October 16, 2013

Discombobulated Frenzy of Wonderful Snippets From Our Summer Exchange Experience

And now for a discombobulated frenzy of wonderful snippets from our summer exchange experience to wind down this series of posts:

Seize the moment. We had a four-week window of time with our most recent exchange student. Those weeks were action packed and memorable. (It essentially took us the remainder of the summer to recover from all the fun, but it was worth it!).

Lazy is not my thing, but I'm learning to go with the flow. As we neared the end of our recent exchange experience, and I once again asked our student what he wanted to do before he returned home, he said, "Have a lazy day." This was joined by cheers from my two kids. Chill mom. So I did.

The power of suggestion. I put a stack of board games on our kitchen counter and we worked (or played) our way through them throughout the summer. We played more board games and had more family game nights this past few months than any summer I can remember.

Soak up the simple things. The laughter. The wrestling. The music. The accent. The snickering of kids sharing taboo words in their respective languages. The visit to Voodoo Donuts and the pink box that was flattened and brought back to Spain as a souvenir.

Capture the moment. I planned to send our exchange student home with a photo book of memories, so I snapped pictures all summer long. Now I, too, have a vast collection of memorable photos. My favorites are the ones I took just to "capture the moment" or the space/place.

Food. There were so many foodie spots we wanted to take our exchange students to, and I realized how much of my being centers on food. When we hosted our student from Korea, we took her to the Asian grocery and then she cooked us a traditional family dish. Yum!

Ask. Talk. Listen. Many great conversations started with a probing question or cultural comparison. The classic, "Do you do this here/there?" kinds of questions. We covered politics, school, bedtimes, dating, shopping, guns/weapons, manners ("Is it rude to ask a woman her age here? "At home it's rude to keep your hands under the table during a meal"), routines and traditions ("We eat a big lunch and a small dinner, and our dinner is eaten much later at night"), and common foods (we learned about Spanish omelets, and we introduced meatloaf and cornbread).

Find out. We looked so many things up when our exchange student was visiting. If he asked a question and we didn't know the answer, we looked it up. We look things up during our ordinary life, too, but not quite as often. Now that my kids are older, I usually encourage them to look things up on their own. If they aren't motivated enough to find out, the learning opportunity tends to escape. Yes, it's good to encourage kids to do their own research, but it's also okay for parents to look things up to keep the interest level up and/or get the conversation going.

Realize that kids squabble. Get over it. Good luck. It drives me nuts when my kids bicker and argue.
However, I noticed that I didn't get as annoyed when my kids were involved in rivalries or spats with their exchange brother. I actually found it amusing. I didn't feel compelled to mediate or pontificate. I let them have at it, and if they tried to drag me into it, I gave the problem right back to them. Somehow it felt more about "them" and less about "me" and I could let them own the argument and the consequences. When wrestling got out of hand and resulted in minor injuries, I found myself saying, "Wow, it looks like someone got hurt." There were no lectures about settling down or reminders about the consequences of being physical. When arguing involved words and raised voices, I found myself chuckling about how much stronger my exchange student's accent was when he was mad, and I was intrigued with his sense of indignation. I had a sense of pride when my own kids stood up for one another (they really do care about each other), and I felt a sense of validation when they competed for our exchange student's attention (because that's what kids do). Somehow, I think this recent exchange experience made me more accepting of sibling rivalry. I'm trying to hang onto that vibe and stay out of the way, so my own two kids can learn to problem solve with each other.

It's nice to have friends in our home. It seems we entertain more frequently when we have an exchange student in town. Our local friends and family want to meet the student, and our home becomes a hub of activity. There was a stretch of about 14 days this past summer where there was at least one "extra" person sitting at our dinner table. Good times.

It's nice to have friends in other parts of the world. Some of our dearest friends live in Perth, Australia. We met them on a cobblestone path in Santorini, Greece about 20 years ago. Our families have traveled to each others' countries, and we have high hopes of meeting up again somewhere in the world. And, because of our exchange experiences, we now have friends in South Korea and Spain. I feel good that my kids are even more excited about traveling (and that at least one of them is thinking about the possibilities for her own exchange experiences in the future). Technology makes it easy for my kids to be in regular contact with both of their exchange siblings. I anticipate their relationships with these special people will continue to grow and develop into the future. Trips will be planned. Life events will be shared. A new generation of kids will be put onto airplanes someday to meet family in another country. The world will feel smaller and more interconnected because of a summer exchange that started back in 2013.

So how does this discussion (that I've carried on for weeks!) tie into my work and the themes of this blog? For starters, I've broadened my definition of literacy. My family's exchange experiences have enriched my cultural literacy and inspired my whole family to improve our Spanish language literacy. I've reflected on the experience and drawn connections that will inform my teaching, writing, and parenting. I've been inspired to write new stories and develop new classes so I can share my experiences and learnings with others. For me, that's what lifelong learning is all about: Immersing myself into new experiences, applying what I've learned to what I already do and know, and then circling back with others to share my insights and gain new perspectives. I welcome your perspectives any time!

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