What are you learning?

by S&M

The phrase “life long learner” can make me roll my eyes, but given the fondness for the calculus track, desire to stay mentally fit as we age, and enjoyment of learning, that phrase likely applies to this group.

I’ve complained for years about not being able to find my recorder at my parents’ house. When I saw a wooden one for €15, I decided Santa needed to place it under our tree (actually a Christmas cactus). It probably isn’t much better than the plastic ones at dollar stores. I want to get good enough at it to start taking lessons for real and eventually join a group playing Medieval/Renaissance music, maybe switching to alto recorder.

How about you? What are you learning this year?

98 thoughts on “What are you learning?

  1. When we lived in Germany, my mother (whoplayed recorder really well) bought herself a good quality wooden alto recorder, a Moeck. She decided to also get my a soprano recorder and sign me up for lessons. Taking recorder lessons was a norm for German kids in that era, and in general Germans are more into recorder music and play them more than Americans do.
    I got good enough on the recorder that I could play not-too-complex music with other people. I still have my soprano recorder, and after my mother passed away I took her alto recorder too. At the time I was working in industry PT, so I had some time for myself despite having small kids. I always preferred the sound of the alto recorder, so I started taking lessons and really enjoyed it.

    When I had to resume fulltime employment, I no longer had time so I stopped playing it. I also haven’t picked up my fiddle in many years – DS1 has it now. For a while, I was taking once a week virtual drawing lessons from the 92 St Y, but once the semester started I didn’t have time anymore.

    I am teaching a grad class right now in which half the students are data science and only know Python. So my big life long learning task right now is becoming a much better Python programmer. I had dabbled in it when necessary, but supporting students who aren’t CS and aren’t especially good programmers means I need to step up my game. I intensely dislike Python for the same reasons I hate PHP – programs in non-type-checked languages are prone to lots of bugs that are hard to track down. And the Python ethos seems to be “write the most cryptic unreadable code possible”. Reminds me of the days when we had to use low-level C.

  2. Following this conversation with interest. I need to learn something new–especially since I’m stuck inside most of the time

  3. There is a phase in learning almost anything that is tedious and seemingly endless. DH is taking ancient Greek, and he’s on his second semester. I took Greek in college and I thought maybe I’d take it again, but then I decided “screw it.” Anyway, the first semester of anything is kind of exciting, and you’re learning new stuff, and you can do simple tasks or problems, and it’s kind of fun even if it’s hard.

    Then there’s the second semester (and I’m using “semester” loosely; I really just mean “period when you’re learning and gaining mastery” when it’s just boring and endless and it’s still hard and you feel like you’ll never get past it. Why are there so many irregular verbs? WTF, ancient Greeks? Why are there so many different declensions? Why have I been memorizing vocabulary for months and yet I still feel like I can’t read anything?

    DH is kind of in that stage, but I know him well and I know he’ll push through and will be reading Herodotus next semester and he’ll be pleased that he did it.

    But that middle period is so hard to push through when you don’t absolutely have to. You don’t need it to graduate, you don’t need it for your job, you’re really only doing it for self-improvement, and eventually many people (including me!) go “fuck it, I don’t want to improve myself that much. No one’s paying me!”

  4. My learning is, as usual, just going down rabbit holes. I got interested in the Thatcher era from watching The Crown. I’ve been slooowly reading this book:

    It’s Pierson’s dissertation, and it reads like a dissertation. But it’s really interesting if you can grind through it. I’m actually taking notes as I read so I don’t zone out and lose track. Part of the argument is how Reagan and Thatcher were quite unsuccessful at eliminating entire programs, but they were very good at death-by-a-thousand-cuts to any number of social welfare programs. There is a lot of detail about how, exactly, they managed that. It’s eye-opening.

  5. Learning a language sounds like a real grind.

    But learning a musical instrument is like that, too. There’s a longish period where you’re kind of mediocre. And learning programming languages can be like that too — your first Hello, World! program is fun, but then you have to grind through a bunch more stuff before you can do useful things, and even more before you can fluently do useful things, and do them elegantly.

    Maybe there’s a category of “skills and languages” that maps to what I’m talking about more than just taking an ancient history class.

  6. A lot is going on at work, so learning a ton about market developments. (Dull, I know.)

    I also really got into sourdough baking this past year, so am learning how to bake bread for the first time. Haven’t tried yeasted breads yet.

    I’ve tried several times to learn Spanish and just haven’t been able to push through the initial stages. My MIL says my pronunciation is very good, for what it’s worth.

  7. There is a difference between “take a class in something interesting”, and actually learning to DO something (speak a language, write a program, make pastry, play the clarinet, produce a nice drawing). Learning to do something is much more grindy than sitting back and watching the the prof expound on great Russian films or recent discoveries in astrophysics.

  8. I have been learning a lot of new music and making recordings. Mostly in the fall and around Xmas but I did a big project in the spring and am learning some more new stuff now.

  9. Learning to do something is much more grindy than sitting back and watching the the prof expound on great Russian films or recent discoveries in astrophysics.

    Yeh I only do grindy things for money.

