Saturday, June 29, 2013

Wednesday, June 26th or the first day of second session lessons!

As I am writing this, it is raining cats and dogs outside of my window.  After an entire day of the hot sun beating down on us and turning the classroom into a bit of a sauna, this rainstorm is extremely refreshing.  The kiddos were supposed to go swimming after snack, but maybe now they are just running around in the rain in their swimsuits (but this is Russia we’re talking about, so probably not because it’s probably one of those things that the grandmothers swear will make you catch your death of cold or some other horrid illness).
Besides the heat, today was a really good day.  Yesterday after the oral testing I made a list of the groups and posted a large copy of the lessons schedule on the bulletin board where the pupil live.  The counselors also have a copy of the schedule and as I promised myself after last session, I have put some of the responsibility of making sure the kids get to class on them. It is still a healthy compromise and I take and bring the kids on a few occasions as well, but it is still 100x better than the chaos that I dealt with daily last semester.  Today’s lessons were mostly getting to know each other and playing some games.  Because the oral testing yesterday was a little frenzied and consisted of about thirty seconds with each pupil, I rearranged the groups ever so slightly. I’m really excited about my third group because they have much higher levels of English than any of my pupil during first session.  I’m excited to discuss more advanced topics with them and have already been chatting with the girls from that group a lot in both English and Russian during our free time outside of lessons.  They are all very eager to know about life in America, the American education system, and just to chat with a foreigner in general. 

I had quite a few laughs with my second group.  I think they are going to be a fun bunch! I made a small powerpoint for today with a map of the US and Indiana and pictures of my hometown, university town, and family.  I suppose one boy, Max, didn’t realize that my name was “Chelsea” because when I said my name, all of the sudden came the loud cry of “CHELSEA??!!?” from the right side of the classroom.  His tone of voice was just so unexpected that the whole class burst into laughter.  And that wasn’t all that surprised him.  When I told them that I was 21 years old, again that little goober piped up with, “WHAT?!?” I’m not sure if he thought I was really old or really young, but again we all had a good laugh.  Perhaps he thinks I’m old because after a few minutes he wanted to know if I had any children.   My last lesson of the day was with the third group and we played some speaking games that I could never have dreamed of playing with the pupils last session, so I am very excited to explore more advanced material with them all.  Here’s  to the start of another great session! 

