March 17, 2017

Anu Sehgal | Famous Fridays

A doting mother to her boys, a business person, an avid practitioner of one’s culture/language, and an amazing chef, when Anu Sehgal decided to quit her corporate job and combine all her talents to benefit others,  The Culture Tree was born. True to its name The Culture Tree’s mission is to promote Indian culture through language, activities and events.

Anu hosts various events and South Asian language classes in the city for the kids and adults, and as an attendee of her last Holi event at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, I can vouch that she is here to make a difference. 
Let's here the rest from the Mompreneur herself!  

Anu with her two Sons, Nikhil (left) and Vikram (right)

1) Tell us about the concept behind The Culture Tree?

The Culture Tree is a product of a lot of love! I founded it in 2014, with an ambition to create a South Asian hub that would have cultural and educational programs and a community center, where kids and adults can learn and enjoy their Indian heritage and culture, while still maintaining a balance with their American identity. Our mission is to promote Indian culture in the New York City area. We engender cross-cultural awareness through language, activities and events. 
Currently, we host several Hindi/ Urdu Language classes across different levels, through which children have the opportunity to develop a deeper sense of curiosity about their language.
We also host events based on key holidays and festivals in India (Gandhi Jayanti, Holi, Diwali, Republic Day, Independence Day etc.). Our goal is to make these events educational and enriching, while still being extremely authentic and enjoyable for the kids. 

2) How and when did you think of starting it?

I grew up in India and moved to the US more than 20 years ago. After the move, I was starved for authentic Indian experiences and community and devoured anything that came my way: film festivals, exhibits, book readings etc.
Once I became a mother, the lack of quality and authentic Indian programs and classes became even more evident.  I am an active parent and believe an awareness of one’s heritage, culture and language is key for children to become self-aware and confident individuals. 
So I initially conceptualized a language program primarily for my two sons, within a couple weeks we had 13 kids enrolled in the program. At the time, I was working on launching my own food business and was spending most of my time on that. However, within a few months the program took off and needed more teachers and more attention. The Culture Tree continues to expand, though initially language was the primary focus, enriching cultural events and cooking classes, and building a sense of community are the current areas in which we are expanding. 
I take a lot of pride as most of the kids that started with the program 3 years ago are now in the advanced class. They can now converse in Hindi and also understand and write the script.

3) Where do you see The CultureTree in the next five years?

We want The Culture Tree to become a hub for any South Asian cultural and educational initiatives in the U.S. This year our emphasis is to focus on Museums and Schools to host our classes and events. Our first assignment this year was to host a Holi at CMOM ( ), this was a multi-sensorial event that made the festival come live in Manhattan!  Eventually, we would like to have a physical space, where all these activities will take place.

4) A message for Indian moms raising their kids globally?

It is critical to provide our children tools for managing multicultural exchange from a young age. These exchanges, don’t happen immediately, but have to be imbibed from a very young age. Language, dance, music, activities and general awareness of a culture and country is critical to creating the right foundation for these exchanges. Additionally, having the forum where the entire family can participate in this exchange makes the whole process very rich. Some of the grand parents have dropped their grand kids and told me that since the Hindi class, the grand kids have been talking to them more via phone and facetime. It is priceless to know that we are able to make these connections and form stronger bonds.
We also firmly believe that language is a gateway to cultural learning and acceptance. Something that is critical for South Asian kids born and raised in the US. 
Cultural awareness leads to confidence and pride, and is critical to strong, independent and confident kids.

5) The biggest challenge, faced by you as a mother?

For me the key challenge as a mother is the clash of cultural values that I grew up with (in India) vs. the ones I see in America. As a mother, I am always telling my kids about the values that I grew up with, I make an attempt to educate our students about these values as well.

6) Your biggest support system?

My biggest support system is the parents who understand the value of cultural awareness and knowing ones language. They are invested in the whole process of learning. They spread the word, prepare their kids and provide exceptional feedback. 

Thank you Anu for taking the time out and educating us about The Culture Tree. Wishing you lots of success for all your future events:)

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