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How Every Child Can Grow Up Global

by Homa Tavangar

Homa Tavangar

Homa Tavangar is author of Growing Up Global and has over 20 years of experience working in cross-cultural issues. Read more »

Sorry, Homa Tavangar is no longer taking questions.

My family is lucky to live in a neighborhood with dozens of school-aged kids, where a lemonade stand often springs up on a clear day. Most parents passing by will try to stop, if only because we know our own children will be itching for an entrepreneurial moment soon themselves. We tip more generously when the proceeds will benefit charity. Increasingly, the six- or eight year-olds might be earning quarters to cure cancer, rebuild Haiti or buy school supplies for kids across town or in a country whose name they can barely pronounce.

The example of children mobilizing for a cause beyond their circumstances demonstrates their readiness to embrace a global mindset. With encouragement and good examples at home and in their community, qualities like compassion, generosity, and practicing the Golden Rule become standards they wish to strive toward, and which put substance behind what it means to be a global citizen.

The notion of global citizenship becomes clearer when I recall the ethic, "Be a friend to the whole human race." Friendship is a universal value - it's important to everyone, and it can be fun. Envisioning this on a wider scale ("to the whole human race"), discussing it, and practicing it in daily life serve as simple, yet powerful tools for raising a new generation to be well-adjusted and peaceful, and ultimately, successful and happy.

We learn what we see.

As a parent, your own willingness to try a new food, learn about another faith, genuinely befriend diverse colleagues and neighbors, or embarrass yourself trying to express ideas in a different language will leave an impression on your children, and they'll be better for it. We're more plugged in than ever, but not necessarily more connected. So, striving to be a friend to the whole human race - starting at home - can be a huge challenge, but also makes a great gift for our children, and an awesome adventure.

To get started with your own family, try one or more of these ideas - in whatever way works best for your own circumstances and interests:

  • Spice up dinner and a family-friendly movie. Rent Ponyo or My Neighbor Totoro, gorgeous animated films for age four and up from Japan, and continue the theme by serving sushi or tempura veggies with green or herb tea, and Pocky snacks (available in most ethnic grocery stores). Try similar pairings with other excellent, family-friendly films like The Cave of the Yellow Dog (Mongolia), The Legend of Roan Inish (Ireland), Alamar (Mexico/Italy), Children of Heaven (Iran), and many more. Make time after the movie or the next day to talk about the film. This sort of discussion can launch powerful uniting, connecting, and learning between parents and children - for a lifetime.
  • Play! Playground games, table games like chess and checkers that transcend language barriers, and especially sports from soccer to tennis can open a door to the world. During the four years in between the World Cup and Olympic games, follow youth tournaments, learn about top teams and the heroes of your favorite sport in various countries, root for them, learn about the places and cultures they came from, or donate grown-out equipment to a sister team in a needy community. Unplug and move it - like kids all over the world do.
  • Celebrate! Experiencing new celebrations helps ease into profound learning about a culture or belief system, for any age. Some of my children's most memorable times with friends have been during a Hanukkah celebration, midnight mass, dinner during Ramadan or Eid, Diwali and Ayyam-i-Ha parties. Kids don't usually realize they are dispelling prejudices commonly carried into adulthood, because they're having so much fun. If you must, invite yourself. Unless there is a tradition or space restriction, the answer usually is YES!
  • Dedicate a weekend to a continent (or country). Travel to South Africa, Egypt, France or China might be out of your family's budget, but you can dedicate a weekend to "exploring" these cultures - within driving distance. For example, find a concert or street fair from that country in a nearby city and anchor the weekend around that event. Then enjoy the cuisine, an art exhibit, shopping, and a movie from that culture for an unforgettable adventure. In preparation, learn a few phrases in that language, find countries that speak it on a map, download their popular music, or read a book set there. When you've made this sort of effort for one or more countries, chances go way up that your children will actually make it there. By high school they could apply for travel or language scholarships through organizations like Rotary International, AFS, and the U.S. State Department's NSLI-Y.

I'd love to hear about your own experiences. What challenges, dilemmas, or
opportunities have you encountered in raising little global citizens, or just trying to be one yourself?

If you'd like to know more, look for a copy of Growing Up Global at your local library or bookstore.

Sorry, Homa Tavangar is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.


Paige writes...

