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Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Real Intercultural Family in the U.S.: German and English

Real intercultural family: Kaila and Latifa/

Welcome Latifa and Kaila!

Where are you from?

I am American. I was born and raised in Michigan from Italian, Maltese and French Canadian heritage. The Italian and Maltese (father’s side) seems the strongest on the outside, but my mother’s gentle spiritual silence runs strong underneath.

Kaila was born in Switzerland, and has lived in the U.S. since she was 10 months old. We have traveled back and forth about eight times to Switzerland over the years so she and her father, my ex, could visit.

Where do you currently live and what countries have you lived in?

We currently live in New Mexico in the U.S. I have lived in Japan for seven years, and have had long stays in India for a few months and shorter stays in Korea where I met my now ex-Swiss husband. We met and after several months, went to Switzerland together, married, and about one year later went to work in Peru. That was not a good idea, so we returned to Switzerland. Five years later after a difficult marriage most of the time, Kaila was born. After she came, I realized I had limited energy and so I decided to focus my energy on raising Kaila, rather than trying to be in relationship with my ex. I still feel I made the right decision.

How old is your child and where was she born?

Kaila is 12 years old now. She was born in Switzerland.

What passports do you and your child hold?

I only have an American passport. Kaila has an American and Swiss passport.

In what languages do you speak to your child?

I speak English and German to Kaila, and she studies German in the summer in Switzerland. It gives her a big boost and we continue to study all year long at home since I partially homeschool. The schools here are not very good and I can’t afford private school.

I also believe and know from my own life that the home is one of the most influential places, so we try to learn and have a lively atmosphere at home. When we cook something for instance and it raises questions, it fuels new homeschool homework. Kaila wrote a three-page report on rice after I was making risotto one evening and she asked, “How many varieties of rice are there?” I thought several hundred, but it is 90,000! Amazing! Then we talked about why we only see about six varieties on the shelves and that is at the food co-ops, the alternative places, which is where we normally shop. The regular shops have only two or three!

This leads us to one of my backgrounds in organic homesteading and ecological horticulture, talking about seeds, open pollinated and the genetically modified seeds and the robbing of seeds from traditional peoples by U.S. companies, etc. We got into a world view of actions based on sharing rather than greed. It fueled her interest in our French intensive and container gardens. Pieces starting coming together in her mind simply because of her curiosity. So we take it like this. Letting natural questions arise and turn it into a learning experience.

What languages does your child speak?

Kaila speaks English and German. We were studying some Italian last year, until we got overwhelmed with school, dance and music.

How do you reinforce all the languages beyond just the parents speaking it?

We have books, and we read almost nightly out loud. It is one of our favorite night pastimes. Taking turns reading aloud to each other. We also have tapes and CDs of language courses. We study books and word magnets on the fridge. We conjugate new verbs and hang posters on the walls. Yes, our house can look a bit crazy at times. And there is a test right after removing a few posters, to check if she retained the information.

We also have German day where we speak only German the whole day. This instigates dictionary searches—hearing and seeing and reading the description just helps us to learn better.

Do you have any advice for parents raising multilingual kids on what works and what doesn’t?

Everything works if it is not forced. We humans are naturally curious, and so to see the natural joys of your kids learning style is the easiest way to direct them and support the weaker parts. Using all senses helps to learn as well, so bake those cookies from Grandma or Great Grandma, prepare them in your chosen language, use your eyes, ears, taste, kinesthetic touch and heart touch. That heart connection is our strongest friend. I link cooking to family stories, and our world situation now, and ask questions to get her ideas.

Do you have any concerns with your child’s language acquisition?

I know that my not being a native German speaker can teach her mistakes, but I know that she will have more exposure and sometimes, especially just after a visit in Switzerland, she corrects me. If we move to Switzerland or she does in time, she will pick up the language I am sure. The most important thing is her enlivened curiosity! She was born with that, and she is a shining star. It is my job to listen, watch and perceive what will help her to be the best Kaila she can be. Being able to think and understand different perspectives, and fit at least partially into another culture is an important ability.

What does raising a globally conscious child mean to you?

This is the only way to survive as the human species, in my opinion.

We are all of us, not them and us…though I certainly have moments of wanting to separate myself from certain groups. I have been international and not a “normal” American my whole life, but certainly since I was in high school. Somehow surviving my family life in Michigan gave me enough connection to nature that ecology was my thing in the 1970s and 80s. I experienced the whole planet being alive, pulsating with life. The miraculousness of this is mind boggling, joyful and overwhelming. Many people can sense this, so raising a globally conscious child starts there, that the soil we walk on is alive, it is the giving skin on the planet. It is where we grow our food in that thin layer of one or two feet (I do French Intensive gardening). I am also a bodyworker, practicing mostly osteopathic oriented modalities, so the macrocosm is in the microcosm. There really is no separation. There is a pulsating energy in each thing and at all times, able to be sensed on different levels, as real as what may seem so obvious, like this computer I am typing on.

I teach Kaila how to listen and see and sense these things. How to respect them, herself, each other. We definitely have our moments of discord, but we take breaks, reorient and remember what is most important. And we laugh a lot. Laughter sounds the same in ALL LANGUAGES!

What religion are you? And how are you raising your child?

I do not follow a religion. I am however deeply spiritual.

I was raised Catholic, then followed Buddhist ways for many years. I never agreed with other people burning in hell somewhere, while others went to heaven somewhere. I love the Buddhist inquiry and though I love certain rituals and seasonal rhythms, I believe who or what ever created us and the planet and the entire universe is simply so miraculous that I would prefer to spend my time being thankful and amazed at it and us, rather than stuck in any idea that my rendition of explaining the unexplainable is better than yours and I will kill you to prove it! Somehow all of the violent religions need a good time out! Go breathe and realign then come back and apologize for forgetting that we are all here together, made of the same universal dust and atoms…..It’s a moment to moment remembrance.

What have been your greatest challenges as an intercultural family?

Having limited resources and being a single parent are our biggest challenges. If we had the chance, we would travel and live in other countries without any doubt. Language would come naturally. I have done my best at being a life-long student, showing my daughter that even at my age, I am still studying (anatomy, bodywork modalities, using reference books, botany, bookkeeping, all the how to around the house, etc.). That is why we love books so much—they open worlds and expand our abilities to live better, understand each other more.

What have been your greatest joys as an intercultural family?

Seeing the unity in all places. Different cultures do the same things in different ways, and depending on the climate, land resources etc., we have to do them differently! But we still all need the same things: love, food, water, shelter, music and community as well to engage and play. These basics come in all shapes and colors—the spice and joy of life!

Anything else you would like to add?

We are inextricably together, no matter what the mind thinks.

© 2012 – 2013, The Editors. All rights reserved.

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InCultureParent is an online magazine for parent's raising little global citizens. Centered on global parenting culture and traditions, we feature articles on parenting around the world and on raising multicultural and multilingual children.

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsMeera Sriram   |  Thursday, 02 February 2012 at 12:28 pm

    I like the German Day concept ! We used to do Tamil (the language we speak) hour, but even that mostly fizzled out!
    “Somehow all of the violent religions need a good time out! Go breathe and realign then come back..” – funny but so very true and well said! Thanks, great interview!

  2. CommentsAisha G of HartlynKids   |  Thursday, 02 February 2012 at 2:40 pm

    This is awesome! Love reading about real family dynamics

  3. CommentsBlack Kids Read   |  Sunday, 05 February 2012 at 12:01 am

    Great article. Loved this –>>”Laughter sounds the same in ALL LANGUAGES!”

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