Childhood Around the World: Part Three

Childhood Around the World is a three part series compiled by Edgar Debel as part of a recent internship. In this final instalment, Edgar speaks with his roommate Maribelle, from the Netherlands.

“My final interview I had was with Maribelle, who was born in the Netherlands in 1999, and who was one of my room-mates in Ireland. I wanted to ask her about her experiences of childhood specifically to see the cultural differences compared to Germany, which is so close geographically to the Netherlands, but of course still has its very unique culture, as well as to hear about her other experiences of childhood in other parts of the world, as she also lived in the United States for two years, when she was a child.

As we started talking, we saw that Maribelle also shared a lot of shows she watched with me and the other people I interviewed about their childhood, as she would also often watch Pokemon with her siblings, which just goes to show how big this show was in the early 2000 and what kind of grip it had on children and the media for children, as I wrote about the experiences of people born in 1991(Flavio), 1993(Me), 1996(Sophie) and 1999(Maribelle), all of different ages and all from different parts of the world, but still Pokemon and other anime is still something all of us share as a collective childhood memory, which often helps us to understand and identify with one another when we were talking about our childhoods, as everyone had different memories of this show and the games that accompanied it.

She would also often watch Barbie movies, and often her brother would watch them with her as well, who she said she suspects to have liked this movies very much, as he always watched them with her, which she says he never admitted as she says he believed this to be embarrassing, as these were movies primarily associated to girls. For children, who still figure out who or what they are it cane often be difficult to admit such a thing, as often it is perceived that only one gender should enjoy such a thing, as there are still a lot of stereotypes that are sadly a art of child education and socialization, which needs to be changed to show children that is completely normal to like things not typically associated with their gender, thus helping them to feel safe in what they like without feeling embarrassed to admit it.

Besides Pokemon and Barbie, Maribelle would come mostly into contact with shows from Disney, as she said that most of the time when she would watch TV, it would be Disney Channel, were she would watch Shows like Lizzy McGuire, a show about a Girl going to Middle school, with typical problems of teenage girls, like puberty, friends, socialization and love. This show had real actors in it, however she says that most of the time, if she would watch something, it was an animated show, which is actually similar to the other people I interviewed as well. I think, to a child, animation is much more attractive, as the medium allows for much more creativity and elements that would not be possible to this extent with live action, like many supernatural elements, which children often feel drawn to.

Of course shows with real live actors are interesting to children for different reasons, one of them being representation and relatability, which is why it is very important to show diversity in such programming, so that more children can relate to the characters and see themselves and their ethnicity represented in TV. One other big memory for her was watching the second Harry Potter movie, the chamber of secrets.

This was during the time she and her family lived in Pennsylvania in the US, where they would live for two years where she attended the first two years of school. Maribelle would beg her parents to see the movie, as they had study room with big windows, where they would always watch movies. She really wanted to see it, but her parents told her she could only see it, if she would not get scared by it when watching it. She promised and really did not show any fear while watching the movie, but would later have nightmares of the movie, which had some elements that could be very scary for little children, like the Basilisk, the huge snake at the end of the movie.

Maribelle spent some time living in the US as a child.

Fear, is of course a very strong emotion, which explains why memories of our childhoods who are linked to this feeling tend to stay with us for a long time. I think however that children seek these sorts of movies and experiences that scare them, as they see them as a way to test their limits and see what the can withstand, which I think is an important part of childhood development. Such experiences should therefore not be shunned, but rather we should let children have such experiences in a safe way, by watching these movies with them or providing context to these movies and experiences to them as I think adult guidance can help in giving children such an experience in a way that is still appropriate to their age. Interestingly, the Harry Potter movies have an even bigger connection to Maribelle,  as she  told me about a ritual, she and her friends have with the franchise, as they still to this day watch all of the movies together every year, thus making these movies not only a memory from her childhood bit also a way to socialise and have fun with her friends, thus collecting new fun memories from this franchise she encountered as a child. While these movie and show experiences where very similar to the experiences that the other people that were interviewed also had, music always seems to be different for every person I interviewed, the same going for Maribelle. One of the reasons is of course that local music in ones own language will rarely be played in other countries, making the memories linked to this music very specific to children of this particular country.

