Sunday, September 26, 2010

International Language Day

Привет (hello)

In the world of AFS September 24th is known as “International Language Day” and it is celebrated by people sharing their cultures and languages. No wonder AFS is the only group that celebrates this holiday seeing as its mission statement is about sharing cultures and languages. Seeing as I’m in Russia this year with AFS I was one of those few that celebrated this particular holiday this year. The morning of September 24th Jenia and I were told that we would be going to a “party” instead of English class for our 6th period. We were a little confused because we had not been told about this before hand but like always we nodded, smiled and said, “okay, we understand.” (This happens to be the mantra of most AFS students seeing as for the first 3 months we walk around in a hazy state of confusion.)

By the time that 6th period arrived me and Jenia were very very ready to just go home. 6 hours of lessons in Russian make us very tired and quite honestly quite bored because we don’t understand anything that’s going on in any class except Geography. But alas we had to go to this party that we knew anything about. So we were herded into this big room and our class was there, Jenia’s sister and her friends, Laura (the German exchange student) and Laura’s sister and her sister’s friends were all there. It started off with two of our classmates giving a short speech in English about how grateful they were to have us in their school and in their town.

Then Jenia’s sister and friends got up and started to teach us some Russian games. I’ll describe these, very strange, Russian games to you. We played this one that started a lot like ring-around-the-Rosie with everyone holding hands and one person in the middle. Then the ones in the circle spin around in a circle around the one person in the middle, and they then make a bigger circle then kind of “charge” at the person in the middle. Then the person in the middle changes. I was very confused and I still don’t understand why or when they play this game but hey when in Russia right? Then we played this game called “the river” people stood in two lines holding their hands up creating a kind of tunnel for the one person at the head of the tunnel to run through. That person running had to grab the hand of another person and the person left without a partner was the next “runner”. I’m still confused about this game too but still When in Russia!

Then a girl got up and sang a pretty old folk song in Russia and quietly I commented to Jenia “it was pretty, but I’m glad they aren’t making us sing it too”, little did I know that was coming later. Then a girl in a, what I assume is a traditional costume, got up and did a dance. Then came the embarrassing part. We were told that WE were going to learn this dance, in front of EVERYONE in the room. It wasn’t THAT bad but still I would have preferred not to dance a folk dance in front of everyone. Then came the singing, out loud, in front of a group, IN Russian. For those of you that know me and have heard me sing, I’m not great, or even good but I did it. We, Jenia, Laura and I, sang a folk song in Russian alone until some very kind people felt sorry enough for us and started singing along with us.

Then the VERY Russian part of the event, we ate. Before I left I never really thought of Russians as eaters (like the Italians) but oh man they ARE!!! My English teacher told me exactly how it was “ In Russia, people feed you in order to show their love, just eat it, you don’t have a choice in the matter” So we ate “blee-nee” and drank tea. This is very typical for Russians. Blee-nee are like little pancakes that they cover with butter then sugar and sometimes dip and jam. Tea, well tea is something Russians LOVE. I think I’ve drank more tea these last few weeks that I have it coming out of my eyes and ears. I’ve come to like tea and I actually am developing a great tea addiction! I look forward to drinking tea each day. I’m becoming Russian!

After this marathon of eating, dancing and singing Jenia and I did something that we had never done before. We stood out side of the school and talked with Russians. In mostly Russian (granted this is because the kids that were there did not really speak English but still props for us!) about the USA, our lives, us, everything under sun. We were with 2 girls that we just met, Jenia’s sister’s friends, and a couple kids from our class. It was amazing! We managed to speak in Russian that maybe a 2 year old would speak. We would either just skip words that we didn’t know or attempt to talk around the words that we didn’t know. Then we always decided to go home so we split into two groups (because our houses were all in one direction or the other) and started to walk home. I live quite far away from my school (about 25 minutes walking) so by the end I was just walking with just one girl. She didn’t really speak English so I had to speak Russian. It was hard but by the time I got home I was very proud of myself that I managed to speak very little English all day (except with Jenia, but even we are starting to speak a little Russian together).

This was just one day in my life here in Russia. By far not a typical day in my life but one that was quite fun and exciting! In my regular life everything is going okay. Next weekend I have my first AFS orientation and it will be held in Yaroslav, which is the capital of my “state” here in Russia. I have not yet been there so I’m very excited to go there and see the exchange students and city! In Italy AFS orientations were some of the best times of my year! So we will see how it turns out here in Russia! Everything with my family is going amazingly as well. I got really lucky again.

I miss you all and hope that you are all having a good time in the USA (or wherever you are) seeing all of the Halloween decorations appear in the stores! I’ll miss that.