A quick trip to Riga, Latvia

Friday morning I was up bright and early to set out on my adventure.  The camp guard, of course, didn’t want to let me leave without producing some sort of official document verifying that I could actually leave the camp, but I played the distressed foreigner card pretty well and he let me go after leaving my surname with him in his little book of who comes and goes from the camp. After all, I’m not a camp counselor and the school, not the camp, decides my working hours.  When I’ve done the work I must do, I’m free.  It’s camp, not prison, in any case J After that little obstacle I made the 30 minute walk to the station, bought my train ticket, and then bought some coffee and a croissant from the little shop at the station. I only had a few minutes to wait for my train and then I joined the busy morning commute.  Once I got to Petersburg I realized that I definitely could have taken one train later, but it was nice to have too much time rather than not enough.  Since I would be traveling until late in the evening, I bought some food and water for the bus and enjoyed the fresh air for as long as I could before needing to board. The bus was even nicer than I expected! The seats were big with plenty of legroom, there was airconditioning and a toilet on the bus, free WiFi connection on the bus, and we could have as many hot drinks as we wanted for free.  The bus company is called Lux Express, but I still didn’t expect it to be that nice based on how inexpensive my tickets were.  I had a nice babushka sitting next to me for the trip who told me all about her family and gave me lots of advice about visiting Riga. I was doing pretty well pretending to be a Russian, but when she caught a glimpse of my passport at the border control, she was so excited to find out that I am from America.  She has a son who got a job in California and is now living there with his wife and two children (who are American citizens, she was proud to tell me).  She told me about her trip to California to visit and about how much she likes Starbucks, despite the fact that she “couldn’t sleep for a week” after drinking so much strong coffee J All in all, we had quite the nice trip together!
When we arrived in Riga I finally made it to the hostel after a slight mix-up at the bus station.  I immediately got a great vibe from the hostel, the staff, and the other travelers.  After checking in I was offered a welcome shot of traditional Latvian alcohol made from many herbs and invited to go on the Pub Crawl that the hostel was organizing that evening.  Since it was already late and I desperately wanted a shower after all day on the bus, I had to decline.  Instead I relaxed in my room and took advantage of the best internet connection I have had since leaving Germany at the end of May. 
In the morning my roommate and I got acquainted a bit and decided that we would meet up at the free walking tour of the Old Town at noon.  There were several other people from our hostel on the tour as well, so after that splendid walk through Old Riga, we headed to a café nearby to eat delicious pancakes! I think we all took salty pancakes with meat and potatoes and such and I was overjoyed to have a nice big serving of olivie (Russian potato salad).  After our late lunch I was off to join a bike tour of Riga.  No one else showed up for the tour, so I got a two and a half hour private tour of Riga.  Because it was only the two of us we were able to cover a huge amount of distance and I really felt like I saw everything! The guide also had so many interesting stories and facts to tell me, so I was captivated the entire time.  After a small “picnic” dinner and chilling out a bit in the center, I ran into some hostel friends, who invited me to join them for an evening out.  We stopped by the hostel first to get slightly warmer clothes (and bring along our recently-arrived third roommate) and then were off to have a fun night. 
For whatever reason we went back to the hostel again at some point and there we found some guys my roommate had met in the city she had been in before Riga.  Next thing I knew we were drinking beers and playing cards with them and it was obvious that we were among a very lively and rather silly group of lads.  The night turned into a long one and we returned to the hostel just after 4 AM. 
Surprisingly, all of us girls felt pretty good in the morning.  The guys, on the other hand, were having a rough go of it, but all three of us girls were up at a reasonable hour and out to see more of the city.  Pancakes we on the menu for lunch again and then I spent some more time with German roommate going inside some of Riga’s beautiful churches.  She had to catch a bus at 5, so we said our goodbyes and then I had myself a delightful little late afternoon nap. 

I was very lucky to be in Riga for their mid-summer festival.  I was pretty familiar with a lot of the celebrations because it is celebrate in much the same way in Ukraine, but I was excited to check it out.  Our festivities started off in the hostel and we were joined by a spunky and fun woman from South Africa, currently residing in Finland.  She was a fun addition to our group and stayed with us most of the night.  We checked out the festivities in the center, had some yummy food to eat (shashlik, potatoes, cabbage), and got to see the big fires being lit.  Eventually, though, we were over the crowded festival atmosphere and headed to one of the open air cafes/bars still in the center, but a safe distance from the biggest crowds.  It didn’t end up being as late a night a the previous and we were back at the hostel before 2 AM.  And just like that, it was Monday morning and I was up bright and early to catch my 8:40 AM bus back to Saint Petersburg.  I wasn’t nearly as lucky with my seat partner this time and ended up next to a rather unpleasant neighbor.  Hardly had we left Riga when he pulled out his first can of beer and some very smelly sausages.  He then spent the majority of the trio chugging beer and eating sausages, which was rather unpleasant to sit next to.  And once he was drunk from the beer he was rather clumsy and would plop into his seat with a thud.  Not to mention, he seemed to think he could take over about a quarter of my seat as well. I kindly asked him to mind his space.  Needless to say I was extremely happy to get off the bus when we arrived back in Saint Petersburg. After just a little bit of time in the city I was on a train to home sweet camp.  A weekend getaway to Riga was a perfect way to spend my few days between camps.  Riga is a beautiful city which is definitely worth checking out.  I am sure there is a lot of beautiful Latvia to check out outside of the capital, so I’ll have to make my way back someday for sure!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Thursday, June 20th or the last day of first session

