Reality shows have changed the world. In childhood I used to imagine what it would be like if they made a tv show out of my life. I practiced living “in front of the camera” and imagined how I would narrate it.
Meanwhile, in the last 10 years, there has been a big boom of reality tv, and we’ve gotten used to watching people do things unscripted. And apparently, despite my current refusal to watch those kinds of shows, it must have made a mark on me, because my ESL training course has been reminding me of an episode of “The Apprentice” or something like it.
During Day 1, we all met each other for the first time. My class has 12 members. I arrived five minutes early and they had already started. I walked in and everyone stared at me. No one offered me a seat or helped me feel welcome. Maybe I’m just used to Russian hospitality.
Our first “icebreaker” was to find out 3 interesting things about a person sitting next to us. I told my partner about living in Russia.
“Are Russians eccentric?” he asked. I had no idea how to answer that question.
“What do you mean by ‘eccentric’?” I asked.
“Well, while living in Greece, I met some Russians, and they were all eccentric. But maybe it’s because I’m an artist and I hang out with eccentric people.”
“Yeah. I don’t know, I think of Russians as pretty set in their ways.”
Then we had to report back to the class.
“I tried to get Elizabeth to tell me whether or not Russians were eccentric, and she wouldn’t answer,” my partner told the class.
“Russians are gregarious,” said our trainer. “They play rugby when they talk.”
Later, we had to write down the steps of a learning process and the feelings involved. The first person had written about learning to ride a bicycle.
“First I had training wheels,” he said. “It was exhilarating.” I had written about bicycles as well.
“I failed in the beginning and I felt disappointed.”
“I’ll share a step,” said the man to my left. “It’s from learning to garden when I was 38. I took a soup spoon and ushered the cactus out of the pot.”
Then a woman shared the steps of a new recipe she had tried. “I had to wash the cabbage, and it felt funny tearing apart the leaves.”
I think we had all understood the assignment differently.
We were all very nervous and wary of each other in the morning, but by the end of the day we were a little more relaxed and had learned each other’s names.
I went home for a break after class and then had to return in the evening to observe an ESL class in progress. As I was waiting for the teacher and students to arrive, a black man entered the room with a familiar-looking print shirt. He introduced himself as Guy. I recognized that name from being at my brother’s wedding. “Where are you from?” I asked. “Africa.” “What country?” “Congo.” “I was just there in May!” That got his interest. We talked about Kinshasa while waiting for the others.
The teacher walked in and said, “Oh, we have a visitor. Let’s interview her!” (my instructions for observing said to sit quietly in the back of the room). The students worked in groups to form questions. After I told them that I live in Russia, a young man asked “Do you bring us vodka?” This led to a long discussion of the formation and usage of the simple past. When it was finally time for me to answer the question, the teacher asked, “Why are you asking her that?” “Because it’s what they make in Russia.” “What do you think about that?” the teacher asked me. “I think that they make other things in Russia too,” I said. “Like fur hats.” “But they make fur hats in Canada, too,” a student argued. “But in Russia they have special hats,” I insisted.
I got home at 8, had dinner, and fell asleep doing my homework in bed.