  10. I have been baking a recipe a week. It’s usually something quick but it has improved my overall baking skills. I make small quantities that last a week. I didn’t have the time previously. I still have learning Spanish on my to list. I want it to be in person. I saw it as a down the road, almost empty nest type activity.

  11. Current focus is stained glass. Every project reminds me that I don’t know what I don’t know. I’m really looking forward to the time when I can take an actual class and learn techniques from people who are trained to teach it — I’ve watched several videos on different aspects of things, but there is a thinking and a mindset about how to approach and organize the project, design tricks to avoid impossible cuts, the order of adding the lead came,* etc. that I just don’t know.

    I’m also back into cooking some — Baldor and Goldbelly reminded me how much we enjoy variety and different food cultures, so I’ve made a number of things lately that I’d never tried before. But that’s not “learning” like learning a language — it’s more just playing around with different recipes and unfamilar blends of herbs/spices and new techniques to extend what I already know. So it would be more like taking a French lit class when you already know French.

    *I was surprised to realize a couple of projects in that the came is really the “design” that you notice — it’s basically the black lines in the coloring book that you just color around to make it pretty. And there is a lot to doing that well that that you don’t realize until you’ve done it wrong — where you start in the pattern, which direction has the “through” came vs. which has the short ones that butt up against it (and making sure to do it consistently across the entire project), how bad it looks when you have multiple pieces intersecting at odd angles at the same point, how to account for the amount of glass that is hidden by the came in the design, etc. etc. etc. And then of course there are even more basic decisions, like when does it make sense to create individual paper pattern pieces that you cut out and adhere to the glass to guide your cuts vs. when do you just measure/mark the glass to fit the spot on the full pattern you use for layout/caming.

  12. I’m interested in what the Totebag is learning and what new hobbies everyone is picking up, but I’m going in the opposite direction right now. I’m just finishing up a busy forecast cycle at work and wrapping up a large volunteer commitment. I don’t want to do anything in my free time that is productive. I’m looking forward to having fewer commitments for awhile.

    I’m reminded of a conversation with my mom’s best friend when my kids were under 5. She was asking for an update on my life, and I said work, kids, volunteer position, and she responded with, “what else?” I was super annoyed but too stunned to think of anything else to say. Isn’t keeping two small humans alive and a job enough?

  13. That being said I wouldn’t be opposed to getting my pilots license. Although I wouldn’t feel comfortable learning in another other the a Cirrus and that could get pricey. But it’s probably not something one should skimp on.

  14. “She was asking for an update on my life, and I said work, kids, volunteer position, and she responded with, “what else?””

    I’m happy to say we watch a lot of Netflix.

  15. I keep playing bridge and improving my game. We are taking a financially induced hiatus from our pro/teacher partners and playing a lot as a couple. Still married, so far. At almost 70, I am no longer interested in learning an entirely new thing. More interested spending time on the pastimes I already enjoy, getting instruction or training/treatment to improve my abilities. I have a lot of time to make up with grandkids this spring and summer.

  16. TCM – I remember being annoyed at my mom when she asked me what I was up to in my first year of law school. Studying, Mom, studying. In previous years, I held jobs, ran, did volunteer work, socialized – you know, lived – and attended school. She was a bit taken aback.

  17. She was asking for an update on my life, and I said work, kids, volunteer position, and she responded with, “what else?”

    I am having to drive only one kid to a limited number of places. I certainly don’t want every minute of my time scheduled. I will learn a few things but will not be running around like I did in the early kid years.

  18. I stopped my French lessons. I decided I didn’t want to spend anymore time on something I would never use. And really, once we move, I’ll never use French. After I get home I want to take piano lessons. I’d rather spend time on something I could share with others. For example, I could play Christmas carols for the family during the holidays. I started cross-stitching during confinement, but I think to move beyond my current ability would take more time and money investment that I’m willing to give. Like others I prefer to do grindy things for money.

  19. She was asking for an update on my life, and I said work, kids, volunteer position, and she responded with, “what else?”

    This is one of those questions that i find really annoying. A guy in my group had this “what do you do outside of work?” standard question that he often asked. And for so many years, my answer would have only been trying to keep by dialysis-dependent husband alive, trying to not murder my ADHD son and get him to pass x grade, and trying to not completely abandon my older son to be raised by wolves, all while doing this job that keeps everyone fed and sheltered and requires travel at the drop of a hat. I think my reaction as so strong because his reason for asking it was often to tell his stories about tennis and his convertible and what fun social event his wife had planned. In general though, I will say that those questions always make me feel like a loser for not developing hobbies. It’s just doesn’t sound that cool to say, I like to watch Netflix.

  20. I will say that those questions always make me feel like a loser for not developing hobbies.

    Same. I’d really like a hobby. But meh, I can’t be bothered.

  21. A few weeks ago when I was at the salon my hair stylist asked me what I was doing afterwards. My response, “the same thing I’ve been doing for the last year. Going home and watching tv”. I don’t know what she expected me to say, as our conversations since June have all been about staying home and what restaurants have the best takeout, but I assumed it was just part of her normal Q&A.