Today was the last day of lessons for the first group! So crazy! Three weeks have flown by in a blink of the eye.  You know what they say, time flies when you’re having fun! J It definitely wasn’t all play and no work, but the hours I spent preparing lessons were enjoyable and teaching 6 lessons per day turned out to feel like nothing at all.
Since today was the last day of lessons, we had a bit of fun! Second and third groups had their lesson together so that everyone could be done before lunch and no one would have to have lessons during quiet hour.  I gave each group a small piece of poster paper and markers and told them to work together to make a poster of their camp memories. In the first group we drew names from a hat and one of the pupils got to take it home. That caused a little bit of drama, as one of the girls started loudly whining that it wasn’t fair and that she was going to mark big black Xs all over the poster if she wasn’t the one to get to take it home, but I calmed her down and told her that that wouldn’t be a kind thing to do at all and that she should take a picture of the poster on her phone.  In the second and third groups they decided that the poster was a present for me.
After the poster was finished we played a review board game which I made for them and in the first group we even had time to watch some Mickey Mouse.  I surprised both groups with some candies and we had a chilled-out last day.  At the end of the lesson we, of course, had to take photos together.  They made me promise that I would put the pictures on vkontakte and there were hugs upon hugs all around! It’s hard not to get attached to a group of kiddos that you spend so many hours with each day, who constantly tell you that they love you and will great you with “Hello!” every chance that they get.
It was strange not to have any lessons after lunch, but it was a nice chance for me to relax and get most of my stuff packed up for my trip to Riga tomorrow morning.   In the evening was another camp disco, so I promised the kids that I would make an appearance.  Most of the group didn’t stay too long for whatever reason, maybe they were bored, but a few of the girls and I held out until the very last song.  So much dancing and so much silly – it was great! After the disco it was a blur of good-byes and hugs and writing on everyone’s camp t-shirts, all while racing the clock until the administration came by to check that everyone was in their beds at lights-out time.  Of course, the kids would certainly be getting out of bed and goofy around long into the night after the administration left, but they still had to make it look like they were good little campers going to bed on time. 

After the kids were in for the night some friends and I went to the lake which is not too far from the camp. One of the boys was crazy enough to swim in the cold cold water, but the rest of us stayed on the shore, chatting, listening to some guitar playing, and swatting mosquitos.  Thanks to the white nights we could spend quite a while outside and called it a night (not without getting rather lost on the way back to camp) a little after 2 AM.  Nevermind that I had to wake up in just a few short hours – it was the best way to end my first session of camp! 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Saturday was a camp-wide “Parents Day” here at Green City Children’s Camp.  For the kiddos, this meant a day with mom and pop, who came bearing all sorts of goodies from home.  For me, it meant a day off a trip into St. Petersburg. On the way to the station I was once again an unintentional hitchhiker when I funny little old man slowed down next to me and told me that I he would drive me to the station. In this part of Russia one can be a hitchhiker completely unintentionally. Just walk along the road and someone going that way will probably pick you up and take you where you want to go.  Especially when you’re like me and the only places you are ever going to are the train station and the grocery store in Pobeda.  Plus, those Russian men just can’t stand to see a young lady walking all alone along a crooked highway. For the short duration of that car ride you have suddenly made a new friend who extremely curious about who you are, where you come from, and what you happen to be doing in this neck of the woods.    Sometimes your new friend even has some words of wisdom to share with you.  “You know, it’s really great that you can speak several languages,” this nice grandpa started as we neared the station.  “It’s easier on the soul when you can understand everyone,” he finished.  I nodded and agreed.  And he really was right.  It’s okay to not understand for a few days or even a couple of weeks while on holiday somewhere, but when you are going to work and live closely with people for the better part of the summer it really would be hard to live in a world of language that goes in one ear and straight out the other.
I didn’t realize how excited I would be to be in the city again until I got off the train at Finlandskij Vokzal.  My first mission of the day was to find the bus station from where my bus to Riga will leave next week.  It was very simple to find, but I’m glad that I know for sure where I must go on Friday.  When I had successfully completed that task I headed back towards the center to buy a few things, eat some lunch, and connect to wifi for a short bit.  I then headed to meet up with a girl I met during my first week in Peter and an afternoon and early evening of fun began! We met up in the center and went to meet some other friends were gathered in a park, attempting to have a picnic.  I say attempting because most of the day it was rainy on and off.  We weren’t in the park long when it became clear that the weather wasn’t going to get any better anytime soon and the decision was made to move the merrymaking to an indoor location.  It was a little bit awkward bringing all of the picnic supplies into the bar (especially the giant pot of fruit salad), but the staff at the bar was really chilled out.  Beer was ordered for the whole table and we sat around sipping, sharing stories, and having many a good laugh.  It was definitely some much-needed social interaction! After a little bit Grace pulled out her “Coloring Book for Grown Ups” and crayons and things got really silly.  I wasn’t certain of the train schedule back to camp, so I left for the station around 7 PM. The next train wasn’t until 8:36, but it was a fast train, so I was in luck.  I walked around in the neighborhood near the train station to kill some time and before I knew it, the train was ready for boarding.  The area near the train station is actually a really nice part of the city and there is a big Lenin Square with lots of fountains, flowers, and benches.  By the time the train arrived at my station the storm clouds had cleared and it was a very nice summer evening for a walk back to camp.  I was actually glad no one offered to give me a ride because I really wanted to have a nice long walk. Back at camp I finished my lesson plans for the next day and called it a night!

