Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Day 17 - What Does American Pride Mean?

We were told that having an exchange student would give us the chance to see our own culture through different eyes. I think we had our first experience on this today. Stephanie is a teacher at Minjae's school and she sent me this picture of something Minjae turned in. He was supposed to write a response to this question, "What does American pride mean to you?" It is kind of hard to see so I will retype his response.

I think American pride is mean control the world. Because they can beat all the countries. Then they can make the war or control the other countries war. They use this power for wrong way but this make world cold war. If they use this power for good way the world will be peace.

Jaw dropping isn't it. So insightful. I forget sometimes what a great nation American is and the power we have in the world. I pray that our leaders continue to make decisions to try and better the world and to find peaceful solutions whenever possible. I am grateful for the men and women who serve our country in the military and who do what they can to use America's power for good. This is a great nation, I believe the greatest nation on earth, and we have a great responsibility to use our resources and blessings to help the less fortunate. Not in a global conquest kind of way, but in a way that recognizes and even celebrates the vast diversity of the world and makes it a better place for everyone.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Day 16 - Birthday Parties, iPads and the Blood Moon

Another weekend has come and gone. We had beautiful weather and this was probably the most relaxing weekend since Minjae has come. 

Today was a little bit busier than yesterday. We had church in the morning and Minjae went to first service with Stephanie and I. Then he helped out again in the nursery. We only had three babies so there wasn't too much to do. After church Jacob had a couple baseball games, Andrew had a birthday party at the Northfield Gymnastics Club, and our church (CANVAS Church) had it's 4 year birthday party. 

Minjae did not want to jump around the gymnastics club with the kids. He sat in the lobby instead. I asked him why he didn't jump and he said there were "too many little kids." I don't fully understand what happened. Maybe it was too loud or too crazy?? I'm not sure.

One thing I need to talk with Minjae about is how communion works at our church, to make sure he understands what it is and knows he is invited to participate. One cool thing that happened today was that Minjae got to see 10 people get baptized at the CANVAS birthday party. He told me he'd seen that before but I was glad he got to see it at our church.

Once we all came back home Jacob and Minjae both wanted to chill out a little bit so they grabbed iPads and plopped down on the couch. I think this is how Jacob and Minjae content. Ha! 

As everyone was winding down a neighbor stopped over and reminded us of the Lunar Eclipse/ Blood Moon happening tonight. Of course that meant everyone had to go outside to see it. Once they were out there a spontaneous game of GaGa Ball ensued in the cul-de-sac.

Minjae had a bunch of new foods today. For breakfast he had banana and chocolate chip pancakes. And for lunch he had a BBQ pulled pork sandwich.

We have started instituting some more jobs around the house. With the transition of Minjae coming it was an easy way to add some chores and change our family routines a little bit. All four kids are doing jobs on Saturday morning, and they each now have of a night of the week when they are responsible for the dishes. 

As Minjae's host family for nine months I am not simply his baby-sitter. I am taking on the role of father to some extent and he is taking the position of a son in our family. It is kind of a weird feeling trying to 'parent' Minjae. However, I'm look forward to seeing how this interaction continues to play out in the weeks and months to come.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Day 15 - Minjae Meets the Dunas Police

Just when you thought Minjae's time with us couldn't get any more exciting, I went ahead and let him experience what it is like when you get pulled over! Tonight I was making a run to Cub Foods to get some smoothie supplies. I took the back roads through Dundas because, as I told Andrew and Minjae, "they re less traffic, no stop lights and probably no cops." The part about the cops was supposed to be a joke. Not less than 5 minutes later as I turned left at a stop light the light went on behind me and I was pulled over. Andrew and Minjae couldn't believe it.

I knew why I was getting pulled over right away. My tabs are expired. I had a great conversation with the officer. When I told him I was getting smoothie supplies for my new Vitamin Blender he asked if I got it at the MN State Fair. He started laughing because he got one there too! He was telling me about all the great things you can make with it. It was a pretty hilarious situation all around.

Minjae said people don't get pulled over like this in Korea. He said the police give cars tickets for illegal parking and stuff. He told me they have cameras that take pictures of illegal turns, failure to stop and speeding, and that they just mail your ticket. He asked me what the 'tabs' are and then he asked me what the police do with the money when you buy new tabs. He said it didn't make sense. And I agree.

In other Minjae news tonight...

