Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Apartment

Just in case you were wondering what my humble digs looked like, I anticipated this question and decided to put up some pictures:

My room came furnished with curtains and an odd painting or two.

Our kitchen

The bathroom

The water closet. It literally is a closet. If you spend too long in here, you get claustrophobic.

The living room (with Pete's room on the right, Jeff's on the left).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Every day is like Sunday...

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. Sundays are great. The church I go to has its service at 6 PM because of remodeling, so I get incredibly lazy on Sundays. I wake up, have a long breakfast and go and do my shopping for the week because all the Russians are still sleeping around noon, so there aren't any lines at the supermarket.

One of the things that I really enjoy here in St. Petersburg is the graffiti. For some reason, I get a huge kick out of it. Maybe I'll take it up as a hobby in the future... Right now, I just enjoy taking photographs of some of the more interesting ones. Here is a nice one:
This is pronounced "skuchayu" and means "I miss you." It's comforting to know that the graffiti artists in my neighborhood are also sentimental.

Here's another photo showing the poor spelling of some NBA fans here in St. Pete:

Also, if you've seen my facebook profile you've seen my collection of photographs of my favorite graffiti artist from my neighborhood, "Animal":

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Everything Is Illuminated

I've been feeling like I've been shortchanging my blog a little bit. Treating it more as a travelogue than a place where I actually write down some of my thoughts. So, I think I'll write down some thoughts I had about the film Everything Is Illuminated, since Zach just watched it.

Let me give you a brief synopsis of the film in case you haven't seen it: Jonathon's(Elijah Wood) hobby is to collect random pieces of his family's history. For example, he has plastic bags with old retainers, photographs, ticket stubs, etc... hung up with pushpins all over his walls. His grandparents were from the Ukraine and so he ends up going to look for his family's history there. He meets up with Alex, a Ukrainian young man who is his translator, and they travel around looking for his grandparents' village. It's a road movie, but it's a road movie that is making a profound statement about history.

In college I had a history course and the professor spent the first day asking every student why we were in the class, what the point was of studying history. I don't remember what I said, but I remember a lot of people said the whole "if you don't know the mistakes of the past, you are bound to repeat them/ you can't know where you are going until you know where you've been" blah blah blah line. Anyway, the last assignment for the class at the end of the semester was to write a paper on the same subject: why do we study history? I had recently watched E.I.I. and I was struck by a few things. There is a part where the American in the film, Elijah Wood, is telling his Ukranian translator that his shirt is on "inside-out" to which he responds, "What does it mean 'inside-out'?" The American starts to respond but very quickly realizes the language barrier will make this conversation much more difficult than it is worth and he just ends up saying, "Forget it."

At the end of the film, the Ukranian is writing a letter to the American and says, "I know what you mean now about 'inside-out.' History is us 'inside-out.'" I thought that was incredibly profound and I started realizing that this film is a film about history (or at least it was to me, as a history major) and how it affects us.

I had this revelation in college that I can pithily sum up in the phrase: to know, is to love (partially stolen from the French proverb, "To know all, is to forgive all"). When we study history, let's say Russian history, we are seeing Russian people "inside out." By studying history, we are learning what is "inside" people in the present. To study someone in the past, is to love someone in the present. Does that make sense? When we know someone's history, they become "illuminated" to us. Bathed in a heavenly glow, if you will. So, to sum up, to know is to love; therefore, to study the past is to love in the present.

I could talk for a while about different things in that movie, but I'll just mention one more thing. I've copied Jonathon in that I carry around plastic bags everywhere if I find something interesting to collect during the day. I actually have a few boxes at my parents house of random stuff from Turkey and my last trip to Russia.

Still Smiling

I went to a "Slovo" (the organization I'm here with) event last night. Somebody asked me how long I'd been here now and I said a month and half (has it only been a month and a half?). He said, "Oh, and you're still smiling? That's a good sign!"

So, let's see it's been a little while since I wrote last. I didn't end up going to the Russian Museum of Political History. The weather was so nice that Svetlana and I decided to go walking around Peter and Paul Fortress (look it up, it's pretty cool) instead. She was a foreign languages major in college and one of her classes was how to be a tour guide. She told me about how she and her partner had to be able to conduct a bus tour of St. Petersburg and she used to know all sorts of interesting facts about the fortress. But, she had never actually gone into it and she forgot all the facts. There's a statue of Peter the Great there that's supposed to be life size and all the tourists go and sit on his lap and take a photo. Since it was Svetlana's first time seeing it (it was my second) she had to get a photo so...