  22. Not only do I like to watch Netflix, I also like reading “non-literary fiction” (mystery/thriller novels), and I play stupid phone games (like Two Dots).

    I also will sometimes mess around with Duolingo, I’ve been expanding my cooking repertoire for a long time, learning “handyman” skills for lack of a better term by doing some limited home projects, and I do like to read non-fiction and watch documentaries and do things in The Before Times like visiting museums, going to author talks and lectures, etc.

  23. My senior manager remembered that I once said I like to read books. Whenever he came to town, he used to ask me which book I read recently. Sometimes, I hadn’t read a book for months, but just took the name of an appropriately intellectual book, I had probably read months earlier.

  24. I am not pursuing anything that could be considered “lifelong learning”.

    But, I have learned that it’s really hard to compare replacement windows across manufacturers, since no one carries more than one of the “national” lines. They all carry 1, and then also 1-2 other less expensive brands that might actually be “just as good”, but no one else carries them and they’re not in Consumer Reports’ (pretty limited) list of reviewed brands. In fact, I am quite disappointed at Consumer Reports’ information on replacement windows.

    And, of course, the same thing goes for mattresses. If you want e.g. Simmons Silver Line Mattress A (at one store), another store might have the exact same mattress but it’ll be Simmons Silver Line Mattress B, so you never really know if it’s the “same exact”. This I’ve known for a long time.

  25. More along the getting better at what you already know something about –
    1. I am taking a deeper dive into refining some of the Tai Chi forms I know and learning the second half a a QiGong form – 18 movements, I have the first 9 down.
    2. I am teaching four sailing skills in March – 6 knots, how to rig/unrig the sunfish, wind indicators/direction (not speed), and right of way. I know these things, but prepping to teach 6-10 graders is again making me take a deeper dive into details and making the complex as simple as possible.
    3. I rejoined – after a roughly 20 year hiatus – my investment club. They use a particular software and approach things a particular way. I lost my “old” software in a computer crash, so I need to spend some time getting up to speed again here.
    4. My start at container gardening was thwarted by the Snovid, but I am trying to grow a few veggies this spring and learn how to tend them rather than just planting and hoping.

    I am hoping SO will join me in the gardening adventure. He used to enjoy it and we had small crops of tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini for a number of years. I can see his world narrowing and I find it sad.

    I will say that with grown kids, I am getting closer to the amount of volunteer/personal interest things I used to do. I find that even though we are doing some things via email and others via zoom, having a wider variety of people I talk with has helped my outlook.

  26. My response, “the same thing I’ve been doing for the last year. Going home and watching tv”.

    Once in awhile, if I’m in a snarky mood, I’ll just say “The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world.”

    At my stepson’s wedding, his very weird missionary cousin lectured me about how I wasn’t doing enough even though he hadn’t asked me what I was up to. I just kind of wandered away. Go save some more souls, sweetness, I’m going to read the new Vanity Fair magazine.

  27. Milo,

    I was talking to my brother as this is his second year having a slip. He was talking about last May and the concern over opening the marinas. And I said, “It’s not like people just sit around the marina all day.” And he said, “That’s totally what they do. They come down with their wine and cheese and such and hang out and never go anywhere.”

    He loves it and is always going places. I could sort of see it as a cheaper alternative to a beach house.

  28. Louise – was it good? Haven’t there already been several airings of the Woody-Mia story? Is the jury really still out?

  29. And I looked and it was manufactured in 2002. And I though, wow that’s pretty new. And then I realized that was almost 20 years ago.

  30. “That’s totally what they do. They come down with their wine and cheese and such and hang out and never go anywhere.”

    Rhett – that’s definitely true. and the bigger the boat, the more likely it is to never move. although perhaps this is limited to my exposure to the middle class owner-operators. I can’t speak of the true rich, and certainly not those with captains and staff.

    I’m not sure what the issue is, but perhaps some of them overbuy, and if something breaks, they’re biding their time while learning how to fix it themselves? and then there’s fuel costs, plus the hassle of getting it in and out of the dock.

    when I was a kid, and my best friend down the street, his family had the Hatteras MY, they would drive 90 minutes each way, every weekend from Spring through Fall, and spend it at their yacht club. But the boat would leave its slip no more than twice per year, and one of those events it was something like a trip across the Bay to an area where they would anchor and swim.

  31. We have been watching The Investigation, Danish true crime thriller, on HBO. And for the other side of my personality, Forged by Fire on Netflix.

  32. Wandavision is amazing, on Disney, but if you arent already watching it, you probabky have no interest.

  33. DH and I need to find a new show. We finished all of the new CB Strike season and all of the All Creatures Great and Small. We tried but didn’t like the Nordic Murders and the Woman in White. Are the old Law & Orders on Peacock? I hate to get another streaming service but we could drop Hulu since it never has anything good on.

  34. “It’s just doesn’t sound that cool to say, I like to watch Netflix.”