While all the other kids were gone with friends I introduced Minjae to the game Othello. This is a game I used to play at my grandpa and grandma's house. Minjae liked the game despite me beating him. He wanted to play three games. In the picture I told him to do a thumbs down sign. I asked if he knew what that meant and he did not. I explained what it means when you do a thumbs up or thumbs down. I'll have to keep my eyes open to see if he does it in the future.

Quick hits....
- Today I explained to Minjae what "motivation" means.
- Adam walked down to our house tonight and he and Minjae were hanging out in the yard and shooting hoops in the driveway.

Foods Minjae did not like...
- Cottage Cheese
- We found out last night that Minjae absolutely does not like peanut butter. Too salty he said. He revealed that during a game we were playing when everyone had to answer the question, "Share something that no one else knows about you." I'm glad I know that because I'v been putting PB&J sandwiches in cold lunches. Oops!

Day 14- Family Game Night

Our life has been so crazy for the last couple weeks that we haven't been able to spend a lot of time just being together as a family. Stephanie asked if we could have Family Game Night yesterday and I thought it was a great idea. We cooked frozen pizzas, played games, ate chicken wings, watched a movie and had Stephanie's yummy popcorn. It was a very relaxing and fun night!

For our game we decided to play Apples to Apples. We weren't sure how it would go, but it turned out being a great game for Minjae because it helped him learn many new American words and phrases. Occasionally he would ask, "What does this mean?" but most of the time he went right along with it. He even played so really good cards and had everyone laughing with his antics. He was a regular part of the family.

At some point during the game Stephanie looked at the green cards she had won and made a comment about how they described her perfectly. Everyone looked at their own cards and we all had a big laugh when we read our own green cards out loud. Here are the cards everyone had won.

Brenton/ Andrew





It was extremely funny reading the cards out loud.

The movie we watched was McFarland, USA. This is a fantastic movie starring Kevin Costner. The movie is based on the true story of a high school teacher and coach who moved to McFarland, CA for a job. While there he discovered a group of boys with amazing running talents. He develops them into championship runners, while simultaneously learning about their families and Spanish culture. The movie does a good job depicting a few of the tough choices the kids and families had to make, and it also shows how cool it is when people from different backgrounds and cultures learn to set aside differences and build relationships with one another. I really liked the movie and so did all of the kids.

We needed a chance to slow down and enjoy being the Balvins together. In this respect Family Game Night was a big success and I'm looking forward to the next one.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Day 13 - Pictures Before Bedtime

Last night when I went upstairs to pray with the kids this is what I saw. 

Minjae was scrolling throw his camera and showing Izzy and Andrew pictures of his trip last year to France and Italy. The kids were so happy to lay and listen to Minjae explain where he was and what each picture was showing. 

I keep going back to our orientation when Stephanie asked if she should hug Minjae. Our KoAm coordinator told us Koreans are not very 'touchy' until they feel comfortable around you. Looks to me like Minjae is very comfortable with us...well at least he is with Andrew. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Day 10 - Minjae Phone Home

Minjae called his parents on Monday night and they talked for awhile. It was only the second time he's called home. The first time was two days after arriving and he only spoke with them for a couple minutes. Stephanie and I were both surprised they didn't talk longer.

Tuesday night I asked Minjae if he had spoken to his sister and he said no. I asked if he thought she'd be at home digging through his stuff and he said no. Then I asked if she was home crying and missing him, that made him smile big and laugh and say no. Next I asked if he begged Nicole the KoAm coordinator during her visit to "please, please find me a new family" and he really laughed at that and said no.

We are learning to get used to how Minjae sounds when he speaks English. When he says the words "yes" and "no" it sounds kind of forceful. So I'll ask if he likes the dinner and he says "yes" and I am little taken back. Or I'll ask if he understands something and he says "yes" and I worry I may have offended him even though I don't think I have.

It is cool to hear Minjae talk to the kids when we are not around. Yesterday they were having a Nerf gun war and Andrew complained he only had 5 bullets. Then I heard Minjae saw, "Andrew I only have 4 bullets." His comprehension of English is very good.

