Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Just go

This runs parallel to things like "If not now, when?" and the ever popular "YOLO."  This has also (to an extent) been my philosophy of late.  I will elaborate momentarily.

So, 4ish day weekend. 4ISH because I had to go to an EF at Ploshad Preobrazhenskaya on Friday to observe a Life was cold and dark and the school was a little hard to find so I had to call Sarah, who also didn't know where it was, but I eventually found it and everything went fine.  Also the people there were super cool, which made the journey worth it.  After the Life Club, I trekked to meet Masha, Ulianna, and Nicole for our slumber party, at which we did super girly things like drink mulled wine, bake cookies, and watch The Holiday.  All done in pjs.  Ulianna and I followed this up the next day by baking potatoes and watching Harry Potter 3 at my place while Chien had to work (muahaha).

I began my "Just go!"-ing that night by heading to the bar for English Social Club with my friends and ending up at a club until the next morning when the metro have to experience this at least once while in a big Russian city, in my opinion.  And it was harmless as I had both Sunday and Monday to catch up on sleep.  But I had caught up on so much sleep Sunday that I felt lazy and useless on Monday and decided to take a field trip (in the -20C weather). The challenging bit in this decision (besides convincing myself to brave the cold) was where to go because museums are closed on Mondays.  I originally planned to head to Gorky Park and walk around until I got too cold and needed to duck into a cafe, but none of this happened.  Instead, I decided to carpe diem and exit from the other side of the Park Kultury metro station to walk around looking at lights and buildings until I found myself at a women's monastery tucked away in an alley.  After warming up in the basement icon shop (and buying something so as not to be a total loiterer), I ventured into the church and found myself in a line, because I am a sheep.  Luckily the line was long enough for me to figure out what was happening and what was expected of me: bow before icon, get fragrant oil painted in cross on forehead by priest, cross yourself.  There was also supposed to be a kissing of the hand, but I missed that detail and stood awkwardly before the priest who looked at me strangely and expectantly but didn't miss a beat in his chant.  Then I wandered toward the back of the church to look at all of the icons dripping in gold and sit to think/reflect for about an hour before finally heading back home feeling rather satisfied.

One thing I thought about was how churches make me feel simultaneously comfortable and uncomfortable.  Comfortable because churches are calm, quiet, welcoming, and smell nice (there's also a good 10 years of Catholic school in there, so church is basically home).  Uncomfortable because I know nothing about Orthodox traditions and am constantly afraid of offending someone and being asked to leave (didn't help that the security guard was intently watching me.  I was probably doing something wrong, but he yelled at someone else instead so I assume everything was ok).  Another thing was that I am genuinely curious as to why everything is dripping in gold and silver.  I'm not opposed to it; I'm not saying that it shouldn't be there or that it should be gotten rid of. I just wonder who came up with the idea and why.  Sure there's the standard complaint of "Why don't you give that money to the poor HMMM?" But there's also "Why do these inanimate objects need gold? Does it please them? Are they aware of their wealth?" And the also standard "Jesus preached the divestment of material wealth, this sort of runs opposite of those teachings." If anyone has any sort of thoughts on the matter, I'd love to hear them. 

This post is already too long, but there are more exciting details: we've finally moved to our new school! It's mostly set up, all of our things have been located and unpacked, and it is adorable.  Adorable is also an appropriate word because it is smaller, but it's also next to a Starbucks so I think we'll overlook the size.  And the fact that the door is down a somewhat sketchy alley near the dumpsters and the entrance has "No Entrance" written on it.  And the fact that we have no water in the kitchen, no hot water in the bathroom, and no idea why the heating system makes some rooms hot and others cold.  Oh, Russia.

Last thing before I finish: shout out to my parents for loving me and sending not one but TWO care packages! I now have enough vitamins for my entire life, some warm things, candy (which was opened either by my mom before shipping or the postal workers in Russia...both are entirely possible. Hi, Mom), peanut butter, 5 boxes of mac&cheese (which comes in Ice Age and Phineas&Ferb shapes now? I love you so much, America. Don't stop what you're doing), CHRISTMAS PRESENTS (one of which I accidentally opened and the rest of which were hidden by Chien to prevent future such occurrences) and a few other things. I'm starting to worry about how I'll get this all back to America, so I guess I'll just have to stay in Moscow for a very long time! With visits in between, of course :) Kisses and hugs, everyone! 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas... both Russia and my apartment! There's snow everywhere and it's snowing almost everyday, which is a lot more pleasant than it sounds.  I actually enjoy it, due in no small part to the fact that it adds a bit of brightness to an otherwise dreary Moscow.  The apartment is decorated with garland and some ornaments, and while we don't have room for a full-sized tree, I'm planning on getting a mini tree for the kitchen soon.  There has also been a lot of Christmas music going on at home, and most of the stores have decorations up both inside and out.  We even have a tree decorated at work! This is all very exciting. While we work during real Christmas, I plan to educate my students by showing A Christmas Story in class.  Because Orthodox Christmas isn't until January, our vacation falls from December 30-January 9.  Not too shabby, eh?

Also exciting is the fact that at long last, we are moving to our new school location next week.  Even more cause for joy is the 4 day vacation this gives us while things are transported; as someone who normally has 1 day a week off, I'm truly thrilled. However, when I announced this to my Saturday class they sensed my excitement and asked with long faces whether this made me happy.  While I am happy to have a day off, I realized that I actually would miss them and told them as much, to which they replied that I should write on their class blog...if only they knew that they were occasionally featured in mine (to check out what they've written, follow this link.The theme is English in Our Lives, and I'm super proud of them)!  As for my upcoming mini vacation, I foresee a lot of sleeping, slumber partying, and perhaps a trip to St. Petersburg to visit Jackie.

And now for a few life tidbits. One of my favorite parts about post-grad life is that I actually have time to read things, stay current, and do research if I so please without the pressure of classes and deadlines and pending unemployment weighing down upon me.  I've read several books and generally kept up with the news.  I've also spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be foreign in Russia, what some major differences are between Russia and the US, and whether every foreigner walks around thinking about how they're foreign and wondering whether other people notice (spoiler alert: they don't unless you open your mouth).  This has led me to realize that I've been studying Russia(n) for so long (language, history, politics, literature, film, food, art, culture...I damn well earned my degree) that I have absolutely no idea what is general knowledge and what isn't.  For example, I thought it was common knowledge that Russia is no longer communist (and hasn't been since 1991. Please, for the love of God, read a book or even newspaper once in a while, guys).  Nor did I realize that most people are aware of the word babushka and know what borshch is.  This makes selecting things to tell those of you back home a serious challenge, so know that I'm doing my best and that if you want info about specific things you should ask in no uncertain terms.  On a related note, Jackie showed me this article earlier today and it does a really good job at touching upon some of the small differences that come together to build the dichotomy between American/Russian life - check it out!  


Monday, December 3, 2012

All Russia, all the time

After my mishap the other day, I finally made it to the post office to buy stamps for my postcards (for those of you who provided addresses: get excited) and have successfully sent mail! I feel that you'd be missing out on some serious Russian culture if I didn't share my experience with you, so here it is: going to Pochta Rossii, the Russian Post Office, is like being in an American DMV (most of you will understand exactly what that means).  I got there and took my place in line, which turned into a 40min wait. To buy stamps.  During this lovely wait, I got to sit next to a guy who looked like he wanted to shoot everyone, listen to a babushka arguing with the woman helping her ("Girl, can't you move any faster? I have things to do. This is taking forever. Blah blah." "Calm down." "Blah blah some service!" "That's right, what service!" etc etc), and have more people come in and ask who was last in line.  Then some jerk and his wife came in, looked at all of us waiting, and cut right to the front. I WAS NEXT, so I said excuse me sir you aren't next. He tried to tell me he only needed an envelope, to which I replied "That's nice," and then he ignored me, repeated himself, and ignored my "Yeah? And what? I only need stamps!" I wanted to say rude things to him, but the next window opened up so I just got my stupid stamps and left.

