Thursday, June 26, 2008

For Sale By Owner

Tomorrow I'm listing my house for sale on a local "for sale by owner" website.
The total cost is $99.00. I've sold a home "for sale by owner" once before. I love copywriting and sales and describing that which I love, my home, so I'll see how it goes.

I am as ready as I'm ever going to be. It took longer than I thought to prepare and stage my house. All the vendors were terrific. Usually they promise they'll show up by such and such date and don't deliver. My painters were so nice, that if I wasn't moving half way across the world, I'd want to hang out with them as my new friends!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Where Should I Get my TEFL Certification in Prague?

Are there any alumni of Prague language schools out there? Would you like to tell me please your recommendation of a great place in Prague to get my TEFL certification? Comparing language schools online can only go so far, sooner or later I need to hear a real human's recommendation.

I'm interested in teaching adults primarily -- Business English. I'm especially interested in hearing if anyone has used their TEFL certification at a particular school toward a Masters in Education back home in the States. Were you able to have it accepted as graduate credit? I'm leaving that option open if I enjoy the work as much as I think I will.

Tell me why your school was great and why.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Stateside Book Buzz

For all of you American expats who wonder what is going on back home, here's a nod to a popular book stateside. It's a title that took off out of nowhere and has been on the bestseller list for weeks based on word of mouth alone. "Three Cups of Tea" was written by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin in 2006.

Greg Mortenson, a mountaineer, got lost climbing K2. He wandered into a Pakistani mountain village so disoriented he kept thinking it was a completely different town. The people of Korphe, Pakistan took care of him and showed him kindness. He promised the people of the village he would come back and build them a school. And he actually followed through on that promise. The book is the incredibly uplifting story of his odyssey as he built first one school and then more.

I first heard of the book when a lady told me she had to read it because her daughter, whom she characterized as "the most frugal person on the face of the earth," had just finished the book and wanted to drain her bank accounts and send every single penny she had to the author so he could build more schools. "What is in this book that would make her say that?" she wondered.

A woman in my community read the book and urged the library to choose it as this year's title for the one book, one community program. Greg Mortenson, himself, is coming to speak in September. Her idea is not only should everyone enjoy the book, but wouldn't it be cool for our community to raise $50,000 to help him build a school. She's right. It would!

Daughter #2's university is asking every student to read the book this summer with book discussions to follow in the fall. I'm told many other universities are doing the same.

What Greg Mortenson has accomplished is to see the good in an area of the world few Americans even get too and far fewer of us understand. Long before 9/11, he began a mission to build schools in unserved Muslim rural areas. He not only was able to start educating young Muslim schoolgirls, he received blessings from Shia leadership in Iran to continue doing so. He built the schools using local labor and contacts and did it cheaply and effectively. And he's kept on doing it.

This is a wonderful story about a man who accepted people as they are, reached out without a demand that they change their faith, allegiances, or beliefs, and does what he can to help them help themselves. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Greg Mortenson is the director of the Central Asian Institute.

Teaching English to Koreans

School District Revenue Alert: Koreans are so hungry to learn English and compete personally in their marketplace, which is competing with our marketplace, that they are sending their children overseas to learn English in a native-speaking setting.

According to the New York Times (link to the story via the title), usually Mom and child go overseas by themselves, leading to the term "penguin fathers" to describe the Dads left at home. "Eagle fathers" get to fly over a couple of times a year to see their families.

What an unconventional source of revenue and culture infusion this could be for American school districts! Imagine a school district with declining enrollment slipping a Korean student or two paying cash for their education into each classroom. School districts could avoid raising taxes. Wouldn't all members of the American education establishment get more respect when the locals see how highly valued their product is by the world? This practice would even help the balance of trade. Civic entrepreneurship! I love it.

Since Koreans consistently score at the top of the globe's measures of academic performance, bringing in a family so motivated that they travel half way around the world to learn can only be a good influence on fellow American students. Telling Americans they are falling behind isn't changing behavior. They are not yet shutting off the television or putting down the video game. Showing them, in their own classrooms, could possibly do so.

Since the Korean moms are prevented from working due to visa restrictions, here is a source of parental classroom support a teacher could rely on steadily. Tiny rural American school districts could expose their children to the diversity that often makes their learning environments too sheltered for the kid's own good.

According to this article in the New York Times, Koreans are so clamoring to learn English that the prime minister has promised to hire 10,000 English teachers immediately so that families can live together in the home country. TEFL certification, while appreciated, isn't required to teach in Korea. That's how hungry they are for native speakers. What Koreans could teach the world is how to foster an atmosphere that reveres education that much.

