This article is an introduction to building a Cultural Unit Study.
There will be four parts
part one: International Food and Cultural Opportunities.
part two: Geography and Food Diversity
I will post more parts and links as I put it together.
I would encourage every family to give their children a very positive cultural diversity experience. If you are able to afford traveling to other countries, then that would give the most realistic exposure. But if you are not able to afford to travel, you can still give your children a rich diverse experience. If you are a homeschool family, you can do this together as a unit study.
A Unit Study is basically a learning experience made up of lessons organized around a theme. It covers lots of subject areas (geography, history, cultural anthropology, language, math, health, music, art, etc.) that relate back to the theme. Unit studies can be simple and last a few days or they can be enhanced to last a full school year. It is up to you. To enhance the variety of learning tools used, you can get books and movies at the library, use the internet, put on plays, make crafts, make foods, and go on outings or field trips to help you expand the study.
How You Can Give Your Children Exposure To International Culture
Pick a theme for your unit study. Some ideas could be: clothing, language or alphabets or numbers, native birds or animals, architecture styles, tribes, wars, health care, religions, money, music, art, soil types, weather patterns, and so on. Your unit study could be cross cultural and cover a large amount of cultures, or just focus on one culture at a time.
For this article I have chosen food, ethnic or international, as the theme. Food is a great theme to build a positive cultural diversity experience, and it is a great theme to build a Cultural Unit Study around.
Even if you have a child who is a picky eater, you can make it a positive experience by letting them taste different things and expose them to the different culture. Later, you can still feed them their favorite food to meet thier nutritional needs, if they didn’t like the cultural food. It can still be a positive experience.
Food is such a good theme for a unit study because, America has so many different cultures and ethnic American resturants. These are run by Americans. They may be first generation Americans, or they may be second, third, or on down the line. Other than Native Americans, the rest of the population came from somewhere else. Even though America is considered the great “Melting Pot”, most Americans still have some of their origional culture in their daily life.
Some options for using food as the theme could be Soul Food by African Americans, German Food by German Americans, Italian Food by Italian Americans, Mexican Food by Mexican Americans, Japanese Food by Japanese Americans, Chinese Food by Chinease Americans, and so many more. I would encourage you to study all of these, if not all at once, then seperately. Spend the next several years building on this experience. The more you build, the more diverse cross cultural experience you will be able to give your child.
Building Your Cultural Unit Study
After you have picked a theme, begin to build your study around it.
You can make your own unit study or buy one already made and either follow it to the T, or change it up a bit with your own personal interests.
To build your unit study, you can use cookbooks, story books, poems, biographies, fiction, nonfiction, newspapers, maps, art, music, and so much more. You can find a lot of resources such as articles to read, premade worksheets to do, and craft ideas to make on the internet. And don’t forget the use of videos from around the world available for free on You-Tube. This is so valuable for children who are visual learners, as they can see live people from other countries in their cultural setting. There are several TV shows you could safely watch together too.
Several times I have found new Chinese or Mexican imigrants, or internationals on a work visa, working as my waitress or cook in these resturants. I always try to stop and talk with them for a few minutes, even if it is just to compliment them on a job well done. But many times it goes further into where they are from and how long they have been here. I am always curteous and respectful. I will often ask how to say something in their language, such as the name of the ingredients in the meal they have prepared, or maybe just hello, thankyou, the meal was good, or goodbye.
As part of your unit study you can do a word study with your children on how to say different common words in different languages. For older children, you can teach them to write those words in the foriegn language, such as writing Chinese Characters.
See if they can recognize food they may eat regularly that origionally came from those cultures. When you return from eating at the resturaunt, have the children say or write down or draw what took place and what they noticed was the same and what was different than what they are used to, at the resturaunt and see what cultural details they include in their story. This is a begining step to help them to notice, understand, and respect cultural differences.
Invite foriegn students from the local college or university to your home and prepare food together and hear about their culture. Learn about how they grew up and what different foods were used for.
Be a host family for a foriegn student, high school or college, or host a missionary family who has lived oversees.
Help out the local university with orrientation of international students.
Volunteer to be a phone buddy with an international student who can call you 1 x or more a week and practice their English speaking and phone skills.