Today it was back to teaching and camp life, but it was a very good day.  All of the lessons went well and rounding up the kiddos for class was a bit easier than usual.  I think the sunshine had everyone in better moods.  I found out that one boy from my third group decided to go home with his parents after yesterday and that he won’t be coming back.  Apparently this is his 5th year at this camp and he just wasn’t having fun this year.  I can imagine that a lot is probably the same from year to year and 5 years is a lot of years to go to the same summer camp.  I’m sure his parents weren’t too terribly pleased about it after paying for both the camp and English classes, but all the same he packed his bags and said goodbye to camp a week early. I, on the other hand, don't seem to have a dull moment here and after an early evening downpour the skies cleared and I spent a fun evening with some of my girlies :) 

Friday, June 14, 2013

A few snapshots from the past couple of weeks

Butterflies dancing!

My group on the concert

My group on the concert

With little Nastia

Silly girls!

The main path of through the camp

Camp cafeteria

The kiddos up and dancing during the concert

The town of Pobeda's (Victory) sign on a cloudy day.  Here you can also see some awesome Russian roads.

I was very glad no rain came down from these threatening skies during my walk to and from the train station. 

This silly boy thinks it's his job to teach me strange Russian words

Little Lena!

Yesterday was overall a good day, but it definitely had its frustrating moments.  The first frustration was one that has been accumulating for a while now.  You see, every morning I give the camp counselors a schedule of English lessons for the day.  I also give each student a small piece of paper with their group number and the time of the lesson or lessons for that day written on it.  Yet, every time I come to collect the kids I’m met with, “Oh, we have English now?” from at least one pupil, if not the entire group.  Then everyone from the group must be hunted down, told to get their class materials, and gathered in one place to walk over to the building where our lessons are.  I am doing the counselors a HUGE favor by coming to collect the kids instead of making them bring the kids to me.  You’d think the least they could do is have the kids ready when I pick them up. Or, maybe the kids could take a TINY bit of personal responsibility and get themselves ready for the lessons.  Of course, there are some pupils who are almost always ready and waiting for me, but I think next session being the helpful one might just have to go and the counselors will just have to do their jobs and bring the students to me.  Next session I will have more than double the number of students I have now and I would end up having to schedule an hour between each lesson just for rounding everybody up.  The second frustration also had to do with the scheduling of English classes.  In the morning I was begged, “Please Chelsea! Can you move the second group’s lesson until after snack? They have a football match this morning and Misha is our only hope to win.”  “And there’s nothing scheduled after snack?” I asked.  “No, nothing at all.” So I agreed, even though it was just a football match and not an obligatory camp activity only to be met after snack with cries of, “No, we can’t go to English now! We have our second match at six o’clock!”  And at that point there were no more hours in the day to reschedule, as there was a concert after dinner and then bedtime for the kids. So, that left them with a double session of lessons today, which is rough on them and not exactly easy for me either.  Thankfully double session actually happened today and their wasn't another scheduling conflict because then we really would have been in a pickle! Frustration number three was more of an unfortunate event then a frustration.  After dinner as I was coming back to my room my stomach started to feel awfully funny.  No sooner had a come into my room and shut the door when I knew that my supper was definitely on its way back up.  I very quickly had to decide between the floor and the sink, the latter winning (or losing) out as the destination for my partially digested meal.  After that unpleasant moment my stomach felt 100% better, but none the less did I have a sink full of vomit to clean up.  Oy vey!
On a positive note, the concert was a lot of fun (more of a talent show, really) and in the evening I got to Skype with Mario a little bit, even if the connection was being very Russian (translation – oh yes! of course the internet works! you just might have to stand on your head exactly three meters from the router while holding your computer perpendicular to the ground…but don’t worry, it works!).