I've thought a lot about whether or not to go to South Korea or the Czech Republic to teach. In researching various possibilities, I've gained great respect for what the South Koreans have accomplished with their country in one generation. I keep coming back to my love of Czech culture, as I know it so far, and my trust that the Lord will provide.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Official Website of the Czech Republic

The Czech Republic has an official website that is extremely well-done and user friendly. I enjoy having their weekly newsletter sent to me. It's a great way to get a feel for the country prior to arrival. Link to the site via my title.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Prague screensaver

The good people at TEFL Worldwide in Prague have created a very nice Prague screensaver for anyone's use. The link to download it is via my title. I have received one or two email solicitations in five months. I'm sure they'll curb that if you ask after downloading.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Best and the Worst

This year I had an incredibly thought-provoking experience when I facilitated a group discussion among a bunch of ESL students. It reinforced to me how fun it could be to teach English for a living overseas. There were kids from Ukraine, "Turkish" people from Russia (they had never actually been to Turkey - yet they made a point of noting they were not Russian), Somalia, Liberia, Sudan, Karon people from Burma (they made a point of noting they were not Burmese even though they grew up there), Yemen, Palestine, and China.

My first question I asked them was "if you could bring anything to America from your home country, it could be a belief, some sort of infrastructure, a food, a game, anything, what would it be? What is something we could adopt from your country that would make America better?"

Oh my, the floodgates opened.

To a person, the number one thing they felt would make America better that they admired from their home country was....

guess....can you guess it?

The number one thing they felt would make America better is respect for authority, teachers, and parents. It literally hurt them to see classroom minutes chewed up in attitude and disrespect. These students didn't understand the point of it. In class, here is someone trying to give you an education, and frequently what they see is American students not appreciating it or stepping up to the plate studiously to take advantage of it. They felt most American kids did not think past 'who is dating who and what shall we do this weekend?'

They also viewed Americans as remiss in taking care of their parents. They were appalled by the idea of nursing homes. I shared with them that I once had a Ukrainian exchange student in my house who described one of her friends as afraid he was going mentally ill because the toll of caring for him mother was so burdensome. Her point was that in the Ukraine, he may go crazy caring for her, but he did it because it was his duty. All of the students nodded in agreement and respect with this thinking. You can be darn sure I called my mother that night and effusively thanked her for raising me!

Of course it is easy to guess the next thing they feel would improve America. Soccer. They wish, wish, wish, Americans loved soccer. I told them, "there is, only one person in the entire world who could probably get America interested in soccer." Who? Who? Who? They wanted to know. Who could make this magical thing happen? "David Beckham." They laughed.

The third thing was scooters. Why do Americans have to drive cars EVERYWHERE? They felt Americans were obsessed with having their own car and these students felt most in-town driving was completely unnecessary. "You Americans drive to McDonald's! Why can't you walk or ride a bike?"

One student from China said one thing that would improve America is high-speed trains. He said there is a high-speed train in Shanghai that travels 300 mph and gets people from downtown to the airport in five minutes. "Could you imagine?" he said, "we could all be in downtown Chicago in five minutes?"

I explained that if there was anything the people in my town lusted after, it was a train of any sort to downtown Chicago, even one going 50 mph! Currently it takes around 1.5-2 hours to drive into downtown Chicago depending on traffic. Mass transit has just not been a priority in America but I believe that will change with increasing gas prices.

The other thing they didn't understand is why Americans insist their children are "grown" and adults at 18? Why can't kids live with their parents for a lot more years? And why don't Americans lend money to each other and help each other out? Why must everyone be so independent?

The Africans students, conversant in two or three languages each, asked "why do the black students here refuse to speak English properly? They always call us 'whitey' when we use proper English." One of the Liberian students asked "why did white people start slavery?" Wow. That's a lot to answer for!

When I asked what is the one thing you wish your home country had or could benefit from that you see here in America?

The answers varied less. Can you guess what they said?

Got your answer? See if it matches:

The first was education, especially higher education. They were blown away by the quality of American higher education. They loved that everyone in America had access to education and that anyone could go on to college. Being accepted to college (of some sort) didn't depend on smarts, connections, or being the right age.

The second thing they admired was that the education and the diploma involved was real. To a person, they all said, in my country, if you didn't do well on the right high school test, one would just pay off the teacher with a bribe and he would fix the grade. They found the lack of corruption in America surrounding education and life in general, astounding. Kind of makes me want to always have an American dentist, surgeon and pilot!

