Last week, as Commander in Chief of my own Kingdom of Classrooms, I had the opportunity to share with my students the wonders of internet slang and memes—including, of course, Socially Awkward Penguin. As a naturally shy and introverted person, and as a foreigner in a strange land, I’m bound to have a few “awkward” moments of my own every now and then. So I thought I’d share with you some of the awkward moments I’ve encountered here in Ulan-Ude—for a good laugh.
- Groceryception: Near the Academy, there is a grocery store that is actually a grocery store within a grocery store. One room, two stores, completely separate. Mortal enemies, even, I imagine. There’s no barrier or anything, but one side of the room has food products, while the other has daily necessities such as soap and toothpaste. On Tuesday, I learned what happens if you try to by eggs and shampoo at the same time—and I call it “groceryception.” I was minding my own business. I had finished gathering my food products to restock my empty refrigerator when I remembered that I needed shampoo. Not thinking, forgetting that food and daily necessities are mortal enemies, I crossed into no-man’s-land and made a break for it. Suddenly—“Devushka!” a man called out in a warning tone. I also detected a hint of mocking (as in: giiiirl, quit your craziness right now—or else!). Busted! I froze in my tracks and retreated in shame back to the food side to pay for my purchases. All the employees were laughing at me. The man who had yelled at me commented, “Kakaya zabavnaya reaktsia!” (What a funny reaction!). Darima explained that “she’s a foreigner, and there they do everything differently.” So in an instant, I went from a Russian devushka to an awkward foreigner who doesn’t understand a word of Russian. Only after I had purchased my food and left it with Darima on the food side could I cross over to buy my shampoo.
- Armageddon: On Thursday, the director of the Institute of Linguistics and Intercultural Communication randomly decided to observe my class with the school children. When she walked in, we were in the middle of discussing our plans for the zombie apocalypse (I swear I had a point).
- Bueller…?: I don’t want to you think my classes are all going poorly. I’ve definitely learned a lot about teaching, and I’m growing in confidence. I now have no trouble filling 90 minutes with interesting material and activities. However, there are still occasionally those moments… Like when, out of a class of 17, only one student shows up for class. To be fair, seven of them had a real excuse and had warned me ahead of time—but the others still should have come. There I was, sitting absolutely alone in my classroom for 15 minutes feeling stupid discouraged. Finally, just as I was about to call it quits, one girl showed up. One. We sat around and had English conversation for a half hour and then went home early. I was pretty angry, actually—I had spent a great deal of time and effort preparing for the class, and yet no one was there to learn.
Of course, there are also many times when I feel downright cool and awesome. So here are some success stories.
- PUPPY!: I got to pet a dog. After weeks of restraining myself from kidnapping the puppies outside my dorm (I’ve been so good!), you can imagine my excitement. It was a big boxer. First I started walking around it, but then its owner asked if I was afraid. I assured him I wasn’t afraid. He said, “Don’t be afraid, you can pet him.” So I did. Life is great.
- It’s my party…: One of my students invited me to her birthday party on Wednesday. It was an evening full of food and games and music and good company and merriment.
- Twister and Telepictionary: At English Club on Thursday, we discussed Russian-American stereotypes and played twister and telepictionary. For those of you who don’t know, telepictionary is the greatest game ever. Each person writes down a sentence on a piece of paper—for example, “This Thanksgiving, there will be a turkey revolution, and humans will become slaves.” You pass your paper to your neighbor, who must draw a picture to illustrate your sentence—a turkey revolution, for example. Then, you pass the papers to the next neighbors, folding them to hide the original sentence. The next person, seeing only the picture, must write a sentence to describe the picture. And so on, and so on until it comes back around to you… The result is inevitably convoluted, and hilarity ensues. My turkey revolution became, “Boys wash floors.”
- Spicy, Smooth Salsa: Dance class is going well. This week, I stayed after the lesson, and one of my new friends taught me (or tried to teach me) how to salsa for real (as opposed to Ruedra).
- I FOUND PEANUT BUTTER!!!!! Or, rather, peanut butter found me. I was looking for baking spices (alas, those I did not find), when—lo and behold!—peanut butter. It cost an arm and a leg for a small jar, but it was totally worth it.
- Babushkas: This weekend, I went to the Museum of Buryat History. Here I was, trying to be a tourist, yet I felt eerily like the crown jewel of the museum. Apparently, only tourists visit the museum (which means it’s pretty empty this time of year—there were two families and me). So they all ask you where you’re from (so they can record you in all their records and guest-books. They expected me to answer with some other Russian city. Imagine their surprise to learn that an AMERICAN had come to visit. I got the star treatment. The museum was interesting—lots of historical information and artifacts from the Huns and Mongols and Soviet era and a lot of Buddhist art. But the best part of my visit was befriending the Babushkas. They led me from room to room, unlocking the exhibit halls, explaining some of the exhibits, asking me questions. In the final hall, they invited me to sit down with them and chat. They said the museum gets lots of foreign tourists in the summer, but I was the first foreign guest they’d really spoken to (usually, language barriers prevent communication). We talked for nearly two hours. I tell you, it’s nice having a couple Babushkas on your side—if only to have a couple more people out there to hunt down a Buryat/Russian husband for me.
- Thanksgiving is ON: After shooting the breeze with the museum Babushkas, I went to the Central Market, where rumor had it I could find a turkey. All I had to do was locate the poultry section, say, “Индейка есть?” (and fork over a small fortune), and suddenly I had a beautiful Thanksgiving turkey. I couldn’t be happier!
I’m preparing for a week of Thanksgiving festivities and whatever headaches that come with it. Thanksgiving lesson plans, lots of cooking, and of course an English Club Turkey Day Extravaganza.