Today after teaching I went to the train station to buy tickets to go into the city tomorrow.  It turns out that I wouldn't have actually had to buy them a day early, but at least now I have my ticket there and back. It’s an open ticket, so I can choose how long I want to stay in Petersburg once I get there.  I’m not sure how the weather will be, but I think it will be nice to get away from camp a little bit none the less.  Today was the tenth day of lessons, which means that I’m 2/3 of the way done with the first session of teaching and that 2/9 of my summer teaching have already flown by! At this rate I’ll be on that plane back to the States in the blink of an eye! 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

С днем России! (June 12th)

Happy Russia Day! Today was jam-packed with celebrations of the mother land.  In the morning the camp counselors were dressed in traditional Russian costumes and the kids had to answer riddles and questions about Russia in order to gain entry to the cafeteria for breakfast.  During the day the kids were busy practicing first for a formal camp gathering in honor of Russia Day and then for a concert in the evening.  The concert celebrated Russia in song, skit, poetry, and dance, plus a few acts that actually had nothing to do with Russia day at all.  Russian and Ukrainian kids have a knack for pulling off all kinds of little performances with little guidance, few resources, and next to no time to properly prepare.  Every Russian/Ukrainian kid gets roped into singing, dancing, and acting for all sorts of events regardless of their expertise (or lack thereof) in any of these areas. And usually it all turns out pretty super! In the midst of this crazy day we still had to fit in 6 lessons of English.  Dasha from my youngest group can work herself up to tears in an instant over the littlest thing and was about to have a meltdown when she saw that we were having one long lesson instead of two shorter ones.  I calmed that right down with the promise of a surprise at the end of class if they worked hard for the majority of the lesson.  They quickly cheered up and set about guessing what the surprise might be.  Throughout the lesson they kept asking me if they were working well enough to get the surprise and they really were giving their best the whole time.  It wasn’t much, but giving them candy and letting them play their favorite alphabet memory game ended the class on a high note.  Because of the Russia Day festivities in the late morning, most of my lessons were after lunch today.  Because of that, I had two lessons after breakfast and then almost 2 hours of free time until lunch. I took advantage of that little break to quickly go into town to get a few things from the store.  I made it there and back in just under an hour and a half.  It’s definitely nothing like having the giant Караван grocery store right across the street from our apartment in Ukraine, but it’s good to experience another kind of lifestyle- the kind of lifestyle where getting things from the store means walking couple of miles into town and only buying what you can easily carry back. Yes, of course, if I am honest that’s not the kind of lifestyle I would want forever, but for this summer of living simply it’s spot on. 
Yesterday and today have been rainy off and on.  I took advantage of that yesterday to teach my youngest kiddos “Rain, Rain Go Away” and to let them do a color by number of a rainy day.  They are crazy about coloring! According to the program they must have 30 academic hours of English over 15 days and since today marked day number 8, my second group played a review board game that I made for them out of the topics we have covered so far.  I think they had fun and it was a bit of a relaxing lesson for me as well.
Last night while I was sitting in the chill-out area of the first floor of the administration building. two boys were brought in to talk to the director about their bad behavior.  What was their bad behavior might you ask? Well, they were in trouble because apparently they thought it would be funny to take off their pants and then jump out of their beds into the middle of the room pants less.  ay yai yai , you strange strange little Russian kiddos… So, the camp counselor brought them to talk to the administration who gave them a stern talking to about how to properly behave oneself.  “Is there something wrong with your heads?!” He dramatically asked them at one point.  Honestly, I was just trying not to laugh as I sat nearby and heard the whole silliness transpire. 