One of the ways we are raising global kids is through Compassion International child sponsorship. We write letters back and forth with kids from Africa, Nicaragua, and India. It's a great way to get outside our small town and tink bigger, not to mention release a child from poverty in Jesus' name!!!

Homa? writes...

Sponsoring a child's education can be a life-changing experience for both sides - the sponsor and the child. In addition to Compassion International, others, like Plan International and Global GIving offer more venues for getting involved in education sponsorship.Thanks for sharing this experience.

Abigail writes...

We try to live globally every day by attending a Mandarin immersion school where children also speak Italian, Spanish, Cantonese, Turkish, and Russian! There are also lots of great books and story collections from other cultures that are fun to read. I blog about the language immersion experience for the film Speaking in Tongues, which you can watch online through tomorrow, 9/17 at and follow our blog at

Homa? writes...

What an amazing school experience for your children! Thanks for sharing the Speaking in Tongues link. This is an eye-opening documentary that can really generate some discussion around language learning in the U.S. (and beyond!). I hope many readers will have a chance to watch (check listings on your cable provider/city on the film's website). I watched with my 7-year old and it was appropriate and interesting for her too.

Roya writes...

This is so great and inspiring.. Thank you!!

One of the things we do along with our friends and neighbors is we get together and share our prayers. My daughters and their friends (all from different religions) are now reciting Hindu, Baha'i, Christian, Jewish, Zen, Native American & Muslim prayers/blessings/meditations. It's become a natural part of their lives.

We also read many international stories that highlight a spiritual quality such as Justice, Love, Self-acceptance, etc. and create skits and art projects. We often do service projects which have included a lemonade stand in the park to raise money for the homeless shelter. They walked over to the shelter after and presented their $96 singing a Native American prayer.

we look forward to integrating some of your ideas from Growing Up Global!!

Homa? writes...

I am so moved by your initiatives. You are exposing your children to diversity on a profound level, then acting through service. Imagine the impact when a critical mass of children will have learned to respect friends of different faiths and have experienced their sacredness first-hand, from a young age. Huge controversies and mistrust across faith lines, as we see in the news almost daily, might be no more. It's got pretty amazing implications. I realize this is a difficult step to begin, so I outline various strategies for families to start to gain an appreciation of the teachings of different faiths in Growing Up Global's Chapter 6, called "What Do They Believe?" Thanks for sharing and for doing!

wm writes...

Great post. I appreciate the book and movie suggestions. As an globally-minded parent, this is a topic I pay a lot of attention to. I speak to my son only in Spanish, though I am not a native Spanish speaker, and at 2.8 he's now bilingual. When I am with him, we use only books and media in Spanish. Plaza Sesamo is great becuase it portrays the daily lives of children in other countries. We are thinking of sending him to a Chinese school next year. I expose him to a wide variety of foods (sushi is one of his favorites) and started to add spices to his food from his very first solids. We try to cultivate friendships with people from different backgrounds, I travel internationally, and as he grows older, I hope to give him opportunities to travel as well.

Homa? writes...

Wow - the array of exposure you are giving your son is so rich! At the same time, taken in bite-sized portions (note to readers: you don't have to do all these tomorrow - start with one thing you're comfortable with!) it really is achievable. I wonder if you feel you have a community of friends/parents who share your perspective, support your efforts and where you can exchange experiences? Do the folks around you get it?

Dawn writes...

We've enjoyed Growing up Global so much, and have been branching out in our film watching thanks to your list! Living in a fairly homogenous rural-ish area, we were delighted to find a global experience opportunity through our community college's adult ed program, that extends down to our tween: language classes that give brief intros to the language, characters and history. So now while she may not be striving for fluency in more than a couple of languages, our daughter is excited to get meaningful tastes of chinese and especially arabic.

Homa? writes...

I'm so happy you've enjoyed Growing Up Global and have found so many ways to apply the suggestions! Connecting with the community college is terrific. Often they are full of untapped resources for the actual community. Do you find that giving your tween such a meaningful exposure in an environment that's usually reserved for older people boosts her confidence and curiosity, as a benefit far beyond the language exposure?

Also, it's so interesting you mention your community is "fairly homogeneous rural-ish." This is a great testimony to the fact that you don't have to live in a cosmopolitan city to raise kids who feel connected to global experiences. What a great gift for your family! (and thanks for sharing!)