    See, this is the kind of thing that brings out my inner smart-ass. If I’m clever enough in the moment, I’ll say exactly what Rocky said, or “correcting people who are wrong on the internet.” But usually I’m not. So I say something like “I spend quality time curled up in my comfy chair watching really bad TV.” Usually while laughing, because it really is so pitiful.

    Now, if I’m having a serious discussion with someone I’m actually interested in talking with, I’ll explain how my daily life is full of schedules and must-dos, so during my downtime I revel in the mere fact of having *nothing* that needs to be done. Which is 100% true. But in a small-talk setting, I absolutely refuse to justify my sloth and lethargy by contrasting it to hoooooowwww buuussssy my normal days are. Because that whole “I’m so important I just can’t get a moment for myself!” martyrdom drives me batshit.

    Oh, speaking of sloth and lethargy: for my birthday, DS got me a super-duper-soft robe-cape, for lack of a better word. It’s basically a cape to wear over your jammies, with a ribbon that you can use to tie it around you (and create sort-of “sleeves”). And it’s even softer than the Costco blanket that I went so apeshit over last year (and still use)! It is ridiculously stupid and SO comfy and I absolutely love it!

  35. I am spending more time working out using Apple Fitness+ since the beginning of the year. So I guess I have that. As I admitted, I was surprised at how hard some of the beginning exercises were since I’ve always considered myself pretty strong. But apparently sometime in the last 20 years while I wasn’t looking, my body aged. Since I can already feel the difference, I’m hoping to do a better job of staying in better shape now that I’m getting older. It’s much easier to find the time without the commute, and when I’m in exercise-y clothes all day anyway. It will be harder to keep up once I return to the office.

    Like many companies, ours has reemphasized diversity and inclusion. I’ve been doing more reading on the topic. I think I mentioned we read Caste and recently attended a virtual author talk. Our last book was Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. Very different approach – Caste was academic and explained the history, and Uncomfortable was much more conversational and a bit more helpful in thinking about how I act/react/consider things in the moment. Anyway, if any of you are looking for an approachable book on the topic, I’d recommend it. I haven’t watched (yet) but understand the book grew out of his YouTube video talks.

  36. We have been watching Forged by Fire too, and now DH wants a forge in retirement.

    On the positive side, I found a plumber who can install the replacement tankless water heater for $950, which is significantly less than the $2200 quote for Friday’s scheduled appointment. I only have to wait an extra day. After that, everything is back to normal.

    For Finn, on trying to understand the failure points, DH thinks we had the sprinkler pipe rupture because of the order in which he switched off the valves. He thinks he inadvertently trapped water between two. One of the valves ruptured, causing about 16 inches of pipe that was sufficiently wrapped to rupture. Or at least that was my interpretation of what was explained to me. My takeaway is that if I’m ever responsible is I’m hiring someone to come out and handle it.

  37. Louise – was it good? Haven’t there already been several airings of the Woody-Mia story? Is the jury really still out?

    Kerri – I hadn’t seen any old versions. This version is the Mia side of it clearly. It’s so NYC of the 70s. Plus, I didn’t realize how many kids Mia had, both bio and adopted. One thing is clear, too many kids for a single person to be responsible for, celebrity or not.

  38. Because I do watch streaming shows, I’ll suggest Yellowstone (peacock), Your Honor (Showtime) and Ted Lasso (Apple+).

  39. “We have been watching Forged by Fire too, and now DH wants a forge in retirement.”

    Ditto. Go-to for DH/DS when I’m not around. They’ve taken some forging classes, and I would not be even remotely surprised if DH adds a forge whenever he finally retires.

  40. I’m not sure what the issue is,

    All the things you mentioned are part of it. I also think many boaters don’t have a lot of training and aren’t really comfortable out on the ocean. From what I can tell in MA, I could walk in and buy this:

    And just start driving it around. I don’t need a license or any training or anything. If a generic rich guy buys a boat, he might not have the time or interest in building up his skills.

  41. Lupin on Netflix – really good, but they split the season so there are only five episodes. The other five are coming this summer. I rewatched Bridgerton while I was on the treadmill because I really enjoyed the series.

    We watched one season of Ramy and we are about to start the second season. It is smart and funny, but some of it is serious and depressing.

  42. “From what I can tell in MA, I could walk in and buy this:”

    There is a basic boating license req’t. When I was a kid, a number of states said “anyone born after 1972 [for example] needs a boating license to operate anything with more than 10 hp. At that time, those born in 1972 were 18 years old, and the intent was that the year would never change, and it hasn’t. So it went from “kids actually need a boating license” to now “everyone except old people needs one.” But yeah, you could certainly buy it. And if MA is like most other states, you can take an online course in a few hours and get your license for personal (non-commercial) use. I helped DW get hers, but she didn’t need me. There’s no specific size limit at that point.

    But from what I’ve gathered by following a couple Facebook groups, for a boat like that you’re going to run into trouble if you hope to insure it. Progressive will be the first one who says “Hold on there, shipmate. What experience do you have for something like this?” And depending on all the relevant factors, size and how much liability coverage you’re seeking, etc., they might require you to get X hours of on-the-water training with a licensed captain first.