Maribelle for example would often listen to a band called K3, which was very popular at the time of her being a child in the Netherlands, as she said that everyone she knew would listen to their music(K3 (group), Wikipedia). Maribelle herself would often dance to this music, while she was at her grandmother’s house. Another band which she also listened to and which was very popular in the Netherlands specifically was the Dutch Pop band Ch!pz, who originated in Amsterdam, and who began their career in the year 2003. Most radio stations at the time in the Netherlands would actually not play this band, as many saw their lyrics and music as to childish, however they were able to become on of the best known bands in the Netherlands thanks to a promotion at the American children’s programming Fox Kids.

When she wanted to listen to music on her own, as like other children she would also listen to songs with their parents while driving, she used a CD- Player, which shows an evolution in technology compared to the last interview with Sophie, who was born three years prior and used a Walkman for such occasions, which again shows how fast technology moved at the time. As a child of the early 2000’s, Maribelle witnessed many changes in her early childhood, which I myself would witness as an early teen, and therefore of course see them differently. While my first interaction with video games was an old Game Boy Colour at my cousin’s house, hers was her own Game Boy Advance, which was the next generation of handheld consoles from Nintendo, right after the Game Boy Colour. She would also play Pokemon on this console, but one of the newer titles for the console, like Pokemon Ruby or Sapphire, not Pokemon Red, which was the Pokemon Game I fist came in contact with, which came out 4 years prior to these ones in Europe. YouTube also was a part of her childhood, which really became mainstream outside of the US only in the second half of the decade. This is of course different from the other people interviewed and me, who did not have this platform as children but only would learn about it in our teen years and therefore of course view it differently, as it was not as natural to us, as it had not been established when we were children. Maribelle also connects a lot of her memories about media to her family, as she told me about her dad who had a big portable video camera, he would often use to record different family events and other occasions, as she said that he would often go around and film people with his camera. She and her father also both had an iPod, him having the classic big one while Maribelle possessed the iPod nano. She remembers always trying to get his iPod, as it of course looked more impressive, as the big one had a screen, which the nano was lacking, while also having more space for songs on it, once again proving the importance our family has on the things we remember from out past.

Interestingly, as Maribelle was too young at the time, many political events that fall into her early lifetime, are not present as memories about actually witnessing the event, but about how she learned of these events later in life, such as 9/11 or the death of Princess Diana, for which she actually was too young to witness, as this was two years before her birth. While people like me or Flavio would experience these things first hand and therefore have our own memories about the event, it is very interesting to see how people think and feel about these events, who technically experienced them, but actually learned about them in a later period of their life. As topics in schools and the school material like books need a certain amount of time to adopt new topics, I did not have topics like 9/11 in my school education, while still experiencing it personally. Maribelle’s childhood therefore is interesting in the regard, that she does not remember the event while it was happening, like I did, but unlike me, she was actually able to learn about and discuss this topic in school, which of course gives a child much more context to what actually happened, then what we as children got, as by that time this event was to new to be completely understood and researched, like it had been when Maribelle was in school. Maribelle told me, she would learn about this event as early as primary school, as he said they were talking about it between the fifth or sixth grade, which in the Netherlands still counts as primary school, as it has sic years there, unlike places like Germany, where Primary school only goes up to Grade four. While she would not hear about Princess Diana’s Death in school, she still learned about it through her parents, who she said would often talk about big political events, that were happening in the world. This event would leave such an impact on her, that she would later research more about this topic on her own, as she was very interested in what had happened, which shows that children also can have an interest in political or historical events, even at a young age, which sometimes can be forgotten by adults. It is therefore very important that we provide children with age appropriate ways to learn about news in the world or their near environment, like children’s news television or other forms of media catered specifically to children, preferably in a digital format, as these can adapt news faster than print media, which also tends to not be used very much by children. Besides TV shows, YouTube channels would be the best way to implement such a thing, as it is not only digital, but a platform most children are familiar with and already use on a regular bases, thus making the barrier of entry very low.

