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Exposing kids to their cultural roots

If you have family living in another country, why not take advantage of this learning opportunity by planning an extended family visit? It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day job of running your family, but when was the last time you actually spent real time with your family? An extended family visit can get you back in touch with each other.

Family on Beach in Israel

I’m writing this piece from my in-laws’ home, halfway around the world from my own house in Texas. My husband and I are here for five weeks with our four children, soaking up culture, language, family, and of course food. We’re woking odd hours because of the 7-hour time difference. The kids are re-meeting their cousins and following their grandparents around. We’re sightseeing. We’re getting away from it all. We’re on an extended family visit.When we first planned this five-week trip, everyone thought we were crazy. In the middle of the school year? Don’t we care about our kids? What about work? How could we possibly do such a crazy thing? But for us, the only question was, how could we not?My husband’s entire family lives in Israel. His parents, his many aunts and uncles, his dozens (literally!) of cousins, his four siblings — all of them live here. And so we’ve come to spend some time with them. Our children are still young — the oldest is 9 and in fourth grade — so it was fairly easy to pack up a few weeks’ worth of schoolwork for them to do. But even when they’re not sitting with math worksheets, our kids are learning.All of our kids understand Hebrew, but only our oldest speaks comfortable. Except that yesterday, my younger daughter went with her friend to a birthday party, and when we retreived her, we discovered her chattering away in Hebrew to the other girls, without stopping to think or translate in her head. The langugage has emerged, she’s comfortable with it, and we know it.My special needs son, the one with the severe language delay? Also speaking as fluently in Hebrew as he does in English. In his case, neither language comes with ease, but they come equally. And of course my three-year-old has no trouble going back and forth between the two languages. Youth is a beautiful thing.

Beyond the books

For our family, though, some of the most important learning is happening in subjects that can’t really be tested. Our kids are learning that for us, family is a priority. It’s important enough for us to uproot our lives, spend a fortune on airfare, and come here. It’s important enough to miss out on whatever’s happening at home while we’re away, to sacrifice the comforts of our own home, to take ourselves away from the familiar and immerse ourselves in family.We’re heading to a wedding tonight, and it will be unlike anything my children have ever seen. There will likely be 400 people present. No one will stop eating or talking, even when the bride and groom take their vows. The dancing will be continous. The food will be copious. The experience will be unforgettable, and isn’t that what learning is all about?

Can it work for you?

My husband and I are lucky. We both work from home, so we could take our work with us and get away for five weeks. Not everyone has that option. But can you find other ways to make an extended family visit happen? Can you take a leave of absence or store up vacation time to get away for slightly longer than normal? Get creative. Instead of deciding that you can’t possibly take such a trip, decide that you are — and then figure out how you can.Let us hear from you! Have you ever made an extended family visit? Would you? Why or why not?

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