Since this blog has been more about my inane thoughts than about the culture here, I'll give you some more Russianess in this one.  This weekend, a friend of mine threw a get together to celebrate her birthday.  A big difference between Russians and Americans is that while Americans expect to just get things from people on their birthdays, Russians give things to people (ex. Americans expect to get cake on their bdays, Russians expect to give cake on their bdays).  So for her birthday, Nina had a few of us to her apartment and fed us a bunch of food as we enjoyed each others' company and played games.  For the party, we prepared 3 different salads (1 with lettuce/tomatoes/peppers/cucumbers etc, 1 mayonaise-y kind with fish/eggs/onions/cucumbers, and 1 less mayonaise-y kind with fish/avocado/I forget what else), chicken, mashed potatoes, sandwiches, oranges, grapes, peanuts, and 3 cakes. And sparkling wine and juice and tea.  In general, if a Russian invites you to his/her house, he/she will feed you.  I love this tradition and definitely plan to participate/already have snacks in my house specifically for if guests come over.

I'm so used to living here that I forget I'm still a tourist and haven't seen most things yet. I remembered this when someone brought a visiting Brit to Nina's, and so I decided to join him for sightseeing on Sunday (after finally buying some winter boots. Significant life improvement).  After passing it 3 times and seeing a monkey wearing a fur coat sitting on a motorcycle (I can't make these things up), we made it to the Cosmonaut museum! This was super cool and reminded me that I need to get to more museums while I have the opportunity to live in this amazing city. 

Aside from my new-found touristness, I still happen to be a teacher and had the most rewarding moment of my very short career the other day.  At the beginning of our session, my student told me she'd had to write a letter at work to a company her office deals with.  She read it to me and asked about several things she wasn't sure about, but in each case she made the right choice. The last thing she asked about had to do with articles: "Should I have said 'We received the Invoice #12345, or we received an Invoice #12345, or we received Invoice #12345?" I said no article, she exclaimed "I AM A GENIUS!!" because that's what she'd done.  Everything we've been working on over the last month was at play in that letter, and she got it all right! It's clicking! We high-fived, and I finally felt like a good teacher. Also, sidenote, the twins with the pigheaded father who detests drawing from the last post had them switched to a male teacher, and they are a nightmare for him as well. So it wasn't just me, which is nice to have validated.  Th-th-that's all, folks!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hand Turkeys

Celebrating Thanksgiving in a foreign country is the oddest of all the holidays since it's only recognized by the US.  I mean sure, other people have heard of it (fewer the farther away you get), but for the most part we expats are on our own.  So walking down the street on Thanksgiving day felt like having a secret no one knew about.  I was celebrating and radiating joy and gratitude* while everyone else was going through an average day.  It felt like being magical or something, its hard to describe.  Anyway, I had little kids to teach on Thanksgiving day and dutifully drew hand turkeys.  I actually got in trouble for this when my twin 5yr olds' father walked in and asked me why, after only a month, his children weren't speaking English at home with him and suggested that "all [you] do is draw pictures with them," but no regrets.  Also he is wrong and clearly doesn't understand the concept of cultural education.  After work, I waited in the teachers' room (and drew a beautiful hand turkey) with Nick and Nina before heading to the Starlight Diner, where we had a delightful (and traditional) Thanksgiving dinner with some friends.  We also got the manager to give us free ice cream with our pie as an apology for not showing American football on TV as promised on their website. 

After work on Friday, I procured a potato masher from Martin (he totally saved the day with that) and headed home to buy 2.5kilos of potatoes and then turn them into mashed potatoes for the Thanksgiving potluck John was hosting at his place after work on Saturday.  Thanksgiving was a success, John managed to get turkey (which is a little tricky in Russia), and everyone ate so much they felt they might die.  A bunch of us opted to catch the last metro home (just barely) instead of taking a cab, and then we fell into food comas.  Chien also took some leftover turkey home, so despite planning on never eating again for the rest of my life, he, Ulianna, and I had leftover turkey sandwiches and mashed potatoes, just like real Thanksgiving.  This was joined by staying in pjs and not leaving the house.  Perfect.

Now I'm ready for Christmas, and so is Russia...or New Year, since they celebrate that the way we do Christmas. More on that when the date gets closer.  Anyway, Christmas lights are up! And Christmas decorations are in the shops.  Snow has returned, I've pulled out my warmer coat, and I'll soon have to buy a super big coat and warmer boots.  Christmas songs abound at school, and the semester is almost over.  Oh also, today I was told that my Russian is really good! I walked to the post office to mail things, but I couldn't get the door open.  I walked to the other door thinking it must just be a thing. When that door didn't open, I double checked their business hours on the sign and walked around to the other side of the building looking for another door.  There was another door all right, but it was to a different business.  After a comical exchange with the elderly security guard (who didn't realize I was a foreigner until I got flustered and exclaimed in a whiny voice that I just wanted stamps), he informed me that the post office was closed for lunch. At 2pm.  Of course they were...Russia. 

*I'm thankful for everything that has happened for me over the past year.  I'm also thankful for you guys! Thank you for caring enough to check this from time to time, and a big special thanks for those of you who have actually made the effort to keep in touch and communicate.  Big bear hugs!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

In Soviet Russia, joke tells you!

In lieu of writing a real blog post, I decided to leave you with a little entertainment.  I found this list online and thought it was funny/somewhat accurate in parts, and the video was shown to me a couple years ago while I lived in St. Petersburg. Enjoy!

Facts About Russians

1: Russians distrust anything cheap.
2: The English word "bargain" can not be adequately translated into Russian.
3: Although Russians distrust anything with a cheap price, they are fine with freebies.
4: A Russian who reaches high levels of power feels it his his/her duty to put down those who don't.
5: In Russia you need to call the lazy waitresses over by aggressively yelling "Girl!"
6: One needs skills in hitting people with your elbows on the Moscow Metro.
7: In Russia you can drink beer on a park bench without getting arrested.
8: Russians gather in the kitchen and stay up very late, talking about "life".
9: Russians usually avoid talking about work.
10: During any reception in Russia people are immediately separated by gender.
11: There are a lot of police in Russia, most of whom do nothing.
12: Russians never throw anything away. Ever.
13: However, if Russians throw out half of their things, nobody notices.
14: A Russian stranger is likely to call you with familiarity, like "man" or "woman".
15: Russians don't usually say "please" or "thank you".
16: The Russian proverb "Arrogance - the second happiness" cannot be adequately translated into English.
17: Russians drink a lot of vodka. It's not a myth.
18: You don't have to fear for your life when walking the streets in Moscow alone at night.
19: Russian men are convinced that feminism has led to the collapse of the West, and Russia's historical mission: resist.
20: A myth within a myth: Russians believe that Americans believe that bears walk the streets in Moscow, but this myth of a myth is a purely Russian invention. Americans actually believe all the bears in Russia are dead.
21: Russians simply do not understand it when a foreigner from the west applies for permanent residence in Russia.
22: Dentists are very surprised when people show up for a "routine" check-up. So are doctors.
23: Russians drink tea with a centimetre of sugar on the bottom of the cup.
24: All Russians, from young to old, abuse emoticons.
25: The number of brackets in an email or sms infers the importance of a message. For instance - Birthday party tonight ) means a birthday party, but Birthday party tonight )))))) means a fantastic blow-out extravaganza.
26: Moscow has the best subway system in the world.
27: Despite having the best subway system in the world, there are millions of Muscovites who refuse to ever take it, and spend half their lives stuck in traffic.
28: A Russian will use the slightest reason to bring everyone gifts of chocolate. "It's your birthday in four and a half months? Wow! Chocolate for the entire office!"
29: Anyone who speaks a language other than Russian is automatically suspect.
30: On New Year's, don't surprised if you are invited out at 11:30 pm, drink champagne and cognac until 6 am, eat herring under a fur coat and olivia salad in a kitchen, and then party in a flat for three more days.
31: The only alcohol-free zones in Russia are McDonalds.
32: Smiling for no reason makes Russians angry.
33: Borscht, cabbage rolls and pirogies are actually Ukrainian.
34: Russians don't send their elderly to nursing homes or make their children leave after 18; instead they all live together in the same 1-bedroom flat.
35: Despite the small roads and the frustrating traffic jams, Russians still buy giant SUVs.
36: Sushi is more popular in Russia than in Japan.
37: In fact, Japan is more popular in Russia than in Japan.
38: Russians are extremely friendly if they've known you for more than ten minutes. If you've known a Russian for at least a week, you will be invited to meet their family.
39: Russians are also extremely emotional and passionate, and although they don't show emotion in public, they cry and laugh and shout and play more than Italians.
40: Russians care more about the philosophical side of living than the material, and have a folk song for every situation.
41: Most Russians are very superstitious, and new-age superstitions are en vogue.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Peanut Butter

