Monday, June 28, 2010

Back to routines but also back to teaching (June 16-25)

So we returned from our trip exhausted from all of the travelling and eating ridiculous amounts of food. The routine began again of going to language class, followed by more and more sessions in the afternoon after they have already managed to systematically destroy our brain abilities through teaching us Romanian. However, next week begins our practicum where we will test out our abilities to teach English to students.

We have picked our groups for teaching and begun planning, now comes the real deal where we actually try to teach English. Day 1 was obviously our first day of experimenting, not only with our level of teaching, but with where the students are in terms of English. We are teaching 7th grade which should be fun because the students have begun to have a speaking proficiency yet they can use some fine tuning as we educate them through English.

Day 2 was a lesson completely on music. We were using K'naan's "Waving Flag" as the central piece to teach around. Begin the World Cup's them song this year, we felt it would be accessible to the students since you hear it so much on TV. First Chelsea taught them the song by using different games which required listening and comprehension of the song. I went second and we had a discussion about what the song was about. It went amazingly well as the students were latching onto the ideas of peace and poverty which as extremely prevalent in the song. Kyle finished it up by having the students read an article about another famous musician, Elvis Presley, who also grew up in a tough childhood to have an impact on the musical world, which is obvious.

Day 3 we did a movie themed lesson. Students learned vocabulary about going to a movie theater, they practiced dialogues of buying tickets and snacks, including the wonderful world of upsizing where we then asked them to buy larger because of free refills, etc. Kyle had the students brainstorm different words to describe different types of movies and then had them make movie posters using those words. I was going to close it up by showing movie clips of different movies and seeing if they could describe the dialogue that was taking place as well as describing the scene. It failed miserably at first because they couldn't hear the clips because they were playing on laptops in different stations. So I scrapped it and we decided to make our own scenes. Students volunteered to be our actors while the rest of the class came up with the ideas for the different scenes. It was great because not only were they hilarious, the students had to improvise using a foreign language which is not an easy thing to do, but they handled it quite well.

Day 4 we talked about America. I did a quick history of the founding of America as well as how the government is set up and compared it to Romania. Kyle did a geography lesson about the different regions and cities and how they are different from each other. Chelsea talked about schools in America and how they are organized and the students had to compare them to schools in Romania.

Day 5 was a fun day for the kids. Kyle opened up talking about music again but more on the genres of music. He played different songs and asked the students what genre they thought each song was. They had a blast with it, as well as seeing Kyle dance like Michael Jackson as well as dancing to "I Feel Good". Chelsea talked about Martin Luther King and had a discussion about discrimination and brought it back to Romania and the students even talked about how the Rroma people are discriminated against in Romania. I did team building exercises where the students were not allowed to talk and when we were done we discussed why communication is important. It went nearly as planned, except for the kids who tried to talk, which only made them have to start over.

The whole experience was very reassuring in terms of why I came to Romania in the first place. So far it has basically been us learning and doing very little until now and I cannot wait to get to it at site.

"There is nothing better than having students coming up to you and thanking you for what you have done for them. Any teacher will tell you that most of the time you have to find your own satisfaction in your work, but when students share that with you, it makes everything you have done worthwhile. "

A Relaxing Weekend (June 26-27)

This was one of those much needed weekends of being lazy. Saturday I spent the day watching movies, reviewing Romanian and doing laundry. It felt good to spend some time just sitting back and having some "me time". I also began to plan what I would be doing the next week for classes and I have a pretty good sense of what I hope to teach.

Sunday was more of the same. Watched a few episodes of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and worked on my self-evaluation portfolio for training. After reviewing a little more Romanian, I decided to watch the England/Germany game only to become enraged at now I have absolutely no team I really want to win in the World Cup. It should still be fun either way, but seriously.

After that I decided to watch National Geographic since they had a program on the Holocaust and the Einsatzsgruppen killings before the creation of death camps. Having studied the Holocaust for so long, this was one of the few things which really affected me in terms of what happened. It was more shocking being in a country so close to where these massacres took place just over the border in Ukraine. I know now that I will definitely be using some of my personal leave time to not only visit major sites, but also some of these smaller places which have gone unnoticed for so long.

It also re-affirmed my desire to teach the Holocaust while I am here. In 2003, Romania admitted to having a role in the Holocaust and stated that they needed to make progress in terms of teaching it in history classes. While I was optimistic to those ends, this last week when teaching, when I brought up the word ghetto to my students I asked them if they had ever heard this word when talking about World War II and specifically the Holocaust. They knew what I meant when I said World War II, but the word Holocaust was completely foreign to them. And it wasn't something that was lost in translation, since their word for holocaust IS holocaust, and for the specific event it is holocaustul which literally translates to "the" Holocaust. I'm worried it may only be a very quick skim in terms of what the students are taught when it comes to this. I'm going to teach a lesson this week on the Holocaust to my 11th graders so hopefully they know what the heck I'm talking about. If not, that's why I teach.

