As an expat spouse, it is easier to attend online training programs than brick-and-mortar ones. I’m a bit of a brick-and-mortar snob, mostly because of my past experience working in one. Some kinds of learning are just not well done in the online classroom. However, that’s not the case with the TeacherReady online teacher certification program.

Like all teacher certification programs, TeacherReady (www.teacherready.org) requires the prospective teacher to spend time in a classroom observing and then eventually teaching under the guidance of a mentor. The great part about TeacherReady is that you can do this mentorship/Student Teaching at your local international school. You don’t have to do it in person at a U.S. school. I was able to arrange a mentorship here in Seoul at one of the local international schools (which was challenging because of the high demand for student teaching slots here and the low availability, but would have been significantly easier to arrange in most cities). Here in Korea, it was even possible to perform your mentorship in alternative educational environments, like the local Hagwons (English afterschool programs).

The program is 9 months long, and I participated in their October cohort, roughly tied with the academic year. They also start cohorts in February and June each year. You can submit applications for the program up until about a month before the beginning of the cohort, depending on where you live and the mail situation. You’ll want to ensure the books can arrive in time, as some are better in paper copies than electronic ones.

The program itself was also significantly more practical and less goofy than I imagined it might be. In comparison to the State Dept’s online trainings, it’s amazingly well designed. Rather than a lot of power-point like slides and quizzes, the program asks you to do some reading about a teaching or classroom management technique, reflect on it, and then attempt it in the classroom. You observed the mentor teacher to see how they dealt with different aspects of daily classroom life and considered the effectiveness of different approaches with different subject material and different student types.

As a guided apprenticeship, then, it was excellent. I got much more out of it than I expected. I do feel, however, that one would benefit from having spent some time attempting to train others, or being a classroom teacher, prior to enrolling. If you’ve never faced a classroom full of students, you may not have the awareness of just how many things can go against your plan, and therefore what to really pay attention to in the first month of the program. Everyone eventually gets that experience by the end of the program, however, so it’s not essential.

I highly recommend TeacherReady for Foreign Service EFMs who are considering teaching in international schools but don’t yet have a credential (Increasingly a requirement, even if you’ve got teaching experience and a PhD, apparently.) The program provides everything you’ll need for a Florida credential other than the state certification exams. In my case, I was lucky enough to have access to a military testing facility and took my exams there. If you don’t, you’ll have to take them at a Pearson testing facility somewhere in the US (tests are available not only in Florida, but all around the country).

If you decide to apply to TeacherReady, I’d appreciate if you used my name as a reference on the application, Lauren Steed.

Staying Happy at Post

By marrying into the Foreign Service, I had to take a 90 degree turn on my career goals and sense of who I was as an individual. I couldn’t really be a travelling philosophy professor. While it worked for Plato and Socrates to stand out in the agora and teach the hoi polloi, my lack of language skills at our Asian posts would leave my audience laughing at best. College teaching is just not something you can pick up and start anew in a foreign country every few years.

Like many diplo spouses, taking that turn left me feeling somewhat bereft. Who was I? What was the point? Seasoned spouses have found their happiness and identity (or they’ve left the service), I’m not there yet. Instead, I seek happiness in moments and dreams, and wrestle with my sense of self on the side.

One of my favorite dreams is planning things. I love to plan things. Give me a goal and I will work on all the possible scenarios to make it happen. I’ll rearrange your furniture, consider how best to coordinate a vacation, evaluate the features of various products…

So I spend a lot of my time planning.

Sometimes you have to make use of your plans, of course, so we occasionally take trips or organize things.

I also keep myself happy by working. My job is relatively piecemeal and low-engagement (because I mostly fill in for people when they’re out, so I don’t have any projects to call my own) but it gets me out of the house, and moving. I also get to spend time with adults, some days.

I read a lot, which has always been a source of enjoyment.

I eat, because exploring new foods is always fun. Unless it’s squid.

I take online courses.

I imagine an alterative career as a trendy crafter. Then I remember that the kids are into everything, and I don’t have a craft space that I can keep them out of while still spending time with them.

Nothing terribly innovative, but I am finding myself growing slightly more content with these little things. Contentment will be a good place to find.

One of the things I did in Dhaka to stay happy at post was blog. It gave me a project to work on, a little legacy to leave behind as a resource to future visitors to the city. Here in Seoul, there are so many expat blogs and resources in English that my blog didn’t really have that niche any more. However, I’ve joined a Foreign Service bloggers challenge this month, and plan to blog along with them as much as I can.

