Saturday, September 27, 2008


Two kids in our school had birthdays this week. One turned six and the other three. Normally that wouldn’t be something to write home about, but these kids’ school parties included a puppet show, pony rides, and a circus (no live animals, but performers and clowns). We weren’t complaining either, because we didn’t have to teach the little kids on Friday due to the festivities. At the end of one of the parties they had everyone come to the middle of the room and dance. We joined in with the kids, and they played the hokie pokey!

This morning we toured the All-Russia Exhibition Center. The buildings are beautiful, but we were disappointed that they’d already turned the fountains off for winter. We still got some great pictures though, and did some shopping in some of the buildings. We went from there to the soccer stadium to watch Moscow play St. Petersburg. That’s not something I’d want to do again, but it was definitely a great cultural experience.

We were greeted by a line of guards who surrounded the entire stadium. We had to be patted down and have our bags searched, plus walk through two metal detectors. Once we were inside the stadium we realized our seats were on the other side, so we tried to walk around and get to the other end. But, once again, saw just more guards and lots of dead ends. We finally realized that the stadium was divided into four sections, and there is no way to cross between sections. We decided we would just have to leave, be searched all over again, and enter in the right section. But then someone brought it to our attention that our tickets had already been ripped and they may not let us back in. Finally we decided to be brave enough to approach one of the guards who very patiently pointed out to us that we were on the wrong side of the stadium. Duh! Then he realized we couldn’t get there because we’d already entered this side, and that our situation was actually quite complicated. But, before we knew it, someone sent out a guard with a security vest in English, ready to help the Americans. I think it was the highlight of his day. He had to give us a personal escort out of the stadium, walk us around to the other side (in front of the lines of guards we’d already passed twice—embarrassing!), and then through security again, and finally to our seats. He then informed us that our seats were in the midst of Moscow fans (not surprising, considering we’re in Moscow), and that they’re not a very good team, and probably wouldn’t even score, but that we should cheer for them no matter what. Gulya had already given us that warning, and also told us not to buy any paraphernalia associated with either team because if a fight breaks out we don’t want to be associated with the wrong side. Scary! I was actually glad Moscow didn’t score, because every time St. Petersburg did they lit flares and fireworks and threw confetti and flags. I was scared to see what would happen if our side scored. We decided to leave a little early because we didn’t want to have to be in the subway with that crowd of people, and I’m very glad we did because there were guards at every metro stop. I didn’t want to wait around long enough to find out why!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

more of our walk

our walk

I never imagined Russia looking like this. I feel like I'm living in a Jane Austin novel. Here are pictures from our walk. Try not to be too jealous. :-)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


We had our first Russian class today. I loved it. I wish I could have a lesson every day. It made me miss teaching Spanish, and made me wish I could teach Russian. I felt sorry for the other girls because our teacher went so fast. She doesn’t speak English, which was nice, and is a really good teacher—she knew what she was doing. We practiced saying some popular phrases and then went over the alphabet and possessive pronouns. It was so fun. And Julia, our school coordinator, said the director of the school wants to trade me Russian for Spanish lessons. They’re in Spain right now, but when they get back I’ll talk to him about meeting for lessons a couple times a week. I’m excited about that because I want to learn Russian, and also because I’d way rather teach Spanish than English.

