Last week I posted that I was feeling lonely, but this weekend was an improvement. I spent the afternoon with the teachers from my Russian school and they did their best to make me feel very welcome. It was an end of school season party (though it isn’t the end for me, of course.) I have eaten enough in six hours for an entire weekend and drank enough for a month. I hadn’t wanted to come initially, but I did have a much better time than I’d thought I would. Of course I always feel like an outsider at a party like this. I AM an outsider. It’s not their fault. Most of the conversation was in Russian and I didn’t understand it. But the food was good, there was music, the location lovely and we had a rare dry day to enjoy it. All the photos in this post are from that party.
It’s been a tough week. We went directly from the first three week session of classes into the next, with no break. I didn’t really know what the classes would be until a couple days before, so all I’ve done is lesson planning since then. I’m very unhappy with the second schedule. It is not the schedule we had agreed to before I came and has doubled my lesson planning workload. The two summer sessions were supposed to be almost identical—daytime classes with entirely new students. This would allow me to re-use the lesson plans that I made for the first session, with the exception of an adult class. The first change is that my classes are now alternating days and nights. One of the appeals of coming to Nakhodka was a consistent, daytime schedule, so I’m quite disappointed at the change. Also, these are not all new students. There are enough continuing students that I have to make entirely new lesson plans for every class. To top it off, I have a conversation class of teachers. In my experience, teachers are a very tough crowd and this one includes my boss. I get a very high level of observation in classes already. Don’t get me wrong. The school has a right to observe my teaching, but the level just got uncomfortable.
If I’d known that this would be the schedule, I simply wouldn’t have come.
Don’t get me wrong, I am capable of doing the work. No individual change is that onerous, but the combination is. It’s a lot more work than I’d agreed to. I’d hoped to have more free time in the second half of the schedule to study Spanish and prepare to go to Mexico, but I won’t. The money isn’t very good. I’d agreed to it because it was an easy schedule. In fact, most of what I make will be spent getting to Mexico and getting set up there, so this wasn’t a financially profitable summer. Most of what I’m feeling is simple disappointment. I trusted that I wouldn’t be taken advantage of here. I was careful to include the schedule in the contract and thought that would mean that I could be sure of what I was getting into. I was wrong.
If I didn’t have trust issues before, I have them now. This is my third (paid) school and so far it’s been the best. At least the housing is fair and the pay actually appears. But do all schools change the schedule after you arrive? Mostly, I’m disappointed in humans. I really like teaching but I’m not liking the schools.
I wanted to travel the world and learn how people are, right? Sometimes the lessons aren’t any fun.
The weather here is very cool and cloudy. It’s been below 70F almost every day. I’m told August is warm, but so far it seems like early spring here, not summer. It rained 6 days this week. It’s “April showers” in June and they will continue through July. Today is cloudy but looks like it might be dry for a change. While I like the cool temperatures, the lack of sun is getting depressing. It seems to affect everyone’s mood. People are generally very serious, even grim, with few smiles. They have some nice beaches here, but it’s still too cold to swim. Remind me never to move to Seattle. I simply need more light that this.
I find my students very nice. Many gave me gifts at the end of class. Others have come to the school just to talk to me or met me on the street. Outside of the school it’s almost impossible to meet anyone. No one speaks English and the Cyrillic alphabet is beyond my comprehension, so far. I can’t read signs or menus. In other countries, I could fairly quickly learn the basics, but it’s just not happening here. That adds to the feeling of isolation. I’ve decided to cut my losses and focus what little free time I have on learning a bit more Spanish.
Of course, I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to see Russia, but this simply isn’t an area I’d want to live in. It’s too difficult and I don’t fit in here. (And if one more little old lady runs me off the sidewalk, I may cry like a child.) Of course, I can’t say that I have experienced all of Russia. It’s a big place and I’ve only seen a small part. Since there was no break between the two summer sessions, I now have more time before I start my new job in Mexico. I’ll get to spend a few days in Moscow. It’s a 9 hour flight to Moscow (after 3+ hour drive to the Vladivostok airport) and there’s a 7 hour time difference, so I’ll have jet lag to deal with! (By contrast, there’s only a one hour difference between Moscow and Madrid.) I wish I could also see St. Petersburg, but there just isn’t time.
Here are a few things from this week.
In my teacher’s conversation class, one of the teachers brought up that Russians have been banned from participating in the Olympics due to doping. I don’t know much about sports, but tried to keep the conversation going by asking questions. I got the distinct impression that she felt I might be personally responsible for this, or at least that it was the USA’s fault. No one disagreed with her. The older someone is, the less likely they are to look favorably on Americans.
I try to teach idioms in my classes, since I don’t think you can really understand a culture without them. I found that our expression “black sheep” has a similar expression in Russian. It translates as “white crow.” Also, we might wish someone good luck by saying, “break a leg.” In Russian, they say “neither fur nor feathers.” Here are more Russian proverbs and idioms.
The population of Russia has fallen and the government wants that to change. Certainly there’s a lower birthrate. There’s also been some migration out of the country. The government wants to encourage women to have more children. There are payouts for a second or third child. It’s not a lot of money, but it is something. For a third child, you will also get land. Unfortunately, the land may be very far away from your current home and you only have five years to build a house on it. Also, you can’t sell the property. Nothing additional for a fourth child. It’s not much of an incentive program, but it is quite different from China.
Seafood is popular here, but only fish and occasionally scallops. You don’t see lobster, octopus or crab, except the “fake crab” which you see a lot. A surprising amount of the fish is salted and dried. I’m told it’s eaten in bars–like we might consume salty peanuts.
I’m run off the sidewalk by little old ladies almost daily. They won’t share the street and make you walk in the grass. It wouldn’t be so bad, but they sneer at you when they do it. Yesterday in the grocery, people kept pushing in front of me in line at the meat counter. I finally just walked away. At the checkout, an older woman holding a single loaf of bread motioned that she wanted to go in front of me. Since I had a basket of groceries, I let her in. Then she proceeded to unload her purse! She had almost as many items as I did. When she’d put her groceries on the belt she turned with a triumphant smile as though she’d gotten away with murder.
Did I mention I don’t fit in here?