I'm going to Cherepovets, Russia this summer to teach English with TeachOverseas.org! Join me in mission with prayer and support!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

What NOT to do Overseas!

Hi Friends,
So, this post is titled "What NOT to do Overseas" because I definitely wish that I could change the fact that my poor little ankle is sprained due to my desires to climb trees that are too high for me to step up into. Ooops.....
What have I learned since then?
1. Be very careful when the nearest hospital is 2 hours away.
2. Trees may appear higher than they seem.
3. Russian hospitals may or may not be handicap accessible (mine wasn't and it was kind of funny to be in a wheel chair and then have to get out at a certain point and walk with friends supporting me.)
4. You really have to look in Russia to find crutches.
5. Needing help can be a very humbling experience. The camp is also not handicap accessible and I have been carried up the stairs by boys to the last 2 meals. Being carried by people is one of my HUGEST pet-peaves so I've had to force myself to let it go and just recieve help.
6. Being the 'slow one' will require lots of patience for me. I am a fast walker and when we go to St. Petersburg, it may be a tough day for me. I just want to have fun and I want my team to have fun. I may have to say 'no' to things and I will have to be okay with that. I was already struggling with patience yesterday, but I got some sleep last night and feel a lot better now.
7. You never know what's going to happen, I only have a few days left here, and I need to live it up as best as I can in spite of my circumstances. It can still be the 'best' it can be even if it's different than what I pictured the 'best' being.

This adventure continues to be unpredictable, but it is the BEST. The next time I update I will be back in AMERICA!!! Now it's on to one more day here at camp, a day on the road, another day in St. Petersburg and a day of flying home. Please pray for my ankle and pray for safety as we begin the journey back.
In Joy- yes JOY.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Final Few Days

Hi Friends,
Oh, this week has gone by WAY too quickly. I feel like a blinked and Friday came! Today is our final day of teaching here in Russia and then on Monday we leave for St. Petersburg to see the city before our flight back to America.
This week, I co-taught a class each day with another team member and than had another class on my own each day. Our class attendance this week has been poor because many of our students are at 'Modna', the island camp that we went to for the day a few weeks ago. Our co-taught class was a group of beginners and my 'alone' class are high-intermediate English speakers. I have only taught beginners the whole time I've been here, so it has been kind of a fun, special treat to see what it's like to teach a different skill-level and plan different kinds of activities for them. My intermediate class is also all girls, so that has been fun too. They are all middle-school aged and very sweet and enthusiastic. Today as our final day of class we are going to do a photo scavenger hunt around camp so that should be a lot of fun!
Some highlights of this week have been:
1. WINNING ( I don't know how we did it- but we did!) the group dance contest. We danced with two of the athletic trainers and one of our interpreters and it was actually really fun. We made up a dance and then were surprised by what our music was going to be when we got there. Luckily our second song (that I had do to a solo to...yeah one person had to do a solo.) was "Cotton-Eyed Joe" so I knew how to dance to that one! I pulled a little boy from the crowd who I knew was a good dancer and we both clicked our heels in unison to the music for a bit. It was hilarious! Now we have to compete tonight for the second round. We are all dressing as different animals and doing a funny dance. I will be the grasshopper.
2. Paddle Boats. Two of our helpers took us paddle boating a few days in a row and it was so much fun. We went out to the middle of the Mologa River (Don't worry it's not the Mississippi or anything) and jumped off the boats and went swimming.
3. Teaching some of our helpers American card games. They LOVE "Phase 10" and one of the girls on my team even gave her deck away to one of the boys. We have played "Phase 10" quite a bit and I've also played "Spades" and "Nerts" with my team mates.
4. Watching "Tangled" with Natasha. One of our helpers had a movie night with us the other night and it was so fun. We put the English subtitles on for her and had some candy and relaxed.
5. Listening to two sermons from Havest Vineyard in Ames. I was really missing my church family this week and so it was wonderful to be able to just click on a link online and listen to Josh and Cory preach!
6. Going to a 5-year-old's Birthday Party! One of the little girls whose parents work here had a Birthday this week and our helper Genya, even though he is a teenage guy, dressed up as a "Karlsson" (It's a Swedish character by the same author as Pippi) and went to the party to give the girl her birthday cake. We went with him and got to have some watermelon and sing "Happy Birthday" in English with the kids. She had her party at a picnic table under a tent and everything was so bright and decorated with streamers and balloons. It was just like an American birthday party in so many ways.
As I get ready to pack up and leave here in a few days, I realize that I will miss my time here so much. It has been a once-in-a-lifetime blessing and I have learned so much about myself, people, and the world. I am excited to extend hospitality in new ways when I get home and see how I can apply the things I have learned here to my life in Ames, Iowa. It has been such a blessing to be loved, served, and cared for here in ways that I could never have provided for myself. God has sent his angels with us and has given us people to bless our lives that we will never forget.
Blessings and Joy,

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The End of Another Great Week!

