Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Last Few Months

Hello everyone. It's been a really long time since I've posted on this blog. So bear with me, cause this is probably going to be a long one. I apologise in advance.

Originally I wasn't writing simply because I was busy. While I've worked with kids before, teaching was a completely new experience. I was thrown right into it and had a lot of learning to do. In the beginning I spent a lot - and I mean A LOT - of time planning lessons to the minute and trying to plan for every possibility in the classroom. I wouldn't say I was drowning, but I think there was probably a lot of unnecessary panic-driven splashing. By the time mid-October came around, I had mostly gotten the hang of it though and was feeling a bit more confident in the classroom.

But October brought with it my birthday and the first of the holidays for the year. Despite my building confidence and success in the classroom, I started to feel pretty crappy. I was stressed (I was getting the hang of teaching but I still had a long way to go), and I was missing home a lot. I stopped wanting to go out; there was always a chance somebody from home might want to skype. Plus, my Russian was rusty and improving only very gradually so it was exhausting to interact with people here. Since I live alone it was extremely easy to indulge myself and stay in as often as possible. I went to work and I went home and on my days off I mostly only left the house to buy groceries.

I started to really hate it here. And the more miserable and disappointed I was with how things were, the less I even wanted to talk to people from home. Everybody was constantly telling me how brave I was, asking for stories about my exciting life. And I had nothing to tell them. I never did anything exciting. And I certainly didn't feel brave. Mostly I felt stupid. Back in the US, I hadn't quite had everything all figured out, but I was stable and happy. Living in Russia had been a dream of mine since I was eight years old and I know that had I passed up on this opportunity, I would have regretted it for the rest of my life. But I've still found myself wishing at times over the past six months that I wasn't here, that I'd never left my safe and comfortable life in America.

Things were the worst around the holidays. I was hanging on by a thread and even something little had the potential to bring me to tears. I cried in a staff meeting on Thanksgiving when a woman from corporate asked me if I missed home. That incident ended in my director giving my coworkers the task of keeping me entertained that night by celebrating Thanksgiving. We hung out, drank beer and ate sushi. It was definitely fun, but I still felt like I missed out on Thanksgiving. Which sent me even deeper into a funk as Christmas approached. I had an idea of how I'd feel for this holiday too and I started to dread it. I threw myself into decorating my apartment hoping that it would bring out more of a Christmas spirit. I made huge paper chains with red, green, and gold paper, I hung handmade snowflakes from the ceiling and Christmas lights along the windows. I even bought myself a nine foot tall Christmas tree, which I decorated and put presents under. It helped a little, but not as much as I had hoped. I ended up having to work on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and I cried at work both days. Though I suppose that was better in the end than staying home alone all day.

The new year thankfully brought with it a small change for the better. I had vacation starting New Year's Day and I used some money I had gotten for Christmas to escape Novosibirsk and head to St. Petersburg. I didn't do anything special for my vacation. I stayed in a hotel, went to cafes, and generally wandered around. But it was a good escape and it felt wonderful to do things for myself. I did have a bit of adventure finally: I met some people in a quiet little café and we all went ice skating together at midnight. After that, we hung out in a pizzeria until morning, eating pizza, napping, and talking about life. I finally felt good about being in Russia.

But then, of course, I had to go back home. After a grueling fifty-two hour train ride from Moscow to Novosibirsk, and an hour walk home in minus thirty degree weather, I got back to my little apartment. For once, I felt like I was returning somewhere comfortable. For the last couple days of my vacation, I was able to enjoy the fact that I had my own little piece of Russia. Starting back at work was even better at the beginning. I taught a seminar for English teachers at a local university to help give them ideas for leading a more active classroom. I had twenty six Russian teachers - many of whom had been teaching longer than I've been alive - running around and putting on silly clothes. They loved the seminar and I felt more validated and confident in my teaching skills than I had up until that point. It was a wonderful improvement on where I had been before I went on vacation.

Since then, things have mostly returned to normal. I spend most of my time doing something work related and am very often busy and stressed. But I've clung to the small improvements that had happened since my vacation. They were my hope for finally being happy here and I used them as momentum to change more things in my life. I've since started taking Russian classes with an old colleague of mine and have been seeing steady progress in my Russian abilities. I made some new friends and have started doing things outside of work. I even finally bought a metro card; A huge step because I never used to leave my apartment often enough to warrant buying one.