She must've lost her mind in Russia, why is she titling her post peanut butter? Well that's because I HAVE peanut butter! Real peanut butter from America (Chunky Skippy, in case you were wondering).  Why is this something to write home about (literally! Ha. Ha. Get it?)? Because Russians just do not have peanut butter.  They don't get it.  They don't like it.  They have it in a few VERY select places, but its either not really peanut butter, or $12 a jar.  Which is ludicrous. Ok, so then how'd I get this peanutty gold all the way from America? Not because my friends/family sent it to me (yeah, that's right.  I'm calling you guys out on your complete lack of care packages. Don't think I haven't noticed!). It's because Graham, our final new native speaker at EF, FINALLY arrived this week! He was supposed to get here quite some time ago, but there were some passport/visa difficulties (remember when I was trying to move over here? Nightmare) that delayed him.  Being a nice guy, he asked Martin (remember him from a few posts ago? They're roommates) via email whether he needed anything from America (despite the fact that he's from Ireland).  He read this aloud to John and I at work, and we simultaneously produced a forceful "SAY YES" followed by a brief pause, and then "PEANUT BUTTER." So I started my Thursday at work by finding my own personal jar of peanut butter sitting on the table in the teachers' lounge, and let me tell you, that is a wonderful way to begin your day.  In return, we introduced him to gin & tonic in a can at the grocery store, where there happened to be a stand with free vodka cocktail samples.  Only in Russia.

My kids haven't exactly been a joy lately, so I finally had to speak to/get consultants to call parents this week.  Yes, I've become That Guy.  Although one little girl, who understands zero of what I say but is adorable nonetheless, apparently went on vacation to Mexico with her family and brought me a Cancun magnet.  I don't think she can fathom how excited I was, but it now holds an esteemed position on my refrigerator.

Oh, and I guess we had a presidential election or something? Something about an Obama bin Laden or whatever? Just kidding, I know what's going on.  The Russians do as well, and they are quite pleased that Obama beat good old Mittens for president.  I took the opportunity to show some of my classes the victory/concession speeches, and there are now a few Russian teens who understand the electoral college a bit better.  Also, I'd like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to my friend and sometimes boss Auden Grogins for being reelected to the CT State Legislature with an incredible 87% of the vote! She works like none other and deserves her win, and I'm proud to have been a part of her campaign this summer.   

For those of you who for some reason never tire of hearing about this, the weather has been around 30F, it snows sometimes but doesn't stick, and there's a decent amount of ice on the ground.  New boots and a bigger coat will soon be necessary. In related news, I hear New England has been pummeled with snow, to which I reply: HAAA. HA. Ha. "Why are you moving to Russia it's so cold there" IN YOUR FACES. I think the water for my tea is boiling, so I'll leave you to shovel out your cars and such.  From Russia, with love.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Kheppi Khelloween

...and now you know the Russian pronunciation for "Happy Halloween"! Some days, I completely forget I'm in Russia.  I speak English all day, and I go to/from work and meeting my friends without anything to remind me I live in Moscow.  On other days, however, I'm sharply reminded of where I am.  Halloween was one of these days, as were the several after leading up to today.

As I exited the metro at Mayakovskaya to walk to work on Halloween, I immediately noticed that I would need to take a different route.  The babushki (I taught you this word twice already. If you don't remember, you have no one to blame but yourself) selling gloves/socks/magazines/you-name-it had been replaced by metal barricades and more police than I have ever seen in one place.  Despite REALLY wanting to ask one of them what was going on, I reminded myself that they are not my friends. I had to keep reminding myself of this as I fought the urge to pet the police dogs, but it became easier when I noticed some of them wearing muzzles.  Yikes.  After figuring out how to get around the barricades, I saw that all of the Mercedeses, BMWs, Audis, Lexuses, and Range Rovers that normally line the street leading up to the EF building had disappeared as well and been replaced with big trucks and buses....probably explaining how every cop in Moscow got to Mayakovskaya.  There was a big traffic jam in front of our building, and as I wove through it, someone started blaring an instrumental version of a Cheburashka song (for those of you unfamiliar with this, Cheburashka is an old Soviet cartoon that is still popular.  I'll post a youtube video below to help you out here...don't say I never did anything for you!)  As I stood in front of EF with a face-splitting grin on, the usually grumpy security guard walked out, laughed saying "Great music, eh?", and then held the door open as I entered.  The only average thing about my morning was that it snowed, like every other day.  At work, we all dressed up (I was Sherlock Holmes. Chien drew a mustache on my face, Vanessa lent me a magnifying glass and bow tie, and Nicole lent me a checkered jacket. I'll try to post pictures soon) and had fun classes...again, a day out of the ordinary.

At this point, many of you are probably wondering what the whole police-and-barricades situation was all about. On the 31st day of each month, protesters gather in the square to support the right of peaceful assembly in Russia.  The Russian government is none too happy about this, and the result is a swarm of cops.

We also have a holiday this week: Day of Russia.  This means that I get Saturday and Monday off, in addition to my usual Sunday.  In short, a gift from Russia to workers (Edit: it has been pointed out by a friend that the holiday is actually Unity Day , click on that link to learn more. Still a gift thanks to the glorious days off).  This coincided with a teachers' party at work on Friday, where we ate too many cookies, drank cocktails, played Mafia, completed a team-building exercise, and were finally told (officially) where our new school location will be (answer:Starbucks where we play Mafia on Thursdays.  Hello daily coffee fix, goodbye salary).  I spent my Saturday off reading in bed, playing board games with Ulianna and Chien, and then going to English Social Club to meet friends at Hudson Bar (where they had special election day shots and cocktails...I didn't try any, but it was a cute idea) before going to a bar called Casa Agave, where we celebrated Day of the Dead by eating Mexican food and dancing salsa. Lyuba, Gleb and I literally ran to the metro to avoid being stranded, and I thought about how I never expected to sit in a Moscow bar listening to salsa and reggaeton, but there it was. Today (which is Sunday) I left the house only for groceries and plan on spending the rest of the day inside, but tomorrow should be another fun, relaxing day before getting back to work.  What did you guys do for Halloween?!

The little fuzzy thing is Cheburashka.  He is not a boy but also not an animal.  Hope that helps clear things up a little.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

So how's the weather?

The weather situation is crazy in all of my homes.  In my coastal CT home of Black Rock, there was a mandatory evacuation to prepare for the monster hurricane approaching.  In my mountainous MA home of Williams, there is flooding galore due to the aforementioned hurricane, and the college cancelled classes yesterday (though they're back on for today.  Ephs like to get down to business).  And, in my urban Moscow home, winter has arrived. Friday brought snow and rain, Saturday more snow, Sunday more snow, Monday snow (sensing a theme?), and today: hail.  Yes, it is still October here, but that doesn't mean anything to the weather.  It was a toasty 27F when I left my house at 1130am this morning, and it's only downhill from here.  Some of you may recall that I came to Moscow without a hat (and some of you undoubtedly rolled your eyes, thinking "Way to go, Witowski"); luckily, this situation was remedied the night before the first snow when Nicole lent me one of hers - the timing could not have been better.  However, I also left my big, "I bought these for St. Petersburg" winter boots behind (again, genius, right? It made sense at the time, they wouldn't fit in my luggage and the packing list lied saying that winter stuff would be cheap here!).  I do have boots, but I also discovered that they've sprung a few leaks and will need to be replaced.

Winter in Moscow is also starting to bring about some changes.  For one, my beloved fruit/vegetable stand is gone.  I'm still coping with this disaster.  The other random stands with clothes and food have started to disappear as well, except for the areas where you'll find five different stands run by independent babushki selling almost exactly the same things...the only reason any of us can think of for this is the fact that capitalism is still relatively new for them.  Another unfortunate change is that boots apparently get even more expensive than they already were as soon as the weather gets cold. Luckily our apartment is still toasty warm, though it no longer gets so hot that we need to open the windows.

