Tuesday, February 25th, 2014
Why Raise Global Citizens? An Interview with Homa Sabet Tavangar, Author of Growing Up Global
I have long been a fan of Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World, the bible (or Torah, Koran or Baghavad Gita in the true global spirit) for raising global citizens who will become the next generation of leaders, thinkers, doers and dreamers. The book is a call to action to raise children to be at home in the world, as it is packed with abundant resources and practical ideas for both parents and teachers.
Fun and informative, the book introduces us to concepts like what the arts can help kids learn from a global perspective, that being a friend is the foundation to be a global citizens, (as well as things to be sensitive to in making intercultural friends), and fun facts like “What did we learn from the Arabs?” (As someone married to an Arab, I was fascinated to learn all the things on the list like guitar, alcohol and the number zero). It also gives us practical examples—games you can play, movies, books, people and perspectives—to do with and present to our children. It’s easy to pick it up and flip to any page to be inspired by concepts like Celebration Literacy 101, why you shouldn’t shy away from documentaries, and the strong emphasis on service and giving throughout the book: “Choosing between ourselves and the rest of the world should be a nonissue. We are local and global,” Homa stresses. She gives us many ideas to “widening our circle of compassion.”
The best part about the book is it is not filled with wistful suggestions of getting on a plane to go see another country or live somewhere else. While that may sound dreamy to so many of us, it is not often reality for the majority, so the book is rooted in practicality—stuff to do at home and in your community, without even leaving your borders.
I had the pleasure of meeting Homa when she came out to Berkeley. Warm and smart, the kind of person you could talk to for hours while curled up on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, she shared many of her thoughts about racism, diversity and why raising global kids matters. We sat down together one afternoon at Elmwood Café in Berkeley, and found the two hours we spent talking was like a prelude to so much more to be discussed.
First tell us a little bit about your family—your background, languages, religion and all that good stuff.
I grew up a very suburban American kid, and am raising my children in the U.S. suburbs, too. So, when people see my name and some of the places (on four continents) I’ve lived, that’s always a surprise. My husband and I are both Iranian by heritage. But probe deeper about my background: my religious heritage is Jewish from my mom’s side, Muslim from my dad’s; both had a strong Catholic education experience and some Christian family, and this all converged when my Orthodox Jewish grandfather and strict Muslim grandparents each independently embraced the Baha’i Faith in the early 1900s. This break from tradition they each took opened the door wide for a foundation in global citizenship, with the idea “let your vision be world-embracing” that they truly lived by.
Persian (Farsi) is our heritage language. Because of our Baha’i Faith, going back to Iran is dangerous/not an option, so keeping the language is important to us, though it’s very challenging. Without the prospect of visiting the country where the language is spoken, this makes it harder to pass on to our children—but we try. It takes so much discipline to speak it at home, and to get kids to learn the script. I won’t pretend a minute of it is easy for us! I also speak Spanish as a result of living in Peru during college, and some basic Swahili (after living in Kenya), French (thanks to high school and family ties) and Portuguese. My eldest daughter had the opportunity to study in China for two summers in high school (check out the NSLI-Y program through the US State Department; she went through their scholarship program for two years), and also has returned to China to volunteer in a hospital. My youngest daughter also studied it for a short time during community Saturday classes. So Chinese is thrown into our family’s language mix. Right now my middle daughter, who just graduated from high school, is doing a Gap Year in Israel before she starts college next fall, and she’d like to learn Hebrew or Arabic or both.
Tell us about your book “Growing Up Global,” an innovative book on raising globally-minded children. What was your inspiration for it?
Growing Up Global is sort of the culmination of my life’s experience up to now, but has grown to become so much more than that. Though I grew up in suburbia, I always had contact with the larger world, with cousins everywhere and ideals around global citizenship, instilled from my earliest memories. I spent my career working with companies and governments around all things global. Then, when I found out I was pregnant with our third child, about a year after 9/11, I started thinking really hard about what it will take to raise children in a world that’s changing so rapidly, connected but fearful. I looked all over for a book that would help raise a global citizen, at the intersection of globalization and parenting, and couldn’t find anything that was user-friendly. So, this is the book I wanted to buy (!).