This is what I was hoping for (June 12-14)

So this past weekend we went on what the PC calls an integrated field visit, aka IFV (they love their acronyms here in the Peace Corps). My group travelled to Petrila in the south of Transylvania and in the Jiu Valley right in the Carpathian Mountains. While there we met with Joel who is a 2nd year volunteer who is completing his service in August. Another group was visiting Petrosani which is where we were staying in a hotel and they were meeting up with their volunteer Andrew, who actually stayed with my host family last year during his training. Here's the recap...

Saturday: Today was our day of travelling. We left for Bucharest by train around 9:00 and arrived there just before 11. We planned it this way so we could see some of Bucharest. First we went to the university where there are some of the last remnants of the "revolution" of 1989. There was a plaque which read (in Romanian) "Here they died for liberty 21-22 December". The more interesting part though was someone had vandalized it into a pretty cool political statement about the current state of the world. Right between "for" and "liberty" someone had written capitalism. After going past there and seeing the few remaining bullet holes, we went and grabbed a shaorma and headed to one of Bucharest's parks. There we ate our lunch and walked around for a little while. Truly beautiful and very relaxing, regardless of the heat. From there we walked to the People Palace which was built by Caucesceu and now is the Parliament building of Romania. It is the second largest political administrative building in the world next to the Pentagon, and Kyle and I decided to play frisbee on the lawn in front of it. Now to do that in front of the Pentagon.

We met up with the other group and rushed to catch the maxi-taxi (multi-seat van or mini-bus) to Petrosani. We loaded up and went on our way, for about a half hour, until the maxitaxi overheated and we had to wait for a bus to come pick us all up on the side of the road. We took that for most of the trip but then for the last 2 hours we grabbed another maxitaxi to take us the rest of the way to Petrosani. I've never really been carsick, but I was damn close to it this time since we were winding through the Jiu Valley in the night so we couldn't really see much of where we were going other than we were turning like crazy all the time. We got to Petrosani and walked to the hotel and then went out to watch the US play England. After that most of us went back to the hotel and crashed thanks to the long day of travelling.

Sunday: BEST DAY EVER! Today we went on a "hike", or in this case a long walk along a road which took us to where we were going. We arrived at a lodge where we were greeted by Joel and Andrew's friends where we had quite the spread. We sat down, grabbed a glass of beer, maybe a bit of tuica, and then they brought out an amazing vegetable salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onion (I couldn't remember for a second when writing this what the English for those were, I could only think of the Romanian). Next came out huge platters of grilled chicken and grilled sausages. Then they brought out the home made wine, which was amazing. Next came out the most interesting part of the meal, smoked and grilled pork back fat served open face on a slice of bread with red onions. While one of the oddest things I've eaten, it was quite amazing.

We decided we needed a little break so we went and threw around the football, the frisbee, and kicked around the soccer ball for a little while. Next we went and talked with some of their friends to get their takes on Peace Corps volunteers and how to integrate into the community. I had a tutoring session with Simona (since we went with our classes on the trip and our teachers were our guides). We were hanging out for a while and they said it was time for mici. Mici (meech) is a casingless sausage that is grilled and is five shades of awesome. Just once you think your done eating in Romania, it's time to eat more. Once that was done it looked like it was about to rain so we made our way back. It's safe to say that most people fell into food comas once we got back.

Monday: Today was one of those days you'll just remember. We went and visited Joel's school and talked with his counterpart and other people who work at the school (most of which we had met yesterday at the cookout from hell). We also met some of his students and played a language game with his students. Once that was done we went on a walk though Petrila to see where he lived. He took us to the Petrila mine where most of the community works. The Jiu Valley is known as a major coal mining area and Petrila was one of the powerhouses during communism. But during the times directly after communism, many were sold and privatized, only for those companies to sell them off for a quick buck. Talking to the students, who's fathers all worked in the mines, and hearing about the working conditions made me think of industrial revolution era tales of mine workers.

2 years ago there was a group of miners in the Petrila mine who were told to go down into a section of the mine which was known to be extremely hazardous. They were told to go, or lose their jobs if they refused. And of course, there was an explosion killing 4 workers. They sent in a rescue crew to recover those who died, only for there to be a second explosion, killing another 13 people. It was a national incident and the press flooded the area. And what do you think happened when the press arrived, the mine management told the workers that if they talked to the press, they would be fired. This was caught on camera by the news companies who were there.

We went back to Joel's apartment and talked with him about the Peace Corps in general and he also opened up his library of books to us for the taking. I totally took to that opportunity as there was a book about workers in post-socialist Romania and what their lives have become since the fall of communism. We then went out to lunch with Joel. We went back to the hotel after that and Kyle and I went down to the bar attached to the hotel to watch the WC and have a beer or two. We also just had a really good conversation about the weekend and what it had been for us.