I am attending a Calvary Chapel here and it's a really great church. The worhsip is all in Russian and the sermon is given by a Russian with an American translating after ever few sentences. It's full of great people and wonderful teaching. There's one guy there named Kostya who is just incredible. I've never met a man so full of love. He will never let you leave without saying hey and giving you a book to borrow.

I think I've written about how we have "sport day" every Saturday and play football, frisbee, soccer, etc... with all the kids from school that show up ( and they all do). The soccer team here, Zenit, has 2 Korean players on it, both of whom go to the Korean church most of my students do. In fact, one of my kids has their numbers. So, he called them and invited them to our sport days. Kim Dong-Jin (UEFA Cup winner, UEFA SuperCup winner, 48 appearances for Korea, including a few at the World Cup) seems to be a pretty nice guy and has promised to come to one and hang out with us.

Teaching is going well. We have chapel every Tuesday and they are fantastic! I mean, I've been in Christian schools my whole life and I've been in some pretty dull, terrible, and terribly awkward chapels, but these have been great! I dunno, maybe I shouldn't be so shocked, but I'm seriously impressed every week.

I bought my winter coat and boots the other day. Hopefully, I won't have to use them until November, though; but, if I have to, I'm ready. 

Well, I think this post is getting pretty long. I'll just have to publish posts more often so I don't have these mammoth posts.

Friday, September 12, 2008

2nd Week of Teaching

Well, another week of teaching has come and gone. And I am a little older and a little wiser. Teaching kids from so many different countries has been an interesting experience. I love how I teach American history to a class (7th+8th grade) that only has one American. It seems like one class, the 6th grade, is more ESL than history. I have one or two students that appear to be counting on me learning Korean before they learn English.  I did learn some Finnish today, though (Hi, bye, thanks, yes, no). 

I'm pretty excited for the weekend. I will be playing soccer with a my students tomorrow morning and I'm pretty excited for that. I realized the other day that this is the first fall that I haven't been regularly out on the soccer field. I'm a little sad about that; not because I love playing soccer that much (I do love playing it), but because it's an indicator that I'm... turning... into... an.... adult and  I now have more important concerns than "playing childish games." Pretty sad, huh? I was depressed about it, at least.

I'm going to try and go to the Museum of Russian Political History, as it's only about a 30 minute walk from my apartment (10 minutes if I took the metro). I'm going to try and meet my friend Svetlana there and have her get the tickets because of the Russian system of admission. At this museum, admission for foreignors is 200 rubles, but, if I give my money to Svetlana and have her buy the tickets, it is 60 rubles.

Night and Day

Monday, September 8, 2008

Thursdays Are the Best Days

The first Thursday of every month means one thing here in St. Petersburg: free admission to the Hermitage. Because of the difficulties of the Russian visa process, the Hermitage is "The Best Art Museum You Will Never See." It actually has more pieces of art than any other museum in the world. 

So on Thursday, after school, I fancied seeing some Van Gogh, Picasso, Rembrandt, Bruegel, Caravaggio, etc..., so I headed down to Nevsky Prospekt and went to the Hermitage. I had my school bag with me so I had to leave it at the coat check. So, I went up to the lady and held out my coat and bag. She said something to me that I didn't understand, so I said, "Prostitye, ya nye panimayu pa-Russkiy." ("Sorry, I don't understand Russian."). Now, I don't know exactly what she said after that, but my Russian has improved to the point that I got the gist of it. The gist of it was, "What do you mean you don't understand Russian? I can hear you speak it." She probably muttered something about "idiot foreignors" after that. So I told her, "Ya gavoryu pa-Russkiy, chut-chut." ("I speak Russian, teencey-weencey.") This usually gets a giggle from people, and I caught a barely discernible smile breaking out before she caught herself, remembered that it wasn't in her national character to laugh, and took my coat and bag.

School's going well. I wish I could write something interesting about it, but it's just school. The good news is that it was easy to start up again and it felt like I never stopped last May. The bad news is that it feels like I never stopped last May and I am already eyeing that quarter break at the end of October.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

First Days of School

This is a picture that I found while cleaning out my room that I decide to put up to remind me of the pedagogical skills and style I'm aiming for.

School is officially in session. In Russia all the schools start on September 1. Always, no exceptions. All the schools try to have these elaborate opening ceremonies, so my walk to work was much more interesting. There were all these little kids in their suits and frilly dresses, carrying flowers for their teachers and parents following with camcorders. Thankfully, the first day at IA was fairly low key. We had the traditional ringing of the first bell by the youngest and oldest student at opening session in the chapel room and then the students went off to their separate rooms where school policies were explained to them. I was out of school by noon.

