Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Day 45 - Parent-Teacher Conferences

On Monday our family felt the time-stretching impact of having another child. Andrew had basketball practice, Isabelle had her very first band concert and Minjae had middle school conferences. Since this blog is about our experience with Minjae I won't say anything about the basketball practice or the concert (Isabelle played the flute, and she played it very well).

Stephanie went with Minjae to the conferences. Minjae is a very smart young man and there was not too much negative to say about his performance in school. Stephanie was concerned about one thing: Minjae doesn't seem to be getting challenged enough in math. When he does homework with his peers he completes the assignments much, much faster than they do. Unfortunately his teacher didn't really have anything to say that was real helpful regarding Minjae's situation. She encouraged him to show his work more and to try and get better at helping his peers understand the problems. We didn't like this because we feel the focus should be on Minjae should be getting more challenging problems, not on him improving his tutoring skills. We'd like to move him to 8th grade math but the middle school scheduling does not allow it to work with the St Dominic scheduling. This will be something for us to continue to monitor as the next months unfold.

In Minjae's other school work he is doing well. His English is good and he understands what is happening in class. He has made a few friends and seems to be recognizing more and more kids when we are out and around town. I am impressed with how warm and welcoming Northfield kids are. They are genuinely excited to see Minjae and they always ask how he is doing. At home we are working on developing and communicating clear expectations for Minjae (and our own kids) in terms of homework, book reading, and Ipad time. The KoAm people say that reading books is an important way for Minjae to develop his understanding and use of the English language so we need to make sure he is reading 30-45 minutes a day. This has been a good reminder for us that our own kids need to be spending intentional time reading each day also.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Day 44 - Volleyball and Korean Pizza

Minjae with a big serve.
On Sunday we had fun as a family at Isabelle's Parent vs. Player volleyball game at St. Dominic School. This is the school where Stephanie teaches and where all the kids attend classes. Minjae jumped into the action and played on the parents team. He said he had watched volleyball before but had never played. He did a good job.

Minjae and Stephanie warming up.
After the game Minjae was also able to enjoy his favorite food - pizza! While we were eating I asked Minjae if they had pizza like Domino's in Korea. I apologized in advance figuring it was a dumb question. He said they do. They even have Domino's and Pizza Hut (you can check of the websites here - Korean Domino's and Korean Pizza Hut). "Same flavor as this?" I asked. Yes he said, it tastes very much the same. I asked about the different Korean pizza varieties and all he said was they have a potato pizza at Domino's in Korea. After looking at the websites it looks like shrimp is another very popular pizza topping.

Isabelle (5th grade) and I after the game.
Andrew (3rd grade) getting ready for action.
Andrew always performing.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Day 38 - Me and Minjae's Little Talks (pt #1)

Minjae and I have our best talks while we are driving. Tonight I was shuttling the boys to and from basketball practice and I had Minjae along with me. Here's a few of the things we talked about...

- how long the US President is in office
- what the Korean leader is called (she is a President)
- whether or not people workout and exercise a lot in Korea
- the fact that Minjae's dad likes to exercise and to run
- how tall Minjae's dad is (smaller than me, probably about 5'9")
- how old you have to be to drive in Korea (18 I think)
- how old Minjae was when he started riding the public bus (around 10/11 years old...4th grade)
- how Minjae is "worried" about his sister and her studies because she goofs around a little too much
- how his sister may transition into a music focused middle school

Friday, October 16, 2015

Day 36 - Sever's Corn Maze

I was not able to make the trip due to work, but since Stephanie and the kids had the day off, and since the weather was nice, everyone went to Sever's Corn Maze. If you have never been here before it is a fantastic place to take your kids. There are all kinds of activities including an exotic animal petting zoo, a ginormous corn kernel pit, a jumping pillow, a corn maze and many other attractions. Everyone has a lot of fun. Stephanie said Minjae's favorite part was playing in the corn pit.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Day 34 - Bowling

Since the kids are off for MEA break Stephanie decided to take them to the Jesse James Lanes bowling alley. They had a lot of fun. Minjae started off throwing the ball very hard and kind of 'high' instead of rolling it. Stephanie said he really liked bowling (which he had never done before) and that he was sweaty and wanting to keep going by the time they were done. Sounds like its an event we'll have to do again!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Day 33 - Chopsticks and Caterpillars

The kids have been enjoying some of the food and snacks that Minjae's mom sent him. They have even tried using chop sticks. They were not real successful. The boys did like putting white rice in some dried seaweed wraps. I have noticed Minjae's enjoyment of American foods is decreasing a little bit. It is getting tougher to find things to put in his lunch box each day. Some things he is turning down now are cheese balls, apple sauce, licorice, pita chips, and fruit cups. I feel bad because I am sure he is hungry after school since he is not eating part of what I send in his bag. Truth be told, my kids send plenty of food back home too so it is not just Minjae.

