Sunday, August 31, 2008

Family time

Yesterday and today we celebrated my sister's birthday. Yesterday evening, for round one, we went to a Japanese steakhouse, where we were entertained by a hibachi chef.

Today we went to the mall. That was pretty tiring.

After a home-cooked meal, it was time for birthday dessert. Can you tell what the birthday girl's favorite color is? :)

And of course, we had to have a little chocolate on the side.

Happy Birthday, Sister!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Another warning

I know this shouldn't be funny, but I couldn't resist.

(Don't worry, no one is seriously injured).

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The usual story

Final reflection paper. Due tomorrow. Should be: 750 words. Currently is: 880 words.

I think I'm just going to make sure it fits on 3 pages and call it a night.

Cultural awareness

For the last few days of class, we are talking about culture in the classroom.

Today we had to pretend that we were from another culture and go around greeting each other based on instructions that were on cards.

Here I am giving a friendly handshake to a woman whose instructions were to keep at a distance and not touch anyone. The trainer is off to the right laughing at us.

I then shook the trainer's hand vigorously, forgetting that she wasn't playing. I guess I got too much into my role.

This guy was trying to bring the same woman in for a hug, as she resisted.

He tried to hug me, but I kept backing away and sticking my hand out.

Finally, he got his hug.

Later in the day we did an exercise where we had to say three words describing ourselves. This was connected with where identity comes from in different cultures. I said that I thought of myself as "shy, funny, and nerdy." The woman next to me said she was "spiritual." I thought that was interesting because she's not religious but does a lot of yoga and meditating. For her that's "spiritual," rather than something tied to faith. I used "Christian" to describe myself once in college when we did this as an ice-breaker. It got no visible response. Later I realized that "Christian" was fairly vague since most of my my classmates were from Virginia and had grown up going to church. It would get more of a reaction here, I think.

My trainer told me at the end of the day that she didn't think I was nerdy. "I can tell you're not a wild kind of girl, but that you like to have fun too," she said (or something like that). Then the others tried to put it into words as well, and they couldn't quite think of the right word to describe me. I wondered if it was something about being a Christian. Would they have made the connection to my behavior, or was it something totally unheard of?

Lest you think all we do is play games, here we are doing some intense classwork:

And here is one of our students. She's from Congo (Republic of, not the DRC) and goes to church with my family sometimes. She was happy because she had just found out that her brother got a visa and will be coming here to study as well.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The things people remember about you

This morning on my way to class I ran into a neighbor who used to go to our church. "My son and I were just thinking about you the other day," she said. "We were remembering how you wrote 'A dog returns to his vomit' in his yearbook."

If I recall correctly, "A dog returns to his vomit" is a verse that my high school Bible study (where I was the only girl) discovered one day. For some reason, it struck us as amusing, and we kept quoting it to each other.

And now, years later, we still remember. It's one way to memorize Scripture...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

English as an International Language

In the class I'm taking, I sometimes wonder if all the methods we're learning will apply, since right now we are teaching students who need to survive in the U.S., but I will be teaching overseas, where students don't need to know all the nuances of American culture in order to effectively learn English.

Many of the program participants will be going abroad, however, and we do address culture. Last night we had a homework reading that addresses this issue of teaching people who need English as a second language but not in the same context as immigrants need it. We may have students who will have no interest in or need to internalize the "cultural norms of native speakers."

An excerpt:

Some texts, for example, point out that, when receiving a compliment, learners of English should acknowledge and accept the compliment with a simple response, such as "thank you." However, research in cross-cultural pragmatics has clearly demonstrated that there are vast differences in how various cultures enact a particular speech act so that, in some cultures, it is typical to downplay a compliment, leading one to react with responses such as, "I could have done better."*

This is so true! I get so annoyed when I've paid someone from another culture a compliment and he/she downplays it. I want to make him/her happy, and I'm rejected for my efforts! If someone pays me a compliment, and I know I don't deserve it, I might insist that I could have done better or that I can't take all the credit. But in general I do try to give a polite, simple response and to show gratitude that the person who paid the compliment has been so thoughtful. Is it my culture or just me? I don't know.

*from "The Cultural Basis of Teaching English as an International Language" by Sandra Lee McKay

Not junk mail

Today I received my double-entry 3-month visa to Russia. No questions asked!

Annnnd....4 more days of class! Victory dance!

Mixing it up

I decided it was time to break the monotony of all this text.

Our butterfly bushes have been getting a lot of action lately. My research tells me that the butterflies are getting ready to migrate.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The race, part 2

Earlier today I wrote about the women's marathon, but the men's marathon was on this evening, and once again it was a powerful event to watch.

While the marathon was in progress, the commentators recalled the story of Vanderlei de Lima of Brazil, who ran in the Athens Olympics. He had been in first place until a man in costume jumped out and grabbed him, pulling him into the crowd of spectators. Imagine how traumatic that must have been! De Lima lost his lead because of it, but went on to win the bronze. Talk about throwing off what entangles!

This time, a young man from Kenya ran a beautiful race and won the gold, breaking the Olympic record as he did so. It was the first time a Kenyan had won.

