Global Travel: Teaching Americans to Think Outside of Themselves

7 continents. 40 countries. 500,000 alumni. More than 20,000 ambassadors traveling annually. That's what People to People is about.
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"What are you doing?" My daughter asks as she settles by my side. Our yellow couch -- faded and muted and softened by family -- pushes us together. I don't mind. Her hair, still wet from a shower, brushes against my arm. She reads over my shoulder.

"I'm working," I answer, turning the screen toward her.

She whisper-reads the headline, "An Australian adventure?" Her forehead and her eyebrows and her lips all ask the question. "That would be cool, when I'm older." She adds.

I'm about to nod, to carefully place her worries and her thoughts and her way -- that later is fine, and not now was written for her -- aside, to be handled another time.

But that's not the way I was raised, and that's not what I was working on that morning.

I was preparing to interview Holly Robinson Peete about her work with People to People.

Best known for her beloved roles as Judy Hoffs on 21 Jump Street, Vanessa Russell on Hangin' with Mr. Cooper, Dr. Malena Ellis on For Your Love and as one of the original co-hosts of the daytime talk show The Talk, Holly is now a children's literature author, mother of four and partner to People to People Student Ambassador Programs.

She's sending kids, the same age as my daughter, overseas.

I look at my girl, with her impossibly brown eyes that match my husband's in every way -- in depth and in kind and in caution -- and try to imagine sending her to another country. On a plane. By herself. Like my parents did.

My parents, a Russian émigré -- who crossed a border by starlight, illegally, carrying only a small backpack -- and an Israeli spitfire -- who at 4'10" served in the army, carried a gun and married that émigré -- traveled young, fast and fierce. When I was too young to travel, when I would've slowed them down, they left me with my grandparents, my Saba and Safta, for weeks at a time.

And they'd breathe.

They'd meet new people and try new foods and walk across new lands, learning and growing and changing with each unplanned, flip-flopped step.

When I was six years old, my parents fled what they knew and crossed yet another ocean and yet another time zone to start yet another life in the United States, leaving their parents -- two sets of Holocaust survivors -- watching.

And that's where my traveling began.

Barely a tween, they took me with them. I climbed the stairs at the Eiffel Tower, watched the change of guards in London and smelled the tulips in Amsterdam.

At sixteen, and later at twenty, I went by myself. No cellphone, no credit card, no Facebook.

And I love that about my parents.

I love that they told me that there's more out there, and that it needs to be breathed in. To think outside of myself. And that they trusted me to go for it. Always.

And I heard them.

I still hear them. When I strive for new opportunities, when I stretch outside of my comfort zone, when I go for the new instead of the known, I always hear their message.

When I talked to Holly about her own experiences traveling abroad at a young age, they were similar.

At sixteen, she went on a language immersion program in Switzerland.

And at nineteen, she lived in France for a year. By herself. In a studio. In a bad part of town. She learned to budget and to pay her bills on time and to call the plumber when something went wrong.

She learned to be there, to be present, to debate differently, to listen better, to be a better guest.

Holly says, "When you travel young, you're forced out of your own bubble. There is no your way or the highway. You become a better person."

And that's what People to People is about.

7 continents. 40 countries. 500,000 alumni. More than 20,000 ambassadors traveling annually.

I always hold two parenting stones in my HeartHands. In one, I want to hold my children close and to keep them safe, bubble wrapped. In that MotheringHand, I never want them to feel alone or lost or to know what it's like to run out of money, to not speak the language, to sleep on the beach.

But the other hand? The other hand is where I know that parenting in this way is a disservice to my children. In that hand, I want them to breathe, like my parents did, like I did, like Holly did.

In partnership with People to People, Holly is sending seven kids abroad this summer. Her own children -- Ryan, 15 and Robinson, 10 - are going to India and Australia.

Three children who were affected by Hurricane Sandy were gifted trips.

And right now, because Holly believes in traveling young and knows that we don't all have the resources to do so, Holly and People to People are running a contest for two more children -- like hers, like mine, like yours -- to go on a trip of a lifetime.

Knowing this, when I looked into my daughter's chocolate eyes that morning, I held both weights in my hands -- to keep her safe or to help her soar.

And then we, of course, started looking at the countries she could, she would, go to.

Because teaching our children to think big, travel far and blur lines is how we'll raise a globally-thinking generation that's ready to think outside of themselves and to take on the world, one flip-flopped step at a time, sans bubble wrap.

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