Friday, November 30, 2012

Mid-Term Evaluations Today

Well, today was the mid-term progress test in Bahasa Indonesia. Yesterday we had a listening lab exercise which went OK, but not perfect. Then today started with a speaking test that lasted about an hour. It included general conversation, then make a presentation/role play, and finished with interviewing one person in Indonesian about a topic and then relating the question and answer in English to another. High stress, and while I mispronounced a word or two and felt like I could have done better, I didn't throw up and fall off my chair. What does your first formal test in front of professional language instructors in an unfamiliar language feel like? This unfortunate video captures the feeling exactly:

By the way, his day job is bread seller, and "ding dong dang deng" sounds like Indonesian but those aren't real words. After the trainwreck, he asks for comments. They try to be nice, but it is hard. Then on his way out the host asks him to come back and counts 1, 2, 3... and we're off. Represent, 12582! Represent, my brother.

They said I was meeting expectations for speaking at this time. So, while I might get assigned to the short bus because of this, it won't be the shortest bus. Hooray! The reading went much better, or so I have convinced myself.

Selamat akhir minggu (happy weekend)!


Sunday, November 25, 2012

They Also Serve Who Conjugate Verbs...

Well, it's been since shortly after A-100 ended that I wrote a post. What's been happening since then? Bahasa Indonesia, that's what. And not just "where's the bathroom?" kind of Indonesian, but the "what did the Prime Minister of Japan just say about China's latest actions in the South China Sea?" kind.

The days go by slowly, but the months are rushing by. Here is a typical day in language class:

Ride to Work- on the bus to FSI to begin the day, small cup of coffee from the apartment;

Hour 1- into the language lab for an hour of listening practice, including BBC Indonesia, fill in the blanks from instructors, and soaps from Mivo.

Hours 2-3- Two hours of intensive speaking practice. Usually 15-20 new words introduced. 2nd cup of coffee, usually Starbucks Sumatra (yay Indonesia!).


Hours 4-5- Two hours of intensive reading practice. 15-20 more words introduced. Diet soda also introduced.

HOME for 1-1.5 hour nap.

HOMEWORK 1.5-2.5 hours.



We have learned that if we work hard we will be able to put 15-20 words in the recognition (I know it when I see it) circle, and only 5-7 of those in the production (I can come up with it on my own) circle. With 40-50 new words a day, you can see that task #1 is avoiding the soul-crushing feeling of inadequacy as words flow by and you can't even remember them the next day.

I used to always be aware of the day and date. To make sure I am following the schedule, I still keep track of the day. But the date is irrelevant for the most part, so that part of my brain has been reformatted to contain the difference between masalah- problem and kesulitan-difficulty. Now, our classrooms don't look like the picture above. There are hexagonal tables, smart boards and the ability to play videos and be very interactive. But you know what? At the end of the day there really isn't any way to avoid just memorizing a truckload of words and grammar. Pimsleur Method, Rosetta Stone, subliminal tapes, all those just get you started. Between you and graduation is 7-8 hours a day at the coalface, plugging away.

It is getting better. I think I am doing OK, though progress tests this week will tell me if I am sniffing glue on that one. But it ain't because I am great at language. It is because I am reasonably intelligent. motivated by a desire to do well, and required to spend a long time on one thing. If I practiced free throws 7-8 hours a day I still wouldn't be NBA-caliber, but I would improve a lot.

And yet... I have begun to actually think in Indonesian. This is a huge step from translation, and to be celebrated. When I can dream in the language, it will get even better. Finally I will be able to tell a joke on myself in Indonesian, and then I will be on my way.

Terima kasih for reading, and sampai nanti- until later.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Hey, Sailor...

Hey sailor, you need a date?

Language classes are intense. At FSI you can tell who the language class students are because they've ditched the suit, are toting backpacks and have a look of dread about them- probably most noticeable on their "presentation" day. It's not a fun part of the training, apparently. I wish Sean had the time or desire to write a post about it- maybe soon?

Since September I've had to revert to extreme measures in order to get Sean's attention or lure him away from his Bahasa Indonesia books but last weekend our computer decided to burn its guts out, which meant Sean had to leave his brain cave (computer corner) at some point. We had to take it into someone to fix but we sort of knew it was going to be bad news, which is really sad because that computer wasn't old at all, but most concerning to us was the amount of IMPORTANT stuff we had saved on that one. Would it all be lost? We had tons of files that are important plus pictures of our youngest son's birth family (we are very fortunate to have such a thing) and the videos. We saved several videos of him with his birth mom. The thought of losing all of that is unthinkable to us! I have those saved on my laptop as well but each copy lost is one less copy and that's not cool with me. Anyway, we dropped off the dusty CPU at the geek squad (whatever) where we learned that the CPU motor had burned out.   We were like..."Oh, that's why the computer was making that weird electric-ish burn smell last night." Then our guy directed us to buy a case for the hard drive- which worked great! This allowed us to retrieve all those precious videos and photos. But- the bad news was we needed to buy a new computer, the whole thing. Shopping had to be done, asap! Homework assignments were on hold without that computer.

