Saturday, October 27, 2012

So 2.5 months later

So two and a half months since I made a blog post and even longer since I made one on the experience of Russia. Here is a catch up, but unlike earlier catch up posts, this one will not be divided by dates. I wrote this in piecemeal some beginning on the train from Moscow to St. Petersburg. This post will be the end of my Moscow experience and the timing in some paragraphs reflect the time I wrote them, not based on the end of October.

Most of our (my fellow trainees’/interns’ and my) days have been spent in our own classes throughout the day getting trained for various things. We had lessons in grammar to make sure that we knew the grammar we would be teaching; we were given lessons in methodology; how to handle various classes ranging from young learners (think kindergarten style class even if the ages is a little wider range) to full adults; are they learning English for pleasure, business, forced by parents, etc; do we have to teach to a specific English test they are looking to take (perhaps a certain business test, a test to study abroad in an English speaking country, a test when they graduate high-school called YEGE – all subjects encompassing and students can add an English portion if they want).

We were taught many different things throughout the day, and then in the evenings we had to teach 8 times in the past 3 weeks: 6 in the first 2 weeks and 2 times this past week. All the classes for the training period were adult classes and I must say the students were a lot of fun. These were broken down into their level of English as 1 Elementary class, 1 Pre-Intermediate, 2 Intermediate, and 2 Upper Intermediate for a total of 6 classes. The first 2 weeks we each taught every class once and then this last week we taught 2 of the classes. I had one of the two upper int classes and one of the two intermediate classes twice, and then the other 4 I only had once. Sometimes we might talk to the students from other classes that we had previously taught before classes began or after the class was over. The last night a few of the students came to the bar next to Language Link where many interns were having a “last night hurrah” and there were some good conversations happening.

The lesson planning began really rough and I had my first three days in a row so I was not able to learn from my mistakes before creating my next lesson. However, for the second week I was able to take a nice long look at my reviews and incorporate the suggestions and I was able to navigate the lesson planning process better, so even though they graded harder the further along we got, I still had higher grades which was nice. While some of the lesson planning was a drag, overall it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed both making lessons and teaching the classes.

As I mentioned above, the last night there was an intern hurrah at Vokzal, the bar next to Language Link, where we had that first Saturday get-together. It was a bittersweet moment as we were all glad to be done with the ITP, but at the same time we knew that many were leaving the following day and who knows if or when we’ll see these people that we became bonded to during the past 4 weeks.
For those of you interns reading this, much love and I will miss you all. I’d love to visit, and you’re always welcome to SPB (St. Petersburg).

My mother-in-law’s stepson Andrei lives in Moscow and I brought some things from the US that I was supposed to give him. Instead of just a short meet-up he decided to invite me to his dacha to visit with his friends as they celebrated the last weekend before school began, so my third weekend in Moscow I went out to his dacha. Overall it was quite a nice dacha, but I must say, their outhouse, while a little more than a wooden shack, had a bucket that requires emptying every so often, in place of the hole in the ground that Daria’s outhouse has in SPB. I prefer the hole, but alas. Andrei and his friends were quite nice and many of them spoke enough English that I could talk quite fine, and surprisingly it provided me with an opportunity to practice my teaching as I did lots of error correction for pronunciation and missing verbs, articles, or wrong words. They were quite thrilled to have the corrections and for the ability to practice their English, although once again it left me with little chance to learn Russian. Well one guy tried to teach me some swear words, but I only remember one of them.

Friday night was basically a small fire in the woods, about 7 people, and a couple beers. Saturday night, however, was a much bigger event, as it was “the party of the last weekend before school.” About 25-30 people between the ages of 18-30 – not all in school, but they’re part of the young crowd so they still go out – out in the woods, again with a fire, but also with a makeshift table out of two-by-fours (or whatever their metric equivalent) and a door off it’s hinges to house both a fully stocked bar and speakers and the DJs equipment. Of course it helped that 2 of the people who live there are a bar tender and a DJ in Moscow for their jobs. Getting the generator started for it was quite the comical experience though. It as an American built Honda generator, sold in Russia, with an instruction booklet in Italian, Dutch, and German. At first they didn’t read which languages were in the book so they were excited to have me try and help them start it since “I could read the booklet.” Of course I couldn’t so we had to find other ways, did it wrong and by the time we figured out how to do it, we had broken part of it.

It’s a good thing Russian men, yes the men, even in this group which I would identify as more in the American style feminist, are good at mechanics and stuff, even if they’re in brainy jobs. These guys do their own car repair and maintenance; do their own plumbing, electricity, heating, and the rest of the manual labor. Well, ok, so for the generator mechanics we had to take it to someone’s dad who fixed it, and the party was able to begin.