Despite the cold, Moscow has continued to treat me well.  After spending all of Friday reading in my pjs as snow fell outside (Chien and I switched Monday/Friday classes this week, and it was lovely), I ventured out at night to meet some friends for karaoke.  I've never been to karaoke before, but it was super fun and I think a bit different than in the US: instead of chilling out at a bar with a bunch of random drunk strangers, you rent a small room with your friends and order snacks/drinks over a phone in the room.  Very classy and actually relaxing, in addition to being fun.  After work on Saturday I decided to go home and snuggle in bed after cooking and hanging out with Nicole at her apartment because Sunday, though a day off, was going to be busy.  Busy with what? Well calm down and wait for me to tell you, geez.  Sunday I woke up and found the ground covered in snow, so I made sure to dress warmly because I needed to venture out into it for: a brewery tour organized by EF for the native speakers (native English speakers who teach at EF, just to clarify)! I've always wanted to go on a brewery tour, and this definitely didn't disappoint. Beer, tour, beer. For free.  Dreams do come true.  Afterward a bunch of us went to play pool, then I cooked with Nicole and Rob (we like cooking. And eating.  It's a thing) before dragging myself home to fall into bed.

This week at school is also fun thanks to the fact that Halloween is tomorrow!! We're encouraged to dress in costume, the kids get candy, and my lessons have basically been centered around Halloween worksheets and movies (think It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! and Halloween - the Michael Myers version). I also enjoy getting to school the kids on Halloween traditions, as there is invariably 1 kid in each class who tells me that they go over holidays every year and know all of this.  Well, they didn't know about egging, toilet papering houses, checking candy because psychos like to poison it sometimes, or that you only go trick-or-treating to houses with the light on.  Take that, you smug adolescents.  Tell the American about Halloween I DON'T THINK SO.

I hope those of you in hurricane territory are staying safe, those of you in Russia are keeping warm, and those of you elsewhere are enjoying what you're doing.  Hugs and kisses!


Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Its been a while, so here are some ramblings from yours truly.  In list form. 

Things I've ticked off of my To-Do list:
-be touristy at Red Square and Arbat
-buy street food (hot cabbage pies and shwarma? Delicious)
-curse myself for not bringing a hat (who goes to Russia without a hat?! Someone who had half of their things in one parent's house, the other half in another, and swore there was at least 1 hat somewhere in her 2 large suitcases)
-go to the movies (We saw Brave - - yes it was in Russian and yes I understood all of it)
-feel like I know what I'm doing at work
-drink in the street (it's a thing. Just trust me)
-be a loud American at Starbucks
-make good friends

Things I miss about America (besides friends and family, obviously):
-fresh hummus/guacamole
-not having to either boil or buy all of the water that I use
-my internet connection not randomly dropping out every 10 mins
-TV (I watched a lot of TV this summer.  Stop judging)
-the public library
-clothes/shoes not costing an arm and a leg
-while we're on the topic of clothes: online shopping.  My bank account doesn't miss it, but I sure do.
-vacuuming (I never thought these words would leave my mouth...fingers?...but I would love nothing more than a vacuum cleaner right now. Even a dustbuster, really)
-living at the same address as my mail (All of my bills and things get sent to America for practical purposes, which is mildly inconvenient)
-speaking of mail: knowing how to get mail (We don't have a key to the mailbox in our apartment building, and our office is moving to a new [undisclosed despite the fact that it's happening in 2 wks] location so I can't have things sent there, which is the normal solution)

Things I thought I would miss but don't:
-food (aside from the hummus and guac, that is. And dad's lentil soup and mom's bacon egg & cheeses. But that's it)
-driving (I absolutely love driving, but I haven't really missed it at all.  Maybe this will change when it gets colder, but for now I'm fine.  The metro is great, not to mention cheaper, and goes everywhere I need it to. That said, I do really miss Daisy; she was my buddy)
-college (work ends when I leave the building? Madness! I love Williams with every ounce of my being, but I'm quite glad to be done studying for a while)
 -the beach/mountains (I've been spoiled. I grew up by the beach and spent 4 years in the mountains.  I'm all about natural landforms. But for now I'm fascinated with the big city)
-having a thermostat (we get along just fine with the heat on full blast)

And now for a few tidbits:
-The temperature suddenly dropped from the mid-50s to the mid-30s.  Things just got real.
-We figured out how global warming happened: the heat in Russia has one setting - ON - and so the Russians open their windows, thereby letting all of the heat escape outside where it warms the Earth.  Mind blown, right?
-Those mushroom-flavored potato chips were pretty good.  Next up: red caviar-flavored. 
-Sometimes I get to play with Playdoh, use puppets, and act a complete fool at work in order to get through to 5 yr olds. And they pay me for this.  Jackpot.
-Russian millionaires are hiring live-in nannies for apx $100,000/year, including private jet use and chauffeurs. Catch: you must be Irish.  Think I can fake an accent/birth certificate?

That's all for now from me, hope you're all doing well!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

From Me to You

I'd like to write a brief thank you note to myself.  What for? For choosing to move to a country where I actually speak the language because it comes in handy during situations like today, when I went to Raifeissen to pick up my bank card expecting them to speak English (thanks for that lie, HR. Always a pleasure) and finding that they most certainly do not. Luckily I was able to both A) tell them what I wanted/needed and B) understand what the hell they were saying, for it would surely have been a terrifying experience otherwise.

After finally getting my bank card, I had a few hours before work and decided to do some sight seeing.  I attempted to find Gogol's apartment and failed, but did get a better idea of what's around metro Arbatskaya (answer: a ton of theaters and a cool vegetarian restaurant that's having a pumpkin fest this weekend...I LOVE pumpkin EVERYTHING so this was great.  Pretty artsy district overall and great for walking around).  There were many cops and security guards around who I could have asked about the museum's location, but you know what? Cops here terrify me.  Don't get me wrong, back home I love the police and am definitely not one of those "f#*k the po-lice" kind of people.  I think they're generally pretty great and always ask them for directions/feel safer when I'm walking somewhere late at night and a cop car drives by.  So why is it different here? Maybe it's because it has been drilled into our heads not to speak to authorities, who may randomly ask you for your documents and then give you a hard time for being foreign; if you're American there's also a decent chance of a bribe being involved.  Maybe it's because they carry huge, unnecessarily powerful weapons.  Maybe I'm a baby (hey, that rhymed. Go me!).  All I know is that I will walk around looking for one museum for over an hour only to give up rather than ask these guys for directions.

Also worth mentioning is that today, I feel like a super grown up.  No, it's not because I got a bank account/card finally (this wasn't the first time, guys. It's not like I've been keeping my money under a mattress for the last 22 years...what a dumb guess).  I've resembled a grown up (God, do grown ups use the word grown up? Probably not...thus the phrase "resembled a grown up") for quite a while now, between paying tuition and working several jobs and being more or less a responsible human being, etc.  But today really put the icing on the cake: today, for the first time ever, I paid rent.  For an apartment that belongs (at least halfway belongs) to me - not my parents and not Williams, but me.  I've been here for over a month now, but actually handing over a big chunk of money in exchange for shelter and utilities made it finally start to sink in that I'm living on my own and earning a salary to cover all of my basic needs. It still hasn't totally sunk in, but I'm not sure that I want it to just yet; this is about as much grown up-ness as I'm comfortable with for now.  Speaking of being a grown up, it's time to go cook myself dinner, so TTFN ta ta for now (yes I watched Winnie the Pooh with my little ones the other day. Sorry not sorry) and here is a song for you:


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Home Sweet Home

I can barely believe it myself, but yesterday marked the end of my 4th week in Moscow.  A whole month.  Maybe it's because I've been so busy working, but it doesn't really seem like I've been here that long.  Although on the other hand, it already feels like home and I've more or less established a rhythm. 

This week(end) has been full of surprises, so I'll jot some of them down.  By far my favorite part was seeing Jackie, one of my best friends (hi Jackie).  We met while studying in Petersburg 2 years ago where we became attached at the hip, and now we're both back in the motherland for another go.  Jackie has a Fulbright grant to conduct research in Petersburg and was in Moscow from Friday-Saturday for a conference.  Our time together was super limited, but we were still able to meet up (after she finished her meetings and I did some sightseeing with Martin), go out to dinner with some other Fulbright-ers, walk around the New and Old Arbats, grab some things from my apartment, and have a sleepover in her fancy hotel room (her roommie left early so I had my own bed.  Score). 

