As newlyweds who'd both done some overseas traveling, my husband and I fantasized about taking our future children to exotic places. Reality intruded shortly after our twins were born. Globetrotting and raising a family on a modest single income were not compatible, at least in the short run. With the arrival of a third child, our dream seemed even more impossible. That's when we decided to modify the dream; if we couldn't take our family out to explore the world, we'd find a way to bring the world home to our family. With a little creativity and a minimum of money, we've managed to expose our children to many of the sights, sounds, smells, and flavors of far-off lands. Here's how you can bring the world home too:
Books, Movies and CDs: Public libraries have a wealth of materials for would-be armchair travelers. There are colorful picture books for the youngest members of your family, international cookbooks for adventurous chefs, foreign novels, travel guides, and memoirs of journeys to exotic places. Don't forget to check out the international CD's in the music section, and the foreign movies and travelogues in the video and DVD section. If your library branch is small and the selection is limited, request items from other libraries in your system.
Food: Sample the world's cuisine by trying recipes from the cookbooks you picked up at the library or found on the Internet. You may be able to order key ingredients online if you can't find them locally, but explore the ethnic markets in your own neighborhood first, sourcing new ingredients can be half the fun. If your budget allows it, visit a restaurant featuring food you've never had before. It's more expensive than cooking at home, but still much cheaper than plane tickets.
Theme Night: Put it all together and have a theme night. My husband and I prepared an elaborate Finnish meal many years ago, and my brother has since reciprocated with Thai, East Indian and Vietnamese feasts. Share the meal preparation the way families do in many other cultures, and the event will be even more enjoyable. And don't forget the music. If you can't find something suitable at the library, Putumayo offers great recordings from almost every region of the world.
Ethnic Markets and Neighborhoods: We might not be able to afford the plane fares to Beijing, but we can afford to visit the two Chinatowns within a hundred miles of our house. The East Indian and Asian food markets nearer to our home have been worth exploring as well. There are lots of interesting things to see, touch and smell.
International Holidays, Folk Festivals, and Film Festivals: Thanks to the many multicultural events that take place around our region every year, we've had the opportunity to visit a number of different cultures without having to travel overseas. Find out when and where such events take place in your community by watching your local newspaper, checking community bulletin boards, or contacting the nearest tourist information center. College campuses are often good places to look for foreign movie screenings.
Exchange Students: Interacting with people from other cultures is one of the things I value most about traveling. You can have the same experience if you open your home to guests from other places for brief or extended periods of time. So far our family has hosted two students from Japan for a long weekend, and a student from Korea for a month. My parents shared their home with a young woman on a Rotary exchange from Mexico for several months. In all three of these cases, we were paid a generous honorarium to cover our expenses. To find out if there are hosting opportunities in your community, contact local high schools, colleges, or Rotary Clubs.
If visiting far-flung places is outside your budget at the moment, invite the world home instead. Happy armchair traveling!
Rachel Muller is a freelance writer and children's novelist from Vancouver Island, off the west coast of Canada. Look for her two novels When the Curtain Rises and Ten Thumb Sam (Orca Young Readers) at your local library.
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