…holidays 2013

Unlike many of our fellow FS famillies, we made it through the holidays with little to no incidents of sickness. Just one little overindulgence  in fizzy New Year’s juice on Neko’s part. 

This year was especially fun for Christmas, as Neko was old enough to play “Santa.” I tried to label the packages I wrapped with a big capital letter, rather than a whole name, to help her with that. She wasn’t quite 100% accurate on identifying the right recipient, but she did get it right a few times. The morning Skype calls with family were fun, though they made it hard to kid-wrangle, and so Neko had a little bit of present-meltdown. We took a break for breakfast and came back to it fully focused on making it go smoothly and she loved helping unwrap and watching to see what was in everything, even those things that weren’t for her. Of course, Christmas is followed close behind by her birthday, so she had another great day of opening packages just a few days later. Her top gifts (as far as what she’s loved?): a Bikle (aka bicycle), a rather odd-looking monster doll, and Duplo blocks. She also has really enjoyed all the new books and clothes. Panda, on the other hand, has been thrilled with the (hunting dog) bell. 

The clothes were particularly useful, as at her 2 year checkup this week, she moved from the 15th percentile in height and weight to the 75-90th percentiles.That’s a huge jump! 

Panda’s still a tank, and crawling around like a mad woman now. You can tell she has nearly as little patience for it as Neko did, as she’s trying to crawl on three limbs and carry stuff around with the other one. I bet she’ll be cruising soon. In the meantime, she’s also got her sister’s love of jumping and has begun to cackle wildly when she’s in her doorway jumper. It’s terribly cute.

Neko’s birthday party is this weekend, and we’re celebrating it with her favorite activity: jumping. Expect pics soon.


Usually, when your kid writes in her books, you’re sorta annoyed because she’s ruined them. This is generally my reaction to Neko’s efforts to augment her literature. However, last night, while reading an alphabet book, I noticed that, in this book at least, she’d actually traced the letters with a pencil, rather than just scribbling randomly. I was pretty amazed.

Recently, Neko’s been in love with writing (or, as she calls it: “Daw!” short for draw!). She demands that I write things for her, mostly “Baby” or “Panda.” Occasionally, she gets meta and wants me to write “Write.”

She also draws lines on paper, and points out how very line-like they are. “Lines!”

However, her writing is not always so tidy. She also likes to write on the walls, on herself, and on her toys. Sometimes she finds a squirreled away permanent marker to do this, but generally it’s crayon. Magic erasers are a crayon-loving mama’s friend. Unfortunately, the tattoos in permanent marker on her baby-doll’s face are permanent, as are the marks on our slipcovers (thank goodness I slipcovered those WHITE couches).

Neko tries to write on Panda, but we’re usually a bit quicker to notice that kind of mayhem. The drawing on walls is quick and stealthy, and we’re not very good at noticing it.

To combat this drawing-on-walls penchant, I’ve been hiding the crayons. But, after seeing those lovely traced letters in the book last night, that seems a bit mean. Should I pseudo wallpaper the house at toddler level? She’s not as interested in working on blank paper or coloring books, though will occasionally use them. This needs some creative thinking.

Panda, of course, can barely hold something like a crayon, but she wants to do anything her sister does, even though she’s only 7 months. Her funny preference is that she will (more or less) only eat food that she feeds herself. Unless she’s desperately hungry, she will snap her mouth shut if you approach it with a spoon. No, no! Panda’s a big girl and will hold her own spoon, thank you very much. She’ll eat with abandon if you give her her own spoon, of course, most of that food ends up outside her mouth. Silly Panda.

…Harvest time at the farm

The CLO here arranged a fun farm visit a few weeks ago, just in time for autumn weather. It was originally priced higher then a ticket to Disney, but the price came down and so I decided to brave Neko’s potential melt-down for the lack of a good nap. We left Panda back at the ranch with the sitter, and Mister was on a trip to the USA, so it was some quality time for just Neko, me and the cows.

Our rather officious, though cheerful, tour guide managed to shatter part of my camera in her attempt to fold up our stroller and throw it under the bus before I’d barely had a change to take Neko out of it, so that put a bit of a damper on the day, and slowed down the blogging about it until I forced Mister to upload the pics for me. I don’t really want to see the broken camera again because it makes me sad.

