do what makes you happy. be with who makes you smile. laugh as much as you breathe. love as long as you live.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The North Pole

So after some deliberation, I've decided to share my story. Which, quite possibly, is my most embarrassing moment. I'm taking it in full stride though, and moving on with life. Here we go. Prepare yourselves...
As I have mentioned, I teach an elementary class of about 8 boys, ages 11-12. They are great kids and I love teaching them, even when they do have their crazy moments. Our last language arts unit was on a story about the first man to reach the North Pole. We had spent two days already reading and discussing the dangers this man and his crew might face, and we were nearing the point of the story where they finally would reach their destination. Now in my teacher's manual, one of the teaching aids suggests that you make clear to your students that the North Pole is only a place, not an actual candy-striped pole that Henson was going to bring back as a souvenier. In the middle of my class reading then, I stopped them to point this out and make sure that they understood this fact. As I started explaining to them, it dawned on me that I should draw a picture of "the classic North Pole" on the board to really drive home the point. So I set down my book and continued talking as I walked over to the board and picked up some chalk and began to draw. Now please, imagine to yourself the North Pole. It's tall, it's white, it's got lovely candy-colored stripes all over it, and a shiny, golden ball on top. Correct? I did my best to display this through my art, but as soon as I had finished, before I had even turned around, I heard my class erupt in fits of laughter. I didn't even have to turn around before I realized what I had just done. While trying to be such an excellent teacher to my students, it did not even cross my mind, that this pole, standing tall on the board, would only register as one thing to these pre-pubescent boys: Penis.


I was so embarrassed! I walked over to my book, picked it up and tried to continue teaching as best I could, but the damage had been done and the boys were losing control of themselves. Even my co-teacher, a 24 year old man, was in the corner dying of the giggles. Fortunately he was able to compose himself enough to rush to the board and erase my drawing, and within a minute I had my class back on track. I am fairly certain though that my face has never been that red in my entire life. I will, for the rest of these boys' lives, be the American English teacher who drew a phallic symbol on the chalk board. What a title to have achieved.

Moving on now, and following up on the ballet! It was absolutely amazing! Our seats were up close to the stage, on the third balcony, providing an excellent view of the performers, and the orchestra below. (Side Note: I will forever stand by my opinion that the sound of an orchestra tuning their instruments is one of the most beautiful sounds in this world). The performance was phenomenal though, the last time I saw a ballet was the 8th grade, and I don't think I quite appreciated the art then. This time, with all the ambiance and excitement, the experience was a million times more enjoyable. I kept thinking of my awesome cousin who does ballet and how I hope she'll be in a performance like this someday that i can come see!

This weekend, it finally hit me that Fall is coming... with the reminder that Winter is never far behind. On Friday, when we were done with teaching, we went to a beautiful park out in Staraya Derevnaya, which is a more posh area of St. Petersburg, also where the kindergarten is located that I teach in. The park was lovely though; so full of vibrant colors that I could not put my camera down for more than a few seconds it seemed. St. Pete's doesn't have any mountains, but they do Autumn just fine here.
This conclusion was further enforced when we went Petergoff the following day. Petergoff is the palace and surrounding park of Peter the Great, who founded St. Petersburg. Peter loved the water, so he placed his palace on the Gulf of Finland and filled the park with 115 water fountains, which in my opinion, were more beautiful and inspiring than any fountain I saw in Rome. (sorry Italy!) It took us a good 3 hours or so to walk around the park, and I'm certain I could have stayed for hours more. Again I was blown away by the bombardment of Fall colors and the leaves everywhere you looked. With the background of the sea, and the foreground of stellar palaces, I was catching my breath the whole time. Maybe this seems juvenile, but one of the most exciting things about yesterday, was something I learned from our cultural coordinator: Sveta. Everyone in the park was gathering leaves so we began to do the same. Sveta then grabbed some of the leaves and began weaving them into a crown. It was the coolest thing I'd ever seen and I can't wait to try and make one! I'll post a picture when I do. I asked her how she learned this and she motioned she'd learned when she was young and just always knew. Somehow I feel I've been gipped of a real Autumn by not having this skill all my life. Good thing I've learned now!