They come from all nations!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The race

I've missed a lot of the Olympics that were on late, but I did watch some of the women's marathon last week.

One of the most powerful moments is when the runners enter the arena, where thousands are waiting to cheer them to the finish. Of course they have been encouraged all along the way, but these witnesses have been waiting at the finish; with them is the feeling of anticipation.

It is always exciting to watch the winners, but the stragglers are inspiring to watch, too, because of their perseverance. This year, one such runner had dropped out of the race during the last Olympics in Athens. Now here she was, struggling again, with the world watching. It looked like she was going to quit.

But she didn't quit. Sometimes she slowed to a walk. Her face and certain muscles were contorted. But she kept going. Sometimes I didn't want to keep watching, from the tension of it all, and welcomed the ad breaks.

When the runner finally entered the arena, the victors had long arrived and were settling into their life as victors, but it wasn't too late to finish. There were still people waiting to welcome her.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. -Hebrews 12:1

Comment Policy

My blog doesn't normally generate a lot of discussion, but here are a few guidelines, just in case...

Please feel free to leave comments here (in Russian or English!), whether you are a regular reader or just a visitor. I don't proofread comments, but I do have a spam-blocker, and might delete a comment later if it seems inappropriate.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

At last

Sooo glad it's Friday. One more week of class!

There's a bat loose somewhere in our house. :(

Too many words

Paper assignment length: Should be 750 words. Actual length: 1,000 words. Blah. I'm going to bed anyway.


Today we were searching a newspaper for articles we could use for our class, and there was one about the current debate to lower the drinking age to 18. My general opinion is that it's not a good idea. I've heard arguments such as other countries doing fine without a drinking age. Stupid comparison! How many times have Americans tried their policies in other countries, and failed because the culture was totally different? You can't just export fragments of societies thinking they will work elsewhere. Even if it's a bad idea to have the drinking age be 21, it's an even worse idea to suddenly lower it a few years and see what happens.

The main problems in the U.S. with the drinking age are binge drinking and drunk-driving. An argument I hear a lot is that the binge drinking would stop if the drinking age were lowered, since it's mainly college students who take part. Okay, so what are college students going to do now, sit around and play Scrabble? What about the fact that the whole U.S. university set-up is based around taking young adults away from the family structure and placing them in an environment where they have close to zero supervision for the first time in their lives? I read a few editorials suggesting "responsible drinking" classes for youth. Let's be honest, is anyone going to take that seriously?

But the thing that actually bothers me isn't the idea to lower the drinking age. I think it's fine that people are looking for ways to solve the incredibly tragic problem of binge drinking. I think what bothers me is the mentality that the law is the problem when in fact it's the people. If you take the law away, there will be no crime...does something sound a little wrong with that logic, or is it just me? Sounds a little like "without the law, there would be no sin." Which is only possible through Christ. Without Christ, if it's not binge drinking, it will be something else. I'm sure of it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Two couples

Yesterday was my parents' 35th wedding anniversary!

The day before that, some newlyweds (aka my brother and his wife) finally arrived here from Africa.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Practical jokes

This is the kind of humor that gets appreciated around here.

Interpret as you wish...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reading the Psalms

Sometimes it seems pointless to read the Psalms in order. It's hard to read about a soul being in anguish when I feel okay, or to rejoice and be glad when I don't actually feel that way. But if I read them "by mood," there are probably several Psalms I would skip entirely!

It's a dilemma.

This weekend

In case, I don't have time for blogging in the next few days, here's why...

We're finally having the U.S.-based wedding reception for my brother and his wife. Her documents have finally been cleared. Their arrival got delayed to Sunday, so for now we're partying without them.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Generating discussion

We do a lot of writing activities which let our students express themselves. At times it's rather amusing, at times simply eye-opening.

Here was the result of today's lesson on connectives:

"In my opinion, we have to go to free class." ("Free class" is the one we teach; they are our guinea pigs. This girl was trying to get everyone to come!)

"On the one hand, I like American culture. On the other hand, I don't like American food."

"On the one hand, American people live just for themselves. On the other hand, American people have a democratic life."

So there you have it.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Who invented this language, anyway?

I like how when foreigners are confused about the way something is said in Russian, Russian people get this sly look and say, "Ahhh yes, the richness of the Russian language." Unfortunately it just doesn't work for English when you are trying to explain to your students why there are so many crazy rules and exceptions.

I have to teach a lesson on the Second Conditional soon. Yuck. If I didn't have to make lesson plans, I would have more time to write on my blog.

I'm even learning new words in English myself.

My classmate, towards the end of lunch hour: "I don't even feel slightly noshy."
Me: "Huh?"
Same classmate: "I don't even want to nosh, but then lunch will be over and I don't be able to get something to eat."
Me: "What's 'nosh'?"
Her: "You know, 'munch on something'?"
Me: "I'm pretty sure you made it up. It sounds like surfer talk."

We looked it up in the dictionary and found that it was both a noun and a verb. Oops. "Noshy," however is stretching it.