The day started at Tae Shin Agroland farm, a tourist farm sponsored by a corporate cattle company.P1010878 It was surprisingly cute, and there were 20 or more calves there, which added to the cuteness. Neko was not ready to actually touch the cows, but she practiced her mooing and made several attempts to sneak into the various animal pens. She wanted to be in there with them on her own terms, not petting them from the outside. Most of the videos I shot in the cattle area end with me ‘dropping’ the shot and running after her as she attempts to climb over the fences. This one ends before she bolts.

P1010861After visiting the cowshed, there was a chance for some of the older kids to milk a cow. Since we’d arrived at the beginning of the day, the cow was very desperate to be milked. VERY DESPERATE. Her calf was tethered about 20 feet away, and the cow was nearly screaming her moos. This rather discouraged most of the would-be milkers. Neko’s comment, turning to me with a surprised face, “Cow Loud!” She then visited the little calf and got massively licked.



We got a chance to ride on a trailer pulled by a big tractor. Neko was entranced by the trailer, until the tractor started to move, and then she needed to be held. Since she’s not much of a cuddler and usually overly brave, it was a cute moment for me. The tractor pulled us around the other parts of the farm and we saw sheep, pigs, deer, emu, a camel, ponies, and some other animals. There was also a mini-zoo area for the smaller farm animals where they had geese, bunnies, and babies.

The best part of all was a bird house full of finches that were very tame and landed on you as you walked through. They also pecked at your shoes and clothes looking for food. Most of the other kids and adults were a bit unnerved by this, but Neko loved it.


P1010858In the afternoon, after a rather disappointing lunch of beef bone soup (rather tough to do while trying to corral a hungry toddler who also would like a bite but can’t eat brothy soup from a spoon), we headed to Asan, a pear growing village. Asian pears are delicate and pricey, compared to their bosc counterparts. At the pear village, we hiked a bit of a way through the orchards from the central building until we reached the specific 4 trees we were allowed to touch and pick from. It gave us a chance to try out the back carry on the Ergo, something I’d never used before. We were each allowed to pick 4 pears. Each pear was wrapped in a paper and newsprint bag to prevent insects from touching it and help it properly ripen. Some of the pears were for export, and the bags were labelled with their destination (I picked one destined for Ohio, now they can’t have it).P1010890 Neko helped choose which pears we got, but it was a bit of a crap shoot. You have no idea what the pear looks like, since it’s wrapped up. They turned out to be great, though, perfectly round and tasty. There was a lot of concern from the farmers that we would accidentally touch pears from other trees or bruise the pears we weren’t picking, as they seem to be very sensitive. (Oddly, as the pears, once picked, keep like an apple). I think they were mostly concerned that they maximize their potential profit, and the tourist aspect of the farm is only a sideline.P1010893

After the pear picking, we returned to the center of the village and learned how to make pear kimchi. Thankfully they provided us with additional pears and we didn’t have to sacrifice our newly picked bounty. In the process, Neko and her slightly older friend got a chance to practice some of their knife skills. The teacher had provided us with kid-friendly knives that actually did a decent job of cutting pear but not skin. The kimchi was tasty, rather sweet and sour, but we made SO MUCH, it was crazy. I think they could have easily given us half the amount of pears to start from and we would have still had too much. P1010892Since it’s a fresh kimchi, it has to be eaten within a day or so of being made, and we had two full jars each. Way too much kimchi, especially for the family of 8!

Neko stayed awake most of the day and only caught a bit of a cat-nap on the bus ride home (it was at least 2 hours each way to the farming area). She barely fussed all day, except for during the difficult lunch. However, the extremely happy day was capped off for her because Mister was home from America when we got back.  I was so proud of her patience with the whole day and I’m looking forward to similar adventures in the future.






Autumn in Seoul is lovely. It’s the crispness of a New England fall with the clearness of an Arizona sky and the wonderful things to do of any big, developed world city. Supposedly it will only last a few weeks and then winter will be upon us again, but I am enjoying it while I can.

Neko’s been talking up a storm recently. We’ve added some verbs and adjectives to her vocabulary of mostly nouns. Recently popular words include: Crying (to describe Panda), Hot, Cold, Happy, Heavy (these two get confused sometimes, so she’ll carry a “happy box”), Go, School Bus, Tree, and the ever popular Baby and Car. I think she’s at around 2-300 words now, it’s a pretty extensive vocabulary. She is even mixing them into odd sentences, mostly lacking verbs. She also still walks around randomly saying words as if for practice, yesterday I heard: sidewalk, shirt and all done repeated several times. She has also found her singing voice, and walks round the house singing randomly. She thinks she knows the Itsy, Bitsy Spider and Row, Row, Row Your Boat songs, as she’ll sing out a few words from each, strung together with random noises in between.

