‘What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men …… That is what love looks like.’ - St. Augustine

Monday, October 25, 2010

My First Siberian Students

Just back from my first day of teaching at Kemerovo Academy #21. I decided today would just be one long 'question and answer' session. I knew they'd have alot of questions about America and American culture, and wanted to get those out of the way before we dive into Shakespeare tomorrow.

I had three classes. All the students spoke English, with varying degrees of aptitude. What I loved was their enthusiasm for learning, their curiosity and passion and their willingness to engage in conversation with me about the differences and similarities of America and Russia. There were 22-24 students in each class, all aged 15 and 16. They were more well-read than most of my students in America! They wanted me to discuss books  and authors -- did I like Salinger better than Hemingway? What authors are most popular among young Americans right now? What Russian authors do American students like best? I had to break the sad news to them that American students do not usually read Russian authors until they are in college. They were dumbfounded at that. " But we read many American authors, and books from all countries of the world." one boy added. I had to agree with them that sometimes Americans are a bit more insular than the rest of the world. Not ALL Americans, of course, but enough.

We talked about stereotypes and I told them I wanted to hear honest feedback about a typical Russian's stereotypes of Americans. I told them nothing could offend me, so to be as honest as possible. Here are the good and bad qualities they say that most people they know equate with Americans:

Too confident
Always smiling
Not well-read
a bit spoiled
Proud of their country ( Patriotic)
Very helpful
Like things big - big houses, big cars, big meals
Do things from the heart, caring
Don't know enough about the outside world.

I had to agree with them on several points! But every single one of them hopes to go to America one day. They were fascinated with everything from our food to our clothes to our taste in tv shows. For 99% of them, I was the first American they had ever met. That's alot of pressure to set a good example for our whole country! I did my best.

If I'm honest, they were far more interested in talking to Nastia -- as I expected. But Nastia was so shy, she didn't really talk much until the third class. They wanted to know what are her favorite subjects, what her friends do for fun, what books she liked, if she missed Russia, etc etc.

Some of the girls want to take me out for coffee and one girl, Katya, in particular, wants to be an actress so she is desperate to work with me. They asked if I had ever met any famous Americans, and asked me to name them. When I mentioned Angelina Jolie there was a corporate sigh of awe...lol. " We love her!" they said. Didn't know Angelina Jolie was so popular over here!

They asked about my hometown -- population, how many buses were available, crime rate, number of cars, and other expected questions. When I explained that we lived near the ocean, they looked at me like I were from another planet. " You are so lucky!" one girl sighed.

Tomorrow I start  casting and rehearsing scenes from Shakespeare that we will present in early December. To say I am excited is the understatement of the year. I am SO grateful for this chance to do what I love! Nastia was not too keen on teaching the younger kids. She got overwhelmed and scared, so she stuck with me all day. I can't convince her to come back tomorrow, but I'm hoping she will come after that. I will be teaching there four days a week for two hours at a time. I am also 'on call' to come and give lectures in the other grades on American History, Culture and Literature. Dr. Borgman and Dr Askew of Gordon College -- I hope you're proud!

I will take photos of them tomorrow and post them here. We met the little ones too, and when one girl heard there were Americans in the building she screeched with delight, only to find out I was right next to her...then she turned bright red. So cute!

Ahhh, I feel like me again.....


  1. Such a wonderful report and until you leave the USA and travel outside most Americans do not have a clue how lucky they are in so many ways. I am sure your experience will be the most rewarding ever. It will be a learning experience for both you and the Russian children. Thanks for the great report.

  2. Anonymous5:19 AM

    So good to hear you're doing what you love!

    I'm trying to find a home for Kate, please help me spread the word.

  3. Ah, it's good to hear that you are back in a place of strength, Keri. You have done so much without it, a bit of solid footing can't hurt!

  4. You may want to let the students know that in the USA (at least in our school district) that a great emphasis is put on "third world" authors. the kids are required to read a lot of African/Indian writers, and Central/South American writers.

