When I was 11, my grandmother and I flew halfway around the world to visit my aunt and uncle, who were teaching in the coastal city of Izmir, Turkey. Although I had traveled extensively with my family across the western United States, this time felt different. I stepped off the plane, and realized I was in a place that was entirely new to me.
Naturally, I still wanted what every 11 year old wants: a fishing rod. And so, guided only by a hand-drawn map my aunt hurriedly sketched on a napkin, I set off on my own to find it at the bazaar. Although it was only ten or fifteen blocks, that journey set the course for my life.
Today I am the cultural anthropologist for Let’s Go Luna! – PBS KIDS’ newest series. The show follows the adventures of three friends – Leo, Carmen and Andy – as they learn about world cultures alongside Luna the moon. I help our writers and storyboard artists immerse themselves in the cities Luna visits, and ensure that our episodes are accurate and educational, down to the smallest details. More broadly, every day, it’s my job to think about how we can encourage kids to openly engage with our world, to celebrate our differences, and recognize our shared humanity. To do so, I draw on my experience as a teacher, as well as my formal training in anthropology. And I rely heavily on expert advisors. For each region we visit, I put together a team of experts who specialize in that particular area, and have advanced degrees in subjects like history, ecology, linguistics and anthropology. Many of these experts also grew up in the city or country that Luna will be visiting.
When our team begins to research a new city, we compile a comprehensive list of the curricular topics we’d like to cover, as well as an extensive list of questions for our experts. We ask them to advise us on aspects of the culture we’re learning about, and to suggest names for our local characters. But perhaps the most important question we ask our experts is: what did you like doing most in your city when you were a kid? Sometimes as adults, it can be easy to forget what it’s like to be a child, when a walk around the block can be a grand adventure.
We bring this sense of exploration to life for the characters on our show, too. When Carmen’s pet hamster escapes her cage and disappears into the streets of Cairo, Egypt, the children give chase. Carmen literally runs into a young butterfly girl like herself, who’s Egyptian. As they explore Cairo in search of their missing pets, they find that although they come from different places and have different cultural backgrounds, they also share many of the same interests.
We created Luna to expose kids to places in the world that may be new to them, but we also hope that it will ignite kids’ sense of adventure in their day-to-day lives. There are many free and easy ways you can support your kids’ adventures – no matter where you live:
- Borrow a book from the library about kids from a different culture
- Dance to music from another part of the globe
- Experiment with a new recipe (PBS Food has an extensive library of family friendly recipes you can sort by region – I especially like Mexican Ice Cream)
- Learn a simple greeting in another language
Perhaps the greatest gift cultural exploration imparts is the ability to recognize the possibilities of life, to embrace new ideas and opportunities, and build new connections. When I set out in search of my fishing rod all those years ago, I returned home safely with it, along with something else: a passion for travel.
That small trip gave me the confidence to engage in new experiences, and set me off on a lifetime of adventure. Today it is my immense privilege to try and pass that gift along to another generation.