After enjoying the hotel's delicious brunch, I scuttled off to work and Jackie flew back to Piter. She comes back in January, which we're already excited about. Then, instead of joining friends for some after-work poker on Saturday, I came home and watched a movie before passing out from sheer exhaustion.  So responsible.  This was mostly because I knew that the next morning (today. Sunday. In case you're confused) I had to wake up early and go to an award ceremony for some of our EF kids (instead of sleeping in. So unfortunate), where my only function was reading a list of quiz-show questions and handing out prizes.  I would've been much more bitter about this, but afterward we were fed nice hors d'oeuvres and cake so I suppose it's alright.  Also, fun fact, the ceremony was in the same hotel Jackie and I were at so I knew the way :)

When the ceremony was over, I looked around some of the stores on the way to the metro (and possibly found a really good shoe place. Mental note) and then came home.  But it was finally not raining out (it's been an unusually rainy fall) so I decided to do some good old neighborhood exploring.  Which leads me to my next random tangent: today was a pretty Russian day.  I found the normal-people-priced shopping center in our area (after getting a little lost.  Sort of on purpose, sort of not) and looked around at what was there, including a great supermarket where they had some things that we used to eat in Piter that I've been desperately searching for and had almost given up on until BOOM, there they were.  One was this sweet, creamy, cottage cheese-y thing that I can't really describe but really love, and the other was a specific kind of dried fruit.  The girl behind the counter demanded I give her a smaller bill (Russians really hate making change), but I needed change for the rent and held my ground (which has a mixed success rate but luckily worked out this time).  Then I bought some socks from a random stall (these are very common here) where the salesman, upon hearing my accent, tried to learn everything about me and become my best friend.  Too tired to deal with this, I walked away and into a sweater store, where the lady asked me a bunch of questions (damn you, accent!), then guessed my age spot on, then told me I should get a boyfriend like ASAP.  If you're wondering why, it's because in Russia you should be married or almost married by the ripe old age of 22.  I'm just glad she didn't try to set me up with a son or grandson or some relative of hers.  So with my cheese and fruit and socks and nail polish remover (finally) I headed back home and passed some stalls that spontaneously popped up to sell fresh fish.  I'd be much more excited about this if it didn't stink so much, but such is life: random fish stalls, cat calls, and a big bag of chocolate-y cottage cheese.  

I have work again tomorrow, so I'll leave you for now and talk to you soon! Take care, everyone.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

From Russia with Love

Hello again! A lot has been going on lately, so I'll try to remember all of the important parts.  First and foremost, I finally got paid! It's like I actually have a job or something! Why is this so surprising? Well at one point, it didn't seem like this would ever happen.  You see, I don't yet have a bank card (picking that up tomorrowish, wish me luck), and normally we get paid through direct deposit.  This month I had to go to HR (for the millionth time) to pick up my registration (as a resident of Moscow) and my salary (which they tried to tell me was on my bank card, but I knew better).  How did I celebrate my first real paycheck, you may wonder.  Well, being the wild child that I am, I bought some groceries.  Still haven't paid my phone. One day I'll be an adult, but for now I'm in the "I have money for wine and eating out but not for meat" phase of my life. And that is completely fine. 

Another semi-big event is that I was observed teaching for the first time this Monday, which I'm guessing went well (judging by the zero feedback I've gotten, that is).  I didn't think I was nervous since I'd been going with the "they've spent too much money on getting me here and getting me settled, and I think I'm doing pretty well" line of reasoning, but I was apparently a trainwreck on the inside.  This manifested itself when I went to get the key for my classroom 5 mins before the lesson: first I gave myself a huge papercut, then I dropped the key in my hot tea and tried to fish it out with my papercut hand before going to get a spoon on the suggestion of the key man...and of course the door was open when I got to the room.  Luckily I had a really good lesson planned for that day, because the class being observed was my favorite: the one with the difficult teens.  My director sat in for about 10 mins in the beginning and then left as I continued my lesson as planned.  And when it ended, the strangest thing happened - a few of them THANKED me.  One of them even told me I was wonderful! I was in complete shock; THIS, coming from the class that so far has been the biggest pain in the butt? Maybe I'm doing something right! One of them thanked me today as well. It makes me giddy. 

Overall, I think I'm getting closer with my students and building really good rapport.  My adults will be finished next week, and I'm going to miss them quite a bit.  I gave one a compensation lesson today (this is what they get when they miss a certain # of classes due to illness) and she ended up asking me to help with her CV.  I was honored that she trusted/liked me enough to ask (she could've gone to any other teacher), and I ended up showing her my own CV as an example (she now has the privilege of being the only student who knows both how young I am and that I speak good Russian.  How's that for a caring teacher?).  Good stuff (as my roommie likes to say)!

What's new outside of my professional life? One is a group called English Club where twice a month there are Russian ESL students and native speakers who meet at a pub to eat, drink, and chill out as language practice.  Best part (besides new friends, obviously)? Discounted menu! Also, the thing people ask me most about: weather.  It's getting colder in Moscow and has been at a fairly steady 45-50F the past week or so.  So cold that the heat has gone on in our flat, which means business.  In Russia, you don't decide when your heat goes on - the government does.  The city turns the heat in neighborhood apartment complexes on, and there are no thermostats so it ends up getting way too hot and everyone opens their windows.  Poor Earth :(  I'm also not sure whether we actually pay for heat, as Chien tells me that he's never noticed a change in his utilities bill.  Let's hope he's right.

This obviously isn't a list of everything that's happened lately, but I think this is all of the big/interesting stuff.  Oh, and I have a group of 4 12yr old girls who are on vacation from school this week, so they get to take classes with me instead of sleeping in and watching cartoons.  We just talk about whatever, I didn't want to make it miserable for them.  And now I've covered all of the notable things going on around here, so I'll leave you before you get tired of reading! Loooove, Sarah.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

It's about time!

...for what?! What is it about time for?? Many things, actually.  For one, it's about time for me to write another post! For another, it was about time for another native speaker to arrive at EF Mayakovskaya (where I work, remember? I shouldn't have to keep reminding you of these things!), so we'll start there.  This Sunday, we had an Irishman named Martin arrive in Moscow to start teaching with us at EF.  Like me, he had a weird start: after he arrived at Sheremetevo airport he was dropped off at my place to leave his luggage, and then I walked him to the metro and told him how many stops to wait before he got off to meet our director, Sarah.  Why all of this chaos? On Friday, Sarah was freaking out because the main office was being difficult about real estate agents and rent and things like that.  The end result was that Martin couldn't get into his apartment until Monday morning and needed to spend a night on Sarah's floor...but he left his luggage with me & Chien because his flat is in our neighborhood, and what sense did it make to lug it around Moscow? Everything went fine, we all helped to get him settled, and he started teaching on Tuesday (I was super jealous, they made me start teaching immediately. Humph). 

All of the other It's about time!s relate to teaching as well.  One is that I finally completed the 40hr online component of my TEFL/TESL/TESOL certification course! This means that I'm even MORE qualified to teach, and that I get a fancy, upgraded 100hr certificate (up until now, I only had a 60hr one.  Lame).  Another is that I realized that I am overworked and underpaid.  6 days a week?! Madness.  Paid only for the time I teach and not for the time I have to spend at the office while I wait for classes to start and end etc? Not cool.  But, alas, I didn't expect my first job to be glamorous; I'm just happy to have found full-time employment in my country of choice and within 2 months of graduating.  Thank you, Williams, for your great education and even greater network. 

