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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Self-Reflections of my Son Eddie about his Life as a Latino TCK

Being a TCK (Third Culture Kid) can be quite the confusing experience, for others and myself. Especially in school, the name Eduardo Alejandro Garcia in Germany stands out amongst a sea of Timsand Florians. Most people immediately assume Im from Spain and I have to clarify that Im actually Venezuelan. Of course I also have to mention I was born in Texas, making me also an American. Ive gotten use to giving people my life story over the past four years and at first I was a little embarrassed by it. Nowadays Im very proud of it. It makes me feel unique and important. I wear it like a badge.

Over the years, Ive discovered the pros and cons of being a TCK. Because of my latino roots and nine years in the U.S.A, I excel in my English and Spanish classes in school, always achieving a one, the best possible grade in Germany (six being the worst and one being the best), while also managing a decent grade of three in my German classes. My family and I often receive praise for our German, which we have slowly mastered over the years. Appearance wise, I also stand out with my latino features and gestures. Knowing German, English and Spanish also makes traveling easier. I can fully communicate with others in Austria, Switzerland, Spain and the majority of South America and since almost everyone in Europe speaks English, I dont have any problems traveling through this beautiful continent.

Ive gotten use to giving people my life story over the past four years and at first I was a little embarrassed by it. Nowadays Im very proud of it. It makes me feel unique and important. I wear it like a badge.

As a TCK, I feel I have also become open-minded when it comes to other races and cultures. When I hear a persons accent when they speak a certain language, I dont laugh and make fun of them. I always feel an amount of respect towards that person, since I know the hardships of learning a foreign language. Im also completely against racism and discrimination. Just because a person has a different color of skin, different facial features or a different culture does not make them less. If more people experience other cultures, racism would be less of a problem.

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This is me in Texas nominated for District Creative Writing 

But how have I experienced other cultures? For me, experiencing other cultures means tasting new, delicious food, meeting friendly people, visiting breathtaking sights and seeing the world from a different perspective. I always enjoy visiting a new country with my family. It really opens your eyes and reminds you: There are 195 countries in the world and each one is different. My culture is just one amongst hundreds!I identify with this quote from Ghandi, the man who helped liberate India from the British: A nations culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.

As I mentioned earlier however, there are also some cons. Sometimes I make grammatical mistakes in German and am laughed at by fellow students. This makes me insecure about my German sometimes, which can also make me nervous when I want to meet someone new or answer questions in class. Thankfully, my friends usually help me instead of ridiculing me.

Moving to Germany also changed my view on the world and governments, since Germans have become more open because of their tragic past and history, which in turn has changed my social life a little bit. Ive lost contact with some of my American friends, except for a few truly special ones that I love staying in touch with through the years. Sadly, most of the people I lost contact with support walls between countries, separating children from their parents and reckless behavior, which I am very against.

In the past, I have actually argued with former classmates on social media about Multicultural topics and issues… They don’t seem to understand my position and ideas.  Maybe it is also partially due to us, my siblings and I, growing up as teens with different cultures, that as a result, has shaped us to be differentsomehow more tolerant to cultural diversity. Gladly, Im still in touch with school friends from Texas who are open-mined and adventurous and I hope to see them soon.

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My siblings and I celebrating 4th of July in our house in Germany 

Another con is that despite having German friends who I see almost everyday and who accept me, I still feel like an outsider sometimes. I feel like Im in a spot the differencegame. None of my friends can truly understand what Ive been through, which can be upsetting. Besides my siblings, I have never met another TCK teen. Its a good thing Im not an only child, or else I wouldnt have anyone to relate to. Being latino also means dealing with racism. Fortunately, Ive never had to deal with any racists but I still find out what people say about my race on the internet and on the news. I will never be able to understand hatred towards people, simply because they have a different culture.

In the past, I have actually argued with former classmates on social media about Multicultural topics and issues… They don’t seem to understand my position and ideas

And of course, there is the feeling of not belonging anywhere. I cant call myself German, American or Venezuelan. I have no true nationality or home county. I guess home will always be the place where my family is. I actually like not belonging anywhere. If anything I find nationalism annoying at a times. Phrases like: America First” “Venezolanos somos los mejoresand Deutschland über allesare stupid and part of the reason racism exists. I am a citizen of the world, not just one country. I am my own person, not some person dedicated to a specific country. I am dedicated to everyone, everything and everywhere.

