Nurturing Curiosity through Global Learning
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I was raised in a small, northwest Indiana farming town where everyone was a lot like everyone else. My dad -- from a similar town in North Carolina, born of tobacco-farming parents with little formal schooling -- believed that a great education included a curious engagement with new ideas, foods, experiences, and cultures. We were clearly suspect on the playground when stories of trips to Chinatown, eating lobster in the backyard or a car camping trip across the U.S. were shared. I remember Up With People desperate to find local host families for its international students. Folks gave a fearful and emphatic, “no.” We took four.
As a kid, I heard two messages: Learning is a lifelong joy, and childhood is THE best time to lay an indelible foundation for connecting to a world that offers fascinating homework and teachers.
Daily, my parents flamed this value to try something. They may take no credit, but all six kids became adults who comfortably explore, eat, work and find love across the globe and the rich tapestry that is the U.S.
In similar step, I’ve nurtured curiosity in my child - in nearly every area of her life. She claims that while her childhood was weird by comparison. It was also full of cool, teachable moments that she didn’t get through school.
So, it didn’t surprise me when, at 14, she opted to leave her private school and head to a socio-economically diverse, urban public school. She wanted to immerse herself in new lessons.
Shortly after, we were asked to host a foreign exchange student for nearly 11 months. We jumped at it.
Aki was from Japan, a deeply homogenous culture. A decidedly traditional home provided decidedly old-school messages about girls. Attending an English-only U.S. school in the mostly-white Midwest was more than enough of a shock. But, I wanted more for her.
So, together, we made a list of simple experiences. Each week, we drew one idea from a paper bag. It was Aki’s least favorite day - for a while.
But, it worked. She explored new ideas, and gained the courage to offer her own. She learned how to mow, but also to question.
Her ways weren’t necessarily wrong, and ours weren’t necessarily right. We clarified that our ways also sometimes contradict how others in the U.S. do and see things. Eye-opening for Aki. We talked policy, religion, morals and values. Foreign and frightening, but over time, welcomed.
We orchestrated risks – prom, clubs, college tours, the school volleyball team. She learned that, here, university was open to anyone who wanted it—at four times the cost. We wanted her to connect with U.S. values of philanthropy and community, to show our challenges. So, she volunteered for Coburn Place, Martin Luther King Center, the International Festival, and PBS Kids in the Park.
Aki explored wealth and poverty. She shopped at malls and Goodwill. She befriended a loving boy whose local family had been killed by guns. It changed her as he shared stories about immigration and the fears his family faced.
We traveled our country. She saw Sedona, the Grand Canyon and Phoenix. She saw Pink (her first concert.) She visited New Harmony, discovering the rich history between that utopia and Japan. Weekends at a northern Indiana lake home, days in Chicago and St. Louis. (We sometimes forget how unique our towns are.) We drove through a snowstorm to play fireside games and learn to ski in Michigan. Before our goodbyes, she saw mountaintops, the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Statue of Liberty, the White House and Lincoln Memorial.
Aki’s visit affected my child, too. To spend time with a girl her own age whose world view vastly differed from her own and who also stepped out with sizable vulnerability every day – let’s just say that educational opportunity shows up outside the classroom.
When Aki left, she wept because she was so changed. And, so worried about moving back into a world that didn’t define her anymore. Not surprising, 13 months later, she Skyped us from her new Malaysian university, settling in among students from 60 countries, her closest friends now Middle Eastern. Finding her own way after trying to assimilate back into her old life meant a new life in a third country.
I’m not surprised by the impact of Aki’s year with us. My parents gave me the world without spending much money. I hope that’s my daughter’s experience with me. I hope I’ve enriched her life and made the world a little more connected. And, I feel lucky that I could cost-effectively give that stage to Aki.
It’s a different kind of legacy we can offer each other. I think Aki’s sister is changed by Aki and I know Aki’s own future children will be, too.
Anne Hudson was born, raised and educated in Indiana. After an MSW in social/economic/international development from Washington University-St Louis and brief work in Kenya, she started Good Seeds, an advising and nonprofit project management firm that supports wise, collaborative community innovation and philanthropy. She finds inspiration in her daughter.