Of couches and tchotchkes: pros and cons of hosting an exchange student

Exchange Student Hosting, www.manicmumbling.comAs I’ve mentioned, the term exchange student horror stories is one of the more frequent searches that brings people here. I’m still trying to figure this one out. Are you all considering hosting a student and wondering if it’s crazy? Maybe your own kid’s thinking about exchange, and you want ammunition to talk him out of it?

OR … are you creative industry types trolling for movie fodder?

Because if it’s that last one, I’ve got a great idea {call me}.

If it’s either of the former, I’ll warn you I’m biased. We’re preparing to welcome our sixth exchange student to town. Between Mike and me we’ve also been counselors to another five. Our oldest is going on exchange, and we’re actively hounding him to make good use of the tutorials we bought so he can coherently ask for directions to the bathroom once he gets to his host country later this summer.

Outside of Google searches, I’m asked every once in a while about the pros and cons of hosting exchange students. It’s hard to come up with a list. It’s kind of like quantifying the ups and downs of parenting, really. The downs of parenting are pretty straightforward. You don’t have to practice sleeping in ninety-minute spurts every night, or actively wear spit up on your shirt to know neither is especially your cup of tea. (more…)

Running tip #378: Know how to cope with event photos

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The one, halfway decent race photo ever.

I saw a post recently in a fitness-oriented social media group: a woman running, wearing a race bib. The photo was taken from a low angle, the watermark of an official race photographer in one corner.

I expected a “yay me!” message underneath instead of the anguish this woman poured out. She’d been proud of finishing her first 5k – until she opened the results email with the event photos. She hadn’t realized her thighs were that big. She didn’t remember feeling as awful as she looked. Heck, she appeared to barely be moving.

Rookie move, that: expecting too much from race pics. They’re bound to disappoint. I don’t know the woman, but I’m familiar with the feeling.

I always eagerly open the post race results email hoping to finally find a picture to commemorate all my hard work actually making it across the finish line. A memento. Particularly one that fits my running self-image: something of a cross between Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Cheetara from Thundercats. (more…)

World’s Very Best Book Club

books-1283866_1280Colin and I like to share books, or rather, he reads a ton, then foists stuff on me and demands I read it right away so we can talk about it.

He’s kind of a book bully.

Our book discussions go something like this:

“Did you read it?”

“Yeah, it was good.”

“You liked it?”

“Yes, you?”

“Um, hmm. Cool, huh?”

At which point he either is dying for me to read the next book in whatever series it is, and biting his tongue over some major plot point he doesn’t want to ruin, or on to some other author he’s then pushing on me to finish so we can have another provocative discussion.

It’s about a scintillating as my adult book group discussions. Significantly less wine. Better material. (more…)

A last day in Seoul, and a few weird and awesome things

FullSizeRender (22)This is Anne. Anne is an English teacher who was sitting next to Mike on the train last night and asked if he would be willing to proofread an assignment from one of her students. Mike obliged and thumbed through the work on her iPad, and the two struck up a conversation. She found out we’d be leaving Seoul soon, and wanted to give him a gift. The two made arrangements to meet at the Kintex conference center today, so she could bring it to him.

She’d told Mike about her desire to be a missionary, so we wondered if we were going to get a bible or something. Later Mike and I had a conversation about what we would do if she brought us a packet to smuggle on the plane. Or, like, a baby or something really weird – with a couple of tough guys to rough Mike up and “make him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”

This is where our conversations go, because we are marginally kind of awful people with weird senses of humor. And because no one in the US would go out of their way to bring a thank you present in return for editing someone’s homework, so we know better than to accept the simple fact we could be on the receiving end of a straight-up thank you. (more…)

Day … whatever … in Seoul: a little about the kindness of strangers

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Police officers in what Colin calls their “field-trip” grouping, watching a protest group of disabled vets across the street

Today on the way home from our conference, Mike and I stopped to watch a little drama unfold. There were several young police officers making clucking noises and beating bushes along the side of the road. A little crowd gathered with us. A mallard swooped overhead and landed in some tall grass beyond the sidewalk. One of the officers showed her a cardboard bucket, his fingers pinching the top closed. I could hear the noises from inside the bucket and hopefully the mother duck could as well.