In other news, I bought my bus tickets to and from Riga and booked a place in a hostel earlier this week! I’m so excited for this little adventure between camp sessions one and two!  If any of you lovely readers have been to Riga and want to give me some advice - I’m all ears! J

Saturday, June 8, 2013

So this is Russian village life

Saturday many of the kids had parents coming to visit, so instead of taking our day off on Sunday, I decided that we would just switch that up this week.  After breakfast I was off on a little free day adventure of my own.  Tennis shoes on my feet, backpack on my back, and a smile on my face I headed out! The first part of the adventure involved walking the length of the road dirt path which leads to the camp. That in itself took about 15 minutes.  At the main road I took a right, the supposed direction of the nearest train station.  Once I was on the main road it only took about another 20 minutes to walk to the train station, but it was one of the stranger walks I’ve taken. I think it felt strange because in the US it isn’t so common for a young lady to be walking along the highway in the tiny bit of dirt which makes up the road’s shoulder.  Here, however, it is completely normal and I came across several other walkers, a few bikers, and a funny old man on a motorized scooter.  Once I got to the train station I went into the small building which serves as the waiting hall and ticket office and got some information about tickets to and from Petersburg.  The lady at the ticket counter was surprisingly kind to me.  Unfortunately the lady at the small convenience store by the station wasn’t quite so friendly, but I got my ice cream and bottle of water and scurried on out of there unscathed.  The next stop on my adventure was the small little village Победа “Victory” and the supermarket I was told I could find there.  Победа is the in the opposite direction of the camp from the station, so I was prepared for a rather long walk.  Hardly had I started out on the main road, however, when someone called out, “Победа?”.  I turned to see a man in a small SUV on the other side of the road (because I was walking against traffic like a good little pedestrian).  “Да,” I responded a little hesitantly, but all the same waited for the traffic to clear, crossed the road, and climbed into the front passenger’s seat of his car.  “I know almost everyone around here and you don’t look familiar,” he said once I had told him where I was headed.  I gave a small laugh and told him that I definitely wasn’t a local.  “Ah, so you must be from Petersburg?”  You can imagine his surprise when I told him that I was from America.  “I’m working as at the children’s camp here,” I told him, to which I got the typical response that always amuses me, “What? There’s no work in America?” I explained that it was just a summer “praktika” teaching English.  Except for maybe the younger generation, few people in Russia can understand why anyone would go so far away to work unless there was no work to be had at home.  Then, just like that, I was being invited to come to his house as a guest.  He explained to me which house it was by the station and told me that anytime I’m around I should just stop on by.  To be polite, I neither accepted nor declined the invitation, but tucked into my memory his description of his house.  Who knows?  There’s still 8 weeks of summer left here and anything could happen.  There’s probably a nice old babushka also living in that house who would stuff me to the brim with her delicious babushka cooking, worry about my “organism”, pester me as to why I’m not married, and then send me home with food as if I hadn’t just eaten enough for a week. And I’m sure by the time I’m writing this the entire village has already caught word that there is an American in the near ;)

Victor (my new acquaintance) drove me right up to the supermarket and I thanked him for being so kind as to pick me up and drive me there.  The supermarket itself was a bit of a madhouse.  There was hardly enough room for all of the products in that little building, let alone for all of the people in there doing their weekend shopping.  Everyone in the supermarket seemed to know everyone else and I got quite a few stares.  I’m not sure if they were “who’s the outside?” stares or just the typical Russian people stares.  Anyhow, I bought a little of this and a little of that, did a lap around the village, and then headed back to camp.  It only ended up taking about 20 minutes to walk from the supermarket to the road leading to camp, so I was back home in not too long at all.  The rest of my day was pretty quiet and relaxing and I got several lessons planned for the coming week.  It’s so nice to be able to enjoy the slow pace of life here in the middle of nowhere.  Yes,  I am quite busy on teaching days, but even on those days there is always a moment to sit on a bench in the sun, take a long walk, or sit on a bench in the sun.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way J
Thursday was another fun day with the kids.  I changed the schedule of lessons up a bit and it worked out better than I expected.  In the evening they had their presentations of their groups (all the kids are divided into 18 different sections or groups) and the performances were everything from extremely silly to impressive and very well thought out.  There was one group who had beautiful butterfly costumes and did a really cool dance.  In my opinion they were one of the best performances.  One of the announcers for the concert had the kids up and doing funny dances in between a few of the groups and it was really hilarious to watch.  The smiles on the kids’ faces were priceless.  After the performances some of the girls from my classes and I ran around together outside until it was time for them to all head in and start settling in for the night. I myself was all sorts of worn out from the day, but needed to stay up until midnight for a skype chat.  I ended up falling asleep reading on my bed and woke up a few minutes after midnight with a dozen new mosquito bites, an uncharged computer battery, and soon to find out also an internet connection that did not want to cooperate with me.  It ended up being almost an hour of fighting with my computer to no avail and I went to bed pretty frustrated.