I asked them to take this discussion to American teenagers which they did not want to do. Americans rarely hear this stuff because so few of us ever leave our country. I cited some research that said 14 million people come to the States every year from all over the world to study at our universities, yet only 250,000 Americans go abroad to study each year. Most Americans are never put in a position to compare their culture with someone else's. I'm grateful to have experienced this comparison. They remind me to say:

Thanks Mom.

If I haven't told you this yet today, Mom let me say it now -- you rock.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Zombie Alert

How cool can a city be?

Prague held it's first-ever zombie walk last month. Zombies are everywhere. Max Brooks, showing off some humor DNA that passed unchanged from his movie-making father Mel, has prepared the populace with his "Ultimate Zombie Survival Guide." Max also wrote "World War Z" which is an oral history of the zombie war. Then there is that British movie with that endearing top-notch police officer "Shaun of the Dead." Link to the whole story about Prague's zombie walk via the title.

Monday, June 9, 2008

America's Favorite Architecture

What is your favorite American building of all time? What architecture lifts your spirit and takes you to a new place? Is there some perfect expression of a church? Or a ball park? Or an airport terminal? What inspires awe in you?

Now there is the fun way to share your rabid opinions on the subject and help others find what you consider beloved. Vote for your “favorite five” of American architecture here. The American Institute of Architects polled their members and developed a list of all-time professional’s favorites. The projects that received six votes by members went on for further refinement to create an even more select list of America’s 150 favorite buildings.

It’s our turn to vote. It is a very hard choice. It’s like asking who among the many personalities that you know would you invite to a cocktail party. Why not everyone? Must I have a favorite? The beauty is in the mix.

Lists like this help us know what to go see. I thought I would have visited more of them than I have. I have been inside 64 of them. Here’s my top five:

1) Milwaukee Museum of Art designed by Santiago Calatrava – I have felt myself in the presence of genius expressed at this current moment twice in my life. Once was at the debut of Wynton Marsalis’ "Blood on the Fields" jazz opera, the other was when I entered this building. It is a masterpiece. Milwaukee residents should be proud to have commissioned the first example of Calatrava’s architecture in North America. If you go see it, don’t forget to watch the movie about the construction of the building. Like the construction movie for the Gateway Arch, it’s awe-inspiring!

2) Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel – this building looks exactly like what it is. A church for pilots. The seventeen spires are said to resemble a squadron of fighter jets shooting into the air. I took my children to hear the cadets sing Handel’s Messiah one Christmas in this exquisite building.

3) Lincoln Memorial – looking up at that big guy in the Lincoln Memorial…well… I can’t put it all into words. Probably because it gives me a lump in my throat. I guess it just makes me proud to be American. And great architecture inspires and becomes a backdrop for even more greatness… Marian Anderson singing there because she had been blackballed for being black and Martin Luther King declaring “I Have a Dream."

4) Jefferson Memorial – I don't know if someone from another country would be as moved by this one. Are they? The ideas are universal. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This memorial causes me to go silent. It brings out awe and wonder.

5) Golden Gate Bridge – Drop-dead, twelve-car-pile-up gorgeous. It’s so gorgeous, I think we know the bridge better than we know the bay. What was the visual shorthand for California before Hollywood and the Golden Gate?

It was hard to leave out the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial for creating a unifying monument out of a polarizing event, the United Terminal at O’Hare International Airport for communicating the romance of air travel, the Denver International Airport for the playful public art plus sheer speed and functionality (I can go from the park-and-go to the gate in 21 minutes), and Wrigley Field, which is just as mystical a place as everyone says it is.

I noticed so many of these projects were developed by architects who have been chosen as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects by their peers. Out of 80,000 practicing architects, only about 80 are selected to use the designation ‘FAIA’ after their name each year.

I went to see a friend be inducted as a Fellow. The ceremony was held in the Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago. While waiting for his name to be called I started to calculate the percentage of ‘fellows’ who had beards. 12%! Surely, that’s a higher percentage of beards than in the regular population. I think it helps an architect’s project list to be older and bearded. Pity the ladies then. Architects have it pretty good. How many professions are there where you get to do your best work after sixty?

One suggestion I have to improve the site is to make the list sortable by state so it’s easy to know what there is to see where you are. After voting, you can see how many votes your favorites received vs. everyone else favorites. What did you pick?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Rock the Nest

The second realized pleasure of being an empty nester is turning my music up full blast. All week I've had the radio (yes, I know, how old fashioned) up while I clean and sort, getting my house ready for sale.