Рока (good bye) :)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Differences: Russia - USA

I have been in Russia for almost a month now, and honestly I can’t decide if it’s gone by super fast or if it feels like I’ve been here for years. Some days I feel like I just arrived yesterday and some days I feel like I’ve already been here 10 months.

So for a quick update first. School is still pretty boring for me because I still don’t understand what is going on like 99% of the time. The only class that I can even begin to understand is Geography and that’s only because the names of the countries are pretty much the same in Russian and in English. Jenia and I have (or will have once we have a final schedule) 20 hours of Russian a week some of which we have started. We have private lessons with the English teacher and those are finally starting to help which is good I can say some basic stuff and I’m starting to understand more. We also are attending classes in… elementary school… yes I said it. We take classes with second, third, and fourth grade. Honestly those classes are some of our most fun because we understand a little and the little kids are in awe of us.

Everything with my host family is going really good. It looks like I’ve gotten lucky a second time, because my host sister and I are getting along really well and I’m slowly starting to understand my host mom more. I even helped her cook dinner last night. We still require a dictionary to talk and we only speak a little bit but still, its definitely progress from the first day.

Some random type stuff that has happened so far… lets see. Well when I told my mom and sister about these two “milestones” in my Russian life it prompted a “aww you’re a big girl now” from both of them. (not that they are alike or anything lol). Well I have officially managed to take the bus by myself and learn to walk to school and into town by myself! Yay! While walking to school doesn’t seem like a big deal, it was hard because in Russia they don’t walk on the street but footpaths that just cut through blocks so in a combination of them being hard to learn and me being scared to get lost on them by myself it was almost a full month before I attempted by myself. But now I can do it like a pro!

So the real reason I’ve decided to post this blog post is because I thought that all of you reading would find a post about differences between the USA and Russia amusing because well honestly, some of them are down right amusing.

School Related
• Russians have shoes that they walk to school in and then when they get to school they change their shoes because their walking to school shoes are usually covered in mud because here in Russia there are GIANT puddles.
• Normal Russian students stay with the same class all day (except for German/English) and they travel with those students from class to class. Teachers have their own classroom like in the USA
• All schools are K-11
• Little kids running through the hallway screaming is a completely normal thing that occurs EVERYday, Jenia and I have come to call it “the stampede,” the crazy thing is that no teachers stop it.
• They were never taught that you walk on the right side to make it easier for everyone.
• Saturday school
• No lockers – they carry their books to school every day
• The notebooks are like half the size of American notebook and they are gridded not lined. This makes my life difficult!!
• Different schedule every day and we have been in school for a full 2 ½ weeks now and we still don’t have a permanent schedule. We get told our schedule for the next day at the end of the day every day.
• Lunch only lasts 20 minutes.
• They get 10-minute breaks between every class.

Russian Life
• They actually have people that sweep the streets/sidewalks with brooms.
• Soviet style stores – By soviet style stores I mean that when you walk in everything is behind the counter and there is one of everything that they have out and you have to ask the lady behind the counter for what you want and she goes in to a back room and gets it for you. This particular thing makes my life difficult, but I have managed to find a few “normal” stores near my house.
• Brooms - they are like a bundle of straw held together with a rubber band at the top.
• They tend to have very small houses and apartments because most of the apartment buildings were built during the soviet era (and all look EXACTLY the same)
• They walk EVERYWHERE!! It is normal for Russians here not to own cars because there are buses and they walk. Its been almost a month since I’ve been in a car.
• no one smiles – They don’t smile/acknowledge strangers at all.
• you do NOT wave/smile to people on the street.. it is just NOT normal
• TEA – Russians have a serious tea addiction. I drink hot tea probably 5-8 times every day here, and its not even that cold yet!
• Eat A LOT – Like every 2 hours
• Their toilet and shower/sink are in two different rooms. I assume this is so two different people can use the “bathroom” at one time.
• Squat toilets in public – I avoid public bathrooms.
• Beds are hidden inside other furniture. My “bed” is inside a chair. You pull the chair out, move the cushion and it turns in to a bed. It is quite fascinating!
• Cheap food – expensive clothes. Everything but clothes and shoes are fairly cheap by my American standards. But clothes cost a lot more then they do in the USA
• They wear the same outfit for more then one day in a row before they wash it. This is one habit that I wont be picking up.
• They didn’t know what an “I-Pod” was but they know the “I-Phone”
• You pay for public bathrooms. Granted its only 10 rubles (or 30 cents)
- no toilette paper
• No dryers, I’m beginning to think that dryers really are an American thing. I miss them.
• Every phone is a pay as you go phone. Like “track phones” in the USA.

