Pin It
Friday, July 27th, 2012

Discovering Culture Through the Olympics

Discovering Culture Through the Olympics/ fotolia

Since I was a child growing up in Minnesota, the Olympics have captivated me. The melodic foreign names (Surya Bonaly, for example), the vibrant flags, the robust strains of the medalists’ national anthems and the inspiring, personal stories of athletes’ struggles and victories all provided windows to different parts of the world. As a young girl peering into those windows, I cherished each glimpse of cultures so different from my own.

As I grew older and began to travel the world, first with my parents and sister and then on my own as a young adult, my interest in the Olympics flourished. When the Japanese team entered the Olympic arena, I would cheer and think of my dear friends in Tokyo. When the French flag appeared, nostalgia would take hold, as I fondly remembered the years I had spent in France. The more I traveled, the more I became invested in the athletes from other countries—these international ambassadors became extensions of my cultural associations and understandings.

I visited Greece for the first time in 2002. At that time, Athens was preparing to host the 2004 Summer Olympics and building permanent and semi-permanent structures. Almost every tourist store carried Olympics t-shirts and paraphernalia. As I stood in Panathinaiko Stadium, which held the first modern Olympic games in 1896, I was overcome by history. The idea that men and women from all corners of the globe have gathered and competed in times of peace and war (the Olympics were, however, canceled in 1916 due to World War I and in 1940 and 1944, due to World War II) for over 100 years is incredibly inspiring.

While watching the Olympics, I’ve never felt a particular allegiance to the U.S. any more than an allegiance to another country I’ve lived in or visited. The Olympics have provided me with an impetus for cultural discovery, and this process has broken down preconceived notions, helping me to see the realities of other cultures. Through the Olympics and my travels, I have a better understanding of what it means to be global citizen—someone who is curious and respectful, someone who considers not only the local but the global as well, and, in my case, someone who cheers for another country’s team because she feels a connection to a certain athlete or culture.

Throughout the years, I have used the Olympics as a vehicle for cultural education. The 2012 London Summer Olympics will fall at the tail end of a French course I am teaching at a local college. What better way to reinforce the usefulness of French than to provide an example of its global reach—every announcement at Olympic events is given in both French and English. We will also discuss athletes from France and other Francophone countries, using them as departure points for cultural exploration.

This year, I have yet another reason to be excited about the Olympics. It is the first time my one-year-old daughter will watch them with me. Though we limit TV in our house, I think I can make an exception for the opening ceremony. This summer will mark the beginning of my little global citizen glimpsing the world through the Olympics, and I could not be more excited for her. Perhaps, like her mama, it will lay the foundation for her curiosity about world cultures. As the Olympic torch journeys across London, my hope is that the flame of curiosity will ignite in her mind and continue to burn brightly as she travels the world.

© 2012, Jen Westmoreland Bouchard. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:

The African Guide to Co-sleeping

10 must-read tips on co-sleeping from Africa

Primary School Privilege

Time outs due to whistling versus school's out due to poverty

Is all the Hard Work of Bilingualism Really Paying Off?

I just found out the surprising answer.

Language Resource Library for Raising Bilingual Kids

The most comprehensive list of language learning resources


Jen Westmoreland Bouchard is the owner of Lucidité Writing, LLC, a boutique writing, editing and translation agency. She holds a M.A. in French and Francophone Studies from UCLA and has taught high school and university courses on French language and Francophone cultures. She is grateful to have the opportunity to experience the daily joys and challenges of raising a bilingual global citizen.

Leave us a comment!

Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!

What Cultural Norms Around Bare Feet Taught This Mother in Guatemala

Her baby's bare feet ended up being a lesson on poverty and privilege.
[…] the breastfeeding culture in Mongolia compared to America. Did you have any idea that something as simple as breastfeeding attitudes can […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
My mother born in the 1930's is originally from the northern part of Germany. I am in my mid fifties and have a terrible relationship with my mother. She is domineering and hurts those where it hurt...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
[…] JC Niala, InCultureParent […...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
[…] […...
From Breastfeeding Around the World
Although humanity is one Man (in a generic sense, including woman)has identified himself endless groups, religious, nationalistic, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, etc. Once you separate ME from YOU on...
From What’s an Asian? Race and Identity for a New Generation
[…] […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
Some great tips here but not many working mothers could feed baby every hour especially if you work in a major multi-nationa...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
So true!!! Thanks for being so honest and self reflective. It's a proof of true characte...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
As a first-time mom I've spent the last two months of my four-month-old's life stressed out about her sleep and I recognize how crazy this is. It's clearly not working for me! I'm wondering how non-...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep

More Globetrotting