This Sunday was great. I'm blown away that every week when I walk into the church building I feel a physical difference in my heart and I know that's where I need to be. It's absolutely amazing.

We've also started planning our vacation for the first week of November. We will be going to Estonia, Finland, and Sweden and I can't wait! Everything is going swimmingly :)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Russians have R.B.B.O. REALLY BAD BODY ODOR. Oh my heavenly days, riding the metro is great and all, but these people have got to learn how to shower. And will the deodorant market please show up here?! They could make a killing with the right selling strategy. For real though, this madness must end. My nose is begging the Dove, Secret, Axe, etc.

There was my rant from the Motherland. Everything else is going great! This week I was able to attend Family Home Evening at the Institute Center about 30 minutes from my apartment. It was mostly missionaries there, and a few members, but what mattered was that I got to go and I had such a great time! On Tuesday, Audra and I trekked back to attempt to make it to the English institute class, which started at 7:30... which is also when we finished teaching. So when we showed up at 8:30, the closing hymn was being sung. Oh well, we stuck around after to talk to people and find out what kind of fun things there are to do on the weekends here. We also practiced piano a little bit so that we can trade off playing on Sunday with another volunteer in our group. I'm not the best pianist by any means, but I'm grateful I know at least a few hymns to contribute.

Teaching in the private kindergarten is getting better I think. The kids are getting more excited to come and are getting much better at refocusing after a rambunctious activity. Things at the elementary school... will be an adventure I will never forget. These boys are wild and I know they will test my patience to the edge of my capabilities, but in the end, it will be for the best. They are all so smart and really are excited about learning English, I think if I challenge them more in class it might bring in their focus slightly. Hopefully that works, if not, it's on to the next teaching tactic! Wish me luck!

This weekend we will be sight-seeing at St. Isaac's Cathedral, followed by attending the Russian Ballet performance of Swan Lake. I am so excited for this opportunity! Here is some info. on Swan Lake that I looked up to educate myself: Swan Lake was composed by none other than Pyotr Tchaikovsky in the years 1875-76. The story line itself is made up of Russian folk tales, with influence by a German legend. It was first performed in 1877 in Moscow, however most of the time when it is performed today, ballet companies base their staging and such off the performance in 1895 in the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Mariinsky just happens to also be the theatre I will be watching this masterpiece at in only 2 short days. Needless to say, I am overwhelmingly stoked about this. If no one could tell...

That's all for now I think. I'm so glad I'm here. I know without a doubt this is what I'm supposed to be doing with my life right now and I'm so grateful to be here. Thanks to my friends and family who gave me the encouragement and support I needed to make this dream a reality!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

In Russia, There is Only One Garbage Can

It's true. I swear the Russians DO NOT believe in garbage cans, and it's really starting to drive me bonkers. There is ONE garbage can in my entire house! In public places you have to look for one for nearly 10 minutes before seeing one 100 yards away. It's ridiculous.

Other than that though...

Russia is still awesome :D This week was my first full week of teaching my primary and elementary kids. It started out really rough, but I think I'm getting the hang of things and my lessons are starting to go much smoother. It's just a matter of changing your mindset into that of a teacher and buckling under and just doing it! At this point, I'd like to tribute my mother: Mom- I find that especially in my Level 5 class, I just have to pretend to be you and things go much smoother. As weird as that sounds, I'll forever be grateful for the opportunity of having you as my teacher and for all the times I got to watch you teach. It is truly amazing to me that you do this everyday for 3/4ths of the year and are still sane! I'm loving this, but it has definitely made clear to me that teaching is not a career option for me. But thinking of how you handle situations in the classroom definitely helps me handle the kids in my classes. Thanks. :)

Anyway, my Level 5 kids are great. Today our class had 7, 10 year old boys. They are wild and crazy, but they love to speak English and as long as the activity is engaging, they are fairly well behaved. Mostly we struggle getting them to speak English the entire 2 and 1/2 hours, but things will get better. They are all great kids and I look forward to getting to know their personalities better throughout the semester.
My primary kids are adorable! I have a harder time getting them to speak as much English though, lots of times they just look at me confused, haha. But again, things are getting better and hopefully I can get them to understand me and a little more fun!

