Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Catching up

It's been way too long since I've posted in here. Sorry. Since the last time I've posted there has been quite a bit going on for me. Hopefully I can catch the main points so you can know what has been going on with me and that I am still alive and well.

After my birthday (told you it's been a while), I had my first serious moment of "what the hell am I doing here?". The students were beginning to get on my nerves in terms of behavior (which to me at the time were seeming like open disrespect towards me as a teacher) and the idea that Victoria was going to be my home for the next two years was beginning to seem all too real. For about a week I was always contemplating in my head what would happen if I ended up going home. I was even having dreams about going back to the states. I would have my friends and family happy I was home, but there was guilt on my part as to leaving. It was an odd feeling to have that.

But all of that turned around in the middle of the month. I went to another volunteer's apartment who was having a Halloween party and being around those people who are family to me now, helped me in more ways than I could imagine. Not only were we able to have our venting sessions, I was able to just get away from everything and have some fun. The next dream I remembered having was a natural disaster happening in Romania and me and a few other volunteers refusing to leave. It was a good feeling to have my subconscious back on my side as towards my being here.

Back to life at school. The students had usually been good. I understood there would be a period where they would try and test my limits to see how far they could go to get away with things. I only thought it would have ended sooner. One day sticks out for me as the turning point with one group of students. The teacher I work with in this class was not going to be there so I told her that I would take the whole class and work with them. Normally the classes are split so we have smaller groups (15 or so students), but this time it was the full group of 32. I broke up 3 fights and was constantly being interrupted by student outbursts. I stopped teaching and asked the students," Do you really want me here?" They got the picture right away. They were able to see that I was becoming frustrated to the point of giving up on them. After class I spoke with a couple students who have always been on my good side about the class. We were able to come up with some concrete ways of trying to work with the class so everyone can actually try and learn. And it has worked so far. Students are much better behaved and like Pavlovian Dogs, as soon as I put my hand up they get quiet. Ah, the joys of psychology.

Outside of school there are a couple things which have happened to me in town which have helped me feel more welcome here in town and a much more happy volunteer. Every Monday night, I go to the town's gymnasium and play basketball with a group of adults and high school students. It's great to be able to stay active (especially in the winter) and I have been meeting some great guys in town as well as getting to know some students even better. I'm clearly no LeBron James but luckily I'm starting to get back whatever skills I used to have in playing the game.

The other thing which has helped me in feeling more happy as a volunteer is my guitar. I know most of you know how important music is to me, as it is my release for stress and just a way I express myself. Well here in Victoria there is a guitar class for students at the schools to attend and I was invited to come to one of the classes. I joined in with the playing and learning of songs which was amazing. I was learning Romanian Christmas carols as well as some of the mountain carols which are extremely popular in this region. Gabi, who was also the school's music teacher, was actually leaving the next week for Spain where he was hoping to find more work, a common thing here in Romania. Piti who was the other teacher would be taking over as the main teacher and after the first class, Gabi asked me if I would be interested in helping out with teaching guitar to the students. I jumped at that right away.

While I may not know a lot of the songs, I am helping the students with technique and things like that which definitely helps them regardless of what they play. I've been going to the class every Tuesday and Thursday which has once again opened the door for me with not only the student's club here in town, but also in getting to know the creative side of many students of mine that I did not know existed before.

While all of these things have been going on here in my town, I have had some time to get out and see Romania. In early December, I went with some other volunteers to visit Scott at his site (which is only 23 kms away from me) to see their caroling tradition. We followed along with the group as they did their carols, dances, as well as traditions in choosing the roles of the group for the coming year. Afterwards we had a large meal with plenty of beer, wine, and țuica which always makes for a good time.

With Christmas coming I knew it would be a tough time for me since Christmas was and always will be my favorite holiday. Luckily I was invited with another volunteer to come with her to her host family from the summer to celebrate. I was able to see the traditional killing of the pig, eating all of the traditional foods for Christmas, as well as going to an Orthodox Christmas service (at 5am mind you). If the fact that I went to church doesn't constitute a Christmas miracle, the fact I did it at 5 in the morning surely does.

After Christmas, we went up to Maramureș in the north and we managed to see many of the historical sites in the area. We went to Săpânsă where they have a cemetery called the Merry Cemetery. It is full of grave markers with limericks about the persons life, some involving the guy who loved to drink too much as well as the mother in law that if she didn't die the son in law would have been in the grave himself. It was a very interesting thing to see. The area is known for its wooden churches so we were able to see those as well as touring the monastary in Bârsană. It was built after communism so it's not very old, but still impressive.
Mănăstirea Bârsana

We celebrated New Years in Brașov which was great sicne there were a good amount of volunteers celebrating there as well. After the break, it was back at school for another few weeks until the end of the semester, which leads to a new realm of Romanian schools I would have to get used to, grading. Grading here is a stressful thing, not only for students but also teachers. Grades are written down in the catalog which is a massive gradebook that is THE official be all end all of grading. It's a dated system in my opinion, but it works for them. It is a grading system of 1-10 (really 4-10 since a 4 and anything else lower is not passing, so giving a 3 or less is really making a statement to the student about something).

So when it came to telling the students about their grades, I think they finally got the point that I am a real teacher, who is really grading them. The shocked look on so many faces led the students to shaping up right away in terms of behavior. With the students they learned that I don't "give" grades but that they actually earn them throughout the semester. When I had a student today as me "Can I get a 10 this semester?" I told him it was only up to him in order to get that as their grade. I had nothing to do with it other than writing down their grade which they got themselves. Hopefully as the next semester comes, students will continue this shaped up behavior as they want their grades to be higher.

Now I'm caught up with everything in terms of what has happened over the past few months. Now it will be easier to keep up since I finally have a schedule that I know. More to come soon since we will be going to Belgrade and Sarajevo for our semester break. It will be good to finally get out of the country and have a good time elsewhere.