 So, there was my chance for a date! My suami (pronounced Swah- meee /meaning husband in B. Indonesia) had finally gotten out of the house and was breathing real air - and that was all it took, he had broken free from book prison.

Here's where we went..
Old Town Alexandria, Va

Old Town is a beautiful old colonial neighborhood with all kinds of shops and interesting things to see.

This is the Torpedo Factory Art Center which is this beyond cool art palace. Imagine a place that was once an actual torpedo factory, filled with galleries and actual artist's studios and classrooms. It's a very friendly place- it's just amazing! Some of the artists are literally in there- like actually sitting there creating things and they say stuff like- "Welcome, hello!" as you walk into their space. It's incredible. The word incredible doesn't quite cut it... it's just so COOL- you gotta go see it and experience it for yourself.

This picture is of artist Kathy Beynette  (I really enjoy her stuff) who was there on the day we went. The Torpedo Factory is at the very end of Route 7, can't miss it if you drive all the way through Old Town Alexandria.

Behind the Torpedo Factory is a little boat dock and restaurant nook. It's just very quaint and has a great feel to it all. As you can see in the picture, we weren't the only couple taking a break. Looks like she caught her a sailor looking for a date, too!

There were beautiful boats of all types, cafes and street musicians, too. I happen to LOVE street musicians! Our favorite one here was this Asian guy, wearing a Russian fur hat as he blasted out a tune on his bagpipes. What more could you want? If you look closely through the red doors you can see him outside- sans the hat.

I would highly recommend spending a day visiting Old Town. It will take you back in time, sort of... I mean, it's hard to do that when there are so many modern things around, but it has maintained it's charm, that's for sure.

This is O'Connell's where we had a little refreshment break. Then we stepped out to stroll up and down the street a bit before we happened upon this crazy awesome ice cream place called Pop's Old Fashioned Ice Cream. Loved the ice cream place, we just loved it!

 Can I just say how incredibly different our little adventures are here in the DC area compared to life back on the Tx/Mx border? It's hard to explain just how much our world has changed in the last four months, since leaving Laredo. This is a picture of our old favorite date place- La Posada Hotel, where we would sit outside on this patio to enjoy a margarita and a plate of panchos!

If anyone is close to the Tx/Mx border and misses a chance to enjoy this little spot I sure do feel sorry for them. This place is a treat and should enjoyed regularly. This patio is just out the back doors of the Zaragoza Grill- in case you are wondering :)

And, if Old Town isn't your thing, then I would recommend a visit to Great Falls National Park. We basically went the opposite direction from Old Town, up the George Washington Pkwy and found our way from there. We got there a few weeks too late to see the trees changing, that would have been beautiful but even as it was, we enjoyed being anything other than studying.  

Add caption
Okay, for an idea of the size/scale of these falls and rocks look upward on the left, you'll see a man wearing bright colors standing on a rock. He's a kayaking instructor standing there in order to help a class of newbies make through this maze of terror. Fun to watch from Lookout #2. 

He made it! Whew, that was a lot of work!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Lesson On Resiliency and a Parent's Nightmare- Part 2

A Lesson On Resiliency and a Parent's Nightmare.... Part 2

As it so happens, and totally by accident I came across this little gem at a dusty thrift store a week before the seminar I mentioned in Part One.

 Mexican High by Liza Monroy - Random House

 Those who really know me would agree that I'm often moved by books. I've been known to have deep pangs of conscience that cause me to want to change the whole landscape of my life after reading an eye opening book or two. Well, Mexican High falls into that category.

It is a fiction based on the real experiences of a US diplomat's daughter who moves to Mexico City during her senior year and begins honing her skills as a writer through that experience. That's the gentle summary. My opinionated summary- It's a chilling "coming of age" story about a young lady with either whack-job or completely absent parents, too much freedom and a disturbing inability to see impending danger in her choices and relationships. I suppose the author would say her protagonist was sufficiently resilient because she made it through her senior year mostly in one piece and mostly without therapy, at times completely heartbroken and alone, other times triumphant and able to see her mistakes.

It seems like some of the kids we know here have shared in several of the same experiences as the girl in the book (not just the alcohol and drug part) and it just seems ironic to me that while I was learning about some of them round around the same time I started reading the book- and then we went to that seminar where we heard the older FS kids speak. It was like a veil was lifted and I could see it- and it was not what I had originally pictured (for better and worse).