Panda’s little neurological connections are frantically being made. Overnight, a few days ago, she went from being non-ticklish to being ticklish. I give her a little belly tickle at all of her diaper changes, and suddenly she was reacting with a little flinch and a big giggle. She also has started to really like playing airplane, and I use it as a panacea for crying. She is a much calmer baby than Neko was, and also really loves to sleep. She likes to be walked around to look at different things, especially outside, but isn’t much into cuddling otherwise.

Tomorrow, Neko and I are headed to a farm to meet some animals and taste the fresh autumn fruit, hopefully there will be pics!

…birthday party lessons

We have been to our first kid birthday parties this month (all the cool people are born in September, don’tcha know?), and I’ve learned a few lessons regarding hosting and attending them.

1. Don’t take two kids if you are a solo parent and one of them really needs a nap. No matter how optimistic you are, that’s not going to go well.

2. Even if they are both reasonably well rested, or one is willing to sleep on the fly, chasing the second kid will consume your entire attention at the party, don’t hope to eat or talk to anyone over the age of 3. If you do decide to talk to someone else, know that your kid will choose that moment to become the food thief, drink thief (particularly alcohol or soda), and general mayhem causer. Neko opted for the lick the frosting off everyone else’s cake or cookie approach, with a few incidents of juice theft and covert tea smuggling.

3. If you hold a kid party in your home, every room you have open to the party will be littered with food and greasy fingerprints. Your toilet may or may not have napkins in it.

4. Cake brings out the mean in all kids. Neko got pushed and yelled at more than she ever has before at these parties, for fear of cake theft. She’s not innocent, but most of those occasions occurred without provocation, and all children were getting hit or yelled at by the guardians of the precious treat.

5. Even at a party for babies, breastfeeding in public is not cool. Or it is. Depends on the crowd. Hard to gauge.

6. If you think you should invite a huge crowd because you expect few of them to show, they will all show.

7. Pinterest is a crazy seducer, but all your hard work will be destroyed in seconds by the toddlers, so opt for the pre made stuff instead, your heart won’t get broken when the flannel banner or the elegant lace cupcake display does.

P.s. don’t tell Neko, but I let Panda play with her baby doll while she was napping. I am surprised by how much Panda is enjoying it.


…sitting in the window

Our house is right next to a park, I have probably mentioned this before. On weekends, the park is packed with people. Today, the first day of a week of holidays called Chuseok, is also the first nice day after a week of rain. The park is more full of people than normal.

On our side of the wall that separates us from the park, butterflies flit in and around the dregs of our summer garden. A field mouse tries to eat the last few tomatoes, leaves are gently falling from the sycamore trees. Outside my window it is quiet.

On the other side of the wall, hundreds of people are chanting as some sporting event occurs, kids are screaming on the slides, and little old adjummas are strolling on rocky paths. Outside my window is a giant party that everyone in Korea is invited too.

When I sit in the window, the sounds of the park turn me into a kid. I get that feeling that I need to go out and join the play, that childhood is so close, that I can just jump into anyone’s playing and find a place for myself.

But, there is no one out playing on our side of the wall. We live in suburban America, where you have to set up play dates and invite people to parties. No one spontaneously hangs out in the front yard with neighbors. We already took a walk today, and saw nearly no one, other than the family getting in their car and the woman jogging with her dog and iPod. If I go to the park, I am too much a stranger to jump into the play of the adults. They play in group games I don’t know or am not a member of the team for.

Luckily, the girls are both asleep, so we can’t go out and enjoy the day right now anyway. It’s too bad that today I feel like an 8 year old myself, and want to play hide-and-seek or something outside with my friends.


Neko prefers to feed herself, though she occasionally sees the virtue of someone helping load the fork with more precious items, so that she doesn’t drop them on the floor. This is her morning look:


Mister and I are planning to go for a Labor Day hike today, I’ve had about 5 hours of sleep between the babies’ various wake ups last night, and for the past 4 nights, so this may be a challenge for me. Hope I don’t fall off the mountain. We saved the trip for a Monday because we don’t want to embarrass ourselves in front of the tricked out Koreans. We don’t have proper hiking gear which includes: trekking poles, neon trail shoes, matching windbreaker walking suits, a giant sun hat, a bandanna tied on your arm for emergencies, etc. I think we both have sneakers, I might have some dollar store sunglasses? We will try to remember a water bottle, but there is no way I’m carrying a stove up there to make ramen at the top with.