On a separate note, Stephanie shot this picture of Minjae in the nursery at church last week. We were volunteering and couldn't find him until we discovered he was hiding out on this stretchy tunnel thing, napping with his head on the mat behind him. We called his name and he sat up and said, "Yes?" We all started laughing because he looked like a caterpillar inching across the floor. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Day 30 - The End of Baseball

One thing the boys and I really enjoy is the game of baseball. Both of my sons play and I am their coach. This year was the first year we played baseball during the fall. For the past six Sundays Jacob (12 years old) has played games at 12pm and 4pm in Northfield. Here are some pictures of him and a friend from the team. Last Sunday was his last set of games. It was a lot of fun but we're looking forward to having more free time on the weekend.

Minjae has been drug along to many of the games. Sometimes he walks around or throws a ball against the fence but mostly he just sits on the bleachers behind home plate and watches the game. This would be one of the hard parts about being an exchange student and having to go to all the host families activities. We spend a lot of time at sports and so Minjae spends a lot of time watching sports. He did enjoy the food at the field though. Especially the pulled pork BBQ sandwich from Uncle B's Last Chance BBQ. He also liked chewing on Big League chew bubblegum. My son Andrew was really glad he had someone to hang out with at the field.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Day 29 - Skype, Snacks and New Friends

I talked to Minjae's parents this morning on Skype. It was 9:30am here but 11pm in Korea. Minjae's parents were very kind and friendly. They thanked me for writing this blog. I am glad there is a way for them to follow along, as I can't imagine how hard it must be to have their son away from home for so long. I had to laugh as I saw Minjae's little sister in the background trying to get her head into the screen. That is exactly what my kids do when we use Skype.

Minjae got a box at post office today filled with Korean snacks. Tonight he shared with us and we munched on some banana flavored puffs. They were the same texture as Cheeto puffs but banana flavored. Andrew said he they are good!

Minjae went over to a classmate's house today. He and a couple other boys had a blast playing football, American football and just generally goofing around. They even did some middle school math homework. Minjae's friend's mom told me Minjae was whipping through the problems incredibly fast. All the boys were laughing when I picked them up because they had so much fun. So much fun, actually, that a window was broken by a football! Oops!!

During the car ride home I listened to Minjae's friend Ethan asking him about Korea.

- Do you have a pet? yes
- What is your dog's name? Choco
- What does that mean in English? umm nothing 
- How big is your town? i don't know
- Like Northfield or Minneapolis? like Minneapolis

Friday, October 9, 2015

Day 28 - Homecoming Football Game and Punt/Pass/Kick Contest

Friday night was the homecoming football game for Northfield High School. On the practice field before the game there was a Punt, Pass, and Kick competition. Minjae and Jacob both participated. In a PPK competition there are three events. You punt the ball, your pass the ball, and you kick the ball off a tee. Minjae was very good at kicking the ball off the tee. I think he kicked it furthest in his age group.

After the PPK competition we went to the head football coach's house for some pregame chili. Minjae got to meet to some new friends and try a new food. He said the chili was very good. I agree it was. Way to go Mrs. Sullivan! Yum!

After eating we went to watch the American football game. For the first quarter I was explaining to Minjae about football and how to understand the scoreboard. The stands were packed with people and so I also explained what it meant that everyone was there for 'homecoming.' I told Minjae it means "all the former students 'come home' to see there old friends and teachers." Speaking of friends, after the first quarter Minjae ran into some of his friends at the game and he left me to go and hang out with them. I thought it was neat that he was able to connect with other kids and have fun apart from our family.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Day 26 - Youth Group and Laughing Fits

Jacob and Minjae have been going to the Center Youth Group (part of CANVAS Church) for the last few weeks. They seem to be having a fun time. Last night they had root beer floats. Actually they were soda floats. A funny thing happened. Jacob told me Minjae was going to make a float but before he did the soda bottle he was going to use got shaken up. Minjae either didn't realize it or didn't know what would happen, because when he unscrewed the top of the bottle soda exploded all over the place. Both of the boys were laughing about it as they recounted the story to me.

It makes me laugh when the boys laugh together. Especially when Minjae gets laughing. He is usually pretty quiet but there are moments when something happens when he really starts laughing. A few nights ago Jacob said something about poop that literally had Minjae rolling around his bed laughing. And just yesterday I was downstairs reading when I heard the boys burst out about something in their bedroom.

It has been said friendship is something that cannot be forced and I agree with that. Therefore I am praying that our kids and Minjae would develop a friendship which would last much longer than our ten month hosting experience. I am hopeful that a cross-cultural bond will form and that they will be friends for a long, long time despite possibly living continents apart.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Day 23 - Household Role Reversal

Stephanie told me last week that she thinks Minjae has not quite figured me out yet. Ha! This isn't surprising; people I've known for years would probably say they haven't figured me out yet. Sometimes the confusion is because people can't tell when I am being serious or when I am joking. With Minjae I think it has more to do with my weird schedule and the role I play around the house.

