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How do young children cope with drastic cultural change?

Travel Forums General Talk How do young children cope with drastic cultural change?

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1. Posted by ghanasgirl (Budding Member 13 posts) 9y

Hi! I'm an English girl hoping to go to the Keta District in the Volta Region of Ghana in Jan 2008 with a charity group. I had an experience of a village such as the one i'll be visiting when i stumbled through a bush during a holiday three years ago to be met by 50 hungry, but grinning, children dressed in rags! I fell in love with this place and it's people and all but abandoned my four star holiday to spend everyday in the village. However my involvement was limited as, at the time i had my baby daughter with me and so we would return to our hotel to wash, toilet and eat.

The idea in Ghana is to live and work in a village with limited water, no toilet and limited choices of food. It's 3 hours to the mainland via a walk, boatride and drive. It will not be possible to get to the mainland often. I am planning on taking my four year old daughter with me and hope to stay for the minimum of 3 weeks to see what it is like. I have been told by the charity leader that he ensures that my daughter will be safe and that she will adapt to the conditions. However, despite being very familiar with the village life and it's people, it will be the first time he has lived in the village himself and so he cannot be absolutely certain of what i can expect for my child regarding living as the villagers do. Therefore, i'm writing to anyone with experience of taking a westernised child to a rural village ANYWHERE in the world to ask how children cope with change. I would also appreciate anyones views, opinions, tips, advice etc. Is there anyone who lives in or near a village who can tell me how my daughter would be made safe, comfortable and how she will be helped to adapt to the village lifestyle? Thanks for reading this! Hope to get lots of replies!!

2. Posted by Herr Bert (Moderator 1384 posts) 9y

Children tend be very flexible, because in their world they discover new things everyday. Going to Ghana would be just one of the new things. Friends of mine traveled to Indonesia last year with their daughter (then almost two), and they had great time.

There is a good book about traveling with little children, but it is in Dutch, and I have no idea if it has been translated or not. It by Wikke Peters, and called (in dutch) Koters en Kokosnoten (Little Kids and Cocosnuts), She has a blog, on which are the emailaddresses of the kids (now 2,5 and 8), maybe you could contact her directly, this way.

3. Posted by Eric19382 (Budding Member 24 posts) 9y

Herr Bert is right. I think children are awesome because fo their flexible mindsets; it's usually adults who would have the hardest time making the sort of radical cultural change you described.
Moreover, odds are if your daughter sees you're open to the new Ghanian lifestyle, she'll be open to it as well.

4. Posted by ghanasgirl (Budding Member 13 posts) 9y

Thanks a lot for the reassurances guys....this really helps me! x

5. Posted by john7buck (Respected Member 458 posts) 9y

Hi Ghanasgirl,

When I was seven years old, my parents moved myself, my brother (10) and sister (6) to a remote island in Micronesia in the South Pacific. We lived for a year on an island with no electricity, running water or plumbing. We went to the bathroom in the ocean or in buckets. We showered with well-water and got our drinking water from a chicken-poop covered roof (then boiled the bijeezes out of it). While most of the islanders lived in thatch huts, we lived in the islands' only tin house.

Basically, to answer your question, I think we turned out just fine. I think at that age kids pretty much just go with the flow. Though I was perhaps aware that we were doing something "abnormal" from the status quo of my friends at home, while I was there, I think I just thought life was pretty cool climbing trees, running around on the beach and playing with the other island kids.

That said, I think we went through some mildly tramatic experiences that still effect me today (I like to think in a good way). For example, we first arrived at this island at dusk, having traveled by boat for 3 days from the main island of Chuuk to the outer islands and Punlap. My mother was violently sea sick, so they decided to get us into the island that night, rather than spend another night on the big boat. So my parents boarded a little motor boat with three very young, and very blond children. When we touched down on the beach, the entire island had gathered to check us out. Keep in mind it is now dark as we exit the boat, and are mobbed by throngs of people who are touching our faces and feeling our hair. Though I look back now with fondness, I think it was a bit much for a 7 year old to handle. That night we spent our first night in the main "boathouse" with no light or real idea of where we were.