On a family level, the biggest events Maribelle remembers were her move to the US, where she lived for two years and which I will talk about more soon as well as the wedding of her uncle. This wedding stood out to her, as it was when she was already back in the Netherlands, as she was 9 at the time, but her uncle did not marry in the Netherlands, nor did he marry in the US. Instead the marriage was held in Australia, which explains why this memory sticks out so much, as every child would remember flying around half the world into a completely different country and continent, which also looks completely different, to go to a family event. Visiting other places and meeting new people is always a great experience, especially when we are children, as it helps us to see new parts of the world and other cultures and get to know them, which helps us to become more excepting of one another and open to new things, as we learn early on, how colourful and different the world is if we go somewhere else.

Travelling to Australia had a huge influence on Maribelle as a child.

Living in the US for two years also affected Maribelles way of making friends, as she said due to her status it was always easy for her to make new friends, as when she was living in America she was seen as special, as she came from somewhere else and spoke a different language. This made the other children very interested in her, who would ask her many question, when they first met her. At this time it was hard for her to answer these questions, as she didn’t know much about English, so she could only answer in yes and no. Even so, she kept her special status and would make friends very easy in the short amount of time she was there. This would repeat when she came back from the US and started going to school in the Netherlands again, as now she was special as she had been in America, and therefore had experiences and stories from the US the other children were interested in.

Here of course it was much easier for her to answer the questions and get into contact with the other children, as unlike the US at the beginning she had no language barrier, which hindered communication. Like Sophie before, Maribelle also shares the sentiment that it was much easier to get to know new people and become friends, when she was a child. Looking at her memories of making friends as a child, it is easy to confirm these feeling of her. These memories are so important, as the show that things such as racism and xenophobia are learned mindsets, that often develop later in life. Children, as seen here, rarely ever scrutinise one another for such things, instead they are interested in people from different parts of the world and want to learn more about them and their culture. We as adults should look back at times like these and the children that are present now and take a page out of their book, when handling similar topics and learning about new people. We also should encourage children to keep this interest in new places and people, showing them that this is a great view of the world, that they possess, as this would help us to reduce hatred and racism in our world right now as well as for future generations and help our international communication, so that we might achieve a more peaceful future. Once again, we see how children possess abilities, that we as adults often all but forget about, which are elemental to our society and our future, showing once again how important children are for our life, be it now or in the future, and that is vital that we take children serious and give them the respect that they deserve.

Coming to a close: When I look back at my own memories and the memories of the people I interviewed, I see all the things we have in common, as I learned that there are many experiences all of us shared, like the media we consumed, which overlapped on many places, especially anime, or the games we played and what we played on, like Pokemon or Nintendo handhelds and home consoles. These shows we consumed are still available to a certain amount today, but the memories we and the atmosphere around them, as everyone was watching, talking and fantasizing about them can never be recreated and will always be unique to our childhoods. As technology has also moved on, the media which was new for us at the time, is also a thing of the past now and often unable to be obtained, making it also quite unique to our time as children. Of course, I also saw our differences, and the experiences which made out childhoods unique to ourselves and our countries, such as the music we consumed, our methods of socialization, like football in Brazil, which we learned from Flavio’s memories, our languages and many more things. I am glad that I got to do this project and meet and talk to all these people, as it has given me more insight about other parts of the world, has shown me how other children grew up when I was a child myself and how their childhood in the 90s and 2000s was different and special, yet still similar to mine in a way, which I think captures what makes us as humans so special, that we are each unique in culture, language and so much more but still similar to one another and share similar thoughts and feelings and so much more which is part of the human condition, which is why we should cherish these memories of our childhoods and share them with one another, so that we might understand each other more and grow as people.”

by Edgar Debel

We would like to thank Edgar for all his hard work in interviewing Flavio, Sophie and Maribelle, and for compiling these wonderful stories for us here at the Museum of Childhood.

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