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 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CKcqIahedc&feature=fvst - 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 :)