Margaret Williams’s Letters From Russia
Margaret Williams wrote on September 25th, 2011:
So I’ve now been in Khabarovsk for just over two weeks and am
really enjoying myself thus far. After an awkward first class
things have gotten much smoother. I feel comfortable leading my
various groups in daily discussions and I enjoy listening to
what they have to share. In the past two weeks my area studies
classes have covered diversity in America (the melting pot
concept) and U.S. geography. Next week I plan on discussing
clothing and the role fashion plays in society. On Friday I
picked up two more classes; until mid-October I will substitute
two cross-cultural communication classes for third year students
studying international business and commerce. Both groups were
very active which made for fun first day.
My primary goal with all my classes is simply to get the
students talking so that they can practice their English, as
soon as I find a tangent that engages them I run with it. For
example, on Friday while reviewing the various ways in which
people from different cultures greet each other we digressed on
the topic of how parents name their children. Everyone in class
was excited to share their own story behind their names.
I have also become increasingly involved in the Academy’s debate
/ model UN club. This group of students meets twice a week to
work on their English and learn how to debate in the MUN format.
I must say that I am very impressed not only with their English
proficiency, but also their motivation to become a more
competitive team. Later this fall we will be setting up a
“skype-debate” with the MUN team from Stanford and in the spring
we will travel to Moscow for the national competition.
When I’m not teaching at the Academy, I find myself wandering my
new on foot. Two things I have learned so far; first, the buses
here do not operate on a schedule…they just come whenever.
Second, pedestrians NEVER have the right of way… even when the
light is green. The topography of the city is such that there
are three steep hills and at the top of each hill there is a
street with lots of department stores and at the base of the
hills are long boulevards ideal for walking up and down. To the
east these streets and boulevards end at the river where there
is a large embankment that is perfect for running. I have a
great loop right from my apartment down to the river, along the
embankment which overlooks the Amur River and China and then
Last Sunday I went with the debate club to a park outside of the
city for a picnic. About eight of us headed out for a day of
grilling hot dogs and enjoying the warm weather (while it still
lasts). I also had an opportunity to connect with the local
American Corner here in Khabarovsk. American Corners are
resource centers for American expats, and I am hoping that they
will be able to help me find other activities and opportunities
to take advantage through out the year.
This Saturday we were yet again blessed with amazing weather, it
felt like mid August not the end of September. I ended up
wandering down to the embankment where I saw a local acrobatic
group performing on the beach. It was really impressive to watch
– about 30 boys ages 8 – 16 doing all kinds of flips, breaking
dancing and swinging around on pull-up bars. The show attracted
a large crowd, there were about 50 on lookers cheering and
filming the event. While walking home I ran into one of the
debate club member and we ended up discussing various activities
that kids do here. It seems the most popular activities are
biking, skiing / snowboarding, and dancing. I also learned that
there is a rock climbing gym in the city, which I think I’ll
need to explore.
That’s all the news I have for right now. I am taking pleasure
in the small victories and trying not to get frustrated by
setbacks. For example, we had no hot water this past week and
our Internet at the apartment no longer works. Please let me
know what you have been up to, I love getting emails back! Also,
as I mentioned before please feel free to pass this along to
anyone who was not on the list-serve.
Margaret Williams wrote on October 17th, 2011:
Wow I cannot believe how quickly time is flying by! This weekend I have been in Moscow for the Fulbright in-country orientation. My traveling karma (or lack there of) continued as I tried to arrive – during our flight we had to make an emergency landing in the middle of nowhere Siberia to get very sick passenger immediate medical attention. We were then stranded on our runway for about four hours before continuing to Moscow.
After finally making it to the capital and finding the hotel, I was relieved to see some familiar faces and have a beer (or two). Overall I found he orientation very productive. On Friday we went to the U.S. Embassy and then to the Carnegie Center for a lecture on the current Russian political scene. The presenter at the Carnegie Center was honest and engaging, and he helped us to understand why the Kremlin pursues seemingly inane policies. Saturday and Sunday we had special teaching workshops for the ETAs. Reconnecting with everyone and sharing adventures has been refreshing. Last night a group of us wandered the streets of Moscow, first visiting the Red Square and then searching out the Starlight Diner. The Starlight is a real American style diner. We all indulged in cheeseburgers and ordered a bucket of Coors Light for the table (photos to come).
Back in Khabarovsk, I have become increasingly more involved with the American Corner. I am helping them develop several community service initiatives as well as giving guest lectures on a variety of topics. The director of the center is also hoping to establish a bimonthly movie night and “ask an American” discussion group. I told her I would be willing to participate in both, but only if we created a new name for the discussion group.
Also, I am finally going to get started on my research projects once I return from Moscow. I will be working with another teacher at the Academy on two or three projects, which focus on cross-cultural communication. In today’s interconnected world, our daily activities are less and less constricted by national boundaries. Whether you’re outsourcing labor to China, flying to Europe for a professional development seminar or simply talking to friends around the globe, there is an increasing need to communicate with those form different cultures.
Other news to report…
I adventured with some friends to the local bowling lanes in Khabarovsk. Since bowling is considered to be an American activity my friends expected me to be an expert…I am not sure my skills matched their standards. I have also realized that a good way to connect with my students is to let them know just how much I struggle with Russian. For example, I may for the Russian translation of our vocabulary words and then misspell it on the board. This causes them all to laugh, but they are also excited to teach me something.
All in all, things are well. Sorry this email was so long winded, but there was a lot to report. I fly back to Khabarovsk tonight and hope my travel karma turns for the better. As always please pass this email on to others and let me know what you have been up to!