• The mullet is IN. I have seen more boys with mullets here then I ever have seen before in my life.
• High heels in general – They wear them EVERYWHERE, to school, to walk around town. I don’t understand because their roads/sidewalks are not flat!
• PETA would be furious with Russia. I’ve seen more leather and real fur here then ever before!

These are just a few of the differences that I have encountered in just a month here in Russia! I’m sure there will eventually be a lot more and that a few of these will just become every day “that’s the way it is” type things for me! I hope you all enjoyed some of the more amusing ones as much as I have had discovering them. I miss you all dearly and comments are always welcome ;)!!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

High School: 5 years and 3 countries

So it’s official, I am now a Super-Senior. I started my 5th year of high school on September 1st. I was really ready to start school on September first because I wanted to have something to do every day. I am liking Russia just fine but the days were getting a little boring without having specific planned activities every day so when that first day arrived I was really nervous and excited all at the same time.

So about a week before school started we met with the principal of my school and she informed us that all the exchange students: me, Jenia and Laura (a girl from Germany), would need to do a small speech in Russian. I was very very nervous for this but my host sister helped me practice it over and over for that week. Basically I had to say “Hi, My name is Kendra Wagner. I am American. I am 18 years old and I will be studying in your school this year” that’s it.. Seems easy enough right? Well it was but I was still very scared.

The day before school started my host sister and I went to buy flowers. Which seemed weird to me but she said it was normal to buy flowers for the teachers so I bought flowers. With our flowers in hand we walked to school on that first day; my walk to school is about 20 minutes each way. We had to wear black pants, black shoes, and white shirts to school. When we got there, only the 11th grade class had to be there at 9, we went up to a computer classroom to watch some movie that never ended up working. So we went up to our actual classroom and the teacher talked for a few minutes but even if my life depended on it, I could not tell you what she said to us that first day.

We were then herded outside (it was fairly COLD) to have the first day of school “ceremony” apparently in Russia September first is “the day of knowledge” and it’s a holiday, hence the reason they ALWAYS start on September 1st. Everyone in my class was taking the hands of the little kids, I have no idea why, and I was told to do the same. All I was thinking was, “this little kid understands what’s going on better then I do why am I leading her around?” but alas I took 2 little girls hands and we walked them around the circle of all the kids while the other kids clapped. We then stood a big group and listed to some speeches by the president of the school, some students, and some teachers. There were some songs and some stuff read aloud by the teacher. Then I heard “Kendra Wagner” and I knew it was my time to walk up in front.

Jenia and me made our way up to the front of a group of about 300 students and 50 teachers to give our speeches. I was shaking. I listened to Laura and Jenia give their speeches then it was my turn. I was so nervous but I got it all out, and my sister told me that I did good later that day. The school gave us each an assignment book and a pin.

After the ceremony my class went back up the classroom and we gave the teacher our flowers and then the day was over and we were allowed to go home. YAY the first day only lasted a total of about 3 hours, which was really nice even though I knew that wouldn’t be normal.

So that was my first day of school experience, the following days have not been quite that eventful.

My class is really nice so far; there are about 20 students plus Jenia and I. Its really nice that she is in my class as well because it gives me someone to talk to during the lessons/breaks that doesn’t understand Russian either.

Russian school is a little; okay a lot, different then American schools.

• My class and I travel together from classroom to classroom, so we are always
• together with the same kids but we move rooms every 45 minutes or so.
• The classes last about 45 minutes each
• between each one we have a 10-minute break.
• After the third lesson we have Lunch break, which is only 20 minutes (and I thought the short lunch I had at MHS was bad).
• There are usually only 6 lessons a day.
• Every day there are different lessons
• You’re allowed to openly text during class and the teachers don’t do anything about it
• talking is DEFINITELY allowed
• all in Russian (obviously)
• 8:30 – 2 pm
• no toilette paper in the bathroom
• they call it algebra – but really its calculus

These are a few for now, at the moment school is pretty boring for me but that is to be expected. Jenia and I leave the regular class 1 or 2 hours a day so that we can have our private Russian lessons with the English teacher. We will also be starting elementary school these next few weeks so that we can learn Russian right along with little kids. I’m actually quite excited about that! It should be fun to be in second grade!

School is mostly my life at the moment but I’m okay with that. I understand pretty much 0% of my classes as of now but I’m trying. Russian is a very hard language, it is going to take me a while to get a hold of, and hopefully it will come quickly!

I miss you all A LOT!! I hope everyone is well, I’m doing okay here in Russia but I do miss the USA