Food things...
Last night I made grilled cheese and chicken stuffing. Minjae ate it plain at first. Then he saw the boys using ketchup (which they dip grilled cheese in) and Minjae put it on his stuffing. He was also dipping his second grilled cheese in Sriracha sauce, which I like to do also. Nicole warned us to watch out for Minjae being hungry because he may be embarrassed to ask for more food, but I have not seen this at all. Minjae gets his own seconds and last night he asked me to make him another sandwich.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Day 9 - Coordinator Visit day

On Monday night our KoAm Coordinator Nicole came to see how Minjae was adjusting to life with the Balvins. She also wanted to do some goal setting with him.  I guess, while Stephanie was meeting with her, all the kids were having a Nerf gun war outside until Nicole and Stephanie made them all stop for a picture.  Minjae looks so happy in this pic. 

The other two Korean boys in the picture are Adam and Alex. They are adopted and live in our cul-de-sac. The younger one in the red shirt likes to bake and he delivered us this amazing apple pie a few days after Minjae arrived. Let me know if you want to order one and he'll make one for you as well.

We got some great feedback from Nicole. She told us that Minjae feels well cared for and is happy with us.  He's not sure if he likes school yet, so he's still deciding (typical 7th grader).  He likes our food, and thinks the kids are funny.  He mentioned that Izzy is very kind to him. I am so thankful for how well this situation is going. As you can tell from the picture Andrew has absolutely no problem breaking through cultural barriers and making friends! 

Minjae is now working on deciding which after-school activities he would like to participate in. This is a requirement for his exchange program. When I came home from work yesterday he was shooting hoops outside so maybe he will join the St Dominic basketball team. Minjae likes to really think through his answers so he wasn't able to commit to anything while Nicole was there. We'll see in the next few days what he decides.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Day 8 - Wedding Weekend

It has been an unbelievably busy week since Minjae arrived. It seems like so many days have gone by and like so much has happened. It it hard to believe he has only been with us for 9 days.

Yesterday we spent much of the day in Roseville celebrating my brother's wedding. On Friday I picked up some dress clothes for my boys and for Minjae but they didn't fit so we had to make an emergency stop at Kohl's on the way to the wedding. Jacob's shirt was fresh out of the package and he kept saying, "I look like a businessman dad!" All the kids looked so nice in their shirt and ties. Izzy had a beautiful dress.

It was a very special day for everyone. I'm thinking Minjae was a bit overwhelmed by it all. He met so many people at the wedding reception and he was friendly and gracious with all of them. I'm glad he got to experience a wedding while he is here, especially a wedding for someone so close to our family. I was the ceremony officiant and all my tears were a pretty good indicator of how much I love my brother. The reception was also a great way for Minjae to meet all of my family, so future gatherings will be more familiar for everyone. Minjae liked his steak dinner and liked being able to have as much pop as he wanted!

Minjae is definitely becoming more and more comfortable around us. He goes right into the cupboards at our house and grabs cups for drinks or little snacks. I had to laugh at the wedding reception dinner when I saw Minjae get up out of his seat to walk over and grabs the french fries and chicken strip off Andrew's plate. Andrew was more than happy to share. "You can have all of them!" he said.

One thing Minjae wasn't interested in was dancing at the wedding. Stephanie tried pulling him out onto the dance floor and the poor kid looked so uncomfortable that I walked back our table with him after one song. I'm glad he was there....it got me out of having to dance more!! :)

We stayed overnight at a hotel in Roseville and after the reception all the kids went swimming. Minjae is so kind to Andrew and he let Andrew use his googles in the poor. I felt bad this morning though because I don't think Minjae had enough covers last night at the hotel and he was cold. He slept for a long time though. I've noticed he does this. Maybe it's because he's teenager??

Today (Sunday) Minjae got drug around to the the baseball and soccer fields. All I could say was, "We do a lot of sports huh?" To which Minjae just smiled and half bowed. I did see him off to the side kicking around a soccer ball and throwing a baseball at the fence. He is doing such a great job fitting into our crazy life! I often hope he feels happy here with us. We are so busy and Minjae sometimes has to spend a lot of time just sitting around watching our activities. I'm excited to see how long it will be until he blends in, has his own activities and becomes less of an accessory to the action.

Food dislike....
Ravioli stuffed with mushroom and spinach
Wedding cake

Friday, September 18, 2015

Day 6 - Swimming at the YMCA and a Groom's Dinner

We knew that Minjae was joining the Balvin family during a very busy season of life but "oh man has it been nuts!" Beyond the regular Balvin business, things has been even crazier as we have dealt with our friend Shannon's accident. Going into this weekend nothing slows down.