Hello Friends,

I hope that you are all well and enjoying the height of Summer wherever you are! I am doing well, and enjoyed this week at Yantar and all of the new events, people, and changes that have occurred.

We got our new group of students this weekend and began classes with them this week. We are team teaching this time and teach 2 classes each morning instead of one. It has been so fun! My new students are all English beginners, so we are doing lots of songs, dialogs, and vocabulary with them. The last few days have been focused on numbers so we have taught them about how to say their birthdays and now we are working on telling time in English. We will be doing more with that today.

Our friend Galina has been here with us this week and we have had a lot of fun with her too. She has been helping us by speaking to the administration as our interpreter and she is in charge of coordinating our new students with classes. We have had lots of fun dancing this week at the 'Disco' at camp with her, going swimming at the river, and even eating a delicious meal that her sister Dinara prepared and brought to camp for us. It's amazing what a little good food can do after you've been eating Russian camp food for 3 weeks! She even brought a cold bottle of Coca-Cola!

It's amazing how aware I have become of my daily luxury by being here. We are in such a rural place, but it is so beautiful and so full of love and life that I only think about what I miss some of the time. I can't go to the store, I can't drink coffee, I can't go shopping, I can't be online every day, but it doesn't matter. I miss it, but it doesn't matter at all. I'm alive and I am here and I have everything I need. I have the same life here that everyone else does and eat the same food and do the same things. We are all happy and know that this temporary season is a gift for all of us.

I feel like a lot of the reason why I'm here is because God is showing me things about myself as a teacher, but also as a person. I feel like I stepped out of the control of my life so that God could lay it out for me and place me back on it when I was ready for it. I am excited to return to Ames and to all of the things that I have to look foward to.

Praise God for sending me to Russia!!!!!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Good-Bye AMTEK Students...waiting

Hi Friends,
Yesterday we said 'good-bye' to our first group of students. from the AMTEK school in Cherepovets, and it was a very emotional time. Those kids were so special to us and we really became close with them over the 2 weeks that we were together. I had kids that were English beginners and were ages 9-12. They were so precious and so eager to learn. We had so many laughs in class even though it was often difficult for us to communicate with words. I will also miss the teenagers from AMTEK who helped us every day, spoke Russian on our behalf, and blessed us with meaningful conversation in English. Their English teacher, Elena Nicolievna, has been such a GREAT HELP to us as well. She made sure that 2 students that were here last week will be coming back to the camp for the next 2 weeks with us as our interpreters and helpers. That is something she didn't have to do, but she did it. AMAZING. Praise God for friends when you need them and can't do anything for yourself! (Sign Language is okay in some circumstances, but not always effective when you need it to be.)
We got to ride the bus back to town with our students and met some of their parents when they picked them up. Then, Elena, Irina (the Principal), and some of the teachers that had been at camp with us took us to the AMTEK school and gave us a tour. I will post my pictures later when I get back to the US, because I can't get it to work here, but I will tell you now that I was SO IMPRESSED with the school and it looked like an amazing place to learn. They had SEVERAL 'Smart Boards' and state-of-the-art technology, the building was beautifully rennovated and cared for, and student work was all over the place. Their auditorium was gorgeous and full of new padded chairs. It seemed more like an American private school than a public school, but it IS a Russian Public school. It's a science and math magnet school in town and they have a 100% college acceptance rate for their graduates. wow. I think the teachers there have it REALLY good and the headmaster Dimitri seemed like he was a pretty good guy.
The sad news is that I don't think I will be going to Moscow this trip. We had the chance to go, but I said 'no' because it will cost $115 just to get there, not to mention taxis, food, etc. when we are actually in the city and I know it's not a cheap place to be. I'm okay, just a little disappointed, but I know I made the right choice. If God wants me to go to Moscow someday, I know He will make it happen when it is right. This just didn't feel right to me. I think we will be able to go to St. Petersburg before we leave, so I will still get to go to the city and see some famous places :D
Right now, we have 3 days until our new students arrive at camp. In that time we really don't have any obligations. Two of our team members are going to Moscow on that trip, so they will be getting ready for that. I hope to spend these three days reflecting and journaling, relaxing on the bank of the river, and just resting. As I remember from working at Riverside, camp takes a lot of energy so it IS important to be quiet and be refreshed.
Well, that's what has been going on for me! My feelings are: Peaceful, Patient, Reflective, in Anticipation and- yes - dependent on the care of others and of God.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Adventures in the Area

Hi Friends,
Right now it's about 6:30 am on Thursday and it has been such an interesting couple of days that I wanted to make sure to get up early so I would have time to write it all down! Here is the overall breakdown:

Monday: On Monday we taught in the morning and then had a great day planning lessons, playing volleyball, and THEN we got to have a Russian traditional campfire in honor of the 4th of July. We toasted bread over the fire and topped it with a mixture of butter and chunks of garlic. They have never had S'mores here and we wish we would have brough some marshmallows so we could make them! They also sang about 15 different songs for us around the campfire that became a tradition during the Soviet period and are still sung by almost every youth in Russia today who sits around the fire. They told us that most of them are romantic ballads. It was so cool!!! We also performed a few songs (but they aren't worth mentioning)! We have done a lot of impromptu singing and dancing since we came here, but it has been a lot of fun.