Earlier, Colin had remarked how groups of police officers walking together in double lines on the sidewalks reminded him of first graders on field trips. I thought it was a little strange, too. Why is it that we see so many groups of what look like kids not much older than my sons, grouped together with fluorescent “police” vests, being led around as if in training, and not a lot of individual officers walking or cycling or driving around patrolling? (more…)

Seoul Day 7: Birthday Gangnam Style

IMG_6135If you’re looking for Days Five and Six to our Seoul Saga, you can stop. I didn’t do them. Our conference has started and those posts would have been about over air conditioned meeting rooms and trying to remember to exchange business cards with two hands.

Actually, the last two days were dedicated to a pre-conference. Today the bonafide conference started, and the opening ceremonies were more elaborate than I expected. Like, by a long shot. I guess when forty-some-thousand Rotarians get together in a room, it causes a stir. We heard from the UN Secretary General, and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (home country of our international president, K.R. Ravindran), and that of the Republic of Korea.IMG_6163

Today is also Jack’s birthday, and with an afternoon light on actual conference activities, we let him set the afternoon’s agenda. (more…)

Day four in Seoul: Adventure and its drawbacks

IMG_3440There have been times on trips like these when I remember the word “adventure” is actually a rather loaded term. Sometimes, it means more than a rip-roaring good time. Sometimes “adventure” means “what the hell just happened and how can we avoid it in the future?”

I’m going to tell you what just happened, but first you have to hear about the rest of our day. It was fabulous.

On Monday, when we’d visited Gyeongbokgun Palace and the Bukchon Hanok Village, we’d taken the short walk to see the Changdeokgung Palace, to find that it was closed on Mondays. Then yesterday, when we’d made it to the Seoul Tower, we’d planned to stop at the nearby Korean War Memorial, but it was a long day, and I actually forgot. So we decided we’d tick both those things off our list today. Neither is especially close to the other, so it would be a haul. (more…)

Day three in South Korea: Seoul scenery, skyline and shopping

IMG_5796It really doesn’t matter that we didn’t have to be anywhere this morning first thing. I was up at 5 am again anyway. This lack of sleep is going to catch up with me, I’m sure.

Today we took a really long ride on the subway to the center of of the city to visit Seoul Tower, the forested Namsan Park, and the surrounding neighborhood.

We disembarked from the train at Myeong-dong, which is worth mentioning only because I’m traveling with teenage boys as well as someone pretending to be. I really should have prepared myself for the onslaught of jokes pertaining to whether or not one can find Myeong-dong or the relative size of Myeong-dong compared to any other dong.

These people are a laugh-riot, I tell you. (more…)

Day two in South Korea: The DMZ and the Cheong-gye-cheon

IMG_5715Were it not for the unparalleled kindness of strangers here, we’d have missed out on our scheduled tour of Panmunjom and the DMZ I’d scheduled weeks ago, which would have been a huge shame. Jack wrote a blog yesterday alluding to that kindness (and has since said something about Koreans being the Canadians of Asia, which was as accurate as it was clever), and I’ll expand upon this morning’s adventures in a later blog. Otherwise, this entry would be way longer than necessary.

As far as the tour goes, I have to offer a shout out to Jen and Ted of Thrifty Nomads, who were a great resource, and whose advice I took in booking the same company, the Panmunjom Travel Center. There is no other way to visit the DMZ except through such a company. Those wanting to participate need to plan in advance. The tours do sell out, and even if they didn’t, all of those wanting to join the tour need to go through a multi-day vetting process beforehand. (more…)

One day in Seoul and we’re already having food issues

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I don’t know what any of this is, but we ate it.

At about 3 am, I woke up in a cold sweat wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into. This was after arriving in Seoul yesterday afternoon, finding our apartment (first time in an airbnb), and mustering enough energy to wander around our neighborhood to find some dinner.

The cool thing about airbnb is we were able to find a much less expensive lodging option than any of the area hotels Rotary International had blocked for this annual convention, and locations much closer (as in a difference of an hour commute or more) to the conference center, to boot.

One downside: no concierge. No one to recommend a restaurant where there might be an English speaking waiter to translate the menu. No one to give you a heads up that you’re not in a section of town that caters to tourists, and there won’t be any helpful subtitles in English on directional signage.

(more…)