  43. “I am spending more time working out using Apple Fitness+ since the beginning of the year.”

    @Sunshine – I got a free trial because I got a new watch, and I’m surprised by how much I like it. I think I’m going to keep it. Of course, it also makes me sad that some of the “throwback hits” are even a bit recent for me (2005 is throwback now?). But I really like some of the trainers – Greg, Bettina and Kim are my favorites. And I really enjoy doing the dance workouts in the privacy of my own home where no one has to see my terrible moves/lack of rhythm.

    That said – talking about your workout is generally terrible small talk with strangers, so it’s not something I’m going to bring up when a neighbor casually asks me what I’ve been up to.

    The funny thing about Netflix as a shameful answer is that some of the best side conversations & friendly banter I’ve had in the past year with coworkers is all about what our latest streaming show is – followed up with memes and jokes sent vis group chat.

  44. “The funny thing about Netflix as a shameful answer is that some of the best side conversations & friendly banter I’ve had in the past year with coworkers is all about what our latest streaming show is”

    FWIW, that’s been my experience, too. The most common response I get to my flip answer is a laugh that is both rueful and relieved, and then discussion switches to which bad version of TV we each like.

  45. “Was there enough nighttime waterskiing that it was an issue?”

    I see a surprising amount of it around dusk even when it gets really hard for another boat to see a swimmer in the water.

  46. Unfortunately I rate waterskiing just above camping in the list of supposedly fun things I’ll never do again.

  47. Resident Alien on Syfy is really good.

    The Battered Bastards of Baseball on Netflix is a great documentary about a minor league team in Portland in the 70s owned by actor Bing Russell (Kurt’s father). It’s very entertaining even if you aren’t a baseball fan.

    Wandavision is tempting me to get Disney+. I’m thinking I’ll wait until it’s finished then subscribe for a month to binge it and the Mandalorian and whatever else I might like.

  48. We’ve watched a number of Forged by Fire episodes because DD is fascinated by project video and also like weapons,but it gets pretty repetitions – lots of white dudes hurling badly made blades at raw meat. For that ilk of show, I vastly prefer Blown Away, which now has two seasons. The glassblowers are more interesting, there is more discussion, and you get to look at lovely glass at the end and see it critiqued.

  49. We tried to watch Lenox Hill, but it reminded me of an infomercial promoting, well, Lenox Hill. We also started Mr Robot because DD is interested in cybersecurity and likes angsty heros. It seems OK, but dang, that main character needs someone to slap him out of his misery. Even DD thought he needed to stop whining.

  50. MM – I love Blown Away. I know one of the judges that was on a Season 1 episode. One of those arty people that turned his passion into a career. The art of glassworks is fascinating to watch.

    We just finished watching Marcella. Season 2 was hard to watch, but Season 3 was really good.

  51. Rhett – why?

    You know how when you’re taking skiing lessons or windsurfing lessons or rollerblading or ice skating and they tell you the key is bending your knees? I can’t do whatever that is they want me to do.

  52. I’m confident—perhaps overconfident—that I could teach you, if we were by ourselves on a calm morning on the lake, assuming you’ve retained reasonable upper body strength proportional to your frontal cross-sectional area.

    Unlike learning Greek, you just have to survive the 2-3 seconds until the boat pulls you out of the water. The rest is butter.

  53. JM – I want to say, I feel real bad about the way your expat assignment turned out. My DD was mentioning studying abroad in France in college and I thought that not all experiences abroad turn out to be fun. I also don’t know what the post pandemic college experience will look like.

  54. “One thing is clear, too many kids for a single person to be responsible for, celebrity or not.”

    Yes, totally.

    I started re-watching Frasier on AppleTV but they only had 2 seasons for free. It holds up. Love Niles Crane.

  55. We’ve been watching Yellowstone. Kevin Costner. ’nuff said.

    What have I been learning? A former co-worker pulled me into my current contract position. I did not have an interview and I wasn’t given a formal job description until I asked for it after I was on the job for about 3 weeks. Turns out I do not have the expertise that is required per the job description, so I’ve been doing a lot of research and learning it on the fly. I’m somewhat familiar with what needs to be done but I have zero experience with actually doing it. At first I freaked out but then I thought (and I’m channeling Rhett here) what do I have to lose if I just run with it? Worst case scenario, I’ll be back where I started. Anyway, everything is going fairly well and they’ve approached me about applying for a newly created permanent position. If only I had this self-confidence 30 years ago.

  56. We did a lot of painting over our lockdown last year, and I think I am in the middle zone that RMS references. It’s not a novel pursuit, but it is not fascile, either. However, painting with my kids is one of those things that make me feel like I am being a good parent, so I press on.

    I have interviewed Au Pair candidates who have asked what my hobbies are. So many responses that I did not use. The truth, though, especially during the little kid years: My hobbies are going out to eat while the Au Pair takes care of my kids, going out to bars and getting drinks with friends while the Au Pair takes care of kids, long meandering Costco and Target trips alone and day-sleeping.

