I feel like it’s safe to assume that travel is enticing for all of us – my Instagram feed of friends and their families abroad sure gets me dreaming of a lush locale far, far away. Beyond just the killer views, the parts of travel that intrigue me most are the people – how they live their lives both so different and so similar to my own.
Akeelah Kuraishi feels the same, and did what we wanderlusters could only dream of – she dropped it all and traveled the world with her husband for just about a year. And yes, it did change her life. As someone who grew up traveling, Akeelah imagined how impactful her trip would be, but never expected it to launch what would end up becoming her business and passion, Little Global Citizens.
After being immersed in so many unique cultures, she knew that the richness of global experience needed to be made more readily available to people who couldn’t just pick up and go across an ocean. So, she decided to bring the fullness of other cultures to families around the country through her children’s subscription box. It’s seriously the next best thing to being there! We sat down with Akeelah to talk all things travel, cross-cultural upbringings, and how on earth to survive a long (long, long) flight with the littles.
Name: Akeelah Kuraishi, Cofounder and CEO, Little Global Citizens
Location: Bradenton, FL
Education: Bachelors degree in English Literature from Nottingham University, United Kingdom
Children: Camilo Rane, 4, and Oliver Xander, 2.5
What was your first job and how did you land it?
My first full-time job was at a recruitment advertising agency in England. I saw it advertised in the newspaper, and, even though it wasn’t the glamorous advertising start I’d hoped for, advertising jobs in my hometown of Birmingham, England, were rather few and far between, so I applied. When I heard they’d given the job to someone else without even interviewing me, I got in my car, went to their office, and asked to speak with the hiring manager. My enthusiasm was appreciated as he interviewed me on the spot, and a few days later I got a call saying that they had changed their mind on their previous candidate and wanted to offer me the job. That sums up my boundless optimism, I guess!
You worked in advertising prior to launching Little Global Citizens. What drew you to that career field, and what did you learn from working in mega-corporations, like Buzzfeed?
With a degree in English literature, advertising seemed like a natural career choice for me; it seems so exciting and glamorous from the outside. While it definitely was exciting, the best part of my years in advertising was definitely the people that I met, learned from, and was mentored by as well as the colleagues that have become lifelong friends. It’s really all about the people!
What advice do you have for women looking to pursue a career in advertising?
A career in advertising can be fun, challenging, and rewarding. It’s a relationship-heavy industry and networking is key! So be ready to be social, interact with your colleagues and clients a lot, and go the extra mile. As with everything in life, be generous! Give your time, your expertise, your advice, your connections to other people, especially to those just starting out. Expect long hours and a grueling schedule often including evenings and weekends, but when that’s coupled with amazing colleagues, it gets balanced out!
You and your husband, Tim, spent 13 months traveling the world — and we are so jealous!! What inspired you to pick up everything and explore?
I’ve been fortunate to have traveled internationally quite a lot while I was a child; it’s something my parents believed would be the best gift to my brother and I, so they made it a priority. Tim and I share a passion for learning about other cultures, too, and the American vacation schedule of just two weeks per year wasn’t cutting it for us.
So one evening I sat down with Tim and laid on him my idea of quitting our jobs and backpacking around the world. He’s Mr. Pragmatic, so he had lots of initial concerns, but the excitement overtook us, and within two months we’d quit our jobs, rented our house out, and were headed to Beijing on a one-way ticket.
By seeing, experiencing the lifestyle of, and gaining an understanding of people around the world, we can see that they are not “other” – they are “us,” and we all need to be considerate of each other and make decisions that are good for the whole world, not just ourselves.
Which countries, people, or moments made the greatest impact on you? Any favorite stories to share?
Every country taught us something new and was so very special. We were shown such kindness by strangers everywhere. The countries where we went the furthest off the beaten path generally brought about the most challenging but fulfilling experiences.
One of our first fascinating experiences was in China, where we got jammed onto an insanely packed train for a 10-hour journey. There wasn’t more than an inch of breathing or standing space on the train for the whole time. We rotated and shared our seats with people who were crushed standing over us, and eventually discovered the one sole person who spoke a little English. This young man translated questions from the entire train car to us. The passengers had never met anyone from America or England and were so intrigued by the countries and our lifestyle.