Our classes were crazy this week. They were crazy our first two days, but then we got a routine down and the kids started getting used to us, and that made things tons better. But then the school started sending us one or two new kids each day, and they speak no English, so they have no clue what’s going on. We have one child that we’ve had since Monday who just runs around destroying things. I’ve never seen a kid like him before. I’ve also never had thoughts about wanting to physically harm a child, but I will admit, thoughts of that type crossed my mind. I couldn’t even help the teachers at all because he took all my time. Luckily one of the Russian teachers saw him on one of his tirades, running through the drama room knocking down all the blocks stacked against the wall and throwing toys over the puppet stage. She grabbed him and chewed him out in Russian. After that he sat quietly in his chair for about ten minutes before it all started back up again. I told Julia about him and she’s going to talk to his parents. If he doesn’t improve they’ll take him out of the program. The parents are paying extra for them to be in our language classes, so it’s a privilege for them, meaning we can kick him out if need be. I had a good time with him at recess though. He’s a fun kid when he’s on his own terms. He carries around a cell phone and a little calculator in his pocket. He was driving the wooden car, and when I walked by he told me (in Russian) to sit in the car. I got in and he asked me where I wanted to go. I told him to the store. He told me it would be ten rubles. Then we “drove” for a little while and he told me the store was on the left, so I got out and went shopping. We did the same thing a couple times traveling to a couple different places. Sometimes he would pull out his calculator to calculate my fare. It was pretty funny. And of course I enjoyed the Russian part of it. Well, this is a pretty boring post so I’ll throw in a few pictures from our trip last weekend. One is of me getting my souvenir Stalin penny (note the sign says "make a souvenir to yourself")and the rest are from our boat cruise through Moscow. It was gorgeous, but obviously very cold!

Okay, I just have to add that I just got back from jogging with a body guard. Yup, I know most English teachers have guards... I asked Julia if there was a place we could go jogging because our neighborhood is full of gated communities, and the only place to walk is on the streets (which is not safe because they drive crazy) or through the forest. We didn't know if it was safe to jog through the forest, so I asked her about it. Well, our guards at the school said they'd show us where we could go, and the younger guard took us after work through the forest, across the river and into the most beautiful meadow ever. I promise it was safe...I know it sounds possibly scary, but he's really nice. And it was soooo beautiful. I loved it. We all agreed to go back every day until it gets too cold. And I ended up jogging most of the time with the guard because I just happen to be in a group of athletes. They're runners and basketball players, and then there's me. I go on leisurely jogs around the park. So, needless to say I was behind. Plus I speak the most Russian and the guard speaks no English. It was slightly awkward. Oh, and we saw tons of deer. We didn't have a camera with us, but I'll post pictures of it soon!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

our school

Here are a few more pictures of the school. That's me with Kadariya, and then Vacia, one of the cutest boys here, and the building is the side of the school. It's hard to see how big it is. It's huge inside--four stories. And decorated so cute with little chairs and tables and beds for naptime. They even have lockers because they change for PE and swimming, and then you've got to have a place for the excessive snow clothes...

Russian and Lenin and boots

I spoke Russian to the kids on Friday. It was only the pre-language group (the 3 year olds). They don't understand the concept of speaking different languages, so I decided it wouldn't matter so much. And I didn't speak with them during our class time, but while we were outside playing. It was really fun. There's a wooden truck that they play in, and Kadinya, the cutest little girl ever, was playing in it. A mom was sitting in the back of the truck with her little boy, and she was pretending the little girl was driving them to the store. It was pretty cool, because I could understand the main ideas of what they were talking about. The mom and boy left, so I got in the back of the truck, and the little girl turned to me and asked me what I wanted to buy. I told her I wanted oranges. Then she said, "oranges and bananas?" I said yes, oranges and bananas and apples. It was great! Then a little boy (Maxim--my other favorite) climbed up and I talked to him a little too. I asked him what some things were called, and I told him I wanted to buy hats and coats. Then we argued over whose truck we were in, mine or his. It was really fun. Then I talked a little bit with one of the teachers. I just asked her how to say a few things as well. I really liked that I could understand what the kids were saying. I'm going to try and do that every day, and try to talk to the teachers as much as I can. I know I'm supposed to be speaking English, but I SO badly want to learn Russian!

We had our first culture class on Friday from Gulya, our native coordinator. It was really fun because Lisa's group came over for it, so I got to see Lisa (my cousin)! It’s fun that she's here, but I haven't gotten to spend very much time with her, although we do go to church together. Anyway, the class was very interesting. It was so weird to me how much the government just up and changed the culture of the people, and it seems that they're all okay with that. Gulya talked about the major holidays, and so many of them were changed in 1917. They pretty much took away religious holidays, and are only now reinstating them, some as recently as last year. She talked about how she and her husband are atheists, because under communism there was no need for religion; the government dictated what morals they should have. I was shocked that the government was able to have such an impact on their culture. Even with a holiday as big as Christmas. Gulya said it was celebrated very strongly until 1917, when it was completely done away with. Then in the 90’s a lot of the people converted their beliefs of communism into beliefs of Christianity, and they decided Christmas should come back. But it hasn’t been as widely celebrated as it once was.