Visit an international grocery store and specialty resturants such as Thia, Indian, Greek, Chinese, German, Japanese, Ethiopian, and any others you can find.
Get out the globe or a map and learn where a country is, better yet, learn about the town, city, or village the people you meet grew up in. Learn about their native language, traditional clothing, religion, and how to pronounce at least 10 words. Read about missionaries who have traveled to their country or village to bring the message of Jesus Christ to them.
Attend special dances, music events, or parties that have an international focus.
Have the children make thier own resturant. Have them use their skills with a map and books to research the country and what foods would be on the menu. Have them make a menu as a craft. What foods would they prepare? Find a recipe for one of the foods on the menu. Practice making one of the dishes in your home kitchen. Measure ingredients and calculate how much you would need to feed how many people; 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 20, 50, 100. How would they decorate the resturant? What would they include? Besides meeting their customers hunger needs, what cultural experience would they convey to the customer? Practice math skills on their learning level, simple to more complex. Math can be done in many ways such as questions like how many cars fit in the parking lot spaces, if two customers leave, and three are waiting to be seated, how many tables will be set? You can do math in measuring or graphing or calculating quanities of food, numbers of customers, paying the bill, giving change, totaling expenses vs. income and find their profits.
Make a travel brochure. Have the children list destinations, distances, travel times, land marks or senery on the journey. Have them project the cost of such an adventure for 1, 2, or 4 people. Learn basic words to help them get around in the new country. You can really enhance this idea and take it much further.
Write a story of what it would be like to grow up in a country you are studying. Perhaps you can have your character imigrate to a new country and talk about what they would experience because of this move.
Use your own imagination to expand these ideas.
When you are finished, include your work and pictures of your experience in a notebook, scrap book, or lapbook. Several ideas for doing a lapbook can be found on many internet sites. Here are a few to get you started.
You can also buy prepared unit studies.
Here are some really good pre-made resources to get you started.
If you were studying Mexican Americans, some good information for a prepared unit study would be:
A) CurrClick Curriculum In A Click
go to their sight and type in a culture you are interested in.
some options might be
Art, Poetry, and Geography
Teacher Created Resource. Explore Mexico’s climate, plants, and animals. Look at how the country’s rich history and diverse geography have shaped its language, legends, celebrations, foods, arts, and music.
My Personal International Cultural Studies
I have always been outgoing. As a child, I would pretty much talk with just about anyone. But I can’t recall meeting anyone from a foriegn country as a child. I visited Hawaii when I was 8 and participated in a Loua and ate Hawaian food. When I was 16 I visited China Town in San Fransico while on vacation and ate and spoke with some Chinese Americans. In school we read history and geography, but not much real life exposure.
My cultural diversity experience really began when I arrived at the University in Manhattan Kansas, then a who new world opened up to me. Ever since I was in college, at Kansas State University, I have loved international students, and shopping for and cooking with bulk foods. Seem like an odd combination? Well hold on and let me show you the connection.
The University is situated in rural Kansas. But the student body is huge and the campus has a multicultural life all its own. Kansas State University is one of the top schools in the world for Architecture, Engineering, Computer Science, Business Administration, Vetrinary Science, Agricultural Science, Horticultural Science, Social Work, Anthropology, and several other fields. The students come from all over the world to learn and earn their degree from this university in rural kansas.
I was blessed and privaleged to attend school at Kansas State University. I started with the plan of getting a degree in music vocal performance and counseling. But after almost two years of study, I began to understand that all undergrads in music were expected to major in music teaching, and that was not my goal, so I changed my focus to a degree in Social Work with a focus on family counseling and medical social work, and still continued my vocal performance studies until graduation.
I stayed in a woman’s dorm my first year. Our dorm shared the cafeteria with a co-ed dorm that was mainly made up of engineers and architects. This was my first real exposure. So many of us quickly became friends. We would eat together, study together, go to the reservoir nearby to see the beauty of the lake and wildlife, and go dancing together. Some of the students were involved in an international bible study and invited me to that too.
My college friends were from all over the world. My roommate was from Tiawan.
My best friends were from India and Yemen. Just about all my friends, except a few, were from another country. I even dated a prince from Guatemala. I dated men from a few other places to, including Spain, India, and Lebanon. These were just fun dates for me, though a few proposed marriage.