The next day we travelled back to Bucharest and back to our training site. This trip really reminded me that our training time is only temporary and soon enough we will be in the field and getting to work. It made me forget of the small stupid things which may make me annoyed but in the big picture of things there is so much more to being in the Peace Corps than what I had seen up to this point. Seeing what site is like has given me something to look forward to, past the world that is PST.
The group in Petrila

"Sometimes we meet people in our lives where we may have only known them for minutes, and then never see them again. These people can sometimes have a more powerful impact on your life than those you may have known for your whole life."

Routines and a few important soccer matches (June 7-11)

Classes have become extremely routine lately. My language teacher, Simona, is amazing though and I know I will be able to learn quite a bit from her. I wish there was a little but more excitement to my daily routine, but there really isn't. Luckily the World Cup has started up so we have something to go do right after school and it's been a blast so far. My next post should actually have a little bit more interesting things to it since we are going on a visit to a volunteer in the field so we're finally leaving the training site and seeing the country. I cannot wait.

Simona, figuratively directing us bunch of American clowns to speak Romanian

"There's something great about soccer. You can throw a ball into a crowd of kids anywhere in the world and you can start up a game, regardless of what you speak" -Scott Redpath (fellow volunteer)

Monday, June 7, 2010

It's been a while...(May 26-June 6)

This past week and half or so since I last wrote about what has been going on has been one of highs and lows. Language classes have continued and begun to move faster as we learn more and more every day. My fellow trainees have truly become my support system these weeks and I know I will be relying on them as I move forward in the Peace Corps. Every day after class we go to what we have dubbed "The Old Man Bar" for a beer or two after class as a way to unwind and just enjoy each other's company. For me this is really important since I live so much further away from all of them. Besides, when a half liter beer costs you 2 lei, which is only about 67 cents in America, it's an extremely inexpensive way to unwind.

Last weekend we spent it in the park just hanging out. Some played ultimate frisbee while others, such as myself, just relaxed in the shade. Oh yeah, did I mention it was also in the shade of 15th century ruins? That night, Brad, Juli, and myself went to a pizza place called "Pizza Mexican Hot". Yes there was pizza, no there was nothing Mexican about it, and it was luke-warm pizza, but it had to be some of the best pizza I've ever had. It started to cloud up and look pretty ominous so we decided to leave. Luckily I brought my rain jacket, because it rained like crazy. I was stuck under an awning for about 30 minutes waiting for the hail to stop and I eventually made my way to the bus stop soaking wet. Needless to say the rest of the night was a night of relaxing and drying off. The next day I went out to eat with some friends and had a much more low key day.

The next week was another one of language classes loaded with vocabulary and verb conjugation. It's becoming easier to pick up on things as I gain much more comfort in the language. Overall the week was great until Friday night. A good chunk of the group was going out to celebrate Kyle's birthday at the restaurant which we had gone out to a couple weekends ago where we partied it up with the owner and police chief.

Me on the other hand I felt trapped where I was since I am pretty much restricted to the bus schedule since I live so much further away that everyone else. It's not really the going into the city part that is difficult, it's the getting back part. I don't really know my gazda's address all the way yet so taking a taxi would be next to impossible and there's no way I would be able to take the hour and half walk at 1 a.m. back home.

For the first time in my Peace Corps experience I was wondering what the hell I was doing here. I felt isolated in a country I have only really known for about 2 weeks and being away from my support system made that night fairly hard. So I did what seemed like the best idea to deal with the stress, I went to sleep. It was good choice since I woke up the next morning ready to head into the city (thanks to actually being able to work with the bus schedule) since we were going to be having a picnic in the park for Kyle and Martha who's birthdays were Saturday and Friday respectively.

I got there about an hour early so I sat on the foundation of some ruins that date back to who knows when and looked back through my journal at things which I had written in the past. It was exactly what I had needed to hear at that point in time so sitting on the mortared stones I began to reflect again on how I had to gotten to this point in my life and I had one of those "ah-ha!" moments when you realize you are right where you were supposed to be at a given moment. The night before completely washed away from my mind and i felt renewed. It was pretty much right at that time that people started to show up and I had one of the most fun days in recent memory. Everyone had brought food so there was quite the smorgasbord of whatever you could have wanted. We even had a ceremonious drink of Č›wika and needless to say, I’m sticking with the palinka from this point on.

So after a good few hours of hanging out, playing ultimate frisbee, playing the guitar (which I still need to find one to buy), and getting sunburnt, I came back home and did some much needed laundry. I had a great dinner of mici and mashed potatoes and passed out because I was exhausted from that day. I woke up, finished up my laundry after breakfast. Watched a movie, did some homework, and then remembered I had forgotten to write in my blog for some time. So here you go, my life in a nutshell this past week or so. I’ll try and keep them coming a little more frequently as time goes on.

"Only when we are at our lowest points can we truly build ourselves up. Reflection in times of pain gives us the chance to re-evaluate our lives and improve them into our most pure forms."