Made it safely back to Moscow. It was great to reunite with the group and compare experiences abroad. Had a wonderful dinner together last night, a debriefing today followed by the opera. Below are some pictures from our evening stroll around Red Square. It's been an exhausting, eye opening and wonderful trip but I'm ready to be home. Next stop NY.
So final post from Krasnoyarsk. There is too much to write about what we have done over the past two days so instead I will end this segment of my trip with some takeaways I plan on bringing home to colleagues, students, friends and family:
1. Russians are amazing people. They are generous, funny, warm, intelligent and driven. Much of what I had been told about Russia and Russians was not correct. They smile all the time and they are warm and welcoming. The teachers at Lyceum #2 gave us such an amazing welcome and made us feel right at home (ok maybe a busier version of home :)). It was so much fun to spend time with all of them and to watch them interact with their students who clearly love and respect them.
2. School is family: It was refreshing to see that the students and staff at this school act like a giant family. They have such positive, loving interactions with one another and also with their community. I too would like to see more of this in my own school where teachers socialize on the weekends with each other and spend time helping one another and team building.
3. Motivation: I wish my students could meet and work with these students. The Russian students I have met are so driven and motivated. They work hard not because they are told to and not for some reward or prize…instead they work hard to better themselves and to be the best. I think of all the carrots we dangle in front of American students and see that is doesn’t work and I wonder how do you instill such intrinsic motivation in youth?
4. Teach a teacher: Something that this school does that I would like to do in my own school is a day where students teach their teachers something. In festival style they set up classes for their teachers to learn what they know and can teach which ranges from playing the guitar to dancing and karate. How fantastic would that be?!
5. Administrators teaching classes: In Russia it is required for all administrators to teach classes at least 8 hours a week. I think this increases the level of respect and interaction (and relationships) between students, admin and also teachers.
6. Local pride: There was a true integration of culture and history into each and every class. From math and science to language all was tied into Russia’s rich history.
7. Open Door Day: I would like to start something like this at my school. It's a day where parents and family members come into the school for the day with the student to participate in lessons or even teach them. I think this is a great way to increase parental involvement in our school.
8. My travel partners are amazing people. I was skeptical that being paired off with a total stranger (and a seemingly opposite in regard to field/experience) would be a recipe for disaster when traveling abroad, but I can truly say I had a blast with them both. I'm not sure what formula the dept of state/IREX used to pair us off, but it worked and I have never laughed so hard in all my life as I have over these last ten days. It was a true bonding experience so be pushed outside our comfort zones together and I hope to have made lifelong friends with them.
9. I, Emily, am not meant to wear closed toe heels or pantyhose….never again……
10. Russians really do like their vodka :)
So we leave Krasnoyarsk with mixed emotions…exhaustion, happiness to go home to see our families and sadness to leave our newly made friends. I never in a million years could have imagined how friendly and welcoming these people would have been. They made us feel right at home halfway around the world in Siberia. I can only hope one day to repay the hospitality when they come visit me in Florida :)
Below are a handful of the photos from the past two days touring around school, art museum, Siberia University, etc...
Today I was blown away by my experiences with these kids. We had another busy and fantastic day visiting different schools. One of the biggest differences I noticed between American and Russian students is that Russian students seem way more driven than their American counterparts. They are driven in everything they do. They push themselves to be the best without thinking of a reward. They are hungry for success both academic and physical. From my experience with many American students they have gotten quite lazy. The opportunities around them abound and they have more exposure to things Russian students could only dream about yet many choose not to take advantage of such things. They sit instead in class asleep or so focused on their phone the world around them is lost. I wish those students could come see how much these students desire to improve themselves and better their lives.
Our day started off observing 6th grade students (our 7th grade) in a Russian language class followed by a mathematics lessons. The students did not lose focus during the 40 min lesson, not once. Their eyes stayed glued on the teacher. Their phones while I saw one or two out on a desk, were never glanced at or opened. They fought to answer questions and about 90% of students participated in the lessons standing at attention when ready to speak. The lessons are very similar to ones in the US with the exception being that every lesson I have seen to date involved students behind their desk and the teacher leading up front. There was no collaborative work, no students walking around on projects. Instead they function as one group working together. Even when the teacher said they were allowed to work together and answer a prompt, the students stayed working quietly alone racing to be the first to answer.
Thanks go out to Erin at Brevard County Waste Management, Jennifer at the City of Melbourne, Chuck and his colleagues at NASA and of course my amazing coworkers at EGHS for helping to make some amazing goody bags to give out to teachers and donating gifts to pass out to students. It was much appreciated!
After the lesson the primary students put on a fantastic performance headed by the librarian. The librarian does a lot of instruction and class outreach which I thought was nice. It was a fantastic integration of reading, culture, art, music, social studies, science and media. The kids did a wonderful job in their performances.
