So said Jim, one of the teacher-trainers of the Intern Training Program that I just (!) finished.
We were all a little sad to see the training come to an end, but he reminded us that this is only the beginning of our time here in Russia, and that the friendships we made and the memories we shared in this short month of training are only going to continue over the next nine months. Then he proceeded to hand out our grammar exam - a bit of a downer after that motivational speech! I thought I had done horribly on it, especially the phonetics part, but amazingly I somehow got 99%. I'm still flabbergasted, but hey, I'm not going to draw their attention to my shoddy phonetic transcriptions (just in case that 99% was actually a 79% or something...)
After we got our exams back, the 11 interns (we were originally 12, but Michael, who is from Munich, conveniently had "visa issues" that required him to fly back to Munich the day Oktoberfest started and would take him till the day after it ended to sort out...hee hee, I hope he's having fun there!) decided to go out for food and drinks at a staLOHvaya - a cafeteria-style restaurant/bar - called Vokzal (train station). It was a great night out after stressing so much this past month over practice teaching, observations, and the grammar exam. Most of us are placed at schools either in Moscow or the suburbs, although Rod is headed to Volgograd, a 22-hour train trip away (God, this country is huge!). So we will hopefully all be able to keep in touch. I've gotten really close with everyone, so last night was an awesome way to celebrate together.
I got home last night really late, woke up early to get to the Central School for one last time, and now I'm just basking in some free time before I start teaching. I've been assigned two classes so far - a private lesson twice a week with a thirteen-year old boy, Roman, and a class of 15-16 year old advanced English speakers. Hmm...if these teens are anything like my friends and I when we were teenagers, I should be okay. But if they're more like, say, my sister and her friends, this could be...interesting. :) We've constantly been warned by the teacher-trainers that teenagers are HELL to teach, but I'm remaining optimistic. And Roman sounds...well, a bit bratty to be truthful - his original teacher was my flatmate Stuart, but apparently Roman isn't the biggest fan of Stu's Edinburgh accent, and he is insisting that he get an American teacher. Since Rhea and Colleen are both already busy teaching, that leaves me, and I just hope a Canadian is good enough for this kid. I felt a little bad coming back to the flat today and telling Stu that he's been rejected, but he was a good sport about it and just muttered something unintelligible in Scots! And then told me that Roman is OBSESSED with Will Smith and the movie Bad Boys - has anyone seen it and can give me a quick breakdown of it so I can impress this kid?
Oh - Monday night was my last night practice-teaching, which was also kind of bittersweet. I ended the class by playing "American Pie" and having the students (adults, upper-intermediate level) write in the missing words in the text. It turns out they all know and love the song, so it was a really fun listening exercise to do! Then to my surprise, they all came up to me at the end, asking me for my contact info so they could add me to facebook. Elena, an adorable babushka who speaks really great English, gave me two big dark chocolate and almond bars, from a famous luxury Russian chocolatier, A. Korkunov. I ate a bit of one on my metro ride home that night, and I think I'm going to save the rest to use for baking! Katya, another student, asked if she could take a photo of me. I readily agreed, although I quickly realized how embarassing this was potentially going to be. "Turn your head to the side so I can see your flower!" she instructed, pointing to the flower I had pinned in my hair earlier that day. Then she arranged me in this unbelievably CHEESY pose - think like the absolute worst pose you ever had to do for a school picture and times it by a thousand. She made me rest my cheeks in my hands and look off into the distance dreamily...I'm blushing furiously just thinking about it now, and knowing that somewhere out there such a picture of me actually exists. But what else could I do? I didn't want to refuse her. And then she had a bunch of questions for me about why I had chosen Russia, why I loved Russia, what my favourite things about the country were, etc etc. She grew up in Tajikistan and she had told me earlier that she taught herself to read as a child with the Communist newspaper there. A very, very different upbringing, but one which I find fascinating. I got into a really interesting conversation with her and Vic about why exactly I love Russia. I think one of the main things is that this country is so culturally rich, so many talented genuises have come out of such a grim, dark history - Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky, Akhmatova - writers, musicians, playwrights, poets, ballerinas, composers...
"But doesn't Canada have people like that?" Katya asked me seriously. It was a little awkward, because I really do love my country, but the truth is, we don't have that rich cultural heritage, at least in my opinion. Oh, I know people will protest and say, "How about Margaret Atwood? Or Pierre Burton?" And yes, I know that we do have some Canadians who have contributed to literature, music, culture. But in comparison to Russia? And then I also realized that Vic comes from a place with an equal amount of rich history - England. So maybe its because Canada is still so young. Perhaps a Canadian Pushkin still needs to come along and revitalize our literature. Okay, that's enough of my philosophizing. I guess the point of my little story is that I have constantly been made aware, in my month here so far, of how warm, hospitable and friendly Russians are. In the streets, they can definitely be forbidding and stern-looking, but overall every Russian I have gotten to know has been overwhelmingly kind and helpful. It was also such a rewarding feeling to walk out of that classroom having established relationships with these students. This is why I love teaching: that feeling of mutual respect and enthusiasm, the knowledge that you've helped someone, and they in turn have taught you something too. Oh, and the free chocolate is an added bonus. :)
So here's to new beginnings! Na zdarovie!