My host family is still amazing, my mom always interrogates me at the end of the day, making sure I'm eating enough. And she always packs me a snack to take to school each day. She is just adorable! As Yurislav learns more English, he also warms up to having me in the house more. Yesterday when I got home he came running up to me to show me a little card with his name written in Latin letters. This is a huge improvement from him just shyly smiling at me and then running out of the room :) Again, hopefully things get better there. My dad is so funny, he doesn't speak much English, but he's always nice to me and has a smile. He loves to say hello and goodbye, and to pull out his computer and show me pictures of the family's dacha (essentially their weekend getaway house) He showed me a picture of him there, mowing the lawn, and proudly announced to me: "Look! I do like American!" I nearly died laughing!

Last Saturday we went further into St. Petersburg to explore. We saw the Church on Spilled Blood and also the Hermitage. This Saturday we plan on going into the Hermitage and I am so excited! It's going to be amazing, and I can't wait. On Sunday we got to go to church. We searched for the building for nearly two hours, and just as we were about to give up, three of the volunteers called saying they had found it! How grateful I was that they did. Church has never been such an amazing experience for me. Three missionaries sat on the row behind our group and translated all of Sacrament meeting for us. On top of hearing all the wonderful testimonies, I especially loved how everyone there actually smiled at us. It was amazing to see these people, who are usually so quiet, stern, and private, open up to us and share smiles and handshakes with us all. It was such an incredible feeling that touched all our hearts and has kept me going all this week. I sincerely can't wait to go back this coming Sunday again.

We also started our Russian classes on Tuesday. Our teacher, Stass, is very... interesting. Perhaps more details later. Thankfully though, he speaks excellent English and is a fantastic Russian teacher. I've learned the Russian (Cyrillic) alphabet and can now read and pronounce most of the signs I see on the street. Too bad I still don't know what any of it means! A lot of the words sound almost exactly like the English words, which is great. Hopefully I continue to learn more at a fairly quick pace. My host family loves it when I try to use my limited Russian, they laugh and smile and tell me "Haroshow" (sp?) which means good. Which is a great confidence boost to me, I'm lovin' it! I've also got my numbers 1-10 down (go me!) and each time I'm in the elevator by myself I practice the numbers as I pass each floor. Don't make fun, it works :)

So that's life from the motherland! Still on cloud nine :D

Friday, September 3, 2010

I can see Alaska from my house!!!

Okay, so maybe I can't see Alaska from my apartment, but I can DEFINITELY see Russia!!! crazy-ness!!! Here's an summary of my first four days in St. Petersburg: The airplane rides were fairly uneventful, thank goodness. I sat next to a Russian lady from Frankfurt to St. Pete's and at first she started talking to me in Russian, but when I looked at her with a bleary eyed, confused look, she quickly understood I did not speaka her language. :) We landed in St. Pete's and it only took about 5 minutes for me to understand that really, NO ONE smiles here. It's been the hardest thing to adjust to, I'm used to at least half smiling at anyone I meet eyes with, but you don't even do that here! It's super weird. Anyway, I then met my host dad: Roman. He doesn't speak much English, and he wants me to correct him when he tries and makes mistakes. Mostly he just mutters in Russian to me, calls to his wife and then he ends up typing into a translator on his computer. I am so grateful for technology, I would be lost here without it. My host mom is Julia, but the longest time I thought it was "U-la" because that's how they pronounce it. It wasn't until they gave me a cell phone so I could be in touch with them that I realized her real name. They also have a song, Yurislav, but he goes by Yurik. He is 5 and super adorable, too bad he is way too shy to talk around me still. The first time we met his mom told him to say hello and he popped up and did say it in English to me, which melted my heart, but now whenever I talk to him he just looks at me. Haha :D I hope he warms up to me soon though, he's got one of those rugs that have roads all over it for your toy cars and pretty sure I wanna play on it with him. My host mom is also pregnant and just starting to show her baby bump!