Most readers don't know my background but I have worked with kids for years- middle and high school kids mostly- in various settings. I teach art and somehow I often come across kids who are struggling with "stuff". This painting on the left was painted by one of my students at a child advocacy center where the kids were either in the foster system or in counseling for abuse. So, when I hear about my kids' friends who are in a hard spot I naturally want to invite them over and pull out the acrylic paints and get them painting something! So, please believe me- I write this not as a critique of FS kids, but as a person who cares and has some experience working with kids who need a safe place to unload. This is what I do- I encourage. As I heard the stories and read this book, I ached for the kids because I know from personal experience that what seems harmless now can be a heartache later. This FS thing brings up a new genre of stuff I am not exactly sure how to deal with just yet- not with my own kids much less someone else's. I suppose that as I write this blog post I am waiting for answer to dawn in my head. It may not come like that, it may be a matter of experience- thus living out the seminar's resiliency theory.

So, if you are a parent and possible applicant for the Foreign Service and you're wondering if your middle/high school kid is going to survive this lifestyle- I'm sure you will want to run out and get this book. It is absolutely worth reading but you MUST keep in mind that it is fiction and therefore some of it will be quite exaggerated. I think it should be required reading for families who are going taking older kids to Mexico City, for sure. Some of her cultural anecdotes and descriptions are so spot on!

One big "Ah ha!" for me was the way the character in the book explained the myriad of crap that comes with moving your senior year. Seriously, the stuff Milagro (main character's name) has expressed has basically jolted me out of denial on some of the feelings my daughter has probably experienced due our move here- thus softening my heart for Hannah beyond just feeling guilt over it.

And, though rarely mentioned, this book also reminds us that the kids from missionary families are not immune to searching for ways to cope and blend in, either. According the book, at the Mexico City International school they are faced with doing as the Romans do or they are marginalized and often stay in a huddle. That makes me think that the peer pressure level is pretty outrageous for those extroverted kids who want to feel included.

Look, I don't want to make crazy assumptions here. But, when I compare the stories I do know and those from the book, they are close enough that they make me think it just might be pretty accurate.  So far, I think this book has a level of "believable" that I found both helpful and terrifying.

 Also- a helpful tool if you are in the early bidding process: a link to the various drinking ages worldwide as of 2010.

When stuff like Benghazi and this book and all the junk that it seems to confirm, we (Sean and I) are forced to see cost of following our heart. I get afraid and want to run back to my comfort zone but how silly of me not to think that serious concerns aren't also waiting there, right? Somehow, by the grace of God I keep on course and remember the game plan. I am reminded that when I keep my eyes on God, everything else falls into proper perspective.

Philippians 1:6        

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Lesson On Resiliency and A Parent's Nightmare- Part One

"Let's draw what we feel exemplifies a resilient person" said the instructor of the FSI seminar #XYZ. Another instructor handed out a big poster board and a handful of markers to each table. The room was filled with approx. 50 parents all hoping to raise resilient children in this very cool but very complex Foreign Service (FS) lifestyle. We had all signed up hoping to hear we were giving our kids the best of all possibilities -a first person world view coupled with the high achieving international school/dual language lifestyle. Most of the parents had younger children and had already experienced a few foreign tours. The instructors explained that each table/group had a about 20 minutes to talk about it and draw something that represented our table's idea of a "resilient person." Most groups drew something that showed a figure being unusually flexible and happy. One group's poster was of a stick figure that was jumping over "life hurdles." The stick person had a glass of fresh water in its hand like a runner's baton. I think it had something to do with our kids having an understanding and take on global issues. Also, the drawing had an orange sun beaming from the upper right corner, representing an "optimistic attitude." All were well thought out and you could tell everyone was sort of on the same wavelength. And then there was this one...

Yep! This was the one from my group's table (actually, it's a very close recreation)-

Hannah (our poster artist) was shy at first about joining the discussion about resiliency but when she realized that the instructor was basically describing the cool FS kids she has gotten to know, she was suddenly our portal to FS realities. Once she drew the "wine in the backpack" (see above) one of the ladies in our group actually validated that and said she hoped her daughter would know how to enjoy wine one day. Hannah drew what she felt was the true resilient FS kid- according to her experience. So, blame me, the party-pooper extraordinaire who forced my 18 yr old, Sr. in high school daughter to join me (MUCH to her chagrin) for this particular seminar. But, because she is a strong young lady she not only contributed most of the "resilient kid" info, she also volunteered to stand up and present the poster for our group (and afterwards received a supportive round of applause)! One lady at our table seemed very uncomfortable with the wine and smoking thing. She has younger kids and honestly, I completely understood and share her feelings of concern. I didn't want to make FS kids synonymous with addictive vices, either! But, Hannah's dose of reality for the parents in the room meant that all of us dorks who had hoped to be told that "resilient kid" meant patriotic, centered kids who went out- saw the world and came home wise, inspired and fully bilingual- were in for a little "awakening".

