Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Something Like Teaching...Two Days in Артём

Kristen says...

So we've been busy...

Last week (Wednesday and Thursday) Chris and I and our social sponsors represented the Consulate at Lingviada, an English Language contest sponsored by Lingua-Plus, an English (and Chinese) language school in Артём (Ar-tee-yo-m), a city about an hour north of Vladivostok.

This was my first time out of Vladivostok since our arrival in January, so I was very excited to go on the excursion...that and this is the closest I've come to being a teacher since leaving Honduras last June, so it was a very nice two days for me!

The contest was actually a three-day event which included a "pop culture quiz" (among other events) (day 1) and a talent show (day 2) and the awards ceremony (day 3).

We actually showed up a bit early on the first day, which was actually ok because the organizers of the event had prepared a HUGE tea spread to welcome us:
Fruit, chocolate, salmon, sausage, pickles, and yes, caviar pancakes!
These blini (pancakes) are a specialty of the region, with the large red variety of caviar. We were visiting during Maslenitsa, the pre- (Orthodox) Lent pancake week celebration (similar to Fat Tuesday pancake dinners eaten by some Protestant sects)
After thoroughly stuffing ourselves we were led downstairs to the opening ceremonies, though this hallway with themed decorations:
 Chris gave a very nice speech to those attending:
 And then we headed out to be guest judges at the pop culture quiz part of the day (the students were divided into groups by age, so we saw four groups of students in four hours. The rest of the time the students were taking tests and attending an English language workshop.)
Chris the judge
I won 9 points throughout the day for answering questions correctly...somehow I'm not sure that was fair, since all the questions were about the United States! :)
 The event was held in a really neat and old building that is used as a Cultural Center for the city. Not only are language classes held there, but dance classes as well. The building is kind of like a community center and was perfect for this event!

It was also pretty old and architeturally interesting:
Does the Golden image at the bottom give you any ideas about when this was built? :)
 Interesting architecture or not, I was a little less than pleased when I found that this was the bathroom...especially since I was wearing a skirt and tights!
Notice the lack of a couple essentials...namely a seat and t.p.!
Luckily there were more modern conveniences in another part of the building! :)

 Something else modern that I was VERY impressed about was the use of the Webquest by the teachers at Lingua-Plus. (I have used Webquests since 2007 when I was introduced to them in grad school.) I asked one of them what Webquest meant to them, and it was exactly what Webquest means to me, which was awesome! I was very interested that this teaching tool is being used in many parts of the world, and I wish I had been able to check out some of the Webquests the students were using that day!

 Some other interesting things seen on day 1:
I'm not sure that's where Hollywood is...
There was also a student wearing the US flag as a shirt...
 So the first day was a success. Chris had to work the second day (too bad for him ;) so I went back with our social sponsors to judge the talent competition:
 We saw students compete in three categories:
  1. Singing (in English)
  2. Acting (in English)
  3. Reciting (in English)
 There was only one play, a very cute rendition of "Snow White" that was just different enough from the Walt Disney version to be creative.

 A couple students recited; I was very surprised at how well a 4th grader got through "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll since it is full of nonsense words. Another student, a 6th grader, did a great job reciting "The Gruffalo's Child," which was particularly impressive since he recited an entire book!

 One thing I thought was interesting: besides the Gruffalo kid, the rest of the reciters gave their poems first in English, and then in Russian, which I thought was weird since it was an English language competition...

 Singing was by far the most popular, and we heard songs from Adele to Selena Gomez to Joan Osborne to the Star Spangled Banner!
 We were also interviewed (twice!) for Russian TV (I was actually interviewed by two different stations) and was asked about how I felt about hearing the Star Spangled Banner sung by people who were not from Russia.

 The journalist wondered because she thought she might be offended hearing people who were not Russian (and presumably didn't have 100% fluency in the Russian language) singing her national anthem. My opinion was that, as the US is a country of immigrants, we are used to hearing the Star Spangled Banner sung with an accent. I was personally touched to hear my country's anthem not once but twice during the event. It is always nice to hear it, especially when it is a surprise! :)

 We actually had a bit of a conundrum leading up to the singing of the song, because we were wondering about standing up. We had a list of the performances, so we knew that the group was going to sing it (and accompany it with a violin) but we three Americans were sitting front and center, and weren't sure if we would detract from the students performance if we stood and saluted the flag. We worried about it for a good 10 minutes (I can't imagine hearing the Star Spangled Banner and not standing) until, as the song was announced, the group came out, one dressed as the Statue of Liberty and two others holding the flag, and everybody in the room stood up.

 I asked later, and apparently it is custom in Russia to stand during the National Anthem because it shows respect to our country, and because it is our custom to stand. I thought that was really neat!

 In the break between acts a local group called Танцы, (Dances) performed for us. I believe I was told they also performed at the Russian Presidential Inauguration, but I could be wrong... :)

 Unfortunately we could not go back for the final day of the event, but we really enjoyed being a part of it! I especially appreciated the opportunity to be around students again, and had a great time talking with them and their teachers about Russian education...for example, did you know that English is compulsory in Russian schools after 2nd grade?! I wish the US would make some language, any language, compulsory after 2nd grade! I have struggled to learn Spanish and Russian, and I'm sure part of that is because I did not grow up in a 2nd language culture... (ok getting off my soapbox now!)

 I also didn't mind too much not going back for the final day because this is what my apartment looked like when I got home:

 Yay! Some more of our stuff and our consumables arrived!!! :) I spent the next day and all weekend unpacking boxes!

 So that was last week...this week has brought another interesting round of outings, which I will have to tell you about at another time...

 I will leave you with a shot of some interesting statues seen on the road to Артём...apparently there are still a few Siberian Tigers running loose around here... :)


  1. That sounds like so much fun! I am glad you are enjoying it.

  2. i love you and miss you SO MUCH!! my favorite parts of this post were you judging a pop culture trivia contest (perfect!), imagining the look on your face the first time you saw that bathroom, and seeing pictures of your stuff (hooray!). Oh, and the caption you put on the picture of you being interviewed for russian tv. i think you are wonderful. :) so glad you have this blog - i'm sure we'd never have gotten through that whole story on skype, and it's great to see your pictures of everything. talk to you sooooon!


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