Mikki writes...

It all starts at home...and comes from the hearts of the poeple your children receive love from.sounds like you are clear on that and hope your book is clear to the masses especially those who only know how to "love" their own.

Homa? writes...

Thank you for sharing this simple, yet perhaps the most crucial point. Without a profound feeling from the heart - love! - this process is really just a bunch of "stuff" or maybe just another path to "get ahead." And it won't stick. Our children will be touched by the sense of connection and respect that we model as parents (and teachers!). And I do try to convey this in Growing Up Global.

i serve as an alumni interviewer for an Ivy League university and the topic of volunteering or international experience often comes up. when i talk to a candidate who is doing this to fill an impressive resume versus one who feels a profound connection and commitment, the difference is so clear. When a young person speaks and acts from the heart, because they have been touched by another human being, they also become the one people are more attracted to recruit. This shows how important intention and motivation are in raising global citizens.

Teresa writes...

Love this! I've taken my kids to live abroad for a few months at time twice now--we worked in orphanages and later I taught English at a university. Best thing we could have done and I'm so grateful when my kids can talk about other countries and continents with some understanding of the culture.

The book sounds great and I'm thrilled to hear about it.


Homa? writes...

Your experience sounds terrific, Teresa! Did you find that at the same time they gain greater knowledge they also become more humble about it, because they realize how much they don't know?! I'm wondering if you have any tips to pass along about how you financed these experiences, so it can be more accessible to a wider array of families? Thanks for your input!

Aly writes...


Well done. I'd like to suggest you look at the cartoon Babak & Friends - A First Norooz -it teaches children about the Persian New Year; and the cartoon series Mixed Nutz -it's a multicultural version of Peanuts. These and other multicultural learning products can be found at

Homa? writes...

Thanks for these suggestions. My kids LOVE Babak & Friends, as it's one of the first encounters of their Persian heritage told with a Western slant, so they can relate to it. I haven't seen Mixed Nutz yet - but now it's on my list! Thanks for sharing the oznoz site, too. I just looked at it for the first time and found some great materials.

Readers - If you have a product or website recommendation for raising global kids - please share it in the comments!

Nicole writes...

Im so inspired!!! And very happy to other like minded parenting. Im an american who was raised catholic and my husband is a Moroccan raised muslim. We have a 2 1/2 year old son who speaks english and arabic. We are raising him to love all cultures and religions and we celebrate ALL holidays from both religions. We travel abroad frequently and enjoy foods and cultures of the world. This is definately the best education!!!

Homa? writes...

Hi Nicole. I'm imagining what a difference your son can make in the world as he grows. He will be intimately familiar with English and Arabic and share heritage that's Catholic and Muslim. Your method of raising him to love all cultures will benefit him greatly, and I am sure will ripple far beyond his own precious life. I hope you can share these positive experiences with your friends, neighbors, and his classmates. Thank you so much for sharing your lovely experience.

Dianne writes...

Homa, I'm so happy to see your article in this blog. Looks like you are getting some new readers and they have some great ideas. Sorry that I missed seeing the video Abigail mentioned, but I will go to the website she gave.

Did I mention your photo is gorgeous??

No one mentioned exchange students or au pairs, so I will throw it in the mix again. I'm going to Florence, Italy next month to visit a former exchange excited! And my daughter, who lived with many of our 30+ international "sons and daughters" has her second au pair, this one from Japan. The children are learning about her culture and she is learning about American families.

With facebook, I'm chatting with the wonderful that is! Former exchange students, members of their families, friends and all manners of fascinating folks. Isn't being global great??

Best Wishes,

Homa? writes...

Thanks, Dianne! As you know, there remain MANY avenues for learning about the world that haven't come up yet in this posting. I hope more readers like you will bring up some of these great ideas that just didn't make it on the blog - yet. There's still time... I'm glad you brought up the subject of exchange students. I agree that it's a potentially amazing experience for anyone who makes the commitment to host. What a great example of bringing the world "home." Currently, my own family is hosting a 17-year old high school senior from France through AFS. I was very concerned about taking on this added burden to our already busy family, but I have been so happy (and not burdened at all) with the experience so far. She'll live with us the entire year. She is attending school full time and I am not feeling pressured to treat her like a tourist, so she's making a natural transition to U.S. life and my own children are getting very close to their new sister. I'm impressed by their screening process and what a great group of young people are in our community. Also, we've been introduced to a wonderful circle of other host families that share our commitment toward understanding across cultural lines. Yes - being global is great!