    Tell them that THIS american parent would like to know what authors they LOVE and would love to introduce the writers (if i can find translations) to the kids.

    We read a lot of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky in high school when I was a kid. But things have changed where they feel that the emerging nations' writers are more important. there are just so many books one can read in a year...

  5. Anonymous8:01 AM

    Dr. Askew was my favorite, and I'm sure he'd be proud of you as we ALL ARE! I'm so glad you found your niche and a creative output :)

  6. SO great. This will be so helpful to you and Nastia, I'm sure. And so depressing to think that while these teenagers are wanting to discuss comparative qualities of Salinger and Hemingway, our nation's teens are comparing "Gossip Girl" with "Twilight". Sad, sad commentary on our culture and general dumbing down of society. Would your average American 15-year-old even know who Hemingway was?

  7. Your students sound very smart and sophisticated. Thanks for representing us well!

  8. Sounds like you are in your element ;-)


  9. Sounds fun. I'm glad for a "happier" post! It is true that I didn't read any Russian authors until College, but read so many great American Authors in high school. We had a whole class on American Authors. I guess it is our "pride" lol. But I did take a whole year of Shakespeare so all was not lost! I will try and have Klaire read some when she grows up. She all ready has read The Little Princess and Secret Garden, so a semi-English author. lol
    Sounds like a must needed distraction, but I'm sorry it didn't work out for Nastia. Maybe have her play some games with the little kids, like green light or red light, MR. Fox? That might be fun. Hope it works out for her.

  10. What an interesting post. Thank you for sharing the experience with us. I am 82 so I went to school a long time ago. My first eight grades were in a one-room schoolhouse. We had two rather large bookcases and that was the extent of our reading. We had no access to a library.

  11. What a neat experience! Sounds like you represented us well!!!:-)

  12. Anonymous10:44 AM

    Your students sound wonderful!!! Congrats on the great work! I hope tomorrow goes equally as well!

  13. We read Anton Chekhov in High School and I loved it. I bought it when I got older and re-read it. Need to read it again it was that good. Please ask your students what some of their favorites are and I will try them out!
    Happy to share that our 8 year old son, born in Russia, loves to dance and is beautiful to watch. He started ballet, tap and jazz a year ago. The owners of the school are an American girl who married a Romanian man, Constantin Apetrei. He trained with the Bolshoi Academy in Moscow beginning at age 16. I love when Constantin teaches my son. My son is in the Nutcracker for the second year. This year he got the roll of Fritz for the Sat night performance. He will have to move his way up through the parts. I can't wait to one day see him dance the Russian dance!

  14. This sounds wonderful, on so many fronts. . .

    And yeah, most of us are too fat . . . I wish I wasn't. On the other hand, I find it very interesting that a large portion of their older women ARE heavy-set even though the younger ones are almost universally skinny!

  15. Cool!! That's all I can say...

  16. Oh, how I envy you! (At least in having this opportunity!)

    I agree with Christine - it all seems to be third world authors, and not even any who have been around long enough to be judged as having significance....as though the kids are already familiar with all the world's great literature! Ha!

    I stumbled onto Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in seventh grade and there was no turning back.

  17. Great job on a challenging subject. If our country is so awful, why are people coming here? Here’s why I believe people still come to America.

    1) Opportunity: things aren’t perfect, but we are free to take chances and try our best to make life better for ourselves without government interference or opposition.
    2) Freedom: things aren’t perfect, but law-abiding citizens are able to move about without restriction and do whatever they please within the confines of the law.
    3) Access: things aren’t perfect, but we have access to food, clothing, shelter, and jobs, and our government supports our welfare (even being the hefty bureaucratic beast that it is).

    For these reasons, people come to America. And because we live here, in the land of free, I feel compelled to reach outside of this land to those who are lacking opportunity, freedom, and access.

    That's it in a nutshell.

    God Bless.



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