#36. Explore a place that is part of your heritage—it could be a neighborhood, or it could be a country

IDEA #36. Explore a place that is part of your heritage—it could be a neighborhood, or it could be a country. Imagine what it was like to live there “back in the day,” and imagine what your life would be like if you lived there now.

It is common in schools for students to engage in exercises relating to their heritage, and questions among students such as, “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” (meaning, What is your ethnic background?) are a regular part of young people’s experience. And although a child may know in some vague way that his or her ancestors are from Scotland or West Africa or Greece, he or she may not be truly able to imagine what it would be like to live and work in an ancestral homeland. Furthermore, the child may also be unaware of specific information about his or her heritage, information that could be gathered either from existing family records or memories or from some library or Internet research.

This activity may be among the most challenging, and most fun, of any. Beside the obvious financial difficulties involved in putting a heritage trip together, there is the matter of planning an itinerary that somehow authentically relates to known aspects of the child’s family background. Where to go, what to see—these questions require choices and sometimes best guesses.

For children who may be refugees, or adopted, or whose families may have been brought to America by force (as slaves, say), the challenges are more profound and potentially more troubling. Clearly some destinations are simply out of bounds—war zones or prohibited travel zones—while others may only be approximations of a family’s place of origin; although more resources are becoming available for the study of genealogy of slave families, many lead only to regions and not to specific localities. For some adopted children, the question of heritage may touch on emotional vulnerabilities that may be better left alone until the child is older, in which case this activity should be ignored.

For those with limited resources or Native American ancestry, domestic travel is an answer. With Americans so mobile a people (families in this country move on the average of once every five years), it does not take long for many miles to accumulate between generations; few youngsters can tell you, much less have visited, where all their grandparents were born. A trip to one of these birthplaces, even if it just another town in the same state, will help connect the young person with his or her heritage in a way that mere words can never do.

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