How to Become a More Cultured & Giving Citizen of the World


Balboa Park in San Diego boasts many museums worth visiting, from the San Diego Art Museum to the Mingei International Museum. It is also home of the famous Old Globe Theatre, where I recently saw a delightful, new musical, “Sense and Sensibility.”

I wrote this for Paulina, the young woman who I reconnected with last spring, as I’m pretty sure she didn’t have the advantages I had as a kid in Queens.

(Note:  Paulina and I were featured in a new series on KPBS radio called, “First Person.” Click here to hear our interview, “A Dreamer Goes to College.”)

She didn’t go to the theater as a child as I often got to do in New York. In fact, she’s never been. There were no trips to the local art museum or planetarium, whereas I often visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Hayden Planetarium. Seeing the Nutcracker Suite at Christmastime wasn’t an option for her. Nor was she offered music appreciation in school or the opportunity to learn another language besides Spanish, which she already spoke at home.

But thanks to applying herself, Paulina’s attending a university in northern California.  And now, as she sets off to college, I made a list.  A list of things I think she should try to integrate into her life. I believe this will help her grow as an individual, sharpen her critical-thinking skills, her intellect, vocabulary and her overall well-being. Adapting this list–whether you do one item on the list or all–can help any young person become a more cultured, giving citizen of the world.

Take a look and feel free to add your own suggestions in the comment section.

  • Read the newspaper, including the Opinion Pages, which can expose you to other points of view and perspectives.
  • Read a classic novel, such as “Doctor Zhivago,” by Boris Pasternak; “Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Brontë, and “Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain.
  • Lose yourself in classical music—such as Bach, Beethoven and Schubert. Play it while studying or while relaxing on Sunday mornings.
  • Travel to another country: Study abroad is essential to expanding your horizons and thinking globally.
  • Attend the symphony or see a ballet or opera: Try to experience each at least once or twice.
  • Join a book club to encourage you to read a new book every month or two. If there isn’t a book club around, start one. It’s wonderful when a few people read the same book and then have a thoughtful discussion.
  • Take up a musical instrument, such as piano, flute, saxophone or even, recorder.
  • Study geography: Recently, one of the presidential candidates didn’t know where Aleppo was or even what it was. Explore a map of the globe, concentrating on one continent at a time.
  • Learn a foreign language: Learning a new language has so many added benefits, like boosting brain power, and comes in handy when visiting other countries.
  • Go to an art museum: Try to take a guided tour, one where you wear a headset and can listen and learn as you walk around the galleries.
  • See an independent film: Most people go to the movies to see a blockbuster adventure, but there are so many treasures to discover in small, low-budget films that are often smart and witty.  Consider seeing a foreign film, which can open your eyes to other cultures and customs and be quite enjoyable, to boot. But be prepared to read subtitles!
  • Attend a town hall meeting and engage in civil discourse: Libraries, museums, community centers and your local public media station often hold discussions around current events and issues. Find out what discussions are going on in your community and take part.
  • Become a member of your local zoo, aquarium or natural history museum. Not only will you be supporting an institution that educates and provides an up-close view of the world, you will be able to go as often as you want and that’s pretty cool.
  • Participate in the joy of giving and giving back: Help out at a food bank or tutoring young children in an after-school program. There are so many non-profits in need of a hand, so find one that interests you and see how you might help. Someday you will be able to help them financially and can do so with as little as $5 per month.  A high school valedictorian once said to his fellow students, many of whom were transitioning to higher education, don’t come back until you can give back to your community.  Good advice.
  • Every day, find something new, to help you become a more enlightened, articulate, kind impassioned soul. One who cares about the world and achieves great things, and you will make your mark on the world.  In other words, dance to your own tune and live life fully!


6 thoughts on “How to Become a More Cultured & Giving Citizen of the World

  1. What a gift you were to Paulina, your kindness and the books made such an impact, she sounds like a wonderful young lady. Best of all, she is coming to Davis. Such a great school, I am encouraging my daughter to look at it. I loved this interview. You speak just as I imagined. Gentle, lilting and very, very calm. I loved your list, it has everything I want my girls to do, although I will add town hall meetings and a membership to a local zoo or museum.
    I would say to Paulina what I tell my daughters everyday, “You hold your future in your hands, your education is your awareness. Be grateful, courteous, kind and strong”.

    • Thank you so much, MM. Seeing how Paulina has blossomed has meant so much to me. Today, I was perusing Facebook and noticed that she had posted some pictures of her visiting San Francisco. My heart skipped a beat when I noticed that among the photos were a few of her in an art museum. She’s already working on her list and it gladdens my heart, truly. This is me, beaming! 🙂

  2. Great advice, Monica, and like Robert, I enjoyed your interview. You have a calm, reassuring voice (and yes, I detected bits and pieces of your New York upbringing!). Paulina is blessed to have had your presence and encouragement during her formative years.

    I would add only two things to your list:
    1) Every day be mindful of your health. Walk outside (weather permitting). Learn a sport like golf that can be done alone or with others. Eat wisely. Get a decent night’s sleep. All the money in the world can’t buy good health!
    2) Remember to be thankful. Nobody gets anywhere without help, whether from others or from the Creator. A handwritten thank you note, an unexpected phone call, a “just because” gift — all mark a person as gracious and caring.

    Best of luck to Paulina as she embarks on one of life’s greatest adventures!!

    • Those are wonderful additions, Debbie. I never thought I’d live to say this, but it seems today’s youth aren’t learning or being exposed to the arts and thus gaining appreciation of these amazing cultural icons. This is my small nudge toward the beauty and grace of our culture. I feel good about one thing: when I initially told Paulina I was planning to do this, and listed for her some of the items, I thought her eyes might glaze over. But as soon as she arrived at school she contacted me and asked that I email her the list. It’s a start. 🙂

  3. Monica.

    What a super post.

    My comment to Paulina would be… No matter what you do always remember you’re as good as the best and better than the rest.

    I have that on a card on my desk here. I always read it when I don’t think I am not going to succeed at something.

    Now about you… Don’t you have a lovely speaking voice! So clear and concise. I always find when I hear people then meet them the two never match. The same in this case, I imagined you with perhaps a deeper voice. Your voice has what could be described as enjoyment in every syllable.

    • I wouldn’t call my speaking voice lovely, but I’ll take it coming from you. A deeper voice would be nice, but oh well. Thanks!

      By the way I like your statement for Paulina. Very helpful.

Comments are closed.