Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Yesterday, Monday, was the first day that all of the teachers at International Academy (IASP) reported for duty. We got there, the headmistress spoke a bit about how a lot of things are still up in the air, and we ate together. It was kind of a get-to-know everybody time; it turns out I'm the only new full-time teacher, unless we find a k-1st grade teacher.
IASP is really an interesting place. We are kinda flying by the seat of our pants here, which I'm sure is pretty normal at these international schools (or maybe it's just mine, I dunno). For example, we may or may not have a K-1st grade. Another example: the school rents the building from a Catholic organization and the contract is up in January and there is a slight, slight possibility of moving the whole school for the second semester. So, there's all these little (and big) things that are up in the air, but it's ok. That's just the way things work here in St. Pete and I'm pretty confident everything will work out fine. 
Today, Tuesday, we unpacked the school. Because the school rents from this Catholic organization, it got packed up for the summer and they used the building as a hostel of sorts. Of course, my classroom was used as one of the two main storerooms. Hopefully, tomorrow I will be able to post some before and after pictures with my room perfectly set up and looking good.

Gulf of Finland Beach Party

On Saturday evening a few of us had a Gulf of Finland beach party. Cam, an Australian (pictured above), is an excellent chef and he made some shashlik (Russified shish kebab) on this lovely little coal box. There was another teacher from the school I work at there and there were a few other Americans who are teaching English in St. Pete and Vologda. Add in a few Russian friends and you've got a beach party. Of course, on Russian beaches you wouldn't want to walk around barefoot because of all the broken glass. Also, one should always dress warmly because of the cold wind coming off the water. 

Saturday, August 16, 2008

я дикий мужчина (Ya Dikiy Muzhchina, I Am a Wild Man)

Today, Jeff, Max, and I decided we had been pretty lazy all week, so we went and walked around town a little bit. Of course, it was typical St. Petersburg summer weather: rainy. I thought you'd enjoy a picture of me enjoying this summer wind and rain. You'll notice in the back an advertising board featuring Matthew McConnaughey. This ad is everywhere! It's a little disconcerting seeing the Redneck Buddha on every street corner in St. Petersburg.

I was hanging out with Max the other day and he was going through my iTunes and brought to my attention a Russian band called Leningrad that was on there. To me, they were this cool band that was on the Everything Is Illuminated soundtrack that sang in Russian. It turns out they are one of the most obscene bands in Russia today. Their concerts have been banned in Moscow, in fact. They are banned because they use a way of speaking called "mat," ("mat" means "mother") which is similar to something like cockney rhyming slang; it's a jargon that distinguishes those who are within a certain milieu from those that aren't. In this case the jargon is obscenities. Take the most foul-mouthed person you know, multiply by 5, add a lot of linguistic creativity, a few double entedres, and that is about what "mat" looks like. Russians are the most imaginative and creative cursers in the world; I'd love love to provide some examples but I'd have to clean my keyboard and take a shower after doing so. It's that dirty. So, here I am enjoying this song because it has a cool Russian folk song vibe, and it turns out it's by the dirtiest band in all of Russia (which is saying something). Fortunately, the song, "Ya Dikiy Muzhchina," is one of their milder ones.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

My Friend Max

This is Max Levenko:

Max is a friend from last summer and he goes to university here in St. Petersburg. Praise God for Max, because he takes good care of me. The last few days he's come over in the early evening and we'll hang out and go run errands and he will translate. For example,  I got my cell phone (I'm using a phone a teacher from last year left, and I just need to buy a SIM card, which is a little memory card that allows me to pay as I go) and it didn't work right, so Max helped me straighten every thing out at the shop where I bought it. 
 Max came over today and we went for a little ride on the Metro so I could charge my metro card (40 rides, 300R, about $12) and we hopped on an Ikea bus. Well, it's not really operated by Ikea, but it is operated by a mall that has an Ikea, and the bus is yellow with Ikea all over it, so Russians call it the Ikea bus. This bus is free(!) and only goes from this one metro stop to the mall. Max is an Ikea fiend. He spends hours on the virtual home planner on their website. He's into anything Scandinavian and Ikea is probably apex of Scandinavian culture, so he recently applied for a job there. You'll notice in his picture he is wearing a Hatesphere t-shirt; he is a huge metal fan. You'll also notice in his picture a hot dog. We ate at Ikea and I got a hot dog and fountain soda for 60R ($2.40). Way to go Sweden!
Max's English is very good and he's actually German major at his university, so his German is pretty good too. His English is so good that he's able to joke very well in it. I've been told he is even funnier in Russian. So, basically Max is a great guy (music taste aside) and he is watching out for me and making sure that Russia doesn't eat me alive.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