Gulya not only teaches our culture class, but she also escorts us on tours of Russia. Yesterday she took us to Victory Park, where we went to a museum of WWII. That was interesting. Apparently in Russia it’s called the Great Patriotic War. I got a souvenir penny of Stalin. Yup. Stalin. That pretty much sums it up. I feel weird talking about politics in such a public place—like Big Brother is watching me. But I have such a different understanding now. I guess I just thought that since the fall of the USSR, Russians were happy to no longer be under a communist government. That doesn’t seem to be the case. I’ve heard them talk about how great it was when they were united and had so much power, and they definitely still hold their leaders in high regard. We saw Lenin last weekend. His body is preserved in a glass tomb in Red Square. The room is dark and cold, and you can’t see anything except his illuminated face and hands. Very creepy...

So, on to other things. After Victory Park we went on a boat ride through Moscow, on the Moscow River. It was beautiful, but very cold. It actually reminded me of taking ferry rides in San Francisco. We could see the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral from the water. It was very beautiful, but surreal at the same time. Then we went shopping in an outdoor market and I got the warmest boots I've ever worn. The salesman orignally wanted $80 for them, and I walked away with them for $40. I was proud of myself. And I thought my feet were going to boil during church today because it was so warm inside and those boots are super insulated. I find it somewhat ironic that my whole life I've always been cold at church, but now I've finally found a place where I can be warm. Russia.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

more photos

The pictures posted about two posts ago are of us on our journey to church. There's one of us in front of some photos of very serious Russians, whom we were obviously impersonating. Then there are two of the metro. In one you can see how beautiful it is. The stations really looks like museums or churches. The last picture is of our house. That's actually where the director of the school lives. We live in his guest house which just looks like a part of that house. It's in the same courtyard. I'm adding here a picture of our school (just the very front of it--it's much bigger), our kitchen and dining room, and some of our kids. Enjoy!


We went to enrichment last night. Or at least we tried. We never actually got there, but it was quite an adventure. For those of you who are not LDS, enrichment meetings are held periodically, usually on a week night, as an opportunity for the women of the church to get together and have some quality bonding time, which usually means a lot of chatting and even more eating. That is why we were very excited to go. And also why we were willing to travel at least an hour to get there. So, we took our usual bus ride from our house to the nearest metro stop where we were to board the blue line to the brown line to the green line, to another bus. Unfortunately though, our bus drive took longer than normal. We left a little after five, so we were stuck in traffic, and our driver kept trying to take short cuts that were turning into long cuts, which turned our half hour ride into an hour. Then the metro ride didn’t go as smooothly as it could have. We don’t have a metro map, and they aren’t always super easy to see, so when we ride everyone just watches for my signal, and I listen as hard as I can. I’ve got the system figured our pretty well. Over the loud speakers they first say the name of the stop where we are, whether the doors will open to the left or the right, and then the name of the next stop. Then I scramble around on the car, trying to sneak a peak at a map where I read as fast as I can (keep in mind my Russian reading level is about that of a 5 year old), and then I tell everyone how many more stops we have to go. This usually works pretty well. And it did work well last night, but at one point of transfering I forgot to look at the stop we needed to transfer from the brown line, so when we got on we weren’t sure which direction to go. We just guessed, but when we got on the next car and saw the names of the stops, we realized we’d guessed wrong. So, we got off and tried again. We were soon on our way, and got to the correct transfer spot. But then while attempting to transfer to the green line, the girls in the front of the line kept walking, and before we knew it we’d exited the metro station! By then it was already 7pm, and our last bus was going to leave at 9:30, so I had to face the sad truth that if we kept going we’d probably only be able to spend about 30 min at our activity before having to head back. I broke the news to the girls, so we decided to just explore that stop, maybe get some ice cream, and then head back. Well, we lucked out and ended up at the train station. It was beautiful. We walked around and took pictures, and then just walked up and down the streets. I at last felt like I was actually in Russia. We’re so sheltered in our school that I feel like we’re just in some wealthy neighborhood that could be anywhere. The only reminder I have that we’re in a foreign country is that everyone speaks Russian. Oh, that and the faсt that it's freezing cold and all the analog clocks are in military time, oh, and our dishwasher is small. But let me go back to the topic of Russian. That’s actually been a sore topic these past few days. With all my heart I just long to be able to communicate with these people. My favorite thing about learning a new langauge is getting to know and love the people who speak it. I just feel so tormented at times, and walking down the streets last night made me feel even more so. I feel like I have this huge opportunity to learn and love this culture and language and people, and I have an enormous fear that it’s passing me by. I’m afraid I’ll get home and still only speak a handful of words and short awkward sentences. I feel trapped because I have responsablities at the school, and then no one to help me learn the language. I bought Rosetta Stone, which has been helping a lot, but my computer died, so I don’t know how much more I’ll be able to use it. I may be able to come to the school to study periodically. I’ve become friends with the lunch lady who tells me what we eat every day (and I promptly forget the names of all the dishes), but I want more! I want a Russian to walk around with me everywhere and tell me what food to try at the little kiosks, and where to shop for clothes, and to just talk with me and make me say more than I want to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m loving my time here, but I just don’t want any opportunities to pass me by. Any suggestions?


Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I just had my first complete conversation! I’m so excited. It went like this. We got a delicious salmon and rice salad for lunch today, but a lot of the girls don’t like fish. I loved every bite of mine, and really wanted to take theirs home for later, but didn’t know what to say. I went up to the lunch lady and showed her the plate piled with it and said “doma,” which means home. She didn’t hear me and started to take the plate and put it in the dishwasher. I held it tight though, and word by word managed to get out my first spontaneous complete sentence. It went like this: “I want…to eat…at home.” And the best part…she understood! Then she asked if I wanted more. I didn’t understand the first time. All I got was the word big. But then I figured out what she meant when she put another scoop on the plate. She gave me a little plate to put on top, I said thank you, and I was on my way, plate of salmon salad in hand. I’m pretty proud of myself. I wish I had more opportunity to practice Russian. I’m mostly around English speakers or the kids all day, and that doesn’t help much.

I guess I should talk about our teaching day. We have two groups of kids. From 11-1:00 we have what we call the pre-language group. They’re about three years old, and our main goal with them is to give them exposure to hearing the language, and a little bit of the structure of ILP (International Language Programs—the company we’re working with). We’re supposed to have 12 kids in that class, but I don’t think we’ve ever had more than 8, which is a good thing. Most of them are very well-behaved, but there are a couple that are most definitely not. And disciplining them when they can’t understand a word you’re saying is, in the least, challenging.

Since we usually don’t have very many in that class we keep them together and sing songs and play some circle games. Then we do a simple version of the art project we prepared for the older kids, followed by story time. Then we just play with them with blocks or other toys until 12:00 when we get them ready for recess. Getting them ready for recess is very entertaining. It is already cold outside. I have no idea what the temperature is, but it’s long-sleeve shirt and sweatshirt weather. But in Russia they don’t mess around. We’re expected to help the kids dress in full-blown snow clothes. I had to use every muscle in my body to keep from laughing very hard the first day we did this. Each child has a locker where his/her parents leave thermals, boots, snow pants, a heavy winter coat, gloves and a hat. We help them take off their regular clothes and then get dressed in their winter wear. Then we all go outside and play.

We have lunch after playtime, and then we teach the older kids from 3-5pm. They’re 5 and 6 years old. This program has only been at this school for one semester, so they don’t know a lot of English, but they can get by pretty well. We have stations for them where we teach drama, art and games/PE. The kids think they’re just doing a fun activity, but we get them to speak as much English as we can, and give them little tokens when they say our grammatical concept of the day. Then at the end of the day they can redeem their tokens for prizes. It actually works pretty well. When they’re well-behaved. We had some behavior problems yesterday, and it was really hard to get the kids speaking when they were constantly being distracted. Hopefully today will go better.

later... Today did get better, but I don't have time to write much more. I promise I'll have more time later, and the pictures are coming!

