17 September 2006

"He was my first love, but we split up because he was a gold digger."

So, it’s been a while. It’s been a busy week for me – my first week teaching! – and internet complications (as in, sometimes it doesn’t work, even at the internet café) made it even harder for me to find the time, energy and money to get online. So now that it’s finally the weekend, here’s an update!

1. Teaching. It’s hard. I like it and am especially excited about getting to know my students better, but it’s more stressful and wearing than I expected. I’m teaching fourth-year students, which is not what I expected, so it’s more difficult to feel like our class time is really valuable to them than it would be if they were beginners or intermediate-level students. I think I had this idealistic vision that after every class I would walk away feeling like I had done a lot to improve my students’ ability to speak English. That’s not really how it works – partly because they’re so advanced already, and I think partly because that’s just not how it ever works – and that’s hard to adjust to. Other challenges are feeling out exactly what my role is, as an “authority figure” who’s so obviously almost the same age as my students (most are 20 or 21); and just getting used to being on the other side of the teacher’s desk. For example, silences that I would likely have just accepted or ignored as a student now seem deafening and awkward and a problem that is a) my fault and b) my job to fix. Whew. I’m guessing I’ll get better at this at some point.

2. Q: How is living in the university dorm in present-day Vladivostok like living in “Little House in the Taiga?”
A: There’s no hot water! And there won’t be until October, because the city shuts it off in the summer to conserve energy. So I take pioneer-style baths that involve boiling a lot of water pot by pot and filling a small tub with it, then using my sole saucepan to pour water from the tub onto myself. The only difference is that the tub is Rubbermaid and the water gets boiled in an electric kettle. And Maw and Paw and Laura and Mary and baby Jack don’t all have to share the water.

The tub does triple duty as my bath reservoir, dishpan and laundry tub. Yesterday the following exchange took place:
Anya, pointing to a bath pouf floating with the dirty pots and pans: Is that for the dishes?
Leslie: Oh, no, that’s my bath pouf. I wonder how it got in the dishwasher?
Anya says this is an indication that I have the right attitude about life in Russia.

3. On Wednesday there was a ‘holiday’ for all the foreign students and teachers at DVGU. It was the most amazing, hilarious, touching, totally Russian thing I’ve ever seen. They herded us all into this auditorium and kicked off the celebration with the playing of the international students’ anthem (Gaudeamus Igitur – ring any bells, Yalies?), followed by speeches from the director of the International Department, the rector of the university, the director of the Oriental Institute, the director of the Russian School, and other luminaries. Each one gushed about how great it was to have foreigners here and how welcome we were, etc., but the best part was the bizarre cross between fanfare music and lounge music that literally blared from the speakers as each person entered and left the stage. That and the fact that the vast majority of people in the auditorium had no idea what any of the speeches were about, because so many are beginning Russian students.
After that, we were treated to performances by a Russian folk dance group and a group of folk singers, all DVGU students. It rapidly became apparent that these were only the opening acts to a full-blown variety show that ended up including dance troupes in white bodysuits, Mardi Gras/Vegas dancer dresses and Tarzan attire, singing groups in sailor outfits (two), songs in English and Chinese as well as Russian, an accordion performance, and this incredible jump-rope dance troupe whose performance was worthy of America’s Got Talent. (Any Slavs reading this? The girls yikked as they jumped.) The show culminated in a stirring rendition of the DVGU student song, Я иду в ДВГУ. ("I go to DVGU.") To call this song godawful would be to give it too much credit; it was the cheesiest, peppiest, poppiest, most canned-sounding jingle I've ever heard. In short, AMAZING. I've decided to learn all the words; for now, I just go around singing ДВГУ, ты просто класс! and ДВГУ, ты лучше всех! under my breath. ("DVGU, you're just so cool!" and "DVGU, you're the best of all!") If you ask me, Yale could use a few songs like that.

4. News in brief: I got the package of books my mom sent me (along with a birthday card from Doug – thanks, Doug!) and much excited squealing ensued over the fact that there was a cookbook in it. We made banana-nut pancakes last night in celebration. This week a Navy ship is visiting V-stok, and L and I get to go to a fancy consulate reception on deck and participate in the Navy volunteer project at a local children’s hospital alongside the sailors. I’m considering volunteering as an English teacher at an adult-education program at the local Catholic church. I’m starting balalaika lessons on Wednesday. I met a Russian girl who studied abroad in Mt. Gilead, Ohio during high school. Next Saturday we might go to a kindergarten with Anya and play with kids and teach them English. I’m coming home for Christmas.

Yep, I think that’s all for now. Oh! One more thing. I now have an address. It’s more practical to send letters to me directly than to the State Dept., so if you want to send stuff, email me and I’ll give you the details.


PS - The title of this post is a line from a dialogue written by one of my students after we learned new vocabulary in the "American Dating and Romance" lesson.
PPS - There's another new post! Keep scrolling down. I actually wrote it almost a week ago, but couldn't get it posted until today. Enjoy the pictures!


Anonymous said...

Maybe you could include "American song-writing" as part of your 4th-year English curriculum. Clearly, the local composers need some help!

Just think of what could happen if they tried to write a song incorporating the name of your high-school team, the Truckers ...

The bathing / dishwashing conditions sound rather unique. I trust you have not been walking around with bits of lettuce leaves in your hair.

Life in Norwalk is not nearly so interesting, except for the parts where the dog runs away and returns smelling like something truly unmentionable.


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Anonymous said...

Hey, Leslie. I tried that secret shopping the guy above me mentioned. I didn't make any money, but I got the DVGU fight song CD! You'd think you could get it on iTunes, but it's not there.

I've been trying to jump and yik at the same time. it's hard.

Anonymous said...

Hi Leslie,
Your comments about teaching sound awfully familiar - regardless of whether your teaching R ussians in their 4th year of English or Americans in their 10th and 12th years of English, the pitfalls are all the same - how to connect with them; how to keep them entertained (let's face it, the advances of techology have forced us into the entertainment industry because our students are increasingly more attuned to visual and audio stimulation, to say nothing of the Sesame Street "constantly-changing-scenario mentality"); and how to stay one step ahead of them on a daily basis and how to make the subject matter relevant. A sense of humor and flexibility are your best weapons. Judging from your lively accounts, I'd say your sense of humor is serving you quite well. Teach on! Aunt Susie