On Saturday my little brother Jeff is getting married. I am so excited for him and I am especially honored because I will be officiating the wedding. Last night we had the groom's dinner. It was the first opportunity to Minjae to meet my family. Everything went smoothly. My favorite part was watching my Latino brother-in-law use his secondary English skills to communicate with Minjae. :) A Guatemalan and a Korean talking in English at an American groom's dinner. It was awesome!!

Minjae also got to experience American shopping with a Mom and daughter looking for the "perfect dress." Sounds like it was quite an experience. Minjae had more fun watching Andrew and a stranger repeating nodding and saying hi to one another. Andrew continues to be the show-man.

Before shopping yesterday Stephanie took the kids to the YMCA pool in Northfield. The kids thought Minjae's spandex shorts were a bit strange for a swim suit. They had a great time swimming and playing together.

Food Updates
Minjae has been a great eater. I can't imagine how hard it would be to transition into another culture's cuisine like he has. Almost everything we have given him he has liked. Last night at my brother's grooms dinner Minjae really liked the bull bites, pieces of seasoned steak. He has found a couple foods he did not like: flaming hot Cheetos and a granola bar. In both cases he said they were too salty.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Day 5 - First Time at Youth Group

Tonight Jacob and Minjae went to Center Youth Group for the first time. This is the student ministries for CANVAS Church students in grades 6-12. Holy cow.....I can't believe Jacob is old enough for youth group!!!!

When I went to pick them up they were having fun playing 4-Square. Of course I jumped right in and played a few rounds myself. Jacob had so much fun and when we got home I heard him say to himself, "That was awesome. I am going every week!" I didn't say anything but I was secretly very happy to hear that. I asked Minjae if he enjoyed it and he said yes. He also said he really liked playing 4-Square and that he had never played before. Minjae showed me his Bible on the way to the church and it is really cool because it had Korean on one side and English on the other. I am thankful we have a student who goes to church and can be a friend for Jacob there.

Before youth group I was able to help Minjae with a couple math problems. I was also able to explain a few English words in his textbook. Minjae is a very smart kid and a very kind kid. I am very happy to him as a part of our family.

New foods today...
*BLT sandwiches

New things he learned...
* Stephanie taught him what a wedgie is
* Learned English math expressions for 'times' and 'divided by'

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Day 2 - Church, Baseball, Parade and Target

If you are from Northfield then you know what a chaotic weekend the Defeat of Jesse James Days is. If you are not from Northfield (or you live in a hole in the ground) then let me tell you it is four days of craziness and mayhem capped by a two hour long parade Sunday afternoon that runs from the high school all the way through downtown. I love DJJD and I am happy that Minjae was able to come and participate in some of the festivities.

This morning was Back to School Sunday at Canvas Church. I knew the boys were going to get super cool CANVAS KIDS flat bill hats and I was excited for Minjae to experience our church. Our KoAm coordinator told us about 50% of the kids who come through the KoAm program are Christians and the other half are Buddhist or Confucianist or agnostic/atheist. I was happy to see that Minjae grabbed a NIV from his suitcase and had it with him in the car on the way to church. He and my boys had fun during kids' church time and Andrew and Minjae had lots of fun playing ping pong in between services. I think Minjae was a little confused because the ping pong "table" is actually just a piece of wood with a net stretched across instead of an regular ping pong table. He told Stephanie ping pong is 'different' in Korea than here. It is clear that we need to get a table for our basement! So if you have one you want to donate, HIT ME UP!!

After church Stephanie took the boys home to eat and then to Jacob's fall league baseball game. We learned at lunch that Minjae is a big fan of hot dogs. He ate three of them. I don't think he watched much baseball because Andrew kept dragging him all around the baseball complex to do other stuff. He did ask if it was Little League and he threw the ball at the fence a few times. We didn't get the impression that baseball was something he was very into at home though. Stephanie had to give him some pointers on how to throw the ball.

After Jacob's first baseball game (games at 12:00 and 4:00pm) it was off to the DJJD parade. The plan was to watch from the side of the road but somehow Stephanie, Andrew and Minjae got roped into walking with the St. Dominic's School float. Stephanie asked what he thought about the parade and he said it was "Cool." Then Stephanie asked if it was weird and Minjae said, "Yep!"

Tomorrow life settles into a little more of a routine with the beginning of school. Minjae needed some supplies so they went to Target. Andrew and Minjae had a ton of fun playing with the Halloween costume stuff. They especially liked putting on all the masks. Andrew is having an absolute blast showing Minjae around....or should I say...dragging Minjae around.