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As a Latino TCK I get to reunite with my family once a year 

So in conclusion, being a TCK has been a wild, sad and fun adventure and all in all, Im glad I am one. Im glad we moved to Germany and got to see so much of the world. Im glad I have American and German and even Chinese friends! Im glad I have a latino family and Dutch in-laws. I think everyone should enjoy and see the whole world like I have. Let us enjoy what the cultures of the world have to offer.

By Eddie García (one of mamá’s Little Nómadas)

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With my little brother in Venezuela, five years ago. Sadly, I can’t go back to visit because of newly reformed laws by the Venezuelan government 

 

Game Night and Language Learning

A Family That Plays Together Stays Together, says one of those quotes I found on the Web after reading about ways to enhance the parent-children relationship during teenage years. And I think it is true. When you are playing a board game with your family, you are strengthening your relationship, but also as a parent, you are promoting communication and social skills that kids cannot find in today’s screen games. Hence, parents and children get to communicate in an easy going situation.

Same thing applies to language learning.

To learn a language by playing board games is fun, cost and time effective, and hands on. Children feel motivated to win the game and since the pressure of not making mistakes is not there, it gives them the reassurance of speaking the target language more freely with no fear. So next time you ask yourself how to support your child’s language learning process, plan a a family game night!

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Life: helping children develop real coomunicative skills. By Flor García 

But what are the real benefits of playing board games for language learning?

The advantages are many, however I will enumerate the ones that I believe to be more notorious and encouraging. Feel free to make your own list of pros and comment below your ideas.

  • Board games are time effective. The language benefits we obtain for an hour of playing doesn’t compare to what is practiced in a 45 minute-lesson. Yes, in a formal classroom our kiddos learn the grammatical aspects of language learning, but it is by playing and communicating that we will reap the communicative benefits they need to speak the target language.
  • Board games are cost effective. Something many families worry about. For us, a family of five, staying home playing Risk, UNO or Scrabble is a cheap way to entertain our children without breaking the piggy bank. You just need to be creative! Also, if you are a monolingual parent helping your children to be bilingual, game night is a more cost effective way of promoting communication than hiring a native speaker to tutor your child for 30 minutes. No, it won’t substitute the advantages of communicating in a real life situation, but when money is an issue, a board game could be a great solution. Don’t forget to visit your local flea market or second hand store to find good deals.
  • Board games are fun. Do I need to say more? There are so many games to choose from, that even your most picky child will find something of his interest that would motivate him to play. Remember to involve your kiddos in the search for games. Hunting for entertaining games should be a task for the whole family.

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Our favorite way to play Scrabble: mixing three languages! By Flor García

  • Board games develop communication skills by encouraging children to use the target language in a real life easy going situation. When we play together we create a safe atmosphere where our kids feel confident enough to speak without having the duress of trying to be perfect. Children feel more at ease to talk in the target language, they laugh, they make jokes, they have fun.
  • Board games are hands-on. They are real. Nothing more exciting for children of all ages than to have their opponents right there, at home, and try to beat them. It is more fun than playing against an avatar online… we just need to give our sales pitch, take our kids away from the video game console or mobile phone and bring them to the table. I am sure they will be up to the challenge!
  • Board games are a great tool to develop other important skills. While we use board games to learn a language, the benefits of playing a game (besides language acquisition) are countless. Game night is the perfect opportunity to develop fine motor skills. By playing we also encourage our children to reason  and interact with other people, therefore also working on social and reasoning skills.

So, do I need to give you more reasons to take those dusty boxes out of the attic and get a game night planned right away?!! This is your chance to support language learning at home and build or strengthen the communication bridge between you and your children, something so much needed in today’s society. For us, game nights have been an amazing resource for learning vocabulary in German and Spanish, and additionally an exceptional way to connect with our teenage kiddos. Those minutes together mean the world to us. I assure you those minutes will mean the world to you as well.

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Quality time together: priceless! 

Self-Discerning Reflections of a Venezuelan Abroad

I am from Venezuela. 

