My work

I realized that my old blog post only speaks about Russian traditions but does not give any information about why on earth I am in this region of the world. So this post will be about exactly what I am doing here any why.

So I came here on September 5th, 2012 with only about 10 days preparation. I had been planning to move to another part of the world and teach English since maybe March of 2012. However, after numerous hours spent researching and searching for job options, I found that without a TEFL certificate I would be confined to Asia or volunteer style work in the Soviet Union.  I noticed that there was a program called Teach and Learn Georgia where you “volunteer” teach English in schools for the local Georgian government. They pay a small monthly stipend and you live with a host family. I was originally very attracted to the idea because I saw pictures of the country that looked like this:

Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains

However, this did not work out and I decided to come to the next closest country: Ukraine. The job here is much different. In Ukraine, I work for a private English school teaching mostly adults at night. The company has many branches all over Ukraine and several of them in Kiev. I so happen to work at the one that is close to where my apartment is. The school also offers American teachers Russian classes of different levels which are taught by one of my really nice Ukrainian co-workers. I attend the beginner’s class (of course) twice a week.

This is how it works:
At my school there are about 13/14 teachers and tutors. About 5 of us are American and the rest are Ukrainians. The Ukrainian teachers and the American teachers work the same hours with the exact same students. On Sundays Ukrainian teachers teach a groups of students, (level 3 and higher) for 2 hours each class, various grammar concepts. During the week these same groups of students come to my class twice a week for 2 hours where they practice speaking the grammar concepts that they have already learned from Ukrainian teachers on Sunday. This is great because I cannot imagine having to explain difficult grammar. My students already know everything they need by the time they see me. I only need to do what I do best and get them talking using the target language (grammar they learned).

On Sundays, I teach lower level students (levels 1 and 2). They only see me once a week (Sunday) and their Ukrainian teachers twice a week during the week. These students have lower levels of English, so we mostly play games. Some Ukrainian teachers also teach students that are beginners. There are two classes that are below level 1 and I do not deal with these students at all. Students have at least a basic knowledge of English before they begin my classes — thus, it is not necessary that I know any Russian. All their grammar classes with Ukrainian teachers (levels 1-6 & pre level 1) are conducted in Russian while my classes are all in English. Each semester last 2 months and students and teachers get 1 week off at the end of every semester. We are paid in a bonus system to make up for the time away from work.

My schedule for this semester is like this
6-8 Monday – level 3, 8-10 level 4
5-6 Tuesday conversation club, 6-8 Level 3, 8-10 level 4
6-10 Wednesday (same classes as Monday, different lesson)
5-10 Thursday (same classes as Tuesday, different lesson)
11-1 Sunday – level 2, 1:15-3:15 level 2, 3:45-5:45 level 2, 6-8 level 2 (hell day)

I think this method of learning English is highly effective because of this. Americans with random degrees shouldn’t teach grammar to students whose native language they don’t speak. I just know how to use it the English language, not explain it. The Ukrainian teachers, on the other hand, all have university degrees in Linguistics.

Further Details & Explanations

Now with this in mind, I do enjoy my job (minus the 8 hours I work on Sundays). Its paid very well compared to what most Ukrainians make. Also my work is interesting for the most part — the working with students and with my fellow teachers. Here are some examples why:

Art Therapy
A couple of days ago there was a mandatory training at my school for all teachers & tutors dedicated to how to create a friendly environment. The session was conducted by an Art therapist who did not speak any English. It was quite interesting since everything she said was translated by different coworkers that sat near me. I wonder how much of my interpretations was influenced by the difference in translations.  I also got the opportunity to tell her in my broken Russian that I was a teacher and that I have a couple shy students that are quiet and do not speak. Either way I thought it was useful and interesting.

One of the activities we did was mimicking each others moods to try to build understanding of each others feelings. Other activities included choosing artistic cards to give to our neighbors (which interestingly so happen to be from story named Morena) and to represent the good and bad of our classes. She then helped us to interpret our choices. We also got in groups and had to paint a picture of dinner without speaking, which we also later interpreted the greater meaning.

In my classroom
I generally plan various activities for my students to practice target language. I have a lot of fun with my more advanced students because I try to think of more intricate ways for them to express themselves in English. I find that they are very funny, intelligent, and creative most of the time. An example of an activity that I have done is when they needed to practice replacing gerunds with the word it. First, I told them that I would never try drinking an entire bottle of vodka by myself because it would probably put me in a hospital. Then they then had to interview their neighbor about activities they like/never tried/want to try and why then tell me what he/she said using reported speech of course to make it more difficult. It looked something like this.
1. Something you would like to try and why
Oksana said that she wanted to try jumping out of an airplane because it looks scary but exciting.
2. Something you have never tried and why
Natasha said that she had never tried flying a kite because itis for children.

For levels 1&2 its much more simple, an example of an activity I did is a buzzer style game asking “Who is” questions. The target language was “the one who”. First I told them to imagine I lived in a small village in Asia and I never saw the real world so when I came out I asked them about who famous people were like “Who is Britney Spears?” They then answered “She’s the one who sings opps I did it again” So it looked something this:
1. Who is Benjamin Franklin?
“He’s the one who made electricity”

Now you get the idea of my work. Not necessarily the most interesting part about my life in Ukraine but a big part nonetheless.

The Banya

So let me tell you about this tradition they have that I have been doing called Russian Banya. Ukraine has several interesting Russian traditions because for the longest time it WAS Russia. Well it kinda still is (but don’t tell that to them, they actually feel like they are Western). I have done this tradition twice. Once I did it in a Ukrainian village, complete with an outhouse and everything, and then again in a more modern place here in Kiev, the capital.

Ideally said tradition is supposed to look like this.

After banya

You sit in an extremely hot sauna and sweat it out with friends in the buff while hitting each other with birch leaves. However, if in mixed company you can wear a bathing suit, which is what I did (more like my underwear) during my Banya experience in Kiev. However, in the countryside we wore various sheets and towels which inevitably causes the occasional nip slips etc. After being in the extremely hot sauna, you then run outside (in the buff ideally) in the snow to cool down like in picture two. However, the first time I went to banya in a village it wasn’t that cold outside so a cold water rinse was the other option. In my banya in Kiev, a cold indoor pool was provided as we rented out the entire banya area. We rented out a village cottage before.

theodora and her Ukrainian friend (whose name I forgot) hanging out in front of the homemade liquor and sour cream (сметана or smetana). Very interesting experience.

Some of the claimed health benefits of Russian banya include improved blood circulation (whatever that is supposed to do), detoxing — part of the benefits of heavy sweating, relaxation, improve the immunity system by inducing a slight fever, getting rid of dead skin, muscle soreness relief, and many more.

So what are my opinions of this tradition? Well its amazing (and cheap)! I felt great afterwards and got a good nights sleep. About two dollars to rent out an entire room in Kiev equip with an indoor pool, couches, fridge, and hot sauna. My skin has never felt softer.

P.s Alcohol consumption is not recommended for sauna use, however, this is Ukraine so of course my experiences have consisted of this and it has not been a problem (but a solution as a matter of fact)