The truth is Hannah knows several of the older FS kids due to living at Oakwood and going to a Falls Church high school known for it's prestigious IB program. She is new to the school and we are all new to the Foreign Service but Hannah has been able to pick up on some of the "between the lines" stuff I would have never noticed just looking at the group of kids who all huddle in the darkness waiting for the bus each morning. So, the truth? A lot, or most, of these kids party, apparently. For weeks she had been telling me how different and how "grown up" the experienced FS kids seem, seniors especially. "Grown-up" meaning (represented in the drawing above) drinking maturely, NOT kids getting drunk and acting stupid on kool-aid and vodka, we're talking about savvy, cool kids who are years beyond that- they know the difference between a Shiraz and a Cab. Honestly, I sort of figured she was over stating it, that is until the second half of the seminar, which was a Q & A session that included a live panel of 3 young adults- just out of college- FS kids. Their part of the presentation was meant to give us all a chance to ask questions and get a deeper understanding of their FS experiences. They were asked a lot of good questions by the parents in the room. There was a lot of food for thought after that seminar. It's stuff like this live panel that is probably the number one reason I love these seminars. I can't remember the question that prompted this but, one of the panelists in particular mentioned and  validated the "wine in the backpack" thing, explaining that most kids had a driver and that drinking was "okay and the norm" because you didn't have to worry about driving yourself home after a night out and since there was no real legal drinking age in most these countries it was sort of what everyone did (NOT what I wanted to hear being from an AA family, myself). So, I can safely assume that drinking and FS kids are sort of a "thing?" Okay... I'm more than a little concerned about this as it pertains to my three kids.

So... how exactly did partying and whatever else become part of the "resiliency" seminar for me? I'm still not sure, but according to the information they gave us, resiliency can be learned by experiencing things (FS kids experience 80% more loss, moving, etc. than the average American kid) and we FS parents can encourage healthy ways of working through and coping with those experiences by teaching our kids how best to deal with them. But how? I would LOVE to have some foreign post experienced parents who have older kids who have dealt with this to chime in and leave a comment- Please! (or email me offline if you are more comfortable with that)

When a crisis happens, another move, another best friend moves away, a scary report from the RSO (do the kids deal with that actually?) and last but not least- returning to the US, which the panelists all agreed was much more difficult for them than living at foreign posts, how do parents promote resiliency? In my experience/opinion it usually boils down to "our kids will do as we do" meaning we are teaching them by modeling behavior and habits whether we realize it or not. We all need healthy habits of dealing with stress before the crisis hits, but we don't really grow those kinds of muscles until the crisis hits, right?

Sean and I try but we miss the mark and usually take the long way around. We pray and then forget that we just asked God to help us, then resume our futile attempts at controlling the situation.
It's difficult!  So, yeah, I'm not at all surprised that the kids my daughter has deemed resilient are martini and wine drinkers at 17 or 18- because chances are that enjoying a nip at dinner is what their parents do to chill out after a long day. I'm not judging. Trust me, I am totally in the same boat. So, no- I don't think it is just an effect of having a driver and loose laws on alcohol- but that CERTAINLY adds to the probability of them drinking at a young age. So, Hannah's cool FS kid/resilient person poster at the seminar was not too far from reality at all. Again, I would love to talk to parents who are dealing with these things out in the field! There has to be some good examples out there!!!!! I've heard over and over that exercise helps de-stress and of course, talking and spending time with your kids. What works for you all?

I have been through a lot of training on Resiliency being an adoptive parent of an older child. Our training on this was required by our agency, thank goodness. In that setting we first learned that resiliency is something we are often born with, a natural thing, a DNA identified gene that about 75% of us are born with, so most of us have some organic dose (usually one of the two halves of the gene). This type of resiliency is evidenced by how well we bonded with our parents as infants, how we bounce back after failure, how we respond to upset/loss, or how we process a traumatic experience, maintain relationships etc.. This gene is also believed to help determine the vulnerability toward substance dependence or abuse- interestingly enough. Though the presence of resiliency is not up to us, maintaining flexibility and security is something that can be shaped and encouraged through skillful parenting/modeling. No pressure or anything :) It's an interesting thing to study, for sure, and there are lots of articles written on the subject!

I believe the State Dept/Foreign Service has done a good job screening applicants to make sure that they are resilient people before they are ever hired but that represents the applicant, not necessarily their spouse/partner or children. This where these seminars come in handy, I suppose. Frankly, I think our family's stress coping habits might need a little tweaking, which will require more than a seminar and a handout.

To be continued....