First thoughts

After trying to go back to sleep, after trying to listen to some music and fall asleep, after messing about on the computer in hopes of getting drowsy, and after reading for a little bit, I came to the final conclusion that going back to sleep just wasn't going to happen. So, since I'm awake, restless, and full of thoughts, I might as well share some.

-Thought 1: I didn't think this whole Russia through a whole lot.
This thought struck me as I buckled my seat belt in San Fran. I don't mean that in a bad way or that I'm doubting my calling; nothing like that. I mean I really just didn't think about it. I just kind of did it. I didn't think about the reality of it. Being in an airplane on the way to the other side of the world helps to allow the reality to sink in; so, by the time you arrive at your destination, you're good to go.

-Thought 2: My roommate Jeff seems like a pretty cool guy.
I'm a big first impressions guy. I'm also a big 2nd impression guy. And 3rd. And 4th. And 5th. I'm not CONVINCED Jeff is a pretty cool guy, but, right now, he SEEMS like a pretty cool guy. Maybe it's the Russian suspicion rubbing off on me. I'll write again in April and tell you guys what I end up deciding. As of now, I'm going to go ahead and predict that we will get along pretty well and have a good time together.

-Thought 3:  I need to just forget all about my concept of personal space.
I just can't let it bother me when someone stands WAY too close to me in line. When people brush you. When you can tell what the guy just had for lunch.

-Thought 4: I live on the same street as the UEFA Cup Champions F.C. Zenit (Bolshoi Prospekt)
Today after dinner, Jeff, my Russian friend from last summer Max, and I went for a walk after dinner (the Russian verb for "walk" can mean a few different things. It can mean the physical act of walking, hanging out, or cheating on your wife. We just used the first two this evening). We walked down to the end of Bolshoi Prospekt to the Petrovsky Stadium.

-Thought 5: Jeff's Russian girlfriend, Dasha, genuinely enjoys washing dishes and ironing. I need to get me one of those!

Hooray for jet lag!

Here I am awake at 3:46 AM after I went to bed exhausted at midnight. Well, I guess when life gives you lemons, blog in the middle of the night.

What day is it?

Well, after leaving Redding at 5:30 AM on Sunday, I made it to St. Petersburg at 5:30 PM on Monday. I knew it was Monday because that's what it said on my ticket. One of the other teachers at the International Academy of St. Petersburg (the school I'm teaching at, IASP for short) picked me up and took me to my new home. The apartment I'll be staying is off of Bolshoi Prospekt, which is a very respectable (i.e., expensive) part of town. 

Right now, Jeff is the only other roommate here. We hung out a little last night and he seems like a pretty good guy. He's from Arkansas and he's been here for the last 2 years with a group called TeachOverseas (I'm a TeachOverseas Summer alumnus). His girlfriend, Dasha, came over with some small pies she made and we made some tea and chatted. 

Today, Jeff and I are going to go run some errands. Since the area we live in is so high falutin', we poor, Young Americans must go to a different part of town to get the best prices. 

Also, I don't know how many of you have skype, but if you do, my skype name is joelslagle . If you don't have skype, you might want to look into it.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

On the eve of departure...

This is my first blog. I haven't blogged in the past mainly because I thought it would be a little too self-serving. But now that I'm headed off to Russia for a little while, I think it will be good way to let my friends and family know what's going on, maybe show a few pics. So, read, comment, stalk, or whatever you want, and enjoy.