I got some decent sleep Thursday night and woke up Friday, glad that it was a new day.  It was cloudy and a little chilly when I woke up, but by the time we left breakfast the sun was already shining.  Teaching takes up a good part of my day because it is spread out around meal times and obligatory activities for the kids. Even when it’s not teaching time I often am spending my time with the kids. It keeps me busy and hanging out with a bunch of tweens and teens is still 100% better than being lonely.  Plus, they might not realize it, but all that Russian practice is a giant plus for me as well! Friday night was the second camp disco and the girls talked me into coming.  We had so much fun! It felt good to just dance around and be silly for about an hour and a half with a bunch of kiddos who have become like little brothers and sisters to me this past week.  Looking around at the kids I couldn’t help but be reminded of a middle school dance, but also saw such big differences between how these kids were acting and how my peers and I acted when we were that age.  I remember middle school dances being mostly just a lot of standing around and everyone being awkward.  Here, these kids were going all out from the first song! Flailing around like complete goofballs? Yes, that is how I would describe most of the “dancing”.  But they were having fun and didn’t give a care what anyone else thought. I taught them the English phrase “get your groove on”.  After a few songs I heard, “Chelsea! Chelsea!” and turned to see Maxim, one of the boys from my youngest class waving me over. “Yes, Maxim?” I said as I walked over to him. “I’m getting my groove on!” he proudly proclaimed. “You sure are!” I said with a smile.  And if that wasn’t cute enough, a while later, Nilla, my youngest student who is all of 8 years old, declared that she was a “hug monster” and had herself wrapped around me every few minutes the rest of the evening. Boy do those kids make me feel loved! J

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Summer Camp Update 1!