And I dare to ask myself, but from what Venezuela? Which of the Venezuelan realities am I from? The Venezuela I grew up in, sassy and content, irreverent and easygoing, humane. Or the Venezuela that my parents and siblings live in today, aching, arid, bizarre, and hungry. How do I prevent my Venezuelan roots from drying when the fertilizer of my memories reflect a country that is not longer there? 

Are memories rich enough to nurture the soil of my identity? 

I am an expatriate. 

My definition of home has been modified and adjusted so many times that I feel proud of the end result. Home for me is where my heart finds peace, surrounded by my children’s laughter and chatting, my husband’s deliciously grill meat and the dark brown leather couch that accompanies us since 2006. Home for me is the blue sea, the scorching sun, and white sand. I have learned the power of swimming in mountainous lakes and pretend I’m doing it in the warm waters of the Caribbean… I think the fact of just swimming makes me happy. Home is also warm arepas filled with avocado and chicken, German sausages, and heart-warming macaroni and cheese. As you may see, my concept of “home” is not purely based in a specific territory, but an conglomerate of feelings, places, flavors, and emotions. Each of these tied to a country, to a culture. 

Home is also warm arepas filled with avocado and chicken, German sausages, and heart-warming macaroni and cheese

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The untamed jungle of my birth country symbolically represents our feelings. Picture by Flor García in Tucacas, Venezuela

But what happened when I try to bind my memories of arepas with a Venezuela going through an unimaginable crisis so deep rooted that many have lost hope. They do not eat arepas… they have barely anything to eat. My heart aches and I don’t even live there anymore. Now, I have this dilemma of attaching my feelings from my country’s cuisine to an image of hunger. My fellow Venezuelans are hungry, thirsty, waiting for a future that hasn’t been drawn yet. Now, I restrain myself from joining the idea of the blue sea and the food to a suffering Venezuela, a country I cannot go back to. At least not to live. Now, I carefully eat and swim but I do not dare to go further… it is painful. 

I think this is a pain felt by many Venezuelan expatriates. 

Today, Venezuela is in ruins and almost 2 millions Venezuelans have left the country since the year 2000. Deep political problems, an enormous economic crisis and social devastation drove our families to pack their lives and move to other countries. Today, we have families that are completely clueless about what to do to prepare themselves and their kids for the challenges of moving abroad. We go overseas with a bucket full of roots, traditions, and beliefs that are drying. The water of the Venezuela of the past is not there anymore to nurture them. Ironically, we have the biggest oil reserves in the world but there are no antibiotics, diapers, bandaids or bedsheets in the hospitals. Patients die of hunger and infections. There are no medicines, no doctors either. 

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Headlines overseas are as depressing as the reality of my country. Picture by Flor García

We go overseas with a bucket full of roots, traditions,

and beliefs that are drying.

Accordingly to information published by Revista, Harvard’s Review of Latin America, Venezuela was once considered a miracle country. Until the 1980’s it was one of the four Latin American countries certified by the World Bank as an upper-middle-income economy. Its political landscape was stable, democratic and prosperous; its economy was successful with a high income due to oil production. Socially, we, Venezuelans, were very proud of our heritage and we were able to study in high quality universities around the country and enjoy a middle class lifestyle that made us content and strongly rooted in our traditions and land. 

These facts do not exist anymore. 

Now, we abandon our houses, jobs, families, and friends to adventure in foreign lands, looking for a better future. We are too desperate to apply for an expat assignment; but we are not that poor and in risk to be officially considered refugees. We are a grey zone. Today, we read the newspapers, watch the evening news, search online, and we only find chaos. “The land of the Hunger”, “the Country of Teenage Pregnancy”, “oil producer country in ruins”… depressing headlines. I am pretty sure my fellow Venezuelans abroad think the same. We feel lost sometimes… where are we really from? 

Thankfully, I have connected with many Venezuelans around the world and what I see is encouraging. These are people who reinvent themselves, their careers, their whole lives to adjust to a new system in a foreign land. These are men and women willing to work those extra miles to send money to their relatives in Venezuela. These are the byproduct of a country governed by an illiterate drug cartel. Frequently, I see leaders, entrepreneurs and businessmen; these are the Venezuelans that create change from outside. From abroad. These are the Venezuelans who insist in cooking traditional meals to share with their children and friends overseas; thanks to them my arepas are less sad and more diverse. 

