The first three weeks of September have been quite quiet. Yes, I got a new room-mate, Tim from Australia, who then left again, and a couple of nights ago another new teacher arrived to take over Wesley’s old room. Wesley has gone to live and work in Volzhskiy – Peter’s old job. My new flatmate’s name is Albert, he is from Mexico, he is 27 and has never been outside North America before. The school didn’t give me much notice – I got a message at 12pm saying Eduard would come to clean the flat for the new teacher, but having had a little clean-up for Tim’s arrival at the start of September it didn’t take me long to make the place presentable.
He arrived in the evening with Eduard and Kate (who had been sent at late notice to collect him when someone remembered Eduard doesn’t speak either Spanish nor English) and I felt like I was transported back to my arrival that rainy night in 2016, I knew just how Albert was feeling, that mix of excitement, apprehension and fatigue. Of course he had done a little research but I was able to fill in the gaps for him of the things that were probably not what he was expecting. Later on I did the supermarket run with him, just as Svetlana had done with me when Perekrestok was still Okei. He wanted to buy everything and try every Russian food but we managed to mostly bring it down to absolute essentials.
He had a free day on Thursday but on Friday he was supposed to come with me to Gymnasium no. 14 to make a presentation about his country to the school for the International Day of Peace (September 21st). This was the third time I would do this – see my previous blogs from 2017 and 2016 – and rather than think up new material I just took along my old presentation from 2016 that had gone down rather well!
For the last few weeks I have been working at Traktorniy office on Tuesdays and Fridays – Sovetskiy is no longer on my schedule, and I have to do Spartanovka on Mondays too. Traktorniy has a shortage of Russian teachers so I am teaching my groups twice a week – some of my students from last year have come back, others are new. All the groups in Spartanovka are new for me, I am sharing duties with Wesley there who has other obligations on Mondays, but they need a foreign teacher specifically on that day for one student in particular whose mother is most insistent.
So I was already at Traktorniy in the morning, teaching, and went with Katya on the bus to Gymnasium No. 14, which is actually in the Red October district of the city (between the Centre and Traktorniy). It is named after the big Red October chemical factory that was shut down over the summer to reduce pollution during the World Cup! Of course the factory itself is named after the October Revolution in 2017 which I have previously blogged about.
I had warned Albert about the presentation the evening he arrived (I knew it was intended he would go) but he had not received any official notification from the school even on Thursday! He must have had instructions at some point because Katya called him when he was already on a number 95 bus and gave him directions. I was concerned he might not understand (she told him to get off at Gymnasium No. 14 bus stop but that would have been difficult for him to listen out for) so I took the phone and gave him simpler directions. Look for the stop Monolit. It has a McDonalds. Get off at the next stop after that.
It seemed to work, when Katya and I arrived from the opposite direction he was waiting at the right place. Together we went to the school – I actually knew the route better than Katya having been twice before, and waited for the teacher organising it to come and collect us.
It was a smaller event than the previous two years – Katya later told me that the teacher who used to organise it had left, so it was another teacher doing it now. There were no children with presentations this year. I could have given my presentation without the visual aids but it was a good Powerpoint display and most of the kids didn’t understand enough English to know what I was talking about, so I was happy that the computer and projector were working.
Unfortunately for Albert it was not compatible with his phone and did not have an internet connection, so his original plans went up in smoke. While the hall was filling with children he was frantically sketching down ideas and drawings to help illuminate his descriptions of Mexico. He had brought some visual aids though – a Mexican flag, a piñada and a miniature sombrero – so he wasn’t completely unprepared.
I don’t know if I’m getting cocky but I’m pretty good at this kind of thing now, I was quite happy to go first, I was comfortable at the podium, I spoke with confidence and authority, I paused appropriately to let the host teacher translate, I worked the audience to make it interactive (Who has a t-shirt with a British flag? Who has read Harry Potter?), and I knew my material was good.
I then sat back to watch Albert’s presentation – there was a bit of a delay while he tried to get his phone to connect to the projector, but in the end he resorted to showing pictures from his phone at the podium, and holding up his sketched pieces of paper. But his rapport with the children was good, his speech was informative, he covered all the main aspects of Mexico’s culture and I learned a few new things, particularly about Mexican holidays! At the end he said he had really enjoyed it!
Just like previous years, we rang the Bell of Peace at the end of our presentations, though the ceremony was a little less ostentatious this time. At the end of the event they played the “May there always be sunshine” – but only in Russian, not in four languages as in previous years. It still got stuck in my head though.
And then just like last year, we went outside to release white balloons into the sky! I failed, I was standing under a tree, so my set of three balloons just hit the first branch, two got stuck and the third one burst. Never mind. A few of the kids posed for photographs and then we were finished.
It’s not typical of what we do as foreign teachers, but it was a nice first experience for Albert, it was nice for me too going back for the third time and being able to round it off, close the circle perhaps, and hand the baton on to the next generation of teachers!