    I will throw out a tip for anyone looking to dabble in art things – I have liked the Domesticka courses. They are mostly in spanish (which is a little difficult to read subtitles and watch images). They are inexpensive and outcome driven – watercolor painting with botanical emphasis, with final product being a painting of a deconstructed flower. I’ve been thinking of doing one of the sketchbook courses with my tween.

  57. Louise: Thank you for your sentiment. I wouldn’t worry about your daughter having a bad study abroad experience in college. I’ve come to a conclusion after reading many Totebaggers wax poetically about their idyllic study abroad experiences. Moving abroad to live with a family that has willingly opened their home to someone from another country or being part of a large group of others who have likewise moved from around the world to the same place is a vastly different experience to being dropped into the middle of a corporate environment where you are the only one from another country and your colleagues don’t like people from any country other than their own and don’t understand why you have taken a job that should have gone to one of their countrymen(women).

    I’m sure some study abroad experiences don’t work out, but I think overall it would be a great experience. Of course, like you, I have no idea what the post-pandemic world will look like.

  58. JM – my parents have rented out their apartment in the home country to corporate/diplomatic expats. Their renters had been in the home country for some time. Yet, being in another country with the pandemic was a very stressful experience and many expats returned home.

  59. Yeah, being in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language, have no support system and have no way to leave wouldn’t be my first choice to ride out a global pandemic, but whadya gonna do?? As others have said. Just think of all the great life experience I’ve gained.

  60. JM — I’ve learned so much from your comments. Any of our life decisions has the potential to turn out much differently than expected. Sometimes better and sometimes worse. Our ability to adapt, react, or go with the flow makes the biggest difference in our contentment and well-being. You seem to have the right approach.

    I’ve enjoyed Tucci’s Searching for Italy. Even the dish with offal looks good.

    I Care a Lot has mixed reviews, but I’m intrigued.

  61. “You seem to have the right approach.” Wow, Kim, thanks! I feel like all I do is complain so this comment means a lot.

  62. JM said “Moving abroad to live with a family that has willingly opened their home to someone from another country or being part of a large group of others who have likewise moved from around the world to the same place”
    I did the family experience and from listening to friends who did the “study abroad with a flock of my peers” experience, have realized that the two approaches are not similar at all. When you go live with a totally strange family for months, not only do you have to get up to speed in the language pretty fast (no one in my host family spoke English and I think that is pretty common), but you are also now part of whatever family dysfunction and drama exists in the host family. And you know, every family has drama.You have to quickly make local friends or else have no social life at all. I found the experience to be really hard – ultimately rewarding because I learned a lot that I couldn’t have learned any other way – but boy did I feel scared and isolated a lot of the time. And I was only 15!

  63. JM, many of our international students headed home because of the pandemic, but continued to take classes. I have a student who connects in from Nepal! He wanted his own culture and family around him while riding out the pandemic. It makes sense to me

  64. I watched Tucci last night. It was a great ‘escape’ and I enjoyed it very much. To be able to travel and experience food. The Naples episode was interesting because it was filmed in the summer, during the pandemic, but everything seemed so normal (just with occasional masks).

    In high school I knew three international students who were studying abroad at my school. It was really interesting because none of them were living with a host family that had high schoolers, so they seemed so isolated from a true teenage experience. I played basketball with one girl and she was pretty miserable in that home, and she was shocked at how you needed a car to go anywhere.

    My own study abroad experience was great, but there were also late night tears in calls to my mom. It was isolating and out of my comfort zone. But I came back to the States more confident and outgoing.

  65. “When you go live with a totally strange family for months, not only do you have to get up to speed in the language pretty fast (no one in my host family spoke English and I think that is pretty common), but you are also now part of whatever family dysfunction and drama exists in the host family.”

    My host family was a 40-something divorced (rare for Spain then) mom and her ~20yo daughter. Daughter was developmentally challenged, had the brain of a 4-5-6yo, so spoke perfect Spanish but was, shall we say, quirky like 4-6yos can be.

    Upside was I could easily understand her because she spoke slowly, so I picked up on idiomatic stuff probably quicker than I would have otherwise (because it likely would have gone over my head if I only heard it from adults), and the mom spoke like we do/did to our young kids, and had to repeat stuff, again a benefit to me. And the kid would ask me lots of questions, boring, tedious, repetitive, but man did my fluency and pronunciation benefit.

    Downside was having a young kid around. I’d go into the bathroom to wash my hands/face and obv not flush the toilet. She’d notice and shout to everyone and no one “Hay que tirar la cadena” (literally “You have to pull the chain” = “you have to flush the toilet”). The mom never made me play along and just go and flush the toilet, so the kid learned you can go into the bathroom and not always use the toilet. The kid would watch the small TV I had in my room when I wasn’t around. Never anything broken/missing, just no privacy.

    All in all a plus, but to MM’s point, you never know what you’ll get.

  66. DH’s Spanish host family was extremely authoritarian and patriarchal. One day one of the sons, Mario, “ran away from home.” Mario was 25. DH had some run-ins with the dad but ultimately understood his place. He got a local girlfriend and hung out with her and her friends. That helped a lot.