While I was living in the Gambia with my children, and writing more, I struggled to find a way to begin a meaningful conversation on raising global kids, particularly with those who would never take their kids to Africa like I had, or who simply didn’t have “global citizenship” anywhere on their radar, or would just tune out when they heard that term. So I stumbled on a lovely little quotation: “Be a friend to the whole human race.” I had been watching my daughters make so many new friends in the dramatically different environment and this quote resonated deeply with me. Friendship is so universal. It can transcend so many boundaries. It is active, creative, loving, caring, helpful, and authentic at its best. And this is how I saw global citizenship. So a big barrier was unlocked for me: I built the entire book around that quote, and the idea of true friendship as a lens through which to see and experience the world. I continue to be amazed by the profundity of conversations begun around “Be a friend to the whole human race” and when I give presentations for diverse audiences, from kids to executives, we explore that idea in the beginning to warm things up and get us on the same page. It works every time!
I’m truly grateful the book has been received so well. When Jane Goodall sent me a glowing endorsement (from a London airport terminal!), I wept. I admire her so much, and hoped that in some way my book could make a difference. It’s been a labor of love to write and to continue to work in this space of global citizenship and education. I get email from readers around the world who have been touched by the book, from Alaska to Singapore to Mississippi and New York City, and each one is so precious to me. At the same time, despite the very positive reception, it is SO DIFFICULT to get the attention and traction (and sales) needed to keep the book “alive” (on shelves, in stock, on people’s radars). This is a challenge of a magnitude I never expected. Once I had a big publisher (Random House), I thought the book was all set. I was so wrong. It has felt like an uphill battle for “discoverability” every single day since it’s come out.
How did your experiences growing up relate to your desire to write the book?
I was so fortunate that in spite of my firmly-planted-in-the-suburbs experience, my parents had a very diverse group of friends, we talked about what was happening in the world, and I was always aware of other kids, who like me, were different. We gained our global perspective right there in Cleveland and Fort Wayne, Indiana, and then in Orange County, CA, the places where I grew up. I wanted more families to find the opportunities right in their hometowns, to embrace the world – and I knew it could be done.
Why is raising children who are at home in the world so important to you?
The big-picture answer is that our world needs THEM. We need to raise peacemakers, those who display moral courage, who embrace diversity, who practice the Golden Rule and love others, despite differences, who can think outside their boundaries. If we don’t get there, the destruction will just keep getting worse. I don’t think we can afford not to. There’s an urgency to this. At the same time, there’s a selfish reason that “at home in the world” adds to a young person’s ability to succeed in the global economy. It contains many of the 21st Century skills educators and employers are advocating. So, in a way, there’s something for everyone behind the importance of raising kids with this perspective; and my big take-away is that we can’t afford not to raise a new generation up without a global vision, in a meaningful way.
What are the biggest areas that we as a country and we as parents raising children need to address and improve in your mind to ensure greater cross-cultural understanding and a better world for our kids?
This is a huge question, but one quick idea: start at home and start at the dinner table. Have conversations with kids exploring challenging issues, and invite friends from different backgrounds to share a meal with you. It seems inconsequential, but this alone can represent a huge shift and open doors to new friendships which leads to great understanding, unity, healing of prejudices. Efforts like these will leave a lasting, positive impact on kids and on their values.
Thank you Homa! Look for more wisdom from Homa coming soon as she answers the question why raising global kids is more than food and culture and shares her lessons learned from 20 years of globally minded parenting.
And please check out Homa’s exciting new book, which she co-wrote together with Becky Morales, founder of kidworldcitizen.org. The book, “The Global Education Toolkit for Elementary Learners,” published by Sage/Corwin, is for bringing a global mindset, lessons and activities to schools. See www.globaledtoolkit.com for more info.
© 2014, Stephanie Meade. All rights reserved.
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