It was so fun to connect with a packed train full of random strangers – we shared stories, some American snacks we still had (it was our first week abroad), and dollar bills (which everyone was fascinated to see), all courtesy of one translator and lots of hand gestures!
We had the amazing opportunity to enjoy Christmas in Senegal with a family. They were our Chicago friend’s family members and were so kind as to invite us not just to visit them, but to stay with them over Christmas week. We had such a unique Christmas there surrounded by friends from Chicago and our kind, welcoming, new Senegalese “family” and learning all about new customs at this magical time of year. We went to the market to procure a goat for Christmas lunch, spent 2 hours enjoying mass at their local church (all in French, which definitely put a strain on my vague memory of high school French!), and swapped gifts of traditional clothing.
It was such a phenomenal experience and inspired us to develop a Christmas Around the World box for Little Global Citizens in December so other families can enjoy learning about traditions from around the world!
Why do you believe it’s important to travel, both as an individual and a parent?
My favorite quote is, “When we know ourselves to be connected to others, acting compassionately is simply the natural thing to do,” by author R. M. Remen. It boils down why I think everyone should travel – adults and children. By seeing, experiencing the lifestyle of, and gaining an understanding of people around the world, we can see that they are not “other” – they are “us,” and we all need to be considerate of each other and make decisions that are good for the whole world, not just ourselves.
What adventures have you taken your kids on? What tips for traveling with children can you offer?
Internationally, we’ve taken our boys to Europe: England, Belgium, and Italy so far. My tips would be to just do it! It’ll be a long time before you think they’re the “perfect age to appreciate it!”
- Learn about your destination – A great way to get your child excited about a new country and get the most out of a trip is to learn about it together, so they feel comfortable and confident when they arrive. Read books about the country, research local greeting customs, learn some words in the local language, try out a recipe or two at home. Your little one will feel empowered and excited to test out greetings in a new language, and you’ll be amazed at how well received they’ll be by local people.
- While you’re there, meet local families – A great way to get a feel for a new place is through the “universal language of kids”! When we travel with our boys, we always find our way to local playgrounds so our sons can enjoy playing with local children and we can meet local parents. Parents all over the world bond over the common enjoyment of seeing their kids at play. It’s also a great way to meet people who know the area and learn the best child-friendly restaurants, sights, and activities from them.
- Please remember to chill out – Kids are often better with time changes, new foods, and unfamiliar places than we expect they’ll be. They feed off parents’ energy, so be as relaxed and positive about your new, unfamiliar surroundings, and they’ll follow suit.
Also, don’t pack every diaper or snack you need for the whole trip; they sell them in other countries, too!
You launched Little Global Citizens, a subscription box that introduces children to cultures around the world, last March. Where did the concept for this come from, and how did you make the idea a reality?
The idea had been percolating in some form or another in the years after our trip around the world. The experiences we had meeting and living with people really sunk in. Especially the fact that despite our differences, people are all so very similar in our desire for our children to be healthy, to grow and prosper and enjoy peace.
This was the clincher after having children of our own. We wanted them to know, respect, and feel compassion for others around the world that may appear different from us. We strongly believe instilling this awareness and understanding is key from a young age, and since traveling with toddlers can be…ahem, “challenging,” the idea for Little Global Citizens was born: we were going to bring the world to them!
I left my career in the advertising world and dove in headfirst. The rest is a work in progress, but we’ve been so buoyed by and grateful for the support of so many friends and family members and a new network we’ve met along the way.
What skills from your career in advertising helped in becoming an entrepreneur and small business owner? What about skills as a mom?
Apart from the basic understanding of business, marketing, sales, etc., I think the most important personal skills I learned are to do your research, be prepared (thanks Andy Wiedlin!), ask for what you want, and have nerves of steel!
And the mom skills of being able to juggle many things at a time and work on very little sleep have been pretty handy, too.
Tell us why you’re passionate about children experiencing different cultures. What other ways can parents introduce their kids to worldviews and experiences beyond their physical reach?
Learning about the world and the people in it is so very important for kids today as the world they’re growing up in is globalizing at an incredible rate. The people they go to school with and eventually work with will be from all corners of the globe, so feeling a kinship towards them is essential for a peaceful and happy world.