Hello from the middle of nowhere, Russia…aka Children’s Camp Green City (Детский Лагерь Зеленый Город).  I’m posting this from the fire stairs, which serve a double purpose as the balcony of the administration building where I live, because my usb modem works best here.  I barely get a signal for the modem or my cell phone inside the building, but that is probably for the best – I’m not here to sit on the internet all day!
After an awesome week in St. Petersburg, I arrived at the camp late Monday morning.  Vadim and Julia showed me my room and stayed until after placement testing and lunch.  After that there were still many an unanswered question (for example, what time I would be teaching the very next day), but with promises from the camp counselors to let me know as soon as possible, just like that I was on my own. I spent a little bit of time unpacking and settling into my room and then thought to myself “now what?”. I put on some shorts and sneakers and set out to find some kiddos and we played a laughed and ran around until dinner time and after dinner until they had to go to sleep.  In such a camp, an English teacher can do nothing better for herself than to get on the good side of the kids’ counselors.  I think they were already happy to see that I was playing with the kids and helping look after them, but when I told them that I would be happy to help them serve meals (the most stressful times of the day) I got a big smile and “that would be great!”. I fell asleep very quickly Monday night, happy to have had such a positive first day!  
Tuesday meant the first day of classes and I continued my endeavor to keep the counselors on my side by hunting down the schedule for the day, finding out which events the kids absolutely could not miss, and then planning my lessons around those times – all before breakfast! J The day was a little hectic, gathering the kids up, walking to the building (completely on the other side of camp) and then taking them back afterwards, but it felt good to be busy.  The lessons went well and I got a better understanding of the kids’ levels.  I can tell already that my youngest group is going to be the most fun because they are so excited and couldn’t be happier to play and sing and say any and every English word they can think of to try to impress me J In the evening I helped out with the first class which a volunteer from Columbia and two volunteers from India will be teaching.  Some of the kids in that class understand hardly a single word of English, so I was mostly just there to translate.   Because it was the first class, pupils of all levels were together and there was a lot of chaos.  They went over colors and family members just so that it would be understandable for even the smallest ones.  Afterwards two of the girls came to me nearly in tears. “Isn’t there any way we can join your classes Chelsea?! We’re so bored in this class and the other girls told us how fun your lessons were,” they pitifully whimpered. “It will be better tomorrow once you split into groups,” I promised them.  Of course I wish they could join my classes – the more the merrier! But I know that the parents of the kids in my classes paid good money for their children’s English lessons and Vadim would NOT be amused if he found out pupils who had not paid were attending my lessons.  Perfectly understandable and fair, of course.  I feel a bit bad for the volunteers who came here.  It seems that they were led to believe that they would be teaching a lot more and doing cultural presentations and activities.  It turns out, however, that they spend most of their days rather bored.  I would feel extremely disappointed if I was in their place. 
Today was another full day of teaching and spending time with the kids.  They had the official opening of the first camp session celebration, which everyone has been preparing song and dance for since Monday.  I went to watch and it was all quite cute!  The kids were bouncing off the walls all day with excitement about tonight’s event – the first camp disco! These camp kids go crazy over disco nights, even the ones who don’t plan to dance.  They hold the discos outside in a field, so the most popular dance move probably just ends up being the mosquito swat. Plus it’s light here until almost midnight and the kids have to be in their building by ten, so the thought of a disco with the sun still in the sky is a bit funny to me.  Anyhow, I love seeing them excited and I hope tomorrow morning they aren’t too tired in the class tomorrow from “dancing the night away” ;)))

So overall everything is so far so good here at camp. I got a text from Vadim this evening asking how everything was going and if I was still alive.  I had a good laugh reading that :) In a lot of ways it’s not what I was expecting, but I don’t think anyone can ever fully predict what awaits them at Russian summer camp!

My room is simple, but it's all my own! :)

It looks a bit less nice from this angle with the broken wardrobe door and sink which looks out of place

My "days until home" paper chain. :)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Friday, May 31

Friday was a day full of adventure.  I woke up in the morning and after grabbing a bulochka and coffee from the sweetest Uzbek woman was on my way to Petergof! I didn’t want to take a guided excursion there because they are way expensive and it’s rather annoying to have to do what your guide is telling you to do all day, so I took the metro and then a marshrutka to get there.  I was a little bit worried about finding the marshrutka and then getting off at the right stop and everything, but it all came together perfectly.  At Petergof itself I spent about 4 hours checking everything out. It’s unbelievably beautiful there and it was a perfect day for a visit. It was very crowded with tourists and I eavesdropped on what several guides were telling their groups about the different parts of the territory.  I took some time to sit by the beach for a bit, as Petergof is located along the Finnish Bay. Going to Petergof is definitely very touristy, but there’s not a thing wrong with touristy when the destination is stunningly beautiful and an important part of the country’s history!

When I got back to Saint Petersburg it was almost 5 PM and my stomach was really letting me know that a bulochka in the morning wasn’t going to cut it.  I got a few things from the grocery store on the way home and then relaxed at the apartment for a bit.  In the evening I met up with two of the girls who teach here in Peter and had some much needed social interaction.  A while after we had already been there, some English-speaking businessmen turned up at the café where we were. Helping them order some beers in Russian turned into joining our tables together and we had a lot of good laughs and chatting with them.  At the end of the evening they insisted on covering the entire bill.  We felt a little uncomfortable letting them do that, but they insisted that it was in exchange for helping them order and giving them some St. Petersburg advice, so eventually we just decided to be sure they knew that we appreciated their kindness and let them pick up the tab. I took a taxi home to make it back to the main island before all of the bridges went up and called it a night! 

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