Later, at home, I randomly got confused and blurted out a question in Russian to my sister, who unfortunately doesn't know any Russian and is not quite to the point of appreciating its "richness."

Okay, time to turn the brain back on and go do lesson plans.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

My Olympics

Too emotionally exhausted to write about today's TESOL training. Afterwards, my sister and I went swimming at the local YMCA. I wore my glasses so I wouldn't lose my contacts, and I had to stick to freestyle/backstroke because I have hip problems. So I paddled around blindly with a kickboard. My sister and I pretended we were in the Olympics and said "beep beep" if we were in danger of bumping into each other.

In the locker room, I asked my sister if I looked all muscular from our workout. "Yeah, you look like a female Michael Phelps," she said. You know it's true. :)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Reality show ESL training, continued

By the second day of training we already had our first assignment, and that was to split up into groups to teach each other a "skill." That went pretty well, and afterwards the teacher said, "Okay, these are going to be your groups for the rest of the training. Now split up again and think of a team name." Team name? Now that definitely resembled a reality tv show. I began to feel like there were hidden cameras somewhere so that the trainers could watch and chuckle at our negotiation attempts. I found out some interesting things about my groupmates. We have a few poets, a youth worker, a therapist, and many travelers. At least four out of six of us identified themselves as introverts.

Unlike reality tv, the training is not at all cutthroat. The candidates are all encouraged to do well and make it through the whole program. It's hard to student-teach and have people point out your mistakes, but it's also nice to have people reassuring you when you were a bundle of nerves and felt like nothing went right in your lesson.

There are some confusing aspects, like the lingo. By the end of the week we already had SWBAT, ELC, VAKTaSTic, PPU, KISS, EC, CCQ, TPS, PDP, PPU, FUMP, and others. My last lesson plan was returned to me with the comment: "This is not a TPS format. It's PDP or PPU." Luckily it was Friday, so it didn't really matter if my brain exploded.

So that was Week One. Three more weeks to go.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Is it Friday yet?

I'm definitely dragging a little bit in comparison with Monday. I think the other participants in my program are too.

Today during our workshop, another trainee commented, "I spent a lot of time yesterday working on my treatment plan."

There was a confused pause. "Your WHAT?" the trainer asked.

The trainee paused. "Ohhh, that's mental health. Sorry!" She had meant "lesson plan." It was funny thinking of our ESL students as our patients!

Another trainee sent around a note asking "How do you keep a TESOL student in suspense?" On the other side was the same thing.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

She's alive!

We finally heard from Masha. Here is how she is coping with having her driver's license revoked.


I could write a lot more about training, but I'm too tired. So I'll share a little about the students that we teach. Today we had a trainer observing a trainer-in-training observing us teaching ESL students. Confusing, right?

It was fun to interact with actual students. Although it seemed a little soon to be teaching already on the 3rd day of our program, it helped to be able to put what we've been learning into context, and to match this abstract idea of "the students" with some faces. Our class had some students from Turkey, one from South America, and another from Central America. It's helpful that they are from different countries because then English is their common language and they have to use it to be able to talk to each other. They help each other by explaining things in English.

I went back in the evening to observe another class, and during the break I met some guys from Morocco. One of them came up and said that I look like a berber, which is an ethnic group in Morocco. I've never heard that one before.

After the break, the students were doing a quiet activity in pairs. One woman asked a Muslim-looking woman what she liked to do when she got up in the morning. "I like to pray and read my holy book," she said. Then she took a copy of her "holy book" out of her bag. "Can I touch it?" the other woman asked. I was amazed that she thought to ask that. I would never have asked. The owner of the book granted permission, and they opened the book (from the opposite end) to some Arabic characters. The sections all had easy-find page markers like we have in our Bibles.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Reality show ESL training, day 1

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.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Not unnoticed

I'm too tired to write about the first day of my program. But, I wanted to note (as you probably know already) that Alexandr Solzhenitsyn has passed away at age 89. I'm rereading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in tribute, but I haven't actually read any of his other works. Maybe I should check them out.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Closing the gap?

It was strange to be in an American grocery store after being in Russia and to not be amazed by the size and selection. Normally it seems so vast in comparison. Since the last time I was in the U.S., so many megastores have sprung up in St.Petersburg that the local supermarket I was at today seems small and humble. There are still plenty of products here that you can't get in Russia, though.

So I was walking through the store describing the scene in Russian in my head. Normally when I'm in Russia I think in Russian but I sometimes talk to myself in English when I'm imagining myself describing a situation on my blog or to my sister in an e-mail. Now that I'm in the States, I'm storing up observations to describe to my Russian friends.

It's 10 pm and I'm falling asleep.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Family milestones

Today is my brother's 29th birthday. He's the one who lives in Africa and just got married.

It's been awhile since we've been together for his birthday. He is supposed to be coming here soon, but his wife hasn't gotten her visa yet. We are hoping for a miracle.

Happy Birthday!

Friday, August 1, 2008

June 2022

So, we are 4 months into what's happening in our part of the world...though, of course, we live pretty far from the border!   Currently:...