Culture in a Box Broadens World View and Promotes Diversity

Culture Box Swaps Offer Children the Collaborative Experience of Sharing and Learning about Different Cultures.

What would you include in a box to swap with someone from a different culture that best represents where you live? A western MA family could include maple syrup, a leaflet to an agricultural fair, an apple cutter, post cards from our many small towns, pictures of native animals, press local wild flowers… what else would you include? Think about what best represents your local culture that could easily be shared with someone wanting to learn more about life in your region.

Families in western Massachusetts are lucky to live in such a culturally diverse area, where communities are filled with opportunities for folks to learn about, and share cultural traditions. Engaging children in cultural studies – whether formally or informally – is a wonderful way to teach them about the many different traditions, histories, and world views that make up their own community and the entire world. Exploring a culture that’s different from your own can help children to try on many different metaphorical hats – they can test out different worldviews, consider the belief systems behind a variety of religions, and imagine existing in a community that’s vastly different from their own. Equally as meaningful as learning about different cultures is teaching others about your own. In working to explain the importance of certain things within their own family or community, culture can help children to better understand themselves, their community, and the roots of the traditions and belief system they share.

Families can engage in a combination of both of these activities – learning about other cultures and teaching about their own – by taking part in culture box swaps.  Culture box swaps are similar to participating in international pen pal relationships, except that the exchange takes place only once, and instead of letters, families send actual items that they’ve collected. Items included in culture boxes are intended to teach recipients about the culture from which they’ve emerged. While families must always be careful to obey international mailing rules, boxes can be filled with a wide variety of items to show families abroad what family culture is like here in western Massachusetts. Conversely, families who create and send boxes teaching about their local culture will receive a culture box in return, filled with a collection created by another family to showcase important parts of their own culture – wherever it may be from!

There are multiple platforms through which families can take part in culture box swaps. The Eye to Eye Foundation’s Culture Box Exchange matches classrooms, homeschool or community groups, or families with an international partner for a one-time culture box trade. Facilitated with the foundation’s commitment to educational cross-cultural communication in mind, the goal of the Culture Box Exchange is to allow participants to learn about an unfamiliar culture while also thinking critically about their own.

Families wishing to explore multiple cultures via box exchanges can consider participating in the Worldwide Culture Swap, which pairs participants with a whole group of swap partners, rather than just a single partner. Run by a diverse and international group of moms, the Worldwide Culture Swap matches participating families with four other families from all around the world. Participants must create and send culture boxes to everyone in their group (four packages total), and will, similarly, receive packages from everyone in the group – meaning that participants get to explore multiple world cultures once the packages arrive! Unlike the Culture Box Exchange, Worldwide Culture Swap participants are responsible for paying for the boxes that they send – meaning that careful thought must go into determining what’s inside the boxes, and families must be committed to participating before signing up.

If your family has friends living in far-flung locations around the globe (or even just around the country), you may even be able to facilitate your own friendly culture box exchanges! Curating a collection of items to represent your family and/or community culture can be a very rewarding experience – it’s exciting to share special favorite items with others, and the process of deciding what to include can prove to be an excellent challenge. Children will have to think very carefully about how to represent each element of their culture that they feel is important, and must consider the fact that each item sent will be examined without the cultural context that they use to understand its relevance. Including a note or other explanation of each item’s importance can help recipients to understand why you’ve sent your collection – but be prepared to use online tools to translate it before sending, because participants won’t always speak English!

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