After this we were asked to play in a mini Olympics teachers versus students so we represented team USA as best as we could (especially considering that we could still barely walk from our monster hike up Stolby). Our team name and symbol while it makes me laugh absolutely baffles me….we were Team Happy Shovel :) They had an amazing opening ceremony (man can those Russian girls dance!). We had a blast making fools of ourselves trying (unsuccessful at times) to keep up with the Russians. They were so supportive, to have them chant my name while I raced on fake skis across the gym floor was truly heart warming. Teachers wound up winning hence our fantastic trophy (I think it was mostly the PE teachers that carried us though).
After the competition, we had lunch. High school students are required to take turns working in the cafeteria serving younger students which was really nice. Their meals are more like dinners, all homemade served on porcelain with real silverware. After lunch we were whisked away to a sports school which proudly graduated several Olympic athletes. The students train extremely hard and I can truly say Russians are machines. They push constantly (themselves and now us!).
After the sport school we observed some more primary school lessons where students worked individually on tiny ASUS computers to practice math. It was funny to see that they too had issues with non working computers, the difference however was when a student had a non working computer instead of shouting out, whining flailing their hands, they place their elbow on the desk with their hand up at a 90 degree angle and sit quietly until the teacher sees them and replaces their computer. My highschoolers wouldn’t have been so patient. Another interesting thing I noticed was that in between lessons in the same class the students had stretching exercises where they get up and so some stretches with the teacher for a minute or two. During each of these visits the students eagerly presented us with handmade gifts, more than I could carry. It was extremely sweet (see pictures in slideshow above).
The primary school observations were followed by dinner at school (our day never ends here), then a fair and concert with students and parents. The students host the fair where they make gifts to sell and all the money raised goes to charity. We walked around the fair but instead of trying to sell us things, the students were too busy trying to get a photo with us like we were some type of celebrity and they kept giving us their items as gifts rather than selling them. I have never felt so welcomed in all of my life. This was a life changing day. Everything I thought I knew about Russia and Russians and in particular Siberians was completely wrong, as was what everyone had told me they would be like. They are the warmest, most open and generous bunch of people I have met.
Sorry for the double entry today, but time has been tight to blog. Today we spent the day driving around to different villages including a stop a the house of famous Russian writer V.P. Astafiev's where his cousin actually gave us some gifts. We had some amazing views on our way there including a giant overlook where Putin tripped and fell hence the red safety fence now. We even stepped out on a giant ice lake with a local fisherman. We also stopped at a huge hydroelectric dam (I believe they said the 8th largest in the world) one that is pictured on Russian money which locals are very proud of.
After our tour of villages we stopped off at a local zoo before heading to the Opera House to see a Russian performance of Swan Lake that gave me goose bumps it was so good. I will try to upload those pictures tomorrow and figure out what gremlins keep flipping photos on their side below and won't let me correct them.
Tomorrow we are back at school with the kids, really looking forward to working with them. Supposedly they have arranged a sports competition and we are on one team versus the students and teachers, go Team USA. I don't think we stand a chance at winning anything considering that none of us can walk still from that hike we conquered yesterday!
I missed yesterday's blog due to pure exhaustion. We spent the day on an 11km uphill hike in a Siberian preserve called "Stolby". It is so nice to see that these teachers all hang out together out of work and really seem to enjoy each others company. My Floridian legs were not used to the steep climb or the deep snow at times. The hike ended with a rock climb at the top to the peak. I truly thought I would slip to my death at any moment but managed to avoid it usually by either sliding along on my butt (oh so graceful I know) or grabbing the nearest Russian :) Russian men by the way are the most chivalrous men I have ever met and don't hesitate to extend a hand, help you out or at one point even carry you across the deep snow as in the case of my partner Carrie who was hiking for the first time in her life and did so in cheer shoes. She was a trooper and did it all but the rock climbing despite threatening to quit about 50 times :)
I forgot that prior to our hike we visited the local flea market which was really interesting. They even had a bounce house :)
After surviving our hike which while beautiful seemed like it might never end, we then went to a ski resort and took the chair lift to the top for more fantastic views. Pictures in slide show below. The people are teachers from the school that went with us and the crazy looking guy in the yellow shirt and white glasses was our guide. A "professional" climber (retired) which Siberians call Stolbeasts. If his look and name don't make you laugh then imagine hiking the Siberian wilderness with him singing English children's songs. It truly was an amazing day.
So we have arrived in Krasnoyarsk Russia, the middle of Siberia (13,293 km from America) and when our plane landed at the tiny airport here the first thing I noticed as I walked out of the plane and across the tarmac was that it is warm and I mean WARM....65 degrees F. (evidently some freak warm spell unheard of has hit the city this time of year), so my snow boots and gloves are staying packed away for now (and they say there is no such thing as global warming)..what are the chances!