At the Balvin house Stephanie and I flip a lot of the stereotypical roles. I don't really fix things or do house projects, Stephanie does that. I do more of the household chores like dishes, vacuuming and laundry. I also do a lot of food prep and cooking when Stephanie is busy at night.

Stephanie asked Minjae if he cooks at home. He said he does not. His mom does all the cooking he said. He also told us that his family eats out a lot. Stephanie then told Minjae, "Well, you better start cooking if you want something to eat around here!" Minjae laughed and thought that was pretty funny.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Day 22 - An International Friendship

It's been said that a dog is man's best friend, and apparently it is the kind of friendship that crosses international boundaries. 

Our dog Manny is a great dog and he and Minjae are becoming good pals. Minjae has always been kind and interested in the dog but I have noticed in the last week or so that he is playing with Manny much more. I hear him calling him, "Come here Manny." Minjae also likes to have Manny sit and shake.

On Saturday Minjae got a little taste of the negative of having a dog when I sent him and Jacob out into the back yard to pick up Manny's poops. Guess which kid did the most complaining about being given such a "crappy" (his words, lol) job? Hint...he is not Korean.....!!!

Yesterday I watched a pretty funny interaction between the two of them. Minjae was in the kitchen eating a salami sandwich (which he thought was pepperoni before I told him differently) and Manny was sitting on the floor right in front of him just waiting/praying for a crumb to drop on the ground. Minjae kept offering his hand for Manny to shake, and Manny kept "shaking" it hoping for a treat. I didn't want to interrupt the moment so I chucked to myself and walked away.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Day 21 - Minjae the Lumberjack

Tonight Izzy and her friends made a bonfire. Minjae had a great time throwing leaves into the fire. He never figured out how that made extra smoke. The boy next to him in the picture is Alex. He is an adopted boy who is also from Korea and lives down the street. Alex brought an axe from his house and he was teaching people how to split wood with it. Minjae must be a natural born lumberjack because he picked up the skills right away.

Before the fire Izzy, Josie and Minjae were all playing GaGa ball together. This is a popular kids game and it is an outdoor activity that Minjae enjoys.

Tonight Minjae told us his favorite food is pizza. Chips are a favorite snack food. He also likes to read Korea comic stories on his iPad.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Day 20 - Let's Get Wild MN Fans!

This morning a very generous friend offered us four tickets to the Minnesota Wild preseason game against the Buffalo Sabres. So, after school, Stephanie brought the boys up to Saint Paul and I met them at the Xcel Energy Centre for the game. It was a great time! The Wild dominated and won the game 6-1. They outshot Buffalo something like 45-10 and there was even a couple fights. It was a fantastic game to watch and an exciting introduction for Minjae to the sport of hockey.

Minjae asked me a couple of times "Why do they fight? Why do they let them fight?" It's funny, and it is actually a really good question. As a hockey player myself I understand how fighting fits into the context of the sport, but I can also understand how it seems so strange to someone who hasn't watched hockey before. Same goes for all the little hacks with the sticks and the grabbing each other every time someone goes near the goalie. 

Each of the boys got to have a snack at the game. Andrew chose ice cream, Jacob went for nachos with jalapeƱos, and Minjae got cheese curds. He dipped them in ketchup (all Balvins do!) and he seemed to really like them. He also liked the nachos Jake let him finish.

After the game Minjae said that he had fun and that he likes hockey. He was really into the game and he would stand up and clap when the Wild scored. I even caught him bobbing his head back and forth to the Wild goal song. 

One highlight of being at the game was getting our faces on the jumbo screen. I had two friends at the game text me that they saw us! I had contacted the Wild earlier today through Twitter and asked if they could do something special for Minjae. They obviously couldn't promise but they did ask where are seats were and told me they would try and get someone over there to get us on the screen. That was a pretty cool thing to do and fantastic follow-up by whoever runs their social media.

Another cool thing the Wild did was give Minjae and Andrew "First Game" certificates and pucks. I found this out after stopping a Wild guest services person and asking her if we could get a tour of the Wild locker room. She said couldn't do that but she gave us these cool certificates and pucks. I meant to only get one for Minjae, but Andrew jumped in right away and said it was his first Wild game also. What a neat thing the Wild are doing for the fans. I was so impressed with the entire experience.

The kids had a lot of fun. Andrew did a great job of staying still in his chair and I enjoyed hanging out with Jacob during the game. It was pretty cute to drive home late after the game and see Andrew asleep in the back seat with his head on the shoulder of his Korean brother. I don't know how he fell asleep to the sound of Jacob and I having a singing party but he managed somehow! :)