Caitlin Knight writes...

Thank you, Homa, for such an inspiring article on a subject I am highly passionate about! My blog was born of this passion because I hope to inspire other families to raise global kids as well as hold myself accountable for living by these values as the chaos of a hectic family life can be very distracting. We too host a high school student (from Korea) and the experience is an enriching one for the kids and us parents alike. We have hosted an au pair in the past as well and again, this is a wonderful way to bring the world to your children when you can't go out and do the traveling yourself!

I am very much looking forward to applying your ideas and suggestions above (and blogging about it)! Thank you again!


Homa? writes...

Your blog is a great way to track your global life and share it with the world. I'm happy to hear about your good experiences as a host family, too. Given your (and other readers') history hosting, I wonder if you have some do's and don'ts for families considering hosting someone from another country?! Merci!

Janet writes...

I am an educational anthropologist who taught university-level multicultural education for 40 years. I am also a mother and grandmother. As the child of a father in the military, I learned very early that learning about the new people with whom I came into contact was a necessity for acceptance and survival. Anthropology taught me that learning about others allowed one to know oneself better. I am a loyal American who believes that we all need to know others and ourselves better in order for we as a people and a country to not only survive but to thrive. The ability to view the world from others' perspectives in the global community as well as our own can only lead to better understanding and more peaceful coexistence.

Homa? writes...

Dear Janet,
Thank you for sharing your rich experience and eloquence! And thank you for making the point that indeed, understanding other cultures, learning another language (or two or three), and listening to new perspectives actually are PATRIOTIC. I just returned from spending a few days at a large school district in Texas, where the middle schoolers really got it - these are the skills and qualities that citizens of our country need in order for the US (or any country) to compete, thrive and live in peace. I always clarify in my presentations that this is not an "either-or" proposition: you don't give up your love for country when you love the world. We have the capacity to do both - and we must! When we see it as patriotism versus global citizenship, I believe this is when FEAR creeps in. The founding fathers (and mothers) and other inspirational Americans were never ruled by fear, but they demonstrated moral courage, tenacity, and a strong sense of justice. These are the kinds of lessons we must pass along to our children - we can't take it for granted that they'll somehow pick up these qualities by osmosis. They need to be modeled, taught and discussed - over and over.

Jill writes...

Thank you for writing this inspirational book. I strongly believe that our children’s future will be shaped by all of the cultures of the world, and it is crucial that parents and educators do their part to encourage the unification of the world’s children by educating them about each other’s languages, customs and beliefs. Then, perhaps, this new generation will appreciate the benefits of embracing diversity, and the advantages of working together to solve global issues.
As a globally-minded mother of two young children I am always on the lookout for resources which will help me to educate them about multiculturalism . My friend, who is currently living in France, and I have recently started a blog, where we journal about our efforts to raise globally-enlightened children.
On the blog, we share how we turn the events of our daily lives into “multicultural moments.” For example, we when play, cook, read or do crafts together we try to incorporate a lesson about different countries or cultures. In the near future, I will blog about my efforts to help my son’s school implement a program which will allow classes to Skype with other children around the world. I’m excited for the children to have the opportunity to exchange real-life experiences and to connect face-to-face with kids in other countries.
Your book is a wonderful resource, and a “must-have” for any parent interested in giving their child(ren) the world!

Homa? writes...

Dear Jill,
Thank you for writing and for sharing your blog. I love what you and your friend are teaming up to do. There's a real and growing community of globally-minded parents, and I believe we can make a difference on a wider scale. I'm very interested in how the Skype experience with your son's school goes. The lessons you learn could be vital for many, as more and more venture to connect their classrooms globally - for science lessons, bookclubs, pen pals, world language learning, teacher training and more!

nicole writes...

In a time of uncertainty and fear what better way to answer fear than with love, compassion and most importantly, understanding? I really love this book and the whole concept.

The author is well educated and comes from a background that lends itself naturally to the topic. She offers wonderful ideas for fun ways to interact with your children while making them globally aware.