In the year we where there: my sister and I were nearly swept out to sea (saved by some local island boys), the family was whisked away in the middle of the night to take shelter in a monsoon shelter, I woke to find a 12 inch centipede crawling up my arm, I developed a stomach virus that caused green poop (sorry graphic) for my entire stay, we all had to be deloused before coming back to the States, and ultimately had to leave the island early because the Catholic priest was placing curses on the islanders and my parents felt we needed to speak to the Church.

Would I give back a second of that time: absolutely not. I love that I have that to look back on. I thank God that my parents had the cojones to take three small children to the group of islands my father had served 20 years prior in the Peace Corps.

Am I a bit deranged as a result? Well, I can't seem to want to stop traveling, primarily still in search of those unique moments I think. But if it makes you feel better, my brother and sister have barely left the country since that trip in 1983.

I can't speak to the saftey conditions in Africa, but I do think your child posesses a great ability to deal with cultural change. Probably better than you.

6. Posted by Emmalineau (Full Member 94 posts) 9y

Thats at incredible story John!! You should write a movie!

7. Posted by Mel. (Travel Guru 4567 posts) 9y

Hello Ghanasgirl

I have a 6 year old. I took her to Thailand, last year. She had no trouble at all with adapting. She did not even seem to care, if people were speaking a different language, to her. And the people of Thailand, gave her lots of attention, which she loved.

I think u may find, that in the village in Africa people will be very easy going, about the things children do. That will make life so much easier, for u. U wont have to constantly stop your child making noise, or a mess, which is what parents have to spend a lot of their energy doing, here in Europe.

As for toilets and the other comforts we are used to. I dont think it will take long, for your child to adjust. That is, if it takes any time, at all.

If u dont look African, it might be an idea, to get a book with pictures of Africans, to prepare your child. The more exposed they are to different people, the more accepting they are, when they encounter different people.

When do u go?
Be sure to come back here and say how it went. I am also interested in the travel experiences of people with children.


8. Posted by ghanasgirl (Budding Member 13 posts) 9y

Thanks for the advice Mel! I'll definately come on here again when i am a 'travelled unconventionally with child' veteran! There'll be a whole new generation of worrying mums by then and i hope i'll be able to return with reassurances!!

9. Posted by Buttfish (Respected Member 298 posts) 9y


I think your little girl will be fine. When I was little, I used to be sent to this village where my grandparents had a house in the summertime. After several years it was improved, but earlier on, we had no drinking water (had to get it from up the hill from this pump), and the toilet consisted of a very old, smelly, and dark outhouse made of to the pigs. Every night before bed, we had to strip down and change all our clothes, to keep the various bugs out of the house. I grew up in a city - complete with modern toilets, soap, normal sinks, whatnot. It was a bit of a change to retort to a kind of camping trip style of living in a sense, but I never noticed it.

I know it's a small example, but the point is kids want to have fun. As long as she feels she's safe (and as she'll be with you, she will), she'll find it just another new thing. And if you're worrying about the language or communication..I'm sure it could be an issue..but I wouldn't worry about it. Language doesn't matter, as long as you understand the game. Before I learned english (when we moved to Canada), I used to play with girls that lived next door, and we had lots of fun..despite the fact I couldn't utter any more than 'yes', 'no' and perhaps 'how are you?' (or something along those lines). I was seven then. My sister was four when she played with some Mexican kids when we went to Mexico once. Neither understood the other, but we could barely get them apart to go back home.

Travel is good for a person in general. The more they do so, the more worldly they become. You see different perspectives that bring better understanding - whether you're four or fourty. Mind you, four is better off...the older you get the whimpier you get!! I'm twenty-one now, and I'm already starting to get whimpy about ridiculous things!!

I hope it all works out with you! I hope you have a great experience and best of luck!!


10. Posted by Dani girl (Budding Member 49 posts) 9y


It's a really wonderful and brave thing that you want to do. So many people think that travelling is something they have to get out of your system before being sensible and settling down. But travelling to me is about constantly learning and being open to new ideas and learning about myself in the process. Your daughter will not only gain from the experience directly but also will gain indirectly from the way in which grow as a result of the experience. I grew up abroad...not in remote african village but i did go to international school and i think this massively influenced who i am today...all for the good..i hope! I would agree with whoever said that children can adapt incredibly well as long as they know they have love and comfort of their parents close.

Good luck with everything!