Monday, September 15, 2008


Sunday Sept 14, 2008

Yesterday we spend the day in Moscow—in the city. We’re just outside the city, but I have no idea what this area is called. Everyone I ask says they can’t think of the name, but it’s just the area where the president lives. Yes, the president of Russia lives down the street from me. And the Prime Minister, Putin, also lives in the neighborhood. Really, we haven’t even noticed (because every house is surrounded by 12 foot fences and guards), but when the president comes or goes they stop traffic for him, so we always have the lurking possibility of getting stuck in traffic for up to two hours.

So, back to the trip to Moscow. We caught the bus down the street from our house. It was a beautiful little 10 minute walk, but we all agreed it will be torture as soon as it gets any colder. I’m definitely not looking forward to winter. Anyway, from there we took the metro to Red Square. The metros here are absolutely gorgeous. The inside looks like a museum or a church with large hanging chandeliers and art work.

We went to church today. I know that doesn’t sound very profound, but let me explain what that entails. We left our house a little before 11am and walked about ten minutes to the bus stop on the main road. Then we waited for about 15 min for the bus that took us to the metro stop. From there we rode the dark blue line about 7 stops, got off and transferred to the red line for six stops. Then we walked about 15 more minutes, and at 1:20 we arrived! Normally that would only take two hours, but it took us slightly longer today because we couldn’t get out of the house. The gate wouldn’t open. Luckily one of the little boys who lives here was outside kicking a soccer ball against the wall. We explained our dilemma and he went and found one of the guards who fixed the gate. That delayed us about ten or 15 minutes. Our second delay happened when we switched metro lines. We were sitting/standing fairly close together in a line, so I signaled to the girl closest to me that we needed to get off at the next stop. She sent the message down the line, and we jumped off the subway. I turned to talk to them and only saw two of my four girls. It turns out the other two didn’t make it off in time. Considering that I’m the only one in the group with a cell phone, and that no one really speaks Russian, the rule we have for getting separated is to just stay where you are, unless you’re on the subway. If you get separated on the subway you’re to just get off at the next stop and wait. So I told the two girls I was with to stay put no matter what, and I jumped on the next car to go after the missing two. Luckily they had followed directions and were waiting for me at the stop. Then the three of us caught the next car in the opposite direction and the group was once again together! Surprisingly that delay was only about ten minutes. I love subways. They’re so convenient! Luckily we got to the church right as they were taking the Sacrament, so we didn’t even miss it! The branch we went to is an international branch, meaning that all meetings are conducted in English. There are about 120 members, mostly American, but there are a couple Germans and some Filipinos. Sacrament Meeting (the first meeting) was really good. I wish I could write more, but I’ve gotta go…

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I'm in Russia - part 2

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see much of the city on our drive, but I can say that it’s absolutely beautiful here. It’s very wooded, and reminds me a little of Seattle. Most likely because it’s been drizzly since we got here (and the last two days have been VERY cold—I feel like it’s November, not the beginning of September). The foliage is different than I’ve seen elsewhere though. There are tons of cottonwood (I think) and fir trees. We live in the middle of the forest. I hope I can post pictures soon, because I can’t even begin to describe how gorgeous it is.

From what I’ve seen so far people either live in high-rise cement apartment buildings in the city or in large houses in the woods. We live in the latter. I can’t believe how wealthy this area is. I feel like I’m not getting a real view of Russia because these people are just so well off. But then at the same time I guess it’s giving me a view of how distinct the social classes are. Our school is a very large manor that looks more like a house than a school. It’s four stories tall and even has an indoor pool on the bottom floor.