Already exhausted from working all day and taking the midnight 5 hour flight from Moscow to Krasnoyarsk, we immediately had to hit the ground running. Our host was waiting with a sign to pick us up and amidst a parking lot of old dirty Ladas there was a tripped out all black new Land Rover waiting to whisk (and I do mean whisk as it drove crazy fast) us away. To add to the oddness of the moment our driver was listening to uncensored Eminem. Who would have thought?
We dropped our bags off at the hotel and went right away to the school (despite having not have slept or showered in two days). The teachers and students are beyond nice. We were truly treated like celebrities, being shown off from room to room all while cameras flashed around us. My initial thoughts were that students would be shy and straightfaced but I couldn't have been more wrong. The students were so excited to see us, to touch and/ or talk to us. They were eager to show us their English. It was really a touching day (but totally exhausting). I thought I knew what tired felt like but I didn't. This is tiring. To end our grueling first 48 hour long day we took a walking tour of the city which was very interesting but by the time this ended at 8 pm we could barely stand.
Day 2 started off meeting government officials for the city and also the dept of education. They were warm and welcoming and even showed us and let us hold the Olympic torch that was not only built in this city but held the Olympic flame as it traveled to Sochi.
After this we gave our school presentations to the juniors and seniors in the school who really enjoyed them and afterward they were dying to ask us questions. So one by one they asked questions while we were up on stage with microphones answering. Many questions were about if we liked Russia, their school, their food, music, etc.. They also wanted to know about our schools if students wore uniforms, had homework, etc.... They were so excited and happy to talk with us it really made you feel special.
After meeting with students we then had a round table meeting with all the teachers who asked us many questions about what it was like to be a teacher in the US. We realized we had many of the same challenges and joys.
After this a group of students took us on a delightful walking tour of the city where they pointed out all of the historical buildings and statues (Russians really love their statues and have a ton of them!). I was so incredibly impressed not only with their knowledge of the city, but also with their excellent English and enthusiasm. We even visited their Central Park and rode their giant ferris wheel (see pic below from the top)
Below: Carrie, Lisa and I under a famous Lenin statue. President Putin they love, Lenin not so much.
After our walking tour and a quick dinner we then went on a three vehicle car tour of the city visiting all the sites and ending at the top of a mountain overlooking the city (My partner took pics since it was dark and my camera didn't have a decent flash so photos coming soon). It is now after 11pm and we are back in the hotel.
Below is a movie we created to show Russian students what our school/city is like. Thank you to Marisa and Ian for their international directive debut, to yearbook for all the photos and of course to my brave students for asking questions at the end and scarfing down mealworms :)
The past two days we have spent visiting various schools around Moscow. The administrators, teachers and students have been AMAZING! While I have found the school routines quite similar in regard to class exchanges, lunch, 21st century technology, there are also some startling differences. Here is what I noticed today that was different between American and Russian students....
- jump to attention and the class stands every time we entered a room.
- stand up next to their desk when answering questions
- are so eager to learn and truly seem to love being in school (much like how I know all of you (my own students) live and breathe my science classes ;) ok, maybe not but one can dream right?
- from kindergarten to high school seniors, students dress business professional with suits, sweaters even ties
- most if not all spoke English and were eager to say hello to you in the hallway and smile
- were actively engaged in lessons, discussing with the teachers who were leading
- in between classes there are no students in hallways, it seems like an empty building unlike our schools where students are strolling around with hall passes
- are super tall! I'm not used to being that much shorter than my students...usually I'm the tall one.
Like in US schools I noticed the following:
- both American and Russian students wear ear buds stashed up their shirts to trail to one ear (However, only during hall exchanges in Russia NEVER in the classroom)
- the science academy had many boys but not many girls. What is it ladies? Science rocks!
- little kids are freaking adorable :)
- certain students participate more than others with some being very shy and quiet and others very outgoing
So below our some photos from our visits. More to come later as multiple Moscow city photographers were documenting our entire visit.
Looks like it's considerably colder today from my hotel window. Headed out to visit schools this morning. Looking forward to meeting some Russian students.
and it's snowing!
After several long tarmac delays due to "crowded skies and bad weather" in both Orlando and NY, we finally made it to Russia. It is beautiful here (but cold)! The people are warm, the hotel is amazing, my travel colleagues are fantastic....what more could I ask for...okay besides a hat which I neglected to pack and thus paid the price for on our tour of Moscow's Kremlin today with frozen ears and nose.
Today was spent at the US Embassy learning a ton of great information, then on to the Kremlin and Armory Museum. Last night we ate Georgian food (not the US state, the other Georgia :) ) and tonight it was delicious Turkish.
Check out the view from my hotel room! (That's the Kremlin).
St. Basil's Cathedral above on our Red Square walk and changing of the guard educator style :)
Below: Leaving the US Embassy in Moscow