As I reflect on the crucial need for increased global consciousness in the US, Facebook reminds me that it has been five years since my son, Jaidan, and mother came with me to Senegal. Two years later, we went to Ethiopia together. The Bahamas, Italy, Mexico, Romania and St. Croix have also been memorable overseas (not all international) family trips that brought us closer to each other and the people we met there.
My son is an able voyager who manages the chaotic aspects of travel with ease. Ever since he could speak, he would ask me before every work trip when he could come with me. He finally determined on his own that it would be when he was five years old. (He was close. He'd already been to Mexico when he was 18 months, and we would travel to Romania and Senegal together when he was six). When he was little, every time we'd see a plane flying overhead, I'd ask him where he thought they were going, and he'd always answer, "Africa," my frequent destination during those years. I am grateful that I have been able to make room in my budget, that my mother has been able to accompany us and that my employer has allowed it, all of which has made it possible for Jaidan to join me on several of my international trips.
Jaidan, my mother and I have made an extra effort to share our travel experiences with other children. For many years, I brought a boy doll named Little Jai on trips and would take pictures with him to show Jaidan and his classmates diverse sights. After each trip, I would narrate a slideshow and share local food, songs, books or other items with Jaidan's class or school to help them learn about the country and cultures. When Jaidan and my mother accompanied me, they would help organize and make the presentation. I found it especially heartwarming when Jaidan was in country and would take note of something he particularly wanted to show his classmates. I loved that he valued the importance of sharing the experience as much as I did. We recognized that many families don't have the means to travel, or don't prioritize it, and we wanted all of the kids to have the experience, even if vicarious, and gain the many benefits of visiting other countries. For the Senegal trip, we organized cultural exchange activities between Jaidan's class and an elementary school class in an international school in Dakar, an enriching experience that the kids talked about for years afterwards. I am still in contact with that teacher, who has expressed an intention to visit us in North Carolina.
There is nothing like travel to help you gain life-altering perspective on yourself, your culture and homeland. Through travel, and by sharing our experiences, Jaidan and his classmates learned about hospitality and kindness to strangers, extreme poverty and entitlement, bias and discrimination, cultural differences and human similarities, joy shared across language barriers, false notions of national superiority and the importance of cultural humility, each person's intrinsic value, each country's unique contribution to our global community and many other important life lessons. We need this perspective and consciousness, this global citizenry, now more than ever.
We have enjoyed many meaningful trips in the continental US, but the pull to take an overseas family trip every year or two is strong. I plan for our family's next international trip to include language lessons and a service learning component to deepen the experience and make a contribute to the country we visit.
What is the most memorable travel you and your family have undertaken and what made it so? How has travel shaped who you and your family members are today? Please share your responses in the comments section.
Katherine L. Turner is Founder and President of Global Citizen, LLC consulting firm and Adjunct Faculty at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Follow Katherine and Global Citizen, LLC on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.