I originally started this blog to tell people about what life was like in Siberia. My mother has bugged me about not writing the past several months almost every time we skype, telling me that people are curious and want to hear what it's like here. I insisted every time that life here is just normal, that there was nothing to write about. Truthfully, I didn't want to admit to everyone how much I hated it. I had followed a dream and ended up not liking the reality. And for a long time I was embarrassed about that.

If I'm being honest, part of me is still a little embarrassed writing all of this, knowing people will read it. I've prided myself on my intelligence my whole life, sometimes to a fault; It's always been difficult for me to admit I don't know something or that I've made a mistake. As a teacher, however, I encourage my students to make mistakes. I remind them in the beginning of every class that if they stay quiet because they're too afraid to make mistakes, they'll never learn the right way to say something, and they'll never truly make progress.

I didn't fully realize the irony there until I received a letter from a friend in the mail this week. In the letter, my friend told me about his own adventure of moving to a new city, which he ended up hating. Despite living on opposite sides of the world, there were plenty of parallels in our lives and I immediately identified with what he was writing. But what struck me most was the frankness in his letter. He even flat out said that his move, "was an absolute mistake." Reading his letter is what made me decide to finally write this post. I haven't hated all of my time here, but there have absolutely been times that I've dubbed my decision to move to Siberia an absolute mistake. I think that things have improved enough to remove the absolute from that statement, but I'm wary about saying it wasn't a mistake. Maybe it was a mistake, but I've realized that that doesn't have to be negative. This mistake has pushed me to do things and to learn things that I never would have otherwise. And because of - certainly not despite - it, I have a better and fuller understanding of myself and the life I want to live.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

If you were wondering about the weather in Skyberia...

This is it:

These are the cars parks right in front of my building. Yes, that is snow.
Yes, I knew that I was signing up for cold and snow when I decided to move to Siberia. But it's one thing to imagine a guaranteed white Christmas. It is a wholly different and not so pleasant thing to be walking home in flurries in your fall jacket and slipping on puddles that froze over while you were at work. If you're annoyed by my whining, don't worry cause it won't last too long; by Halloween I'll be bragging to you all that I can celebrate with both pumpkins and snowball fights.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Finally Teaching

Sorry everyone for the inactivity for a few weeks. I've had this post half written and didn't get around to finishing it till now. But here it is! And I promise that I'll be better in the future.

So anyway, a few weeks ago I finally started teaching. I was a bit terrified, but thankfully I was scheduled to shadow a few other classes first before I had to go into my own. Shadowing was extremely helpful and when I planned my first lesson, I made it very similar to lesson I shadowed. It took some tweaking and I think that now I'm starting to figure out my own teaching style.

The school itself is a private English school, so most of our classes are early mornings or in the evenings before or after the kids go to school. That means I have most of the day to relax and plan lessons, which makes things a little less stressful. That gets balanced out though since the school was just renovated and there's a lot of things wrong around the building still. For the first two weeks, none of the smartboards worked. That wouldn't normally be an issue, but we don't have normal boards either so that meant no board. Most of the classrooms are working now, but when we moved to assigned classrooms, guess who got the one that doesn't work. Not only does my classroom not have a board or any of the audio or visual equipment I'm supposed to have, but its also missing the most basic thing that makes it a room: walls.

Not having walls is especially a problem because all of my students are 7-9 years old. That's not an age group very well known for their superior concentration skills. So with other kids and parents and teachers all wandering around the other half of the shared space (Damn open floor plans.), I spend a decent amount of time every class trying to get my students to stay focused.

At first, I was also a little self conscious about people being able to watch me teach, but I got over that pretty quickly. Especially when one of my coworkers said she can hear me when I'm teaching from almost everywhere in the school anyway. I've noticed that even at their normal speaking volume, Russians talk very quietly. So much so that sometimes I can hardly hear somebody that I'm standing right next to. Since that obviously means that Russians must all have some sort of super hearing, I can only imagine how my extremely loud Americanness must grate on their ears.

