Today marked my second week of the school year as a new ESL volunteer teacher in Klichev, Belarus. The students and faculty have been more than gracious and warm to this one time special education teacher from the United States.
I originally started out working with the English Director as a volunteer for her classes but I guess I am somewhat of a celebrity so I have been getting invites to other English classes to teach or help out with students within the classroom or they found a sucker who wants to teach for free, either way I am having a great time. As everything else that I have been introduced to since coming to Belarus, this is no different in the fact that there are big differences and lots of similarities within the school itself and the educational system.
Students are students throughout the world , they love their cell phones, enjoy music, getting together with friends, eating snacks, have growing pains at home, looking for their independence and dating. This is where the similarities stop, separating the Belarusian students and American students. The educational system in Belarus is still intact meaning the respect for education and it’s teachers is alive and well. When a teacher enters the classroom the students all get out of their seats, stand up until the teacher tells them to return to sitting. They are attentive for many reasons but the distractions of cell phones is a non issue because they are not turned on nor are they out on the desks. They sit in pairs at a desk so there still is the usual talking to one another but for the most part they are attentive like I said before because most kids want to go to the University to better educate themselves and leave this town or the country to earn a good living.
I am constantly talking to people inside the school or out walking the streets everyone is curious to speak with the American or practice the English they have learned. The kids are the most excited to talk with me, but I hear the adults whispering in the stores “there is the American” and of course being the shy person I am, I tell them yes, I am from America and my name is Tom, most respond with “Menya Zovut” my name is whatever, at that point I see their lips moving and strange sounds coming out of their mouths, I know they are speaking Russian plus they are excited to talk with an American but I have not mastered the art of the Russian Language coming at me a mile a minute so as they either slow down or stop with a very quizzical look on their faces as if they want me to respond to what they just said my usual response is “ya ne pinimya, chu chuc govery Rusky, ya govery Engliska” which means I don’t understand, I speak a little Russian, I speak English.
Since I taught a little bit this past year and some this summer down at the beach I feel like most of Klichev has either heard about me or has been in contact with me one way or another. I walk down the street and I hear shouts of Hello, Hi, how are you, what are you doing today, Tom how’s Charlie? it comes from almost everyone that is including the adults who very rarely want to learn or even speak anything but Belarusian. One gentleman in general always rides his bike and as he passes me he shouts out Viva America! (it means long live America). Most of the kids know me as Tom, or the American but the best way to meet people if you are ever going to travel have a very well trained dog named Charlie.
Getting immersed and assimilating into the Belarusian culture has been just a wonderful experience, opening doors that I would never have imagined and getting opportunities like teaching ESL has been a God sent. I have come to realize, yes, I miss America for so many reasons but I could adapt, survive and thrive in the Belarusian world….I could live here.
The cyrillic alphabet