Plus, learning about other countries and traveling in them excites children. It inspires creative thinking as they consider different ways of living and being. It helps them gain perspective about their own place in this world, which in turn develops their sense of self and confidence. And perhaps most importantly, it helps foster their spirit of empathy and compassion for others as they put themselves in the shoes of other people. And, it’s SO MUCH FUN!
If you can’t/aren’t traveling with them, there are lots of ways that you can expose your little ones to other cultures:
- Visit restaurants of other cultures to taste the food, hear new languages, and see new clothing styles.
- Seek out places of worship (they often have celebratory festivals that are open to the public and a great way to experience something new). Learn as much as you can before you go so your child feels confident and ready to ask questions.
- Go to see art exhibits by artists from other cultures and research their home country before you go.
- Teach them another language; that opens up the world to them!
- Reading stories set in different countries, about different customs, and featuring children that look different from themselves is a great way to expand their horizons, teach them about different cultures, and help them become familiar with people and situations that are different from what they may see on a daily basis. Ask them to say unfamiliar names and places out loud and talk about what they like about the characters, pictures, places, etc.
- Expose your child to as many different cultures/customs as you can. Being deliberate about integrating other cultures into your regular activities, means that diversity becomes the “norm” for your child.
- We think that kids digest information about a new country when it’s presenting to them over an extended period and in a variety of formats, almost as a new subject matter gets introduced at school. That’s why in each of our boxes we explore one new country and we include a book to read and reread, give multiple crafts highlighting different points of cultural interest, some starter language skills, and multiple games/activities so kids can absorb information about a new country over a whole month or so.
You come from a culturally diverse background — your mother is Pakistani and your father is Scottish. How did your parents raise you to understand and appreciate the different cultures you’re a part of? Will you be implementing any of those tactics with your own children?
I didn’t really realize that my childhood was much different from any of my friends; my brother and I always straddled two cultures and assumed that it was the norm. We had the benefit of learning different ways of doing things and perceiving them; from overarching cultural concepts to things like food, games, festivals, etc. As my own boys grow, I’m sure we’ll find out own ways to blend cultures and traditions in our own unique way.
How do your children inspire you?
My little buddies inspire me to be a better person in so many ways. As I watch them grow and I think about the world around us, they have been the inspiration behind wanting to start a company that will have a positive impact on how their generation interacts with and feels towards people around the globe.
They also inspire me to go to bed earlier than I ever have done in my life.
How did you and Tim handle childcare with your first child? Did it change with your second?
After I had my first son, we were fortunate to have my Mum nearby to help, and we had the help of a wonderful, gentle, and kind nanny. I went straight back to work after my three months maternity leave and immediately traveled to a three-day conference my first week back at work. It was brutal! The lack of sleep, the terror of leaving my baby, and having to get straight back into “work mode”!
After my second son, I took 10 months off to stay home with them both. That was challenging, too, in a different way! Trying to entertain and keep a 19-month-old stimulated while nurturing a newborn is an art form in itself. I have many friends who did a better job than I did. I survived on coffee, visits from my Mum, nightshift help from my husband, and the support of other moms in my local and social network.
Did your perspective on motherhood change once you became a mom?
I had no idea that being “a mom” was such an all-encompassing identity, and that it’s entry into a secret club, where, if you’re lucky (as I definitely am) despite all of the physical and emotional challenges that come with motherhood, you enter into this amazing supportive, private space where women support women and share more than they ever imagined they would together.
And I now understand why my own mother calls me “her little heart.”
When it comes to motherhood, what are you most confident in? Insecure about?
Yarph, this is a tough one! I’m most confident in the fact that I’m learning something new every day and that my boys will keep me on my toes forever!
I’m insecure about so much of parenting – am I doing it right, am I doing enough for them/too much for them, will I ever do it right, what IS doing it right?? But I am confident that I’ve made some of my strongest relationships with other mothers as we try to learn together.
How do you and Tim divide parenting roles? Did that division change when your second child was born? How has your marriage evolved since becoming parents?
