively in this new world. Also, we need to encourage our kiddos to observe people and traditions to learn by watching and doing. If there isn’t a person available to accompany us during this stage, then by all means be your own mentor! Be the mentor of your kids, too! When we moved to Fulda we had a colleague of my husband’s new job who helped us with things such as opening a bank account, electricity and internet contracts, etc. However, we were the ones in charge of making contact with the local people, learning the recycling process (Germans love to recycle) and enrolling in school and tennis lessons. It was daunting but we did it and we felt very proud of it. 

This is the time to review emotions. The transition period is about grief and mourning. Talk with your children about their feelings regarding losses. Help them to identify hidden sadness. It is important to heal emotionally to better adjust to our local community. As parents, we must provide our children with the tools necessary to express their emotions. Visit your local library or contact a cross-cultural specialist for ideas and techniques; the resources are endless. 

In conclusion, remember that each person has a unique way to behave during transition. Your kids are no exception. However, it is possible through these stages to pinpoint specific problems to find the best possible solutions. I invite you to discover your own system for processing emotions so you can better understand what your children are going through. Transitions requieres teamwork. Prepare yourself to work with your best teammates: your kids! 

7 Tips For Monolingual Parents to Raise Bilingual Children

My parents are my backbone. Still are. They’re the only group 

that will support you if you score zero or you score 40. Kobe Bryant 

One of the main challenges of moving to Germany five years ago was to support our children in their language learning journey because we, the parents, didn’t know a single word of the German language. Frustration paid us a visit and despair made me rethink the reasons why we have decided to move abroad so abruptly.

Was it possible for our kids to acquire a language that we didn’t speak at the moment? How could we be their backbone when we felt so inadequate? But I knew it had to work. We just needed guidance, a plan, and tons of willpower. 

Since part of my expat plan A was to ignore the existence of plan B (a.k.a safety net/going back home), I decided to focus on making things work in our new country and I chose to equip myself with the right tools to promote language acquisition at home, even though I was also learning German myself. It was true, I couldn’t help my children as much as I wanted because of lack of knowledge, but I knew I was able to provide emotional and material aid if I had the right attitude and persistence.

Therefore, I began to process this adventure from a different angle; task that wasn’t easy because I have spent several years of my life teaching languages and I was always the one providing input regarding learning a foreign language. I must confess I felt strange and out of place. Definitely, out of my comfort zone. But hey! I didn’t give up and I got terrific results. 

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I have always talked to the kids in Spanish. It is our way to keep the native language strong. Picture taken in Galveston, Texas 

You don’t speak the target language, what to do now? 

First you have to lay the foundation for your children to learn a new language and feel supported by you along the way. Don’t forget that it is important to highlight the reasons behind this decision, ask for their opinion and promote motivation in many different ways. We cannot force our kiddos to acquire another language, so things need to be handled with tons of love, communication and assertive but fun resources. This is what we did to help our children learn German; however, these tips also apply to other languages in and outside the birth country. 

1. Learn the language yourself. Does “teaching by example” ring a bell? Learning the language is a great way to work together with your children and develop stronger communication skills at home. Additionally, it is a fool-proof way to improve your resume, exercise your brain and gain confidence while traveling. It sounds like a win-win situation to me. 

2. Invest time and resources in printed material, videos and music. You don’t need to spend a fortune, check your local library, second hand bookstores, webpages, and Pinterest to look for tools that your children could use at home to work on the communication skills they need to be fluent. Keep in mind that it is necessary to develop four different aspects of communication: oral, listening, writing, and reading. Prepare yourself with the right material. 

3. Contact people that speaks the target language. This is a great way to get your children practice their new skills with native speakers, and it can be done on a regular basis to keep the input of real-like situations going on. At the end, our children are learning the new language to communicate, and it is through speaking that they will achieve higher fluency levels. No idea who to talk to about it? I am pretty sure you have relatives, friends or colleagues that speak the target language and would be glad to help you out! Hiring a tutor is also a great thing to do. Nannies and au pairs are very common in the expat community as well. 

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We promoted language learning by traveling to countries where the target language was spoken. Picture taken in Zurich, Switzerland 

4. Go on, don’t be shy, speak out! Being self aware of our own failures is very common while learning a language. We feel like awkward toddlers baby-talking a language we are far away from mastering. All of this while our children listen to us, carefully, attentive. But they really don’t care. Remember that helping them by reading a text or simply singing a song to them in the target language is good enough. By speaking, we facilitate  the learning process and give emotional aid to our little ones. They will thank you for it in the future. 

5. Be creative. The idea is to provide our children with as much exposure to the language as possible, thing that can be difficult to do when we don’t live in the country where the target language is spoken. However, don’t despair! There are many ways to promote learning of a foreign language. I highly recommend visiting websites from bilingual families and multicultural blogs to get ideas, motivation and support. This is a journey better done with the help of those who already have a little bit more experience than us. I personally like Instagram for quick tips and Pinterest for crafty ideas. Don’t forget YouTube for songs and sing-alongs in the target language. I actually got so many ideas from the web that I even decided to creat Little Nómadas as a way to help parents transit the rewarding journey of raising global minded children. 

6. Put your apron on. One thing I have learnt all these years of teaching Spanish to children and adults is that we need to keep things fun. So what better way to learn vocabulary in the target language than cooking a traditional recipe? Imagine spending time with your children making a delicious dish, learning about the culture and practicing new terminology in a interesting way. You don’t need to know the language for that matter. Simply write down the vocabulary, look for it online so you can listen to the correct pronunciation and voilá!!! You are good to go…. don’t forget to go to the supermarket though, you still need buy the ingredientes. Additionally, you could plan a special family dinner to enjoy the end results of your cooking and learning process and you can invite relatives and friends to show off your new language skills. 

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Learning by playing. Our kids speak German with friends at school, sports, and play dates. Picture taken in Fulda, Germany 

7. Get your kids a pen-pal. Writing and reading are two of the language dexterities that your children will need to develop. Having someone to exchange emails or even snail mail using the target language is a wonderful tool to support the learning journey. Just remember to check well before contacting other people to pen pal. Our children’s safety always comes first. 

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We use the OPOL System. Dad always speaks English with the kiddos. Picture taken in Prague, Czech Republic 

So what are you waiting for?

There are many ways to promote language learning at home, you just have to dare to leave your comfort zone and make the process effective, entertaining, and stress-free. Parents support is the best thing your children could receive from you, I’m pretty sure they won’t be scrutinizing your pronunciation or accent, they will be delighted to have you on board! Just remember this will be one of the greatest investments in the future of their careers and it is totally worth it to try!

Make it fun! 

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