It makes me feel like I'm 20 again to hear it this loud. Then I realized 20-year-olds today probably don't even blast their music. They all have IPods.

When I move to Prague, I will probably be living in a glorious 4th floor walk-up from another century which will cause me to remember why people move out of apartments and buy houses to begin with. So they can turn their music up!

So it's another reminder to enjoy each moment before it passes. The DJ just put on Vanilla Ice's "Ice, Ice Baby," with it's fabulous baseline. Full blast. Love it.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Clean House

The first realized pleasure of being an empty nester is that the house stays picked up. Someday I'll take that for granted and ache to have my children back in the house but that's not today.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood..."

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will themselves not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die."

~Daniel Burnham, American architect and urban planner

Contemplating moving to a new place makes me want to enjoy the present moment in my current place even more. I've just discovered a cool website that helps culture mavens find wonderful places to visit in Illinois. There are interesting things to see EVERYWHERE in the world.

The website is called illinoisgreatplaces. It was created by the Illinois Chapter of the American Association of Architects to celebrate the 150th anniversary of their existence. I was pleased to see that I had visited every great place in my community but there is tons of stuff I haven't visited within a very short driving distance.

For example, there is an Egyptian Theatre in Dekalb, Illinois. Who could resist Egyptian Deco? Apparently, it was a big trend in architecture during the 1920s after King Tut's tomb was discovered.

I wonder if the desire to build great buildings can be caught. What makes a boom of architecturally-interesting facilities get started and continue in a city? I understand that the wealth of a period is instrumental, but wealth can be spent many different ways. Is the desire to create architectural significance viral, like obesity has been found to be?

What makes a committee of people working on a public building move forward together with boldness in one location and not in another? Do friends egg each other on? Are current builders having a conversation with past builders much the way Alan Ginsberg and Langston Hughes were conversing with Walt Whitman through poetry? If I was in the AIA, that's what I would want researched because the first thing greatness needs is THE WILL.

Chicago is an AMAZING architecture town. Everyone there is a fan and a critic. It's impossible not to be because greatness is everywhere. The AIA Foundation has outstanding tours everyday showing off Chicago's treasures. This picture is of Marina Towers, familiar to everyone who has seen the Blues Brothers movie. Chicago is blessed with a visionary mayor right now, Richard Daley, who is ALL WILL.

So much of architecture expresses a very masculine personality. Not that there is anything wrong with that. This is the Sears Tower, Chicago's tallest building. As more and more women become architects, will we some day be able to look at a building and instantly know "a woman designed that!" I hope so. It would be cool for my daughters and granddaughters to say "wow, that building is so feminine."

The illinoisgreatplaces website isn't perfect. It shows that there are only two significant theatres on the front page but actually six were chosen. The list of 150 places must be a fantastic upselling tool for architects. Imagine sharing this list with a customer and saying, "why build good when you can build great? Only six of your kind of building has made this list. Shall we try for greatness? Would spending 25-50% more result in 100% greater return to your community because of the traffic generated?"

There should be some sort of "amazing architecture" tax credit because the return to the community continues long past a developer's ability to recoup the cost. After all, what defines the thousands of communities across the world but their buildings?

Bengt Sjostrom Starlight Theatre in Rockford

Whoever heard of Bilbao, Spain until Frank Gehry designed the Guggenheim Museum there? What picture instantly comes into everyone's mind at the mention of Sydney, Australia? The opera house. There are something like 14 or 15 cities in China with populations over 1 million yet no one has heard of them because they haven't yet expressed their collective personality through building. Hey Chinese cities, the world is looking forward to your self-introduction.

I was asking a friend active in the architecture association if there was a '150 web site' for every state. He said the Illinois chapter led the nation in doing this, but it was such a great idea that the national association has created a list of the most architecturally-interesting places in America. Fantastic!

No photos to show: both the photographers moved out!

Daughter #2 had a beautiful high school graduation. Our family was all here and we had fun cooking together and seeing the local sites. The morning my daughter left to live with Dad in Kansas City for the summer her manager asked her to come in for a last-minute send-off party. I was truly touched to see how much my child was appreciated! There were balloons, donuts, and yummie treats all put together for a high school kid by a bunch of people in their twenties and thirties. It was so moving!

The first day was hard, really hard. I won't lie. Mostly, I'm just grateful to God for the joy I had raising them. I look forward to hearing all of their adventures and I appreciate their good wishes as I pursue mine. Life is good.
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