I also used to teach English As A Second Language, helped students prepare for the TOFL exam, and worked as an assistant in the ESL department. I worked as a Cultural Liason for the International Student Department. This was so much fun as I helped build a cultural library and international display, and also helped with orrientation of new students to the campus. I also taught Cultural Anthropology as a teaching assistant, helping American students learn about cultures from around the world. On my own in the evenings, I tutored English to foriegn students and-or to their wives, from Nepal, Indonesia, China, Somolia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Korea, and Yemen. I also baby sat two little boys from Camaroon, while their mother attended classes.
During part of my college years, I worked part time in the Baby World department at Walmart. I would help international students as they came in to shop find items they needed, even snacks that met their dietary restrictions. I did my final internship in the Health Department with the WIC program and helped pregnant international students to appointments and followed their medical and prenatal care and education. I did crisis intervention when needed.
I used to love dancing. I learned cultural dancing from several friends from around the world. I used to go dancing with friends from Panama, Brazil, Argentina, Guatamala, and Puerto Rico. Now that is fun dancing! I also used to dance with friends from Niger, South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya. The drums from Africa were incredible. Then I learned some really strange dancing from friends from India, where you do a lot of head and sholder up and down movements. That was fun too.
So if you are going to dance, you’ve also got to eat. Wow. Eat we did. It was a feast all the time. I was also part of an International Bible Study, every Friday night, and we had bible, music, sharing, and lots of International Food. This was such a huge part of my life for four years.
There was also a very special bulk food store in Manhattan, and I have never been the same since my first encounter with it.
Can you say “Plu Go Gi and Gim Pa” ? These were a Korean favorite.
Chopping Onions For Indian Style Dinner
In Manhattan, there were at least three stores that catered to the needs of these foriegn students. My favorite was the International Grocery Store. I used to go shopping at the International Grocery Store with many of these friends, and help prepare wonderful meals. It was owned by an American man who was a Veteran from the Korean War. He had married a bride from Korea, and came back to open a wonderful bulk foods store. They were older, but were a really neat family, and shopping there was fantastic, as they always took time to get to know each customer and share stories about their life.
I was 18 to 22 years old during these experiences. I had never experienced life or stores like this before. I was from a small town, Basehor, Kansas. Racial and Cultural Diversity was not a part of daily life. But in college, it became mine.
After the first year, I began taking my international friends home with me on the weekends and school breaks. Yes, my Thanksgiving and Christmas break was spent sharing American culture with four or five international friends at a time, who were willing to travel two hours back to Basehor Kansas and spend thier week with me. In addition to sharing my home and American food, we also would travel around Kansas City and surrounding areas to see the sights, including the Plaza. The Plaza in Kansas City is a great place to visit at Christmas time. A true winter wonderland, right out of a fairy tale. For international students who are from hot tropical places around the globe, this winter experience is very special.
These cultural experiences changed my life for the better. The world became accessable through these international friends, their food, and the world became a very small place, full of differences and similarities.
Another way I was changed forever, was to have a personal experience with food and those providing it. Though I had spent time on a farm raising garden produce and animals, this was different. These were people who celebrated and rejoiced around their meals. This experience was very special.
Bulk foods from around the globe, became a favorite hobby for me. The Interantional Grocery Store was such a fun outing, I looked forward to going as often as I could. I was always amazed that everything was in larger than usual bags. They had just about everything you needed. Also spices were by the pound. I had never in my life seen so many spices. Many were not ground, they were whole. For example, I had never seen whole curry leaves or cardomon pods at the stores I was used to shopping. But at this store, spices were a main item everyone bought and quite useful. Almost every pot of tea my friends from India and the Middle East prepared contained whole cardomon. Rice and other grains were in 25lb bags. The aromas of the store were incredible. Intoxicating!
All of my friends would buy all kinds of foods and supplies and take them home and prepare the most incredible dishes I have ever tasted. I was blessed to try various meals from around the globe, including several countries in Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Egypt, Moraco, Niger, Camaroon), Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Israel, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Veitnam, Indonesia, Thiland, Tiawan, China, Korea, Ukraine, Netherlands, Guatemala, Panama, Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica, Mexico, Spain, Napal and more. How can you top that experience? It was priceless.