I am currently working on my phd in comparative politics/ IR and I have worked in the field, as well. It really does add a whole new perspective to the idea of raising children. It is a process I (as do many in the field) had already begun with my very own children and it is wonderful to see this issue be brought to light. In today's world, raising children with a global view is way over due.

I really hope everyone buys this book. Will it solve all the ills of the world overnight? No... but it's a start. It begins at home... with the kids.

Homa? writes...

Wow - thanks so much for such kind words and insights on Growing Up Global. Corny but true: It means the world to me!! And your perspective from an International Relations background is so interesting to me - it seems so obvious, but we need to connect the dots and start our kids thinking of themselves as positive, global citizens (they can still be patriotic too!). We can't wait for pundits or professors to take the lead!

nicole writes...

I would like to add my own bit (to my post above) about stuff we do here at home!

I am teaching my children Russian and working on Italian, as well. My son is currently learning Spanish in school, so this will add to his language abilities.

We watch cartoons and childrens' shows from around the world, read books, etc.

We also eat a LOT of food from around the world and talk about the country where is comes from. My son is already a sushimi lover at age 6. He loves curry and falafel and isn't at all a picky eater.

We always go to the local ethnic festivals with our children so they can have more direct experience of the cultures and people.

And one of my favorites: in their playroom I created timezone clocks.... On one wall there are clocks along the top with the city name underneath: Our city, Berlin, Tel-Aviv, Islamabad, Bejing, etc. This is a daily reminder to them that we live in a world filled with people who are all doing different things JUST like us. My son will sometimes ask what time it is in Islamabad and we go look! And I will ask him what does he think the people are doing there right now... it is a wonderful way to get him (and later my daughter) into thinking of everyone in the world, no matter what they look like, as being like us. They love, they eat, they have children, they work.

His school has a day once a month where they eat nothing but rice in a small bowl for lunch. This is a wonderful way to begin teaching children of other real issues- such as hunger in the world. And while everyone is a human being with hopes and dreams, not all are as lucky as we are.

I love the ideas in the book about celebrating holidays from different cultures and talking about them... there are so many more real gems!

Homa? writes...

Hello Nicole - You are doing so much to bring the world home. I find it inspiring and humbling to hear from so many readers' incredible creativity and heart-felt global connections. THANK YOU for taking the time to share them. The multiple languages you are working on demonstrates the great capacity of the brain. I LOVE the idea of the clocks, and that's the first I've heard of it for a bedroom. I can see it in a kids' room catalogue as the latest decorating craze! What a great lesson on so many fronts this suggestion offers. Also, it's amazing to hear your son's school is serving a "world meal" to experience what most of the world eats like. Accustoming children to a bit of hardship can instill compassion, respect, and inner strength. Ironically, parents who want the "best" for their children might shudder at the thought of depriving junior of a full meal; but in fact this may help their children meet their best potential.

Juliet writes...

Love the article! We like to participate in interfaith activities. I was thrilled recently when my daughter asked a new friend, "What's your religion?"

Homa? writes...

What an amazing experience for your family to have a first-hand interfaith experience. Since much of the misunderstanding and accepted prejudice continues around divisions of faith, this is a huge step to take toward truer understanding of all peoples. We live in a culture where it's taboo to talk religion to people who don't worship the same as ourselves (or there's an agenda). If families who truly want to learn and respect start to widen their circle of friends and the topics they will discuss to include interfaith understanding, this could be an amazing service for their children and for the wider community. I do believe this is possible - and necessary!

I realize it's not easy to plunge into deep conversations around faith with those whose beliefs or practice you might have little knowledge or experience with; and even less so to teach your children to do this. In Growing Up Global I include a full chapter called "What Do They Believe?" to start to gain a better understanding using various tools, like looking at shared foundations, to appreciating the arts that have grown around various faiths and cultures, to ways to have respectful conversations.

Caitlin Knight writes...

You asked for some do's and don'ts for families considering hosting someone from another country so here's a brief summary I've come up with:

1. Let your international student know what your family routine is so she knows what to expect.
2. Don’t forget to go over the household rules. Believe it or not, this goes for any age!
3. Be sure to ask lots of questions to make sure she feels at home.
4. Don’t assume she knows how to use the appliances. Show her what to do.
5. Don’t feel like you have to be a tour guide. The point of a homestay is to experience typical family life in America, not to be a tourist.