Tomorrow will be our first day of teaching. We’ve spent the last two days preparing lesson plans, holding training meetings and trying to orient ourselves to the school. I’m the head teacher, which means I won’t actually have my own class, but I’m helping train the other teachers who are here, and I work as a liaison between them and the school. So, that means that everyone at the school talks to me. Well, I made the mistake the first day we were here of speaking to them in the little Russian I know. I was being introduced to someone by Gulya (who speaks English). All I said in Russian was “nice to meet you.” Then they said to each other in Russian that I speak Russian and I responded in Russian by saying I didn’t. That didn’t change their minds though. So now everywhere we go in the school, all the staff members come up to me and just go off in Russian. I do my best to catch one or two words. It’s interesting. Earlier today when we went to eat lunch (and by the way the food is out-of-this-world good) we walked up to the building and this one woman, whom I don’t even remember meeting, said “Nicole.” Our conversation went like this, according to what I understood.
Her: blah blah blah blah blah blah coats blah blah blah blah blah. Do you understand?
Me: No, I don’t understand.
Her: blah blah blah blah blah blah (and her making the movements of us hanging up our coats). Do you understand?
Me: Yes, I understand!
Apparently it’s quite rude here to walk into a building (or at least these VERY nice ones) with your shoes and coat on. And that’s exactly what we did at lunchtime yesterday. We got lectured in Russian and they showed us where to hang our coats and where to put our shoes, so I guess today that woman was stationed outside to catch us before we could make fools of ourselves again.

Well, I need to get going. Hopefully I’ll have time soon to write more...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I'm in Russia!

The following was dictated to me by Nicole. She doesn't have internet yet. She had a few more paragraphs to dictate but we were having phone trouble, and school was about to start. Other details she told me besides the elaborate wealth is that the food is amazing. There is a staff of cooks. They had salmon stew for lunch. She said there's a new dimension to flavor in the food. All the houses have guards as part of their staff. It's already cold. The other girls are from Utah and Alaska, so they are making fun of Nicole for being so cold. I'm not sure I got everything right, but she can edit this once she gets online.
Nancy (Nicole's mom)

It's still pretty surreal. I don't have time to go into too much detail. I'm going to highlight a few experiences...

I started getting excited to go when I went to find the gate to board my flight and saw the screen "Chicago to Moscow," and I got even more excited when they made all the announcements in English and Russian, and even more excited still when I realized I actually understood a good part of the Russian announcement about which groups could board the plane. I can't say our 10-hour flight was too enjoyable, but it was better than I expected. The best part was definitely landing, especially because as our plane was touching the ground the captain played the Russian folk song over the loud speaker Welcome to Russia, Welcome to Moscow. It was great! Gulya, our ILP coordinator, was there to greet us and she quickly boarded us and all our baggage in a van and took us to our apartment.

This may seem slightly off topic for a second, but when I was 5 years old we lived off Melody Lane in Roseville and I distinctly remember the day reading clicked for me. I read every "No Parking" sign and every street sign in our neighborhood. As soon as we started driving down the road in Moscow, I felt like that 5-year old all over again. I couldn't stop reading every sign we passed. I read them for over an hour on our long, slow, due to traffic, drive to the other side of the city. My bloodshot eyes from lack of sleep were burning and my head was aching from thinking too hard but I just couldn't stop. It was so exciting for me and even more exciting that I could understand some of the words. I even understood a couple sentences like "your new home." Pretty exciting, I know.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to see much of the city on our drive. But I can say it is absolutely beautiful here. -- to be continued.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Post #1

Hello all! I know you have been waiting with bated breath to hear about Russia, but I promise I have good reasons for being so slow.

Reason one: I'm not in Russia. I'm in Provo, and have been (or at least in Utah) for almost a month now. I drove out on Aug. 11th thinking that my cousin Lisa and I would soon be leaving to tour Eastern Europe before starting our program in Moscow, but my visa took much longer to arrive than planned. It actually didn't arrive until today, and I'll be leaving early Monday morning.

Reason two: I'm really having a hard time starting a blog. I enjoy writing, but not for others to read. So, I will need lots of encouragement (in the form of comments and emails).

And, since I won't be leaving for Russia until Monday, here are some pictures from Utah. It's been tons of fun having time to visit friends and family members. These pictures are from our river trip on the Snake River, and a hike around Jenny Lake in the Tetons. This tent is my aunt and uncle's. It's older than we are, so we were very proud to have put it up without any help. And the baby is my cousins' brand new little guy--his name's Caleb. Um, and I'm having obvious difficulties posting pictures, so if any of you seasoned bloggers have any advice on how to rotate pictures, I'd appreciate it!