Our first day, we had to ride the metro about 15 minutes into the city in order to get more pictures taken for our new multiple entry visas. Meaning, we can travel outside of Russia, and not be stuck outside of Russia, which would be a big bummer. It's rude to smile with your teeth for official documents here, so all of our pictures are mug shots... not attractive. We also stopped at the institute (not religious, academic) where we will be taking Russia lessons for 4 hours every Tuesday morning. Should be really fun! This language is beautiful, but so hard. I hope I can at least master some basics so I can have a simple conversation in Russian. We also ate blini, which is basically just Russian crepes, they're really good though :) The rest of the day was spent planning because....

The next day I had to teach!!! Me, and two of the other volunteers were asked to teach at a private kindergarten about an hour away from us. So every Mon, Wed, and Fri morning the 3 of us hop on the metro, transfer about 6 stops down to the purple line, 5 more stops from there we get onto bus K-232 (which is more like a van) and then walk down the road to the school. Quite the adventure, to be sure. The first day there were only 2 girls in our class, but they were adorable! Their names were: Maria and Leeda. We taught them how to say our names and Maria loved mine. She kept coming up to me and holding my hand and giving me hugs, then she would look up at me and just say my name. Completely stole my heart!!! It was hard to keep the lesson going because I just wanted to play with them so badly! By then end of the time though they were modeling full sentences and telling us "I want blue (or whatever color)" when they wanted a marker. It was so cute. We also sang Popcorn Popping and 5 Little Ducks with them, while they couldn't get all the words, Leeda at least tried by mumbling. Both loved all the hand actions though and followed us to a T.

Not all of my lessons will be like this though, when I go to the school next week, I'll be teaching young kids like that 3 days a week, and then an Elementary Level 5 on Tuesday and Thursday nights with another volunteer. Level 5 kids are age 11 and are doing more advanced language skills including spelling tests and homework assignments. It's not as much playing, but I think it will be a lot of fun since the kids will be able to communicate with us much more.

Last night, our cultural coordinator, Sveta, came over to our head teacher's apartment to teach us how to make blini. It was so much fun! We were all crammed into the small kitchen trying to cover the blini in as much peanut butter and nutella as possible. Delicioso! Hahaha :D I love all the people I volunteer with, they are all so nice and absolutely hilarious. A few of us went to the Okay store yesterday (like a Russian Wal-Mart) and we were all laughing so hard about the silliest things! It makes us stand out a little more, but so far we haven't had any problems with that. I actually feel pretty safe here. Nothing too crazy yet, but it hasn't even been a week :)

Okay, FOOD. Something I was so nervous about! So far the worst thing I've had was buckwheat, it tasted burnt and dirty all at once. I ate it so as not to be rude, but man was it nasty! Mostly I get a lot of pasta from my host family, with make-shift meatballs. There is never sauce on the pasta though, they eat it plain.. which is weird. At my home, my mom serves it with ketchup and mayonnaise so I usually put some ketchup on there for flavoring. That's the biggest thing: NOTHING HAS ANY FLAVOR. We finally had some soup yesterday that did, and we tried to douse all of our food in it so that it would all taste good. Too bad that she only brought a small pot of the soup :( Other than that, everything has been pretty decent. Haven't had to revert to McDonalds yet!

I forgot to talk about my living situation a little more. I live on the 9th floor of a pretty nice apartment building. I was nervous at first because the buildings around it, not gonna lie, look soooo super sketchy. There is a door you have to have a computer key to open, and then you get on the elevators (in a pink and green room like the 50's) up to floor 9. Then there is a huge door you have to have another key for, then you lock it behind you. That puts you in the hallway to a whole bunch of apartments, mine is the first on the right. Two more keys to unlock 2 more locks and I'm finally in my apartment. I think all the doors serve as extra protection, both from crazy people and the cold :) My apartment is really nice though! I was surprised. haha. It is small though too. Two bedrooms a TV room, kitchen and 1 and 1/2 baths. I share a room with Yarik, but at least I have my own comfortable bed, with big blanket and honkin' pillow. The first few nights I COULD NOT for the life of me sleep through the night. The 2nd night I woke up at 4:00 am and was up until 7:30. The next night I woke up at 3:30 and fell asleep again at 8. Last night though! I finally went to bed at 11:45 pm and woke up to my alarm at 8AM. Oh happy day :) It felt so good! I also got a hairdryer yesterday so I finally got to actually do my hair today :)

That's all for now! I'll update again soon :)