  67. My host family consisted was a divorced lady who bought and sold casinos for a living. She had dyed spiked red hair, wore leather jeans, and drove a Porsche (way too fast). She had a 12 year old daughter and a boyfriend from Marseilles. She also had a 17 year old daughter who hated her and mostly lived with the dad. The 17 year old and I detested each other because we were just radically different kinds of people. I liked the 12 year old and the mom, and even the boyfriend.

    The first time we went to visit the mom’s parents, I realized she came from something very different than the image she presented. Her parents had a small farm on the Belgian border and were very traditional, very Belgian farmer. I realized that the reason we always drank beer at dinner was likely from her origins. She told me once that during WWII, they were on the invasion route and the farm took a lot of damage. They pretty much starved during the occupation. The mom was horrified that I had lived in Germany and said she could never set foot in that country.

    I have always wondered how she ended up. I do have FB links to some of my friends from France, though my closest friend there died in a horrific car crash in the early 90’s

  68. Well, Louise, these stories sound horrible. Maybe you should dissuade your daughter from studying abroad!

  69. JM, it wasn’t horrible. It was pretty cool. But it was quite different from the experience of college students who go with piles of classmates to an overseas extension campus of a US college, usually their own college. I am guessing that the college students who go with their peers have more traditional fun, but may learn less about the country they are in

  70. I had a GREAT exchange trip (to France) when I was in HS – only 3 weeks but it was amazing. The first week we were there it was their February vacation week, and my host family took me skiing in the Alps for that week, which was really great for my language skills, although I didn’t appreciate the skiing as much as I would have if I had been more experienced! (I had only had a couple of lessons on the bunny slopes first – we did XC skiing instead of downhill when I was a kid). My host sisters seemed a lot like my younger siblings (2 and 5 years younger than I was) and we watched the Olympics on a giant screen at the ski resort with a bonfire, etc. Amazing! I also ate fondue which I had never had before, and there was a pool and an ice rink that we used when it was snowing/foggy. The exchange (our whole French class went) was in a Paris suburb, so when we went back there we had school in the morning (boring) to ‘keep up’ and then we went sightseeing in the afternoons. The other 2 weekends we were there my host family took me to Mont St Michel (also amazing) and Versailles (ditto). I really appreciated their efforts to show me everything possible!

  71. I watched Tucci last night. It was a great ‘escape’ and I enjoyed it very much.

    It was so good! And they have already picked it up for season 2.

    I loved how they want to what amounts to the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti of San Marzano tomatoes.

  72. I had a horrible stay with a French family. I went on a 3-week trip to France with my high school and 8 days were a home stay with a French family near Geneva. I was with a married couple who were in their late 30s/early 40s who had no children. They were perfectly nice, but they didn’t interact with me at all. I felt like I was on a silent retreat. I remember I had one book with me, “Sense and Sensibility”, and I read the book as slowly as possible to give me something to do. The couple was very introverted – no phone calls, no friends stopping by, I don’t think they even had the TV/radio on. I’m not sure what the wife did to occupy herself. I believe the husband was an actuary or some type of job like that. I remember they asked if I wanted to tour a museum the first day I was there, I said yes because I was trying to be amenable. They brought me to the museum and in French said they’d wait for me in the lobby as they had already seen it. What?! They also brought me to a UN tour and dropped me off there and waited outside for me. They brought me to the movie theater and told me they’d pick me up later. I remember watching Spike Lee’s “Girl 6” alone in a theater. It was so bizarre. Why did they volunteer to host me? They also had a fair amount of money but would have me pay for my own things if we went places like to a bakery. I recall thinking how I thought it was strange that they wouldn’t pay for my $2 tab, because in my family that would have been a given.

    When I met up with the rest of the kids from my group, I discovered they all saw each other over the week because their host families were classmates/friends. They had an amazing time. Well, everyone, but my closest friend on the trip, who stayed with a family where the dad hit one of the kids in front of her at dinner. So my experience was only the second worst of the group.

    I didn’t do a home stay study abroad in college because I was scarred from my experience.

  73. Rhett, DH and I were joking that the key to real San Marzano tomatoes isn’t the ash soil, but rather the highway runoff! It is funny how small that plot of farm land is.

    There is Neopolitan pizza place near us. Their pizza looks exactly like what was shown on the show. They have bufala mozzerella flown in weekly.

  74. DH is still FB friends with some of his Spanish friends and “family”. The youngest “brother” is an engineer who works for one of those enormous multi-national companies that builds highways and stuff, and he’s been in the U.S. for 12-13 years now. They came up for a weekend once. His wife still speaks no English but was very sweet and patient with my Spanish. The daughter has just graduated cum laude from Georgia State and is going to law school next year at Emory, so she called DH to talk about law school and law careers. So even though there were difficult days, I know DH is glad he did it and got to know all those folks.