That's it in a nutshell! I go into more detail in my blog post if you're interested:

Homa? writes...

These are great step-by-step tips. Some might seem pretty basic, but there are many assumptions embedded in joining a family and its daily routines. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience. I hope it's also an encouragement for more families to host - it doesn't have to be overly complicated!

Nicole writes...

We live in Eliot, ME, a very small town... Boston, MA is about an hour away. We are not a very global town.

Last January, our family decided to start doing theme dinners. We pick a country and try to learn as much about that country as possible. We eventually cook a meal from that country and then we all try it. We also try to read children's stories that my be from that country, play games, whatever. We have a huge laminated world map in the entry to our home. We put little post-it tabs on the countries we've "studied". What I love is that people actually ask us about it when they come into our home. It's a great way to spread the word.

Last spring, we also started a club at our school called Global Kids. It was a huge hit. This year, we are hoping to continue to offer it so that children can learn more about the world about them... and carry it into their classrooms and on the playground. Your book, Homa, inspired us to do this. Thank you so much for writing it!!

Homa? writes...

Thank you for sharing these great ideas you are putting into practice. I'd love to hear the progress of your after-school club this year. Yours is a great example that a family doesn't need to live in a big city to have global experiences. You can access the same films, books (usually), websites, language tools, and sometimes, when you're not always in the city, you tend to appreciate the cultural offerings more deliberately since you're not surrounded by them daily.

Sharon writes...

LOVE this article and the many wonderful comments!
we are a global family in that my husband and I added to our family by adopting from China.

I have always embraced other a young teen I had pen pals in many countries (back when people wrote letters!)..there was nothing more exciting than to come home from school and find a new letter or card waiting for me.

I have been lucky enough to meet 2 of my dear pen friends, one of whom is now like my sister.

we all visited Eastern Europe about 4 years ago and stayed and traveled with friends, then went to China 2 years ago..

I have always taken my son to different festivals and tried to expose him to all kinds of cultures through literature, media and other experiences.
Now with my daughter, I am exploring Asian culture even more and making sure that we embrace the culture of her birth country..

LOVE these ideas that everyone has shared, very helpful and relevant..

also sponsoring charities like Heifer and sponsoring a child also help one's children to learn more about those in the world..

Homa? writes...

Hello Sharon - Thanks for your enthusiasm and sharing great ideas. Your early experiences with pen pals shows what an impact this makes: so many adults who had a correspondence as children were touched for life by this experience. And your experience with international adoption embodies a boundary-less love. Embracing the opportunity of learning about the birth culture is enriching and more: it can help in feeling at ease with one's identity across cultures. Do you know about the film Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mama? It's streaming on documentaries through Nov 30 and shows one family's experience with adoption. Having many friends who have adopted daughters from China, I was very touched by the first-hand experience it showed. What did you think of it?

Daneka writes...

I am a first time mother who recently got laid off, so I am spending a lot more time with my daughter. My daughter just turned 1 and is interested in everything!! I want to know some activities I can do with her to "jump start" here learning process. I have tired a few things, but she does not have a long enough attention span for most activities.

Thank you,

Homa? writes...

Hi Daneka - Sorry you were laid off, but it sounds like you're going to really use this time together with your young daughter as a special opportunity to learn together. Based on my research and experience, "jump starting" her learning can be REALLY SIMPLE. Play outside. Converse with her. Go play at the library kids' section. Set up cozy rituals to read together (there are gorgeous chunky board books with multi-cultural faces, foods, homes, lives - definitely include these in your reading so diversity becomes natural in all you do). Take naps! Play diverse genres of music and dance together (i love the Putumayo Kids CDs). The joy in learning comes with doing. Your paying attention to her growth and needs (without stressing over it) will be invaluable and I think she will gain so much from this.

Kristen writes...

Thank you so much for your insightful book! My family has recently moved from Colorado to the Washington D.C. area. We took your advice and are seeing the world of culture in our own backyard. My girls are in French immersion preschool, have tried eating kibbeh, and have seen art from Africa at the Smithsonian. They may be too little to really understand what they are looking at, but I'm hoping to plant the seed of world citizenship early. So much to do and see... it's amazing. Thanks again.

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