By far the most interesting It's about time!, though,  is that my difficult teens finally figured out that I know Russian.  This must've taken some research on their part, because one girl asked me toward the beginning of class whether I'd studied in St. Petersburg.  I decided to go with the truth and said yes, I had. A little later they started trying (amongst themselves, in Russian) to put the pieces together: first they asked how long I'd been here.  3 weeks, I answered.  This threw them off a little, as some decided there was no way I could know Russian after 3 weeks...but one remembered that I had studied in Petersburg, so another asked "3 weeks in Russia, or 3 weeks in Moscow?" When I told him 3 weeks in Moscow, he asked how long in Russia? I added the 3 weeks to my previous 5 months, and to sound even more intimidating said 7 months altogether.  Again, in Russian to one another, "Yeah, but that's only 7 months.  How much could she possibly understand after 7 months?" After a little deliberation, they decided to flat out ask me whether I know Russian.  I looked at each of them for a moment and then, with a mischievous look, revealed that I'd studied Russian for 4 years.  "What words do you know?" "All of the words." This left my 5 rowdy Russian teenagers in silence (which you'd know is quite miraculous if you've ever worked with teens).  Once they slowly came out of their stupor they realized that, oh shit, she's understood everything we've said all semester. "Oh my God, I wonder if she understood when I called her a bitch earlier." "Shh don't say that word, she understands you!!" I originally told them I didn't speak Russian in order to get them to use only English, and so that they wouldn't try to get me to explain things in Russian (this is forbidden at EF.  English only!).  However, this just caused them to speak in Russian to each other and basically ignore me (the result is different with every group; it works really well with some).  I'm surprised they didn't figure it out sooner, as I would occasionally slip up and respond when they asked me something in Russian.  But, there it is: they figured it out, and proceeded to act like they should have all semester. 

It was also about time for me to do something other than work, eat, and sleep, so I decided to go out with some friends to see the super cool laser show they had on Red Square one night and in Gorky Park on another.  We missed the Gorky Park one since we work so late, but it was still nice to walk and talk and socialize outside of the office.  It may not be much, but its a start! And now it's about time for me to wrap this up.  As always, thank you for reading! Also, leave comments or Facebook or Skype or email me! As great as this adventure is, I do still miss everyone and would love to hear about your adventures as well...whether they're big or small :)

Friday, September 28, 2012

And that's the way the cookie crumbles

Some of this will sound very similar to whining, but I swear I'm not.  I'm actually quite content despite any annoyances, and for that I'd like to thank the Honeymoon Phase of Culture Shock (as some historians might say).  Or maybe it's because what I wrote in my last post about the impending not quite right.  In fact, it was almost 70F out today and I barely needed a jacket (I wore one for the babushki. Remember that word?). 

If you think far back enough, you'll remember that I have two days off: Friday and Sunday.  Well cancel out that memory and replace it with a new one; one of me being at work for 12 hours today because I had 2 classes and a special event to co-lead.  I was told yesterday that I would take over the Friday session of an advanced adult group until the end of October...which meets at 9am.  I know I'm a baby, and waking up at 7 isn't even that bad, but it sure felt bad.  It didn't feel any better when I was literally the only person at work until 11am (facilities crew not included.  Those guys are troopers).  Even more fun was at 910am when none of my students were there...just kidding, I was told to be in the wrong room and both my students and I were waiting for each other in separate places.  The nice thing about advanced, though, is that you get to have cool conversations! We talked about green building/city planning, and I showed them videos by the United Way (still fond of my old internship) and the George Carlin skit about turning golf courses into housing for the poor.  I don't think they quite understood his humor, but that's just not something I can help. 

After my advanced adults, I had a few hours before teaching my new individual student.  She's a young woman with nearly flawless English and a decent TOEFL score who now wants to take the Cambridge Proficiency Exam (CPE for those in the know).  She's preparing for this exam at EF while also taking classes at Moscow State Uni. because she dreams of leaving her life as a secretary to become either a translator or a teacher.  Go big or go home! She didn't have the book yet and I had no idea of how to even approach teaching this, but we spent the 1.5 hrs talking about her goals and learning about one another and how to best conduct this course...I'm a little worried that I won't be able to answer all of her questions, but I think this will be a really rewarding experience (and seriously build up my teaching arsenal). 

Once classes were over, Nicole and I led a seminar/group type event called Life Club that EF offers for free every month or so to its students as extra English practice.  This one was called "Meet the Natives," so we introduced ourselves, talked a little about FL/CT, and did some activities.  The main event was splitting the 15 people into 5 committees and having them come up with ideas to share with us.  The committees were: What to do in Moscow, what not to do in Moscow, what to see, where to go, and what to eat.  Then we had them make brochures, which we will keep forever and ever.  They are adorable beyond belief, and I'll have some pictures up soon. 

After all of this, I metro-ed (yes its a verb now) home and made a bunch of good decisions.  And by good I mean ill-advised.  The first was to do groceries even though it was POURING out.  The second was to do groceries at the farther store because it is slightly the end, they had almost exactly the same products, minus these rolls with cream cheese...worth it.  When I started home, it was of course raining even harder, because that's how these things tend to go.  So I scuttled (which is about as good as a woman in a dress who's been wearing 4inch heels for over 12 hrs can do) down the long, dark, tree-and-bulding lined path home, while shoving a roll in my mouth (so hungry) and stepping in unavoidable, ankle-deep puddles filled with either dirt and leaves or sewage.  Let's go with leaves if only for the sake of my sanity.  I eventually saw the light at the end of the tunnel (there is literally a light at the end next to the large produce tent and modestly sized movie theater) and got to Belomorskaya (my street!),  where the puddles were so deep that cars had trouble driving.  Soggy, muddy, and tired, I finally got to my apartment, where a man opened the door for me as I struggled (failed) to find my keys. 

You might also be interested to know that we have Starbucks, and that Starbucks has pumpkin lattes! It was so delicious and perfect that I'm not even upset about paying $6 for one. I know this has nothing to do with the rest of the post, but I didn't want to forget to mention it.  I'm really excited for gingerbread latte season.  Anyway, I ate junkfood instead of dinner and I have classes starting at 10am tomorrow, so I will leave you here as I go get ready for bed.  Hopefully this super long post makes up for the super short post last time. Good night, all!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Winter is coming...

It feels like the time to write another blog post, although I'm not sure what to write about.  School is about the same, although I've had a few more students added to my schedule...things are a little hectic at work due to the fact that in November, our mixed school will be split into 2: one for adults and one for kids/teens.  This also means that everyone needs to vacate our office and move to 2 different locations instead.  Why the change? Well, the owner of the building we rent our office space from wants us out so that he can renovate and then charge more money.  This will be great for him, but it means that EF Mayakovskaya has to frantically search for a new office location and break it to our students that they will be moved.  There are many employees and students alike who are very unhappy about it, but I only feel mildly inconvenienced (I did arrive only a weekish ago, after all). 

What's new in Russia? Winter.  Ok, well winter isn't new in Russia, but it's sudden onset is new to me right now.  After arriving to a beautiful 70F Moscow last Saturday, the temperatures suddenly dropped to a high of 51F this Sunday and aren't going back up again until, oh, April.  And people are ready for it - you can see it in their faces.  Winter is here, the look says.  Winter is here and it is about to unleash its frigid wrath upon us, so let's start wearing 5 layers instead of 2 or 3.  What does this mean? Rain and heavy jackets and scarves and tights and boots.  It means that I don't need to worry about looking for gloves or scarves or sweaters, because these things all magically appeared on the sidewalks and at the metro stations where old women are still also selling fruits and vegetables. That's right, the open-air market is alive and well in Russia, and it's responsible for the best tasting fruit I've ever eaten.  I'm not quite sure how this is a sustainable or profitable business since the grocery stores are so much cheaper, but there are grandmas (babushki, bAH-boosh-kee, for future reference) selling things on nearly every corner and definitely at every metro station.  Maybe it works out because their fruit is fresher, or maybe Russians have a basic mistrust for grocery store produce (which I don't necessarily disagree with).  Either way, they're not going anywhere. 

While the babushki may not be going anywhere, my ideas sure seem to be; I've had a lot of lesson plan writers' block over the past couple of days, and now it's seeping into my blogging! You'll have to content yourselves with this for now, and I'll update you again soon.  Until then, dosvidanya (see, you're learning Russian)!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Want to hear a secret?

After teaching from 10am to 6pm Saturday, Sunday is my day off! Woohoo! I took advantage of the opportunity to sleep in, watch Russian tv, and do a little exploring around my the part where nothing is.  People had told me which direction to go in if I wanted to find things, but I'm a bit stubborn and wanted to find out for myself that there's nothing in a particular direction (my friends were right, there's still nothing there.  But what if there had been?! It would've been a missed opportunity!).  As I was doing this it started raining, so I ducked into a minimart and bought a bunch of Russian junkfood.  Like mushroom & sourcream Lays...I'll keep you posted.  When I left it was raining even harder, so I went to do some actual groceries at our local store - 5 (where I ended up with even more junkfood..and some actual food.  Don't worry!).  As I was checking out, the frozen pelmeni (these are kind of like dumplings) I'd picked up turned out to be 4x the amount I thought I'd read, so the cashier yelled at me & then we waited apx 15 mins for someone to come with a key so she could cancel them out.  Everything is more complicated in Russia.