Here's a photo of the school from the entrance so you can have a visual of this. My classroom is the back half of that room next to the boxes on the wall.

During my class, it's actually usually more crowded than this.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sunday Adventure

The other day I went with one of my friends/coworkers, Masha, to go volunteer at a dog shelter by her house. I managed to adventure all the way to the other side of the city and was extremely proud of myself. I had to take the metro and a marshrutka, which is like a communal taxi. Marshrutkas are a little more complicated than taking the bus cause you actually have to tell the driver to stop at the next stop, so you have to know where you're getting off, which I only vaguely knew. Masha told me to go to the hospital, and luckily the woman sitting next to me was going there too. So I made it to the right place without getting lost once!

This is a marshrutka. They're basically terrifying minibuses.

Masha gave me the grand tour of her apartment and I met her brother and then we headed to the shelter. There was a fire recently, so the shelter is actually mostly gates and collections of handmade dog houses and it's kinda sad looking. But there were a bunch of people there taking care of the dogs, building back the shelter, donating food. It was a cool little community place. All we had to do was show up and say we wanted to walk some dogs and they brought us in and sent two dogs out. No system or anything, just, "Here you go, bye."
We walked through the woods, which was basically just made up of birch trees and was really pretty. From there, we walked along a stream next to a whole bunch of dachas (country/vacation houses). I got a few pictures that weren't great, so I'll have to go back and get a whole bunch of all the different dachas. But we walked all through the little dacha village until we got to the river. The river here is called the Ob and it runs down the center of the city. The dogs were thrilled to get some splashing in, so we hung out there for a little while before we turned around and went back.

Here's me and Doc the dog in front of the river
On our way back, we walked past an abandoned lot next to some apartment buildings and we found this guy:

Me with the random horse hanging out in the abandoned lot
I guess Russia hadn't been weird enough for me that day. Just when I think these seem pretty normal around here, something always shows up.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Dose of Russian Doctors

Now, if you know me, you'll know that I hate going to the doctor. Unfortunately, in order to teach in Russia, you have to get a medical book and have a million doctors sign off and say that you're healthy enough to work with children. I can't really complain about that - it makes. But the entire process is horrible and leaves a lot of room for improvement.

To start off, you need to get an official medical booklet. To get this, you bring some passport photos, your passport, and 300 rubles to some old women in a random building in a random courtyard. I did this first thing on Monday and was sent away because I didn't have a translation of my passport. So today, I had my registration and that seemed to work, because I was then sent to a very nice woman who gave me my booklet.

Then came the hard part. Thankfully, one of the girls that works at the school, Lena, came and endured everything with me. I am beyond grateful for her help. I may have to bake her cookies. Anyway, after taking some money out (which was an ordeal itself because four different ATMs didn't work), we went to the medical center. The receptionist gave me a bunch of papers, one of which had a list of all fifteen things I had to have signed off. And to add an extra little twist, the offices all closed for the day in only an hour and fifteen minutes. Oh, Russia.

The first room I went to - the general physician I think - was misleading. The doctor was nice and spoke a bit of English. There was a pleasant old man hanging out who spoke excellent English and we had a little conversation. Then after some confusion about a really long line, I was whisked off to the first real doctor, where I had to suffer through an extremely unpleasant and rude woman asking me questions I didn't understand and then yelling at me for not bringing my translator. Thankfully, though, my friend rescued me and the whole thing was over in a matter of minutes.

I went back to the confusing line again, which turned out to be the lab. I went in and the woman in the room very cheerfully took out the mini razorblade she needed to cut my finger open. I'm hardly exaggerating. It was a thin piece of metal that was around an eighth of an inch wide. The woman distracted me and then made fun of me for jumping when she stabbed my finger. I promise I'm not just being a baby. I've had my finger pricked for little blood tests before and that's not bad at all. This was a stabbing. After which, she squeezed my finger and continued to collect blood in mini vials for about five minutes. Sadly, that was the most pleasant experience of my day.

After a quick checkup at the dentist, I was done at the medical center until next week. So I headed over to the hospital to get my x-ray. But the x-ray machines are all broken at the hospital, so I have to do that next week too. But once I've got that and all my lab results are back, I get to go to the therapist, who is the one that signs off on the whole booklet.

