The last month has been one of the fullest and most fun of my life. The two groups of fourth year students I taught last semester came back from student teaching at the end of March, and since then, I’ve been teaching 11 classes a week, which is the heaviest load I’ve had yet. Instead of feeling burdened though by the number of classes though, I’ve felt energized. I’m inspired daily by interactions with my (wonderful! bright! замечательные!) students, I’m gaining confidence as a teacher, and it’s becoming more and more clear that teaching ESL is the path that I want to pursue when I get back to the States. Anyway, here’s a bit of an update on the first month of spring in Tatarstan:

Birthday Surprise

I usually get really sad around my birthday. My mom says that even when I was a kid, like clockwork I would have a mini-existential crisis right around March 31, nostalgically reminiscing on the past year, knowing that once I added a new candle to the cake, I could never go back.This year was no different, in fact, it seemed a little worse, since for some reason, 23 seemed so much older and more concretely adult than 22. No more singing about breakfast at midnight and dressing up like a hipster, I would now be relegated to the ranks of the grown-up who was supposed to have just a little less fun than her 22 year old counterpart and was just that much closer to being an old maid. And dying. You get the idea. I expected to spend by birthday quietly, reflectively, writing about the weight and significance of the new role I would be walking into and analyzing the milestones of the year before, but thankfully for me, my students didn’t allow that.

When I walked into the kafedra(teacher’s office) that morning, I was greeted by enthusiastic congratulations from my colleagues, and was quickly asked, “have you seen the posters? They’re everywhere! Go look, there’s one on the door!” I left the kafedra and turned the corner to see this:

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And that was only the beginning. I walked into my classroom to see all my students wearing birthday hats and to hear music playing. They told me that today I was their queen and they had a special ceremony for me. After I sat down on my throne (a chair covered in a pink tablecloth), and had donned a tiara, they began an intricately planned out surprise for me. One of the boys pretended to be a Spanish guitarist and brought me a bouquet of eleven light pink roses (not 12, because even-numbered flowers are considered bad luck), one girl dressed up like a gypsy and read my palm, telling me I would have seven children, one girl presented me a cake in traditional Tatar dress with another girl to interpret her Tatar speech, and finally, they took a student’s oath (to always prepare for class, to be kind to me), and I took a queen’s oath (to always be in a good mood and to not give too much homework). And as if that weren’t enough, they then gave me this mug with a picture of us on it:

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It says “Пей сладкий чай, и про нас не забывай!”, or “Drink sweet tea, and don’t forget about us!” (It rhymes in Russian.)

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And here they are!

One of the teachers who befriended me from the start, Lenara, also organized a surprise party for me in the kafedra, so right after class I walked into another birthday surprise. Along with tea, chocolate, and piroshki, she served goubadia, which is a Tatar pie filled with rice, raisins, eggs, sweet tvorog (curds), and butter. To an American, it sounds like a strange mixture, but its really growing on me.

Губадия

Gubadia, Photo Credit: bahetle.com

Karaoke With the Americans

Singing karaoke has been on my bucket list for a while, and what better place to achieve this dream than in a bar on the outskirts of Elabuga with a handful of Americans scattered across the region? Hanna, the organizer, the planner, coordinated my American birthday party, inviting Steve from Samara and Nick from Kazan for the weekend.Image

A stealth shot of the crew coming up to Hanna’s apartment.

 

The first night, we stayed in Chelny and ate Hanna’s homemade banana bread and plombir, a Russian version of ice cream that is super delicious.

The next day we headed to Elabuga, where we made a pilgrimage to the Devil’s Tower and ate at a surprisingly scrumptious vegetarian cafe. Then we headed to Manhattan, Elabuga’s bowling alley/cafe/entertainment complex, where we had reserved a table in the karaoke bar.

It was awesome.

I think I’m addicted.

I sang “Такого как Путин” with Hanna, translated in English as “A Man Like Putin,” in which a girl lauds Putin’s manly qualities and insists that she needs a man just like him. How’s that for international diplomacy? Steve and I sang Taylor Swift’s “Trouble,” and Nick showed his rapping skills with some Jeezy and 50 Cent.

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From left to right: Steve’s arm, Nick, me

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Lead Paint 

My birthday was amazing, and in a few short weeks, spring has finally sprung. There is little snow to be seen, and the temperature averages about 55 degrees. But it is Russia, so in the midst of this idyllic blooming, there has to be some kind of health threat to make things interesting, right? On Monday, I walked into the university to be assaulted by the sharp, headache-inducing odor of the whole building being ripped apart. At least that’s what it looked like.

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The fumes from the renovations made almost everyone in the university feel sick to varying degrees. I only got a headache, but some students felt so bad they didn’t attend class. Late in the morning all the students were allowed to go home. The next day, however, class resumed as normal with only a slight lessening of the fumes that I am 90% sure are filling our lungs with particles of toxic lead paint. The stairs are powdered with paint, and teachers and students have continued to feel sick.

 

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On day three of the renovations, I began to become seriously concerned about the effects of long-term exposure to the fumes, so I decided to hold my classes outside. None of my students had ever had class outside before, so at first I think it seemed strange to them, but it seemed to catch on alright.Image

Fourth year students from the Department of Foreign Languages

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Fourth year students from the Department of Tatar Language and Literature

This week I found out the the Russian word for gazebo is беседка, which has the same root as беседа, the Russian for conversation. A loose translate would be “little place to talk.” And it’s true, conversation classes work really well in this little circle where we can all see each other and easily interact. In many ways, I actually like having class in the gazebo more than in a traditional classroom, and I hope my students feel the same way. It doesn’t look like the noxious renovations will be over anytime soon, and since I want to avoid damaging both my students’ and my health, until further notice, the gazebo, the беседка, will be our classroom!