Tuesday: On Tuesday we had class in the morning and then they took us to a little camp on an Island about an hour from here for some special activities an entertainment. It was Laurie's birthday, so the kids sang to her and even gave her a Russian birthday card! The island camp was what we would call an 'adventure camp' here, but they called it a 'military training camp'. While we hiked around we got to do a high ropes challenge, shoot a pellet gun (YES-I shot a gun and I was terrified, even though it was just a pellet gun), toss old bullets in a game that was kind of like 'horse shoes', ride a zip line AND learn how to disassemble and reassemble an old Kalashnikov rifle. I have pictures of all of this that I will post when I get back to the States probably because our connection out here makes it hard to post pictures. When we got back to camp, we arrived just in time to run to the auditorium and perform in the talent competition that we promised one of the girls (Maya) that we would help her with. We seriously RAN from the van to the stage. We performed "Let it Be" (of all things, me singing the Beatles in Russia!) and she played guitar and sang, I played piano, and the other ladies on my team were the back up singers. I'm glad we made it back in time! Maya was so glad we helped her out. She said "Oh, I think we will win first place!" I haven't heard the results yet.

Wednesday: On Wednesday we had an excursion to Cherepovets that was partially for tourism but mostly so that we could register our passports with the local authorities. We went to a restaurant and I had my first cup of espresso since arriving in Russia (yay!), a quiche, and some pickled herring. Then we went to the local Orthodox church. It has beautiful gold onion domes on the top and inside is filled with incense, gold, jewels, relics, candles and icons all over the walls. They were having a mass when we walked in, so we could hear the singers (it was BEAUTIFUL) but couldn't see them because there was a giant gated wall seperating us and the women from the room where the priest and other men were worshiping. It was a very beautiful and mysterious place. We had to cover our heads when we went in too. After the church we went to an old, restored nobility house and toured the grounds and learned about the history of the family that had owned the house and what happened to them during and after the 1917 revolution. Some were killed, some excommunicated to Siberia, and some managed to escape to other countries like France and Belgium. They had done a great job of finding period pieces for the house, family photos and paintings, and even restoring many of the original items to the house that had survived. It was a fun history lesson for us about Cherepovets. Then we went to register with the police. It wasn't something we could do on our own, so Galina and Denara (Our friends that helped us the first couple of days we were here) helped us all day with talking to the police, basically doing ALL of our paperwork (It was all in Russian), and making sure everything was in order. Again- we could NOT have handled that on our own. I'm so thankful to have had their help yesterday! After that we went back into town, went to a couple of stores for things we needed and for some fun things (like Russian beer and souveniers) and then got back on the van to camp.

Today, in about an hour I will go to 'morning workout' with the kids, breakfast, and then teach my class. We will see what today has in store for us! I am glad to be back on site with the kids and hope to spend lots of time with them today. They leave on Tuesday so we want to spend as much time with them as possible since they are such a great group! Our next round of students will arrive on the 15th so we have about 3 days without students in between to get work and planning done and to rest a little bit.

Well, that's what's happening at Yantar! I hope all of you are well and enjoyed the update!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The End of Week #1

Hello Friends,
It's Sunday evening here at Yantar and I'm reflecting on the events of this last week with joy and peace. I can see that this week has shown me so many things about how I can trust God with all of my heart and that my own understanding is NEVER something that can be fully relied upon.
In Russia, I have NO power and can't say ANYTHING to really fully communicate how I feel, what I want and need, and I don't know how to operate here on my own because I don't have the skills and tools to do so. So many of the prideful things that I rely on in America like persuasive speech, knowlege and expertise, etc. mean nothing here and I can only depend on God and EVERYTHING that He has to offer to me. What a beautiful place to be in- it is such a receptive position! I AM like a child here in Russia, who has to fully rely on her caregiver. God is answering so many of my prayers through this experience.
My team and I were talking today about how well we are being taken care of here and how happy everyone is to have us here as their guest. We are truly appreciated by the teachers and kids and I know that they will see God's love in us for them through our actions toward them and to each other. God has us here for His purpose and we are all on board to serve and love wherever we can. We are in a perfect place to have real relationships with everyone because we LIVE with them. It is a truly unique experience.
Those are my thoughts today! I hope you are all doing well!!!
In Joy,
Alaina :D