Also, during these 2 grocery buying experiences, I found out how to keep people from staring at me as they realize I'm a foreigner every time I open my mouth. Are you ready for this secret? It's gold.  Ok, here we go: speak quietly enough so that they can hear what you've said, but not really how you've said it.  Boom! No need to thank me.  It's worked all day in grocery stores and any other stores I randomly wandered into.  It almost felt like having a magic power.  But enough about that, let's backtrack and talk a little about the past few days.

Friday is my other day off, but like a crazy person (which everyone reminded me of.  All. Day.), I went into work to plan my 6 academic hours of teaching on Saturday.  This resulted mostly in hanging out with the teachers working that day, but I don't think I'm going to make a habit of Friday visits.  This was also a school night, so I simply met Yulia for sushi before heading home.

Saturday was a full day of teaching.  To start, I had a 10-1130am with some 5 year olds (they were adorable, and my lesson involved going over the alphabet and using puppets.  Score.) and then a 3-550pm with some teens (who were upper-intermediate, very well-behaved and very enthusiastic for it being a Saturday. In short, a joy to teach).  After work I met Zhenya and her twin sister, Sveta, and we walked along the Arbat, ate some Russian cuisine at Elki-Palki, and walked around Red Square/the Kremlin before getting on the metro and parting ways (it was lateish. We were tired).  However, instead of going home & sleeping, I got a text from Nicole asking if I wanted to come over for drinks and hanging out, so I spent a few hours with her, her bf (another teacher at a different school), 2 of his British colleagues, and a Russian he'd met on study abroad (and who happened to know 2 of mine & Nicole's coworkers).  After a few hours of drinks, cards, and Twister, it was time to head home before everyone missed the metro (although Max - the Russian - and I live in the same place and ended up taking a gypsy cab home...this is normal here.  It was also so so much more convenient than taking the metro).  

I'll try to be more exciting for you guys in the coming weeks, but you'l just have to deal while I continue getting situated.  Incentive to keep reading! 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Does that make sense?

I'm realizing more and more the things I take for granted, such as people understanding what I say to them.  This is especially true in English classes, where I for some reason assume that the students know a lot more than their level suggests. 

Yesterday I had 2 classes.  In the early afternoon I had my first session with a group at the level called Trailblazers, which are around 8 years old.  I had eleven 8yr olds in a room shouting that they wanted to write on the board and leave the room and play an online game that their last teacher had let them play.  Well, at this point I realized how good I'd had it with the Monday/Wednesday teens, and that my Tuesday teen group was basically sent down from heaven.  Luckily, I quickly figured it out: walk right up in front of them to make them listen, offer writing on the board/cartoon that I had planned anyway as rewards for good behavior.  They also had some problems understanding what I said, so I needed to find ways to make it simpler and more kid was kind of cute how once some of them got it, they would explain it in Russian to the others.  It was more challenging than I thought it would be, but I completed the lesson without going through my entire plan and still got a "thank you" from one of my students.  Hoorah!

Immediately after the Trailblazers, I had Sheila's adult group.  They're a bit shy and quiet, but I tried warming them up by starting with a video about bigfoot (he had been a part of the unit when we met on Tuesday.  I know).  Then we ran through the homework, which was a little like pulling teeth.  After this, I passed out a worksheet on present perfect tense, which I thought would be unnecessary and boring - but they liked it! It turned out that they actually needed the practice and had questions (which I was able to answer.  I felt really good about that), and then I asked if it "made sense" to them.  Such a simple phrase for us, but they looked at me with puzzled faces and asked me to explain...I went with "understandable" as in, "do you understand?" Then I kept using it, and I think they picked it up.  I assigned homework so we could end early and go to a presentation for the adults about changes going on at the school, and that was that.

After work, I went to TGI Fridays (yes, they have it! And yes, its basically the same) with some of the other teachers for some decompressing and bonding time.  Much needed and very nice end to my first week (can you call it that? I have no work today but do have 6 hours on Saturday...c'est la vie), I think we're going to get along very well.

Tomorrow I have 2 hours of little ones followed by 4 hours of teens...wish me luck as I head to work on my day off for some good old lesson planning! 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Expect the unexpected

And now for a slightly delayed post on my 3rd day of teaching (I warned you not to expect daily's only downhill from here).  But first, a snippet from my early afternoon. I don't know what all of you think, but I consider 70F to be a nice temperature.  Warm but not too warm, suitable for a skirt and a light blouse. I'll carry a jacket in my purse because I realize it's not going to be 70 all night, but I don't see the need to wear a jacket and hat and scarf.  This is where the Russians and I differ.  When I walked to the metro as previously described, an older man stopped me and asked whether I was getting home late. Answer: No...? He then got into hysterics trying to tell me that he was only concerned I would be cold - where was my jacket?! It was going to get very cold at night! Please don't freeze, young lady! I'm sorry, but you will get sick and that is no good!! I thought it was the sweetest/funniest thing ever, so I kept thanking him and showing him the jacket stuffed into my purse.  He kept apologizing and eventually produced a heavily accented English "I'm sorry," and I continued on my way.  

After more running around and waiting at HR yesterday (bureaucracy, my favorite), I got back to the office at Mayakovskaya to plan my lesson for the day.  I had the group of teens from Monday again, but using what I've learned over the past few days gave me a different plan of attack.  Step 1: I was super structured and had all of my handouts ready and knew what order we were going to do them in...except for the one I forgot about, but that ended up being homework. Success!! I had them play a game, and ended up changing what was supposed to be an individual activity to a group one when it proved to be a little too confusing. Adaptation! Next, I showed them a bunch of videos that went really well with what we were doing in this unit...4 in total.  This may have been a bit too much, but it certainly kept them more engaged.  Except for when they got out of control, but then I threatened to take the videos away & they told one another to shut up.  We went exactly until 650, and by then we had run out of time to go over the homework I had assigned on Monday as I rushed to give them their assignments for the weekend.  It wasn't the best class in the world, but definitely a marked improvement.  Of course, after I taught the lesson I found out that we have a bunch of online resources tailored to our books, making it all but unnecessary to plan a lesson, but I can always take advantage of that in the future.  Or not.  I'm still figuring it all out.  

I also learned that for the next two Saturday mornings, I get to cover a group of what we call Little Stars for a teacher who will be on vacation.  These students are really young, about 3-5 I believe, so I'm looking forward to grabbing a bunch of puppets and drawing pictures. Not looking forward to teaching youngsters on a Saturday morning, but it is what it is. 

Yesterday was also eventful outside of being a teacher (teachers have lives?! No way!).  After work, I met up with Yulia to go to a restaurant with some expats that she knows; many of them are either current or former EF teachers, some from the US and some from England.  The group was really great, as was the Azeri dish we went there for: sort of like a stuffed cheesy bread, sort of like a calzone, better than either and served with a raw egg on top.  I started the hour journey home at 11, and by 1230 was having a mini panic attack because my key wouldn't open the lock.  My first thought, of course, was "Oh no, not again!" I called Chien, but he's the heaviest sleeper in the world (even moreso than I am) and couldn't hear his phone.  Then I called the director, but her phone was off...probably for the best.  My last resort was to ring the doorbell about a million times until a poor, tired Chien came to let me in.  Thank God for roommates.   

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

No, thank YOU

Day 2 of teaching: still very challenging, but also encouraging.  I reported to the office at noon again today in order to fill out some paperwork, which I then had to bring to HR.  2 metro rides and a million signatures later, I headed back to the Mayakovskaya office of EF (this is where I work.  EF is well known around Moscow and has many locations.  This location is named  after the metro stop it is closest to...about a 5 minute walk away) with apx. 20 mins to plan my first lesson for the day.  I had another group of intermediate teens, but what I learned from yesterday combined with a totally different situation led to a pretty successful class.  Unlike yesterday's group (which I teach again tomorrow...hopefully it goes better), this was the first class of the semester for these students, and none of them knew each other beforehand; this meant no side convos, no note passing, and no giving me a hard time for being the new guy.  I also learned to have a more set structure and incorporate more fun stuff.  After doing intros, we covered taking a gap year before/during/after college and talked about all of the negatives and positives associated with it, in addition to different types (travel, internship, volunteer, etc).  After this we worked on phrasal verbs, which was a little difficult as I myself barely have a grasp on the matter.  I sprinkled in 2 games, 2 videos, a random debate, and some homework that I scheduled while they were re-watching one of the videos, and ended at 649pm - right on time.  As the kids were leaving the room, several of them thanked me for the lesson.  Thanked me! As opposed to running out of the room as quickly as possible...I basically wanted to hug every one of them.