Today, Tuesday, we got down to actual school. I always feel bad for my first class because I use them to figure out what works and what doesn't. Today was no exception. My classes are divided as follows: 6th (which has 5 Koreans, 1 American, 1 Finn, and 1 Russo-American) 7th+8th (1 American, 1 Japanese, 1 Finn, 1 Estonian, 5 Koreans) 9th+10th (1 American, 1 Finn, 1 Turk, 1 Canadian, 5 Koreans) and 11th+12th (I didn't have them today, so I'll let you know later.). Many thanks to the new Hyundai plant here in St. Pete that gave me so many students who have no idea what I said today. I actually will have a few more Americans but they are still en route for various reasons.

The school is really great from a teacher's point of view because of the small class sizes and I have the lattitude to do pretty much whatever I want. For example, there is no written dress code for teachers. The headmistress, Tammy, who is fantastic, said that as long as we looked professional she doesn't really care. And Friday is casual day. This is like the promised land after teaching at Liberty where I had large classes, 5 preps, a pretty restrictive dress code, these hulking, surly basketball stars, and no ESL teacher. 

I'm really feeling incredibly blessed here. So many little things just work out for me here, like how I don't have a class before the lunch period and can take a long, leisurely lunch; or, how there is a kid here from Missouri who is here to play hockey professionally and misses 3-5 period every day for practice, which doesn't effect my classes at all! All the other teachers are jealous of my location too. I only walk about 20 minutes to work, while most have to catch a bus and/or take the metro. Another thing that worked out was that we found a 6th grade Bible teacher so Aaron (the science teacher) and I don't have to do it, although we do have to cover it this week. My day is Friday. What does one do in 6th grade Bible? I guess we'll figure something out by then.

Oh, Aaron (who's from Arkansas) was really good friends in college with a guy, Paul Burank, who graduated from Liberty that was friends with my sister Annie. Amazing the people you run into in St. Petersburg.


I came across this picture on a bulletin board in the building we rent. Not sure how to take it...

My classroom before and after

Squeezing the Last Drops out of Summer

After spending all week getting the school ready for students on Monday, I spent the weekend trying to squeeze the last precious drops from summer vacation. On Friday night we (my roommates Pete and Allen, a colleague from IA Deanna, and a Russian friend Arina) went to Cam and Sonja's for taco salad. We had a good time watching a new episode of Wipeout! on Cam's computer and then we headed out to walk around downtown St. Pete. St. Petersburg is such a beautiful city and it only gets better at night. The weather was great (it was cold, but no rain, which means it's fantastic weather) so we walked down Palace Square in front of the Hermitage (the Winter Palace of the tsars) where the October Revolution started. There's a photo of everyone (except Arina and Allen) in Palace Square at the top.
When we got to Palace Square we discovered that this where all the hip, young cyclists in the city hang out on a Friday night. There were probably over hundred of them there hanging out, playing music, and trying to show off for their girlfriends. Since the weather was so nice (again, that means not raining) we decided to stay out until the bridges over the Neva River went up to let the bigger ships through. So, as we are waiting we remember that the city's soccer team, FC Zenit, were playing Manchester United in the Super Cup. We remembered because, suddenly, cars started showing up honking. Soon, people started spilling out of all the buildings cheering, shouting, singing, and waving their Zenit scarves and flags. More and more cars showed up honking and with people crammed into every inch and even riding on hoods, trunks, and roofs. So, the bridges went up and Pete and I go and start walking home, trying to avoid the bigger groups of drunk guys singing. Every so often, a car would drive by and honk at us and we would raise our fists in triumph and keep walking. It was great seeing people high fiving when they were stopped at traffic lights. We ended up getting slightly off course (not lost; we knew, basically, where we were) and I asked someone for directions and, miracle of miracles, understood them.
We ended up getting back home around 2:45 and I was so tired the next day I didn't leave the apartment at all. Just a lazy Saturday. The last one of the summer. Jeff, one of my roommates, has a friend who works at the Krestovskiy amusement park (think a pirated version of Disney Land) who gets free passes once in a while. Since she's been on all the rides and done everything a thousand times, she just gives the passes to her friends. So, on Sunday Jeff, Pete, Arina, and I went. Why I spent the last few hours of summer vacation putting myself through every sort of motion torture I could imagine, I don't know. Soviet engineering standards give all the rides an added element of suspense.