I’m told, some people stayed out as late as 10am although most left around 7am. Still, I even as much fun as I had, I left much earlier than that and got a reasonable sleep, did some work Sunday afternoon, and returned to the city. Of course my work was limited since even though I brought my computer, I have the fortunate experience of having a new-old computer: my brother’s old laptop to replace my old broken one. I had a trial period of MS Word, which expired that Friday and I wasn’t able to download/order my new Word until Tuesday or Wednesday when I got back to the city, work that required Word was not achieved last weekend.

Sadly, while the ITP has been fun, we also had some plague of some sort going through the office. About 6 or 7 people had it over the last 2 weeks. Out of 28 people, that’s a high number and I was one of those (un)fortunate souls. I missed work both Tuesday and Wednesday laying in bed unable to do very much. I’m just getting it all out of the way, you know. Giardia, and whatever that sickness was, I figure I should be good for my quota now for the rest of the year. I almost went to work Wednesday afternoon thinking I could make it for half the day. Got dressed, almost out the door, and I buckled over from stomach cramps so I went back to bed. I had actually been feeling sick Monday, but I taught anyway, even while feeling faint. When I got my review on Thursday, one of the nice compliments he gave me was, “well if that’s how you felt and that’s how you taught, being sick could be good for your teaching. Not that you want to be sick, but you did a great job.” Of course that’s my paraphrase, but his compliment made up for the previous two days.

My homestay was also very nice to me during my entire stay. Truly wonderful people that I will miss dearly. Bruce and Katy, I hope you are reading this, but they reminded me a lot of you two and the kindness you showed me that year in Turlock. It brought back some fond memories. So Maxim and Tatiana sent me off with four chocolate bars (2 of their favorite type, and the 2 they learned that I like a lot while drinking tea), some grub for the journey, and now some fond memories of my Moscow homestay.

I posted on Facebook, but I’ll do it here as well, 1 Sept is called “knowledge day” because that’s when kids start school (well Monday since it’s a Saturday). Even though it was the weekend there were festivities down in the courtyard between our buildings where the kids gathered and there were speeches and songs and other various things. It was only an hour or maybe a little more, but quite a nice thing to listen to while packing. Sometimes I ventured to the window and I could see smiles on the kids’ faces, even from the 17th floor. If only American kids were that excited about going to school. I think many kindergartners are, but here even the older kids in 5th/6th grade were excited. I didn’t see the teens (different school location), but I suspect they have a similar angsty thought about returning. Oh well, still nice to see people excited about learning and knowledge.

Lastly, I’d like to thank Chris Riordan from my internship for loaning me “Game of Thrones” those last 3 weeks. An excellent book for anyone who might be interested and a much better way to spend my time on the Metro than my iPod. 806 pages completed in just under 3 weeks going back and forth 40-45 minutes on the Metro (and I didn’t even get much done while sick because I couldn’t focus that long; additionally I’d like to mention that I travelled 15.4 miles in 40 minutes to work at the cost of about 85-90 cents). I won’t give any details, but let’s say I was enthralled and it was very hard to continue lesson planning at home after work, but I was able to keep to my schedule well. Of course, Chris and I also bonded over other things like progressive metal such as Tool, Dream Theater, and a new one he showed me I want to say Porcupine Tree, but I can’t look it up on the internet right now. I may verify before posting or maybe not. As we said last night, his and my many discussions about various things, we are братъя, brothers.

Well, ta for now, and again much love to all my fellow interns that are either remaining in Moscow or travelling to some other far off city. May your travels be safe, your teaching productive, and your experiences wonderful. And many, many thanks to my homestay Maxim and Tatiana. They were extremely kind and hospitable.

PS. I had a post thought as I am riding the train from Moskva to Piter. Another reason why the US needs to adopt more trains, especially high-speed, for transportation. Sure, trains may not be productive for the person who needs to get between LA and NY very fast, but for the shorter trips, it could certainly prove useful. Even SF to LA could be done by train instead of flight (a good high-speed might be able to do it in about the same time if you consider the time one must wait at the airport, but even if it takes an hour more, honestly I think we could all adjust.

But as to my reasons I say first and foremost, give me the legroom. I have great legroom on this train. I can stretch out relax, sit comfortably, most side to side a little. I can get up, stretch my legs, walk around, walk to the food car, etc. I mean if it were me, and I was going on a business trip, I’d certainly take the extra hour or two spent travelling for the extra comfort on a good high-speed rail. And as I’ve said, both for public transportation in general, trains and metros are so much nicer than driving anyway. But, yeah, plenty of space to get business work done, honestly a train ticket is still cheaper than the plane ticket and if you’re buying business class. Sure it’s the company, but hey the company could save money, you could still ride in comfort. Seems like a win for everyone but the airlines (who as transportation companies more often in debt anyway, maybe only a few should stay in the air and most turn toward ground travel. They might save themselves money too).

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