These are people who reinvent themselves, their careers, their whole lives to adjust to a new system in a foreign land

However, the reality isn’t the same for everybody and unfortunately many of my countrymen live in poverty in and out of Venezuela. Families are growing apart and children are spending their young years far away from mom and dad. Parents leave their offsprings with other family members and move away looking for a job to live a decent life. Bittersweet truth of people forced to change, connect, and lead far away from their birth country. 

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A country, its people, its traditions… what about its future? Picture taken by Flor García 

Today, I write about a reality that breaks my heart. Today, I make the choice to show my children the beauty of Venezuela’s landscape, the richness of our culture… the strength of our people. And even though I am saddened by the humanitarian crisis of my birth country, I choose to keep my roots dampened by the elixir of my memories. 

Today, I connect with other global minded people and lead the change my land needs. Today, I change for the better to wholly represent a Venezuela that will reinvent herself and will welcome back many of her sons and daughters. 

I am Venezuelan but also a citizen of the world. 

Yo nací en esta rivera del Arauca vibrador… 

 

Mi hijo habla inglés ¡pero yo no!

Son numerosas los mensajes que recibo de padres preocupados que piensan que no pueden ayudar a sus hijos a ser bilingües porque ellos no lo son. Sin embargo, es una realidad cada día más presente en los hogares de muchísimas familias quienes por motivos laborales, académicos y culturales deciden emprender la aventura de aprender un segundo (y tercer, cuarto y hasta quinto) idioma en casa aun cuando papá y mamá son monolingües.  ¿Pero es esto posible?

La respuesta es Sí.

Criar hijos bilingües es una tarea apasionante y demandante que requiere tiempo, dinero, constancia y mucha imaginación. Aun cuando nosotros no dominemos el idioma que nuestros chicos aprenderán, el apoyo de los padres es invaluable y necesario. Por ende, hablemos el idioma o no, nuestra dedicación marcará la diferencia en la rapidez y eficacia con la cual nuestros hijos adquieren un idioma extranjero.

¿Qué hacer para apoyar a nuestros hijos en esta nueva aventura?

  1. Aprende el idioma tú también. Este puede ser el momento tan esperado para que empieces a trabajar en ese sueño de siempre y aprendas un idioma extranjero que te permita mejorar tus oportunidades laborales, viajar a ese paraíso que tanto anhelas o bien divertirte en casa viendo películas con tus retoños en ese idioma que todos a nivel familiar adquieren.
  2. Invierte en recursos y herramientas de aprendizaje. Recuerda que para aprender una lengua extranjera debemos desarrollar cuatro destrezas de comunicación esenciales: auditiva, oral, escrita, lectora. Por eso es esencial invertir en material audiovisual, música, revistas, libros ilustrados y diccionarios. La biblioteca local y el Internet son nuestros mejores aliados en esta misión.
  3. Contacta personas que hablen el idioma que aprenden los niños. Quizás tu no cuentes con las habilidades lingüística necesarias para entablar conversación con tu hijo en la lengua meta, pero si debe haber algún familiar, tutor, maestro, vecino, amigo o colega que domine dicha lengua y que este dispuestos a compartir con tu niño unos minutos semanales para trabajar en las destrezas comunicativas del idioma. Si el presupuesto lo permite, se podría contratar a una niñera o cuidadora hablante nativa de la lengua meta que le hable a los niños en ese idioma unas cuantas veces al mes.
  4. Deja la vergüenza de lado y habla. Tal vez no hablas perfectamente el idioma y por ello sientes pena de expresarte delante de tus hijos. Sin embargo, debes recordar que esto es una aventura que se asume de forma colectiva, en familia, y como consecuencia debe ser enfocada desde la practica y el entendimiento y no la búsqueda de la perfección. Imagínate el orgullo de tus hijos al verte aprendiendo otro idioma con entusiasmo y disciplina.
  5. Sé creativo. Hay diversas maneras de exponer a nuestros hijos a la lengua meta, lo importante es querer hacerlo y ser constantes en ello.  ¿Qué no se te ocurre nada? Te invito a visitar portales web de familias bilingües y multiculturales, Instagram y Pinterest. Las ideas están allá afuera, solo tienes que buscarlas. Por lo pronto comparto con ustedes mis favoritas: inscribir al niño en un programa de inmersión en el idioma que se desea aprender, llevarlos a campamentos de verano e invierno en un país en donde se hable dicha lengua, contratar un tutor privado para casa, conseguir unas lecciones de idiomas en línea (modalidad online), participar en actividades sabatinas en centro comunitarios y hasta cocinar. Preparar una receta típica del país de la lengua meta es una forma divertida y sabrosa de compartir y aprender no solo del idioma, sino tambien de la cultura. 
  6. Consigue un Pen-Pal. Dependiendo de la edad de tus hijos, tener un compañero de correspondencia es una forma emocionante y efectiva de practicar la escritura y comprensión lectora en la lengua meta. Además, estarás promoviendo el contacto social a través del correo lento o “snail mail” y no solo por medio de las redes sociales.

