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.