I’m very fortunate that Tim is Super Papa and a very hands-on dad. We have always divided everything down the middle (apart from the obvious parts that he can’t do!) and that continues to today with two boys. We definitely have fewer kitchen dance parties since becoming parents and grumble about lack of sleep a lot! But we have been married a loooong time and know nearly everything about each other, so that helps us through any tough parenting times.
Take us through your typical day.
- Get woken up by my little guy yelling at the top of his lungs that he wants to be lifted out of his crib.
- Breakfast, prepare lunches, and get the boys ready for school. My husband takes them to school, and I have a moment’s calm while the house is empty before getting started on work.
- Plan upcoming boxes, work with product vendors for new boxes, social media work, work with corporate and education partners on upcoming partnerships for 2019.
- More work.
- I sneak a workout in when I can or when I feel like it (eek). Sometimes it’s an hour bike-ride, which is great for clearing my head.
- Pick up my boys from school and take them out for some playtime before home, dinner, and bedtime routine.
- What happens after the kids are in bed is often unexciting but probably typical for many moms: a glass of wine, tidying, preparing for the next day, haranguing my husband about things I need him to do for the business, and maybe a facemask!
What’s next for you and Little Global Citizens?
We’re excited to be planning and sending out boxes about new countries to more and more families next year! We’re going to be including some countries that are under or misrepresented in mainstream media.
We’re working on a teacher’s version for next year – we get SO many requests from teachers and families that want their kids to learn about the world in schools. We’re working on some exciting partnerships that will come to fruition next year.
What’s the best piece of motherhood advice you’ve ever received?
Our sons go to a wonderful school and I’ve learned so much from their teachers about parenting and motherhood.
One that sticks in my mind is that you should let your kids know when you’ve made a mistake, explain what you did, ask for their forgiveness or acceptance, and tell them what you plan to do to improve next time. It shows respect to them, acknowledges that you make mistakes too, and sets a blueprint for how they can deal with their own mistakes.
I do it with my older son – I explain that I’m sorry I yelled, that I got mad and didn’t explain myself properly, ask does he accept my apology, and see if he has ideas of how we can improve the situation together? It’s been game-changing (though doesn’t always work perfectly, obviously!).
If you have to pick just one — what’s been your favorite moment from motherhood so far?
Can I pick two? Both from this week?
Every night I sing Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” to my younger son when I tuck him into bed. This week when I put him into his crib, he looked right into my eyes and he sang the song to me, word for word #heartmelt.
When I was snuggling my older son into bed this week, I asked him what I could do to be a better mama. He told me that I should learn how to “do fishing” (his favorite hobby!) and that he’d teach me, so I could be a better mama.
Akeelah Kuraishi is The Everymom…
Favorite Little Global Citizens box so far? I love them all! The Great Britain box was rather special to me as it’s about my home, but the experience of working with a Maasai warrior and a famous Kenyan food blogger on the content for the Kenya box made that so very special! And one of the vendors we worked with on the Thailand box wrote to me after seeing pictures of kids enjoying the box to tell me how much she appreciated kids in America learning about her country. That was heart-warming and what it’s all about – connecting people!
Best meal you’ve had abroad? Gado Gado from Ubud, Bali. It’s a vegan salad with tempeh and a ginger dressing. In Ubud, it’s so fresh, and, like everything in Bali, has flowers in its presentation. And they sell a health juice there called Jammu, packed with turmeric, ginger, and lemon. Zingy, and so fresh!
Next country on your travel bucket list? BHUTAN!! The country that measures it’s Gross Domestic Product in happiness! I want to go SO badly before tourism changes it too much! But definitely without the kids.
Must-have snack food? Veggie stix.
Kids show you wish you never had to watch again? B-L-I-P-P-I
Last book you read (yes, a board book counts!)? I’m currently re-reading George Orwell’s 1984. It seems particularly poignant right now. Oh, and Good Night Dump Truck every night!
Most embarrassing motherhood moment? Besides the obvious things like yelling at the kids and then realizing the car windows are open… I left my husband to pack our bag for the journey from Italy back to the U.S. last year and discovered that he’d packed only four diapers for two children for an 18-hour journey. And one of them got pooped in BEFORE we got on the plane. I had to beg the airline staff (lovely Lufthansa staff!) and other parents on the flight for extra diapers for the entire flight #parentingfail!