  75. @JM – I see what you mean. The time I lived abroad I was also working in a corporate environment, but it was different because I was at a European HQ location, so there were people from all over Europe there. And it was an American company, so English was the main language of business in that office. There were still more Spaniards speaking Catalan to each other than anything else, but there were two Americans (me & a lawyer), a couple of Germans, a Belgian (Flemish), two Dutch guys, a couple of French guys, a couple of Brits, a guy from Hungary & I can’t even remember who else. They still liked to mock me as the naïve American girl (I was single and in my 20’s). But your situation sounds much more like if I was plunked into the HQ of my current company in Paris. It’s been so enlightening reading some of your thoughts though – it’s really disabused me of any notion that going to our Paris HQ for a stint would be a fun experience.

  76. I did think it was odd that the wife (who has a law degree back in Spain) spoke zero English even after a few years here. Her husband spoke good English and the kids, who were going to U.S. schools, spoke unaccented fluent English. She must have been really isolated. I said something about how it’s good that there’s Spanish-language TV and she insisted she couldn’t understand a word of Mexican Spanish. Okay.

  77. I did think it was odd that the wife (who has a law degree back in Spain) spoke zero English even after a few years here.

    I think it’s like anything. There is a range of ability and at one extreme you have people who have a great facility with language and pick it up easily. And at the other extreme you have people who just can’t. It’s like me and waterskiing. It’s just not meant to be.

  78. I spent a summer in Naples, living with my then BF’s family (and THAT was an experience!). I came to know and love Neapolitan pizza and it is still the standard by which I judge all pizza. We visited Naples again a few years ago and it was just as I remembered. A lot of artisinal pizza places in the US claim to be Neapolitan but it isn’t right because in the US, they load the pizza up with tons of things like squash and bacon. In Naples, the most canonical pizza is marinara, which doesn’t even have cheese on it – just tomato sauce and one or two basil leaves in the center. Add a little, not too much,mozzarella and now you have Margherita. Neapolitan pizza tends to be much more tomato-centric than US pizza.
    Lots of photos of marinara and margherita pizzas in Naples at this link

  79. In high school I did two home stays during a 3 week class trip to France. At one home it was a retired couple. They spoke almost zero English, so my friend and I got by with our minimal French. Their home cooking was excellent! On the last day they were to take us back to the city center but we were driving further into the country, along rolling hills. They tried to tell us where we were going, but we couldn’t understand them. My friend and I were getting concerned we’d miss the bus. We stopped at this church in the middle of nowhere, and there, for as far as the eye could see were sunflowers. It was really beautiful.

    At the other home stay we stayed with a couple and their two small children. They clearly had a lot of money, and lived in his gorgeous house that still had bullet holes on the exterior from the bombings of Dunkirk. They showed us around the city, pointing out significant WWII buildings which was cool. The guy took the train into Paris every day. The wife spoke little English and she got really annoyed at us because she thought we were meeting her for lunch one day, but there was a translation issue and instead we met up with our classmates at the boardwalk and had a grand time. The rest of the home stay was a bit awkward because of how mad the wife was at us.

    We were lucky, because I know some people had homestays like TCM.

  80. “We stopped at this church in the middle of nowhere, and there, for as far as the eye could see were sunflowers.”

    Was this in Burgundy? The church wouldn’t have been Vezelay, would it have been?

  81. My host mom didn’t take us on outings. We just lived a normal life. I went to school, so I did some school field trips which were pretty fun, especially the week in England – not so much for the cultural sites although those were cool. It was more the culture clash of being with two busloads of screaming lycee kids in London.

  82. MM, I was in Dijon, but looking at a map, Vezelay would have been too far.

    I would love to go back and just drive around discovering/rediscovering these tiny villages.

  83. I had the live-in-a-family experience in high school and it was very good. I actually think it taught me a lot how functional families work, and gave me role models for different kinds of fathers and mothers. I’d like to believe it helped me escape some of the generationa dysfunction in my family. I was the only American in town/school that I knew (70,000). I didn’t find it easy to make friends, but it was Scandinavia, so people were always cold and polite. I do keep good contact with the family – the father turned 90 a few years ago and DH made a mad dash to Europe sans kids to be there for the party.

    I hope my kid(s) will do something similar, but it is hard to imagine sending them out in the world, even 5 years from now.

  84. Wow, my study abroad was much better than these stories! It was a good combination: I stayed with a family, I went to most of my classes at the Universite with other French kids, but there was a
    “home base” kind of lounge for the kids on the trip in a separate building, they had an intensive language course for a month before real classes started, and then IIRC I took one ongoing language class through them as well. Also, the trip was run by my mom’s college (so free for me!), but it had people from several different schools — so we had some “fellow American” support system built in, but we also weren’t surrounded by people we already knew, so we were forced to make friends at every level.

    My memory of my homestay was totally fine — I think it was a mom and a kid who was somewhere between say 13-25 (so zero interest in me), in an apartment maybe 1/2 mile from the lounge/universite area. They were nice enough, but they had their own lives, and I had privacy in my own room and my own stuff going on (plus I was hampered by my belief in my own incompetence in the language — wasn’t until near the end of the trip that I realized I was fluent after a couple of glasses of wine). So we had a few meals together, but I largely managed my own stuff and they managed theirs.

    Of course, I was also 20 at the time, which is very different than doing the same at 15.

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