Saturday, December 28, 2013

Now I Have an Oven!

Hi all,

Hope you all had a nice Christmas! With my family off in Hawaii, it was easier to face a holiday knowing that you weren't the only thing missing from home. In fact, it didn't really much feel like Christmas, but at least I didn't have to be at "work". School has mostly been evolving around "controlled work" and there's only so much benefit to that kind of observation. But I did get to watch some lessons, and it was good to see the teachers in action.

 I have made some friends.

It was one of my bigger fears when I found out I was going to be in the city - they say meeting people is much harder. Luckily, my school has some great young English teachers and even other teachers throughout the city have apparently heard of me. Also, the secretary for the Director studied to be an English teacher, and is hoping that she will have an opportunity to work in the gymnasium when there is position open. At any rate, she is very kind and excited to hang out - and invited me to a Christmas dinner! And by that, I mean that she cooked a huge feast for just me, Lila and herself. She lives in a gorgeous house, and even has an enthusiastic youngish German Sheppard. I had a lovely time, and even got try my first homemade wine from the region! It was quite tasty, and I am really looking forward to the wine festival from the 11-14th. Apparently you can do lots of sampling, and wine is at its cheapest... Anyhow, I capped off the night by watching The Vampire Diaries - apparently it is incredibly popular here. We watched with subtitles, and I realized how much slang and idioms the show contains. The ladies were particularly taken with the phrase "I think we just got dumped!" It was a lovely evening.

However, the reason why I was not in school on the 25th was that I was over in Uzhhorod, learning about the English Olympiad that I will be helping to serve as a judge at on the 10th of January. It's kind of like competitive speech, on steroids. It covers the four areas - listening, reading, speaking and writing. This is the third level of the competition - the top four (out of all grades 9-11th, it's a bit complicated) will progress to the national level in Kyiv. So I actually got to spend Christmas day with Hugo and the volunteer in Uzhhorod (name to be forthcoming). Once we made it there, at least. Hugo missed the first marshrutka (either it simply didn't come because Ukraine, or because it starts the route from the bus station and doesn't drive past his house like the other ones), and so he was a bit out of sorts and our arrival got delayed. However, we were met at the station by the other volunteer and whisked over to the institute she works at.

Then I had to drink coffee.

The volunteer's counterpart is a dynamo, which was something I noticed previously. She holds several important position and is rather brisk and no-nonsense - characteristics I can appreciate with someone I am working with. However, she took us to cafe for niceties and a little discussion, and asked for our orders. Somehow my request for "black tea" turned into "latte". Which, upon reflection, is probably the best option I had if I had to end up with a coffee beverage - as it contains mostly milk, I believe. I am not a fan of coffee, it makes me rather jittery which stresses me out and gives me headaches. This time I was lucky and only got a bit of a stomachache from not eating soon enough afterward.

However, the meeting with her did not last too long, and she also whisked us through the city. It has a very nice downtown area, and it is situated gorgeously along the river. I will definitely be coming back again soon! Also, I am sure it is picturesque in the spring time. We ended up going to a restaurant for lunch (after I found red lentils in the bazaar - a nice find after my last attempt to make red lentil soup turned into yellow pea soup...), and had a very nice time discussing. Our senses of humor match well, and there is some good overlap in our literary interests. It was also interesting to gain a viewpoint into the higher ed position she is doing.

Afterward, we meandered back to the volunteer's dorm/apartment. We had tea and talked some more. I made it back home around 6, and had stir fry for dinner. I was able to talk to my family, which was very nice. I was also able to show my parents the present they "gave" me (rather, enabled me to buy!) - an oven!

 Lila had trekked me through the majority of Mukachevo before announcing we would go to "Epicenter". I had assumed this was a geographic designation, but that was incorrect. We took a marshrutka to the nearest stop, and walked about 15 minutes to a HUGE store. Like, American-sized. It was like a Lowe's or Menards. Full of every household item you could need - including toaster ovens. We mulled over the 4-6 choices on display, before Lila asked a sales person for the difference. The young guy seemed to think that the silicone insulation was the most pertinent detail, so it was good when another employee approached and took over. He showed us a second display - containing the convection oven models. I almost swooned...we'd found it! Yes, it was pricier than I was hoping to pay, but it also came with a 2 year guarantee.

It turned out (as I rather expected it might), that buying it was the easy part. Getting it back the 20 minute walk to Lila's house (which was fortunately nearby), was more of a challenge. Luckily, about 10 minutes into the walk, her brother met us and took over. It's not incredibly heavy, but the dimensions were bulky enough to make it a very awkward endeavor. So I now owe him something tasty! We ended up calling a taxi from Lila's house, which wasn't too expensive, thankfully. My oven now lives on my kitchen counter, and will be broken in tomorrow with some pizza!

Reindeer Games

When I texted Lila on the 25th, after I'd gotten home, she said I should be to school for the 2nd lesson and asked if I could prepare a game. The teacher I would be observing with was feeling a bit under the weather, and it would be helpful to her. Of course, this was the 4-6 grades I would be dealing with, so that gave me a pause. However, I remembered the deer game that my language teacher played with me, and decided that I could easily convert it into a "Reindeer"game. I also, as a backup (paranoia now has me thinking I should always have one!), found a short poem.

The next morning, approximately 3 minutes before class started, I leaned over and asked how long she wanted the game to last. "The whole time" was the reply.

Uhhhhhh. OK...

Luckily, the first class consisted of 16 little 4th form hellions.

Truthfully, only the boys were behaving like hellions, but it kind of ruined it for all of them. The lack of attention was astounding. I knew it was going to be bad when I stood up in front, intending to use a silence technique to grab their attention, only to have it foiled by the teacher deciding to scream at them from her desk to stop yelling. And that was about the extent of help I got...random yelling from the corner.

To say it didn't go well would be a huge understatement.

It was actually kind of depressing...especially since I thought they were 5th form at the time. I literally had to yell my first lesson, and I got cursed by a variety of Harry Potter spells. Mostly expelliarmous, so it could have been unspeakable! I mean, the kids were all excited, it was almost break. There were no regular lessons, and I was an unknown. They were not understanding most of what I said (as I had thrown in the poem as a desperate measure of trying to compose some structure and add length!), and so it can't really be all their fault.

I am happy to report that by the 3rd lesson (2nd being 7 5th formers, and the last being 7 6th formers - smaller class sizes are great!), I had a structure:

I had an introduction using the date, and having them say what day Christmas in America and Ukraine was. I had approximately 10 Christmas vocab words, including those important for the game. The lines for the reindeer (numbered 1 through 8) were on the board. There was repetition, there was drawing the terms and the game was played standing next to desks (because circles in the back of the class = lawlessness!), students took turns first leading the game with words, and later just doing actions for their classmates to say. Next, I spoke about my Christmas traditions and asked them theirs. We talked about food and activities. I asked them what they wanted for Christmas, and if there was time they asked me questions.

A very precocious student, with a very earnest expression, asked me: "Do you believe in Santa Claus?"

Now, first of all, they don't have Santa. They have Father Frost and (somewhat creepily) his beautiful and blonde grand daughter Snow girl. And kids get presents from him and also on New Years. However, I still wasn't sure how this question would correlate, so I simply answered "Well, I'm old..."

To which she simply nodded and smiled, and took that as an appropriate answer, apparently.

Anyhow, I think this has meandered on long enough - more to come soon!

Hope all is well,


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