Immediately after this group, I sat-in and somewhat co-taught Sheila's adult group, which has been together since August.  Sheila is an older English woman who has been in Russia for over a decade, and she's being moved to a different school (which she found out about only upon getting to work this morning and was not pleased about...luckily she didn't take it out on me and encouraged the students not to either).  We spent most of the time going over homework, so I'm not sure how I'm going to pull off a 2 hour lesson on Thursday, but we'll see.  The group is good, if a little quiet, and I look forward to teaching them...I just hope I can answer their tricky grammar questions and stimulate some good conversations!

After work, Chien and I took the metro home together, bought a few groceries, and hung out while cooking ourselves dinner.  Quiet end to a busy day, which is about all I could handle.  And if there's anything you, my dear readers, would like to see on this blog that I haven't gotten to yet, please let me know in the comments section! I aim to please. Or at least...I'll see what I can do.  That's all for today!

Monday, September 17, 2012

God Bless the Teachers

So I've said it many times before, and I'll say it many more times (now that it applies to me): teachers are grossly underpaid for what they do.  Today was my first day of work, but before I get to that, listen to me briefly whine.

I was wrong about defeating jetlag, because after going to bed at 1am I woke up at's 1118pm...I'm still up.  Then I had to call Citibank and tell them to get themselves in order and stop messing with my account.  During this 20min phone call, the landlord comes for the rent, which is short because I couldn't get my money from Citi, and then the Citi rep was having a bitchfit (excuse my language) on Skype because I asked him to please hold on one moment.  Then I spilled foundation everywhere, and then I went to work.  Awesome.

Now, on to work! I got there at noon, and my directors (Sarah and Natasha and Braden) all showed me around and told me what was what.  Sarah told me I'd have a group at 5, but the group was really half of Ryan's and hadn't been divided yet.  Take book, attempt to make lesson plan, great.  Then lunch at Natasha's friend's restaurant (3 course meal for $10? Don't mind if we do!), then back to lesson planning and running through the teacher's manual.

The other teachers I've met seem awesome so far, and I'm looking forward to working with them.  My group of 12 teens, however, is a totally different story.  The lesson was supposed to run from 510-650, but by 610 we had run through the entire thing because they didn't feel like cooperating. There was a cross between them not saying anything, speaking to each other but in Russian (which I expressly stated was NOT ALLOWED when we began the class), speaking over each other, and getting off topic.  So then I tried to drag them through separable and inseparable phrasal verbs, but they were having none of this point, in addition to the previous list of misbehaviors, they were also ignoring me/passing notes. Then I mistakenly thought we got out at 640 and released them, when Ryan comes running over from the next room and herding them in because, duh, we get out in 10mins.  So I play a game with the only ones we were able to catch.  It's hard to teach teens when you yourself still look like one, and it seemed as if they thought of me both as a peer and a bothersome authority figure at the same time...I'm going to have to switch my tactic for the next lesson on Thursday.

After my lesson, I sat in on one of Nick's to observe, although he was teaching adults instead of teens. When I finally got back to Rechnoi Vokzal (my metro stop) at about 10pm, I rewarded myself with groceries (figured I should have something besides bread, cheese, and sausage).  Quick note about groceries here: SUPER super affordable.  As in I got a carton of eggs, a bag of macaroni, 2 tomatoes, 3 apples, 2 liters of water, a juicebox, and a chocolate thing all for $4.  Yesssss.

I go back to work tmo with a similar schedule, so for now I'll leave you with this:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Russian Around

September 16

Day 2 in Moscow!! I think (knock on wood) that I've mostly escaped jetlag...I went to bed at 1am and woke up at 9am, not too bad.  Today Chien and his gf, Ulianna, went with me to Ikea (yes, it's everywhere) and the hugest grocery store I've ever seen to get some food.  Then Chien and I came home and I totally finished unpacking (that's right, be impressed), had some tea, and went to meet Yulia, my friend/Russian TA from Williams :)  She and her friend Jamal showed me how to get to my job from the metro, helped me get a phone, and hung out with me for a while before walking me back to the metro.

Tomorrow is my first day of work, and I have no idea what my schedule will be like or any of the details whatsoever.  I do know that my day will involve yelling at Citibank and possibly TD Bank, as I called both before leaving the US to notify them so my cards would continue to work, yet both of my cards were rejected when attempting to buy a phone.  Luckily, Chien had lent me some cash to tide me over.

I'm slowly re-learning a lot about Russia that I had forgotten, such as: how to say a lot of words I used to know; don't drink the water; put the money in a plate instead of handing it to the cashier; its ok to bump into people and not say sorry; it's colder than Connecticut...just as a few examples. Loving every minute of it and falling in love with Russia all over again.  Come visit!!

(Disclaimer: I will definitely not continue to update this blog every day, but a lot will happen in the first week and so you can expect a fairly regular amount of updates at first)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

So maybe I should blog about this…

September 15, 2012

Day 1 in Moscow!! I flew over on Friday the 14th at 230pm JFK time on a direct flight to Moscow, where I arrived at 640am local time.  Quick note about the airline before I move on to the good stuff (and believe me, it’s good): best flight experience ever, and it was a Russian airline! Aeroflot changed its name to Transaero to escape its bad reputation.  The in-flight entertainment was nonexistent (no movies.  In fact, the screen on the seat back in front of me didn’t even work), but I never use it so that wasn’t a problem.  As soon as we took off they gave everyone a little packet with a sleeping mask & socks, and then blankets. Then juice, then dinner (I swear I asked for potatoes…and got fish. Pretty sure I misheard the options and she didn’t know what to do with Russian was rusty still!!), which was an entrĂ©e, a salad (with shrimp!), the makings of a buterbrod (open-faced sandwich…I figured this out too late and ate the bread and ham separately), mousse, and wine.  Then they gave everyone coffee and haagen dasz.  Breakfast reminded me why I was going back to Russia in the first place – fooood.  Yogurt, another buterbrod, BLINI with cherries and tvorog, and cheesecake.  Then tea and kit kats.  Thank you, Russians. 

Passport control was a mess, as was trying to carry 3 suitcases, but my driver was waiting and super nice. He was also super excited that I spoke Russian and we were able to have some good conversation on the 45min ride to my flat.  He’s from Georgia but has been in Moscow with his wife for 20yrs and spent 2 working in Siberia.  He says there’s no democracy in Russia, which I’ll wait to comment on until I’m back in the States…

Getting to my flat: arrived, realized I had no idea how to get in or what was happening, tried calling people using my US phone (hey there, crazy expensive intl rates), then figured out the doorbell.  Chien (roomie!!) was home and threw down the key from the 4th fl window because he was locked in…welcome to Russia!! I paid the driver for helping with my luggage, got upstairs and talked to Chien through the door for a while before sitting on the internet with my ipod (thank you for reaching the hall, wifi).  The director (Masha, who was super excited to discover I speak Russian) showed up an hour later with her husband (Max), a toolkit, and a 3yr old daughter (Sonya, cutest thing ever).  They couldn't get the door open and called up a locksmith, who showed up an hr later.  In the meantime, Masha took me and Sonya to get food at the supermarket while Max waited by the flat w my luggage.  We got back, ate in the hallway, and then watched the locksmith struggle with this ancient lock. Finally we get in, they leave, and Chien shows me around/tells me practical things about our home/job (he's been here for a year and signed on for a second).  Then I shower and sleep forever, Chien leaves, Rebecca (another teacher who stayed here for 2 days) comes to get her things, and I sleep more.  And now I’m unpacking! Tomorrow I will meet up with Yulia and hopefully have my very own Russian phone #..and see where my school is, since I start teaching on Monday.  And this is only the beginning…but I'll always remember my first day in Moscow.