We were told by our KoAm coordinator that Koreans can sometimes seem a bit rude until they feel comfortable around you. She said not to expect much physical contact. However in just two days Minjae has been very friendly. He gives Andrew little pats on the head and doesn't seem too bothered by Andrew grabbing his arms to getting up in his space. Today in the church nursery Minjae even picked up a crying baby and carried him over to me.

I am most impressed with how Minjae is getting along with Andrew. Andrew is SO high energy and he's loud and he is always busy, but Minjae has been very patient with him. Stephanie asked Minjae if his little cousin was as wild as Andrew and Minjae said, "No, he is too afraid of his father!" I don't know what that says about me!

Minjae said the strangest thing so far about being here is how 'short' the houses are. He was also surprised to learn that only one family lives in each house. He is used to seeing towering apparent and condo complexities. He told us he lives in an apartment on the 17th floor of a 24 story building.

Oh, I don't want to forget this. We got this text from our Pastor today...
Tiffany asked me if I saw that you guys had gotten a foreign exchange student and I said that I hadn't. Noah [their 3rd grade son] was listening and said..."wait, the Balvins got a foreign exchange student? So do they not have Izzy anymore???" We died laughing. 
 That is super funny.

Minjae didn't eat anything today that he didn't seem to like.
- Honey Nut Cheerios
- Hot dogs
- Jack's frozen pizza
- Steamed broccoli
- Minjae loves Sriracha hot sauce!!!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Day 1 - Orientation, Airport, Defeat of Jesse James Days

Wow, what a whirlwind of a day. Today we went from a family of 5 to a family of 6.

There has been so much anticipation about Minjae coming to stay with us. I'll have to blog the back story another time. Actually blogging this whole thing just kind of came to me as an idea recently so I haven't been able to completely map it out, but I didn't want to wait to long to begin documenting this. My memory stinks and I don't want to lose any of this experience.

This morning we had orientation at the local KoAm coordinator's house. There was so much information and the boys couldn't focus at all because they were so excited to get to the airport. The KoAm (Korean American Education Alliance) people have been great and so far it seems like they have a really great program going. We rushed right from the orientation to the airport, with Stephanie frantically making lists about all we needed to still accomplish.

The boys waited with a sign for Minjae to arrive. Unfortunately Isabelle couldn't be there because she had her first fall league soccer game today (they won 4-1 yeah!!).

We welcomed Minjae and it was super awkward at first. I couldn't imagine what was going through his mind. He had ridden 14 hours on a plane, was in a completely different world, and was about to leave the airport with people he'd never met or even talked to before. I understood his shyness and quiet in the car. There must have been so many feeling inside him.

Our family was starving so the very first place Minjae stepped down on MN soil was in the parking lot outside of a Chipotle! Yummy! He didn't seem to like the guacamole too much but he definitely liked the hot sauce and tortilla chips. After that we went shopping at Walmart for school supplies and a pair of jeans. He said the American Walmart looks a lot like the one in Korea.

After getting home and giving him a tour of the house we took off again for the Defeat of Jesse James Days bank raid reenactment. Hard to tell if he enjoyed the horses, gun shots and crowds but he said he liked it. Then we played some bingo, ate fried pickles which Minjae absolutely did not like (neither did our kids lol), and Andrew and Minjae rode the ferris wheel. Before we left downtown we watched a very cool juggling show on Division Street.

When we got home it was Mac and Cheese for dinner, which Minjae liked, and salt and vinegar chips which he did not. Somehow Andrew found out Minjae brought gifts for us so we opened those. They were such wonderful, thoughtful gifts. It was very nice of the family to send us some Korean things. I'll have to snap a few pictures of the presents.

After a long day Minjae was so happy to lay down in his bed. Our coordinator told us we needed to keep him up as long as possible so his body can start to readjust to the time change. His home in Korea is 12 hours ahead of us in Minnesota. The poor kid was exhausted and I'm hoping he is able to rest well tonight.

Minjae is already opening up and becoming more talkative, especially with Andrew. Andrew is so excited to have Minjae here and he is talking to him constantly. "Minjae come here..., Minjae how do you say...., Minjae do you like...." It is a complete bombardment of curiosity and love which seems to be ok with Minjae. I have caught him smiling a few times at Andrew's excitement and laughter. Jacob and Izzy are both excited too. I would say that Day #1 has been a great success.