Ahora bien, estos aspectos se relacionan directamente con el idioma en cuestión. Además, existen puntos que deben ser tomados en cuenta como parte fundamental del aprendizaje de ambas la lengua nativa y la extranjera. Recordemos:

  • Fortalecer la lengua nativa. Se ha comprobado que los niños con alto nivel de conocimiento de su propio lenguaje aprenden de forma más eficiente la segunda lengua. La lectura será tu mejor herramienta y no tienes la excusa de que no sabes leer en otro idioma, pues te recomiendo leerle a tus hijos libros en tu propia lengua.
  • Mantén contacto constante con maestros y tutores. El binomio padres-escuela siempre será la clave para el éxito de tus hijos en cualquier misión educativa que emprendan. Participa en actividades de la escuela, asiste a las reuniones de padres y haz trabajo voluntario. Está presente.
  • Sé disciplinado y constante, establece horarios dedicados al aprendizaje de esa otra lengua y planifica con tiempo actividades que expongan a los chicos a la culturas propia y diferentes.
  • Busca apoyo. Todo se hace mejor trabajando en equipo. Contacta a otros padres que estén en la misma situación que tú, revisa los portales en línea de familias bilingües y revistas multiculturales.
  • Sé claro en expresar los motivos por los cuales tu hijo aprende una segunda lengua. Explícaselo. La motivación es el motor de la adquisición de una lengua extranjera.

¿De pronto te parece que es cuesta arriba? 

Es normal. Pero debemos enfocarnos en hacer de este proceso de aprendizaje algo divertido que fomente lazos familiares y nutra nuestra relación con los chicos. Por supuesto que habrán momento de desesperación y frustración, pero es vital que nos mantengamos firmes y no desistamos. Aprender otro idioma es una inversión en la educación de tus hijos. No un lujo.  Y como estamos hablando de una inversion para la vida de nuestros tesoros más preciados te voy a dar unos últimos consejitos para evitar guerras campales en casa.

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Apoyemos a nuestros hijos en su camino como aprendices (Cadaqués, Spain)

¿Qué no debemos hacer?

Evita amenazar y castigar a los niños por no aprender lo suficiente o por no querer hablar en el idioma meta. La rebeldía de los niños bilingües es un fenómeno comprobado que para nada se resuelve a gritos, exigencias ni regaños. De igual forma te pido que no te rías o burles de los errores cometidos por tus hijos al hablar en el idioma extranjero. Esto tampoco debe ser permitido en tutores, maestros o familiares del niño. Y por último, deja de lado el papel de policía y evita corregir constantemente. Sí, a los aprendientes de un idioma se les deben enseñar la pronunciación y gramática correctas, sin embargo la corrección del error debe ser trabajada de forma natural, poco a poco y siempre y cuando no se atente contra la seguridad y autoestima de los chicos. Como mamá de niños bilingües y educadora siempre busco la forma de corregir que no lesione el orgullo de mis niños, por ejemplo, repito el término o la oración errónea de la forma correcta, de esa manera los niños aprenden por modelo y ejemplo y no por vergüenza. Ideas hay muchas, simplemente toma las riendas del proceso y recuerda que debe ser divertido, eficaz y sobre todo especial para ti y tus hijos.

¡Anímate a aprender otro idioma!

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