My son Diogo turns sixteen years old today and I couldn’t be prouder of the person he is becoming. People around me tell me that it’s obvious I would say that because I was the one raising him, but that has nothing to do with it. All I did was give him some tools and show him some things; what he decides to do with it, it’s all him. I believe that travel should be a part of children education, and it doesn’t have to be expensive or done miles from home.
A few years ago someone asked me what I wanted my son to be when he grew up. Seemed like an odd question. When I answered “happy, confident and aware” they insisted “oh no, not that. What do you think he should be? A doctor, a lawyer…?” I repeated, “whatever he wants as long as he’s happy with it, confident in his decisions and aware of the world around him”. It seems like this wasn’t the answer this person was looking for… Needless to say, the idea of traveling for this person was to go on organized tours with people who speak the same language and lounge around at secluded resorts.
I don’t want to address the obvious benefits, like seeing different people, experiencing a different culture or tasting different food. Those are the immediate consequences that may, or may not, influence them in the future. These are the benefits that have impacted my son’s behavior and that I have witnessed throughout sixteen years of parenting.
They Learn to Not Make Assumptions
Most of the times this happened to him unintentionally (or without the intention to discriminate), but it still raised some questions in his mind. Why do people assume things just by how someone looks? We were at Disneyland Paris for his 10th birthday and everybody who approached him started to speak in English without asking first if he spoke the language, simply because we both “look” English (or what people think of a redhead with a blond kid). Back then he spoke English enough to tell them “I speak Portuguese…”, even though he understood what they told him and could perfectly have a conversation.
That was his first direct contact with the fact that people make assumptions based on how you look and based on what they think is right. These minor incidents are, of course, harmless and even funny but, because of his awareness of it, I’ve never seen him make assumptions about another person, another culture or another religion.
They Develop Communication Skills
Well, this one should be the obvious benefit! In Portugal children learn (at least) one foreign language throughout their school years: English and French are the most popular (i.e. there are more teachers available who teach these languages), but German and Spanish pop up as options in a few schools. In theory, this is a wonderful thing. In reality, it means squat because the majority of these kids won’t practice the language after they finished school.
Although none of us speaks any of the Spanish dialects (maybe Galician would be easier because it’s closer to Portuguese), we had lots of fun in Barcelona trying to speak with people in a mix of English, poor Castellano and even poorer Catalan. Everyone was kind enough to accept our efforts.
It Prepares Them For Their Future Job
I wish more parents would think of traveling as an investment in their children’s future, and not just an excuse to wind down from a hard year at work. Whatever the career they choose to pursue, as a former recruiter I assure you: skills and degrees are important, but a real life experience wraps it all up. From my experience, every person that I interviewed who had traveled (or even who had been an expat for a while) had a high sense of self and were humble enough to understand that they’re just another person in the world and some things matter more than others.
This is usually tricky because parents will backlash saying “not all of us can afford to travel”. Very true and I’m aware of that. As a single parent, the first trips I took with my son were made under careful budgeting (to the cent) and a couple of “sacrifices” (that, of course, didn’t involve not eating or not paying bills). But most times it has nothing to do with that. Not being able to afford it is usually the easiest excuse, the kind of excuse that won’t raise questions from anyone, especially their kids. Most of the parents who have told me they can’t afford to travel is because their priorities are set elsewhere, which is fine by me, I don’t judge. The flip side to this is that most public schools (if not all) will have exchange student programs or field trips so that traveling can happen, even if it’s for a brief moment in time or to a closer country. As a matter of fact, my son and his best friend are working their butts off this semester to make it happen — even if he has secretly told me that he might not go but he still wants someone to have the chance to, and he doesn’t mind helping out.
They Learn Beyond The Textbooks
I love the beginning of the school year. For me, that is the New Year. I have no idea why maybe it’s that promise of discovery and of learning new things. As a parent, I believe we should be very close to our children’s academic evolution and, even if we don’t master every subject, see how we can complement their learning at home (way beyond helping them with homework) — I believe the school system should be different, I don’t agree they should study everything there is to study, I believe that the system focuses too much on teaching and not on learning, and maybe one day we’ll come back to this topic. From 5th to 9th grade, at the beginning of each year, I would go through his textbooks and plan some field trips of our own, based on what he would learn in school.
Even if you can’t afford an international travel, look around you. What do you have close to you that could help your child practice what he/she has learned in school? It doesn’t have to be spectacular, it just has to have meaning. Learning is supposed to be engaging and meaningful, remember that.
They Understand They Are The World
The other day we were having a (somewhat) heated discussion about faith, religion, politics and how all of these concepts being mixed together were as dangerous as cats fighting in a sack. There are two “rules” to our discussions (regardless of the topic): we can never end an argument with “because I say so” and we can never answer the question “what is your opinion” with “I don’t know”. Opinions matter, everyone has one even if they don’t say it out loud, and my opinion isn’t more “right” than yours (and vice-versa) — based on this house “policy” some of our discussions are more effusive than others, especially at this age.
This particular discussion was after the Charlie Hebdo events and the arrest (and consequent gruesome sentence) of the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. Two unrelated events, in different parts of the world but with the same premise: both of them were the exaggerated reaction of a few individuals to the other individuals right to freedom of speech. I won’t tell you about all the details around our discussion of what freedom of speech is or what it should be. At some point, I said something like “as a Portuguese you are bound to see the world from a different perspective because your culture influences you”. He quietly answered me “I am not Portuguese, I am a citizen of the world”. Touché! Well, yes, he is studying Socrates in school (10th-grade Philosophy), but I believe this affirmation would have never made sense for him if he had never traveled.
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