A very special dinner created in my honor was a bridal shower dinner prepared by my good friends Madhu and Sudeep from southern India. They dressed me in a Sarri of silk with gold threads, and prepared the most delicious meal served on fresh banana leaves as the plate. Sudeep worked in a green house and had access to fresh leaves. The menu included chicken, rice and peas, dahl, vegetables, a type of fried fritter, and chocolate cake for desert. The table was decorated and lit with Indian oil lamps.
Of course my husband to be didn’t know what to think about his soon to be bride and this strange bridal meal! But it wasn’t long before he attended Chinese weddings, international meals, and international bible studies too! My best friend from Indina, Sandra Lobo, was a bride’s maid in my wedding too.
After graduating from college, I moved to Indiana. I visited bulk food stores when ever I could. These were usually run by Mennonite or Amish families. There was a really neat Mennonite bulk food store across the state line on my way to Dayton, Ohio. I don’t have a lot of pictures of these because they frown on having their picture taken. But they are very accustomed to shopping in bulk. Flour, Oats, Cereals, Beans, Sugar, Butter, Oil, and much more is on every Amish woman’s grocery list. With families that range in size usually from 8 to 15 people, buying in bulk is a necessity.
I spent nearly 15 years in Amish kitchens, learning the food and culture. These are memories and experiences I will always treasure. Even though shopping and cooking with Amish bulk food was different from the international students, it still was a rich cultural experience and even brought back wonderful memories of my college days for me.
Today, I am a wife and mother of 5 children. I hope to encourage cultural diversity with my children through out their growning years. We currently attend a cultural diverse church in Greenville South Carolina called Redemption World Outreach Center . They are one of the most cultural diverse churches in America and Internationally. They hold several conferences through out the year, Marriage, Family, Leadership, Kingdom Momentum, Youth, and more, and it is very common to have people from 40 countries attending the conference. There are several thousand people in attendance each week from various parts of America and across the world.
Getting used to the culture of the South is a new experience for us too. We are from Indiana and Kansas. The language and many of the foods are different in the South. A new thing my children and I have learned is the respect in conversations people show in the South; “yes Mam and No Mam” used frequently during a conversation, etc.
I love bulk foods and ingredients from around the world to make special meals with family and friends. It was such an fun thing for me that when I had the opportunity, I opened my own bulk food & natural food store called Weiser Farms.
There, I was the happiest I have ever been.
I enjoyed meeting the customers. Helping them with their requests. Listening to their life. Praying with them about their concerns. Meeting their children, or spouse, or extended family. Some families were local and were regulars. We also had some customers who had family come from Las Vegas, as well as several other far away cities, and stop in everytime they were in town. We were also the featured article in a 5 state paper called the Farm World. A journalist came and took pictures and wrote a wonderful article about our family, our farm, and bulk food store.
Those experiences are priceless.
Since moving to North Carolina, I haven’t yet been able to set up a physical store front for Weiser Natural Foods . The cost of land here is UNREAL! When I left the fertile soils of Indiana, land was selling for $3,500 an acre + or -. So you could by a nice 10 acre spot/ mini farm for around $35,000. You could easily get a house and barn on 10 acres for $150,000
However, I was in sticker shock moving to this area of North Carolina as a 10 acre spot of ground goes for $25,000 to $100,000 per acre. So a small little, partially dry, bare ground with no buildings, 10 acre parcel would be $250,000 to $1,000,000.
And the ground here is nowhere near as fertile or productive as it was in Indiana, where a crop of corn may stand 9 feet tall, and give you lots to sell, and you have to bale hay three and four times a year, because the land makes so much. Don’t get me wrong. I really like it here in North Carolina. You don’t get water falls and catch live trout, or see bears in Indiana. But the cost of everything here really is eye-popping!
So for now, I continue my store through the use of the computer. My store is a virtual online store, and it is a discount ordering service. You can buy all the great natural bulk foods through our ordering service, but I don’t have to pay big bucks for a piece of land and I don’t have to stock inventory. But in the future, Lord willing, I will be able to buy a physical store again. I am hopeful, and when I do, it will be the best bulk natural food store I can do, friendly, willing to meet, and talk to each customer, a real personal experience. A special cultural experience too.