Somehow all of that was done by two, so I was able to head home early for the day. I went home, showered, and curled up in my newly beautiful bed to do some reading and TV watching. But mostly I'm telling you that because I went to Ikea yesterday and bought new stuff for my apartment and I wanted a reason to post this photo of my new bedroom:

I'm in love with my apartment now. Although the jury's still out on that clock; it scares the crap out of me when it goes off.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

In Skyberia

So I am finally moved into my apartment and starting to settle in. I was a bit nervous when we were going to see my apartment and sign the lease, because I had no idea what the apartment was going to be like. Russian apartment buildings tend to look pretty crappy on the outside, so it's impossible to know what the apartment will be like just from looking at the building.

My building is a bit rundown looking on the outside, but not actually that bad. The front door is on a courtyard with a playground, so it's pretty quiet and has lots of trees. My apartment is a corner apartment on the third floor. It's got big windows and it's just above tree level so there's a lot of light.

When I first got up to my apartment, my landlady and her husband were here, so I got to meet them right off the bat. They gave me a tour and showed me everything I needed to know about the place. They were so insanely nice. My landlady even invited me to visit them at their dacha once I was more settled in.

I totally lucked out with my apartment. It's newly renovated and really nice. I've got a great landlady. AND I'm only a five minute walk to work and the metro. Pretty good for my first solo apartment! But I'll stop rambling now and get to the photos. I've only got the inside for now, but stay turned for more about my neighborhood!


My "living room." It's kinda a blurry picture, but you get the idea. 

My "bedroom"  
In case you're wondering why I put quotation marks in the captions of the two photos above, it's because they are actually photos of two different sides of the same room. In Russia, for the most part, a one bedroom apartment has only one main room that serves as both the living room and the bedroom. My bed is actually a futon so that the room transforms into only a living room if I wanna have people over.

My kitchen. The sink is in the left corner there...I cut it out
 because I'm not a very good photographer.
My bathroom. It's a bit cramped with the washing machine in there, but it's decent.

This is the view from my balcony into the courtyard. I feel so fancy having a balcony.

This is the view from sitting on my bed. It's wonderful. Except I'm a little nervous
 that a bird is going to fly in when I leave the window open..

Monday, August 25, 2014

An Intro to Siberia

Nobody believes you when you tell them you’re moving to Siberia. I guess most people don’t think of it as a real place. It’s more like today’s Timbuktu – it’s just famous for being really far away. But that fact, as well as it’s in Russia and it’s cold just about sum up what people usually know about Siberia.

If you’d like to know a little bit more, then you’ve come to the right place! I’ve put together a little question and answer using questions I’ve gotten over the past couple month:

You’re going to the middle of nowhere?”
       Siberia is the general name of Russia to the east of the Ural Mountains. It really just refers to the part of Russia that is on the Asian continent, which is actually most of the country. So technically, I could be going to the middle of nowhere, but I’m not. I’ll actually be living in the third largest city in the country.

“Woah, you’re gonna be really cold!”
         I’m moving to the city of Novosibirsk, which is in the center of the country and all the way south. I’ll be around the same latitude line as Edmonton, Canada (I looked it up). Just like us, there are seasons over there. In fact, this week it’s warmer in Novosibirsk than in New York – it’s in the mid-80s! But it is further north, so it’ll still get pretty cold once winter sets in. Don’t worry though, I have a heavy coat and plenty of scarves!

“Isn’t that where they exile people?”
         Back in the Soviet Union, that’s exactly what happened. Political prisoners were often sent to Siberian work camps when the government wanted them gone. But that’s a thing of the past and I’ll be in a nice apartment in a nice city and I’ll have internet. That’s not even close to exile!

“You’ll have to get one of those sled dogs to get to work!”
         First off, if I was gonna commute to work by way of dog, I’d need at least a pair to pull the sled. Secondly, if anybody would like to buy me a dog, I wouldn’t necessarily complain about it. Although I’m sure my landlord wouldn’t be so happy.

You’re moving to Siberia? You know that that’s not a thing that people actually do right?”
                Well it is now.