Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tips for future volunteers

3 weeks left. Ahh! Can't believe I'll be leaving so soon.

Once the Fall 2013 volunteers leave, the Spring 2014 group will arrive in January. After them will follow the Fall 2014 group, and so on. Tons of teachers filter in and out every year; so why not do a blog post with a few pointers for them? Not that I am overly experienced in the matter of living here...I thought I'd just share some things I've learned.

1) You probably have been warned that Russians are very reserved, "cold", or mean-looking, especially in public; and they are prone to not do a lot of smiling. Hollywood especially depicts Russians as a tough, gruff, and mean. And while it is true that they are somewhat reserved in public, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't as "bad" as I thought it'd be.
2) You may not be used to the currency/exchange rate over here, and at first it can be very confusing trying to figure out much USD you're actually spending on an item. But with time you will get it down. Be conscious of the money you have, and try not to spend too much on things like eating out. Budget your money. Save it for things like vacation money, souvenirs, or purchasing tickets to the ballet.
3) Planning lessons and teaching can be somewhat stressful for the first few weeks. I was still feeling like I didn't have things "down" up to the first month. With time and practice, you will get the method down. You will learn what works best for your students, and how to teach more effectively. I strongly suggest being organized: make calendars for teaching, have things completed when they're due, get your supplies together for class on time, ect.
4) Talking about teaching...that, and planning lessons, may seem like it is taking up a lot of your time. Which it does. Once you get things down though, prep time will take less and less, and you'll have more free time. For us, during the week our free time consists of just hanging out, going on our laptops, reading, ect. Weekends are when we go out in the city to sight-see and explore new places.
5) The metro - so easy to figure out! When I first went on it the crowds, noises, and busyness of it all seemed crazy! Now it's just regular life, and I use it 6 times a week (not including when we go out on free time). Mornings are particularly busy at the metro and everyone seems to be in a race. It will be crowded, and you might feel like you're in a herd of animals, but you'll just have to get use to it! ;) The metro can be fun though, I promise.
6) In St Pete's, we have quite a few schools. My most difficult school is "Primary", at the Kindergarten. The kids can be pretty crazy sometimes. Keep a routine, be organized. If they are being naughty, or speaking Russian, use appropriate discipline (naughty chair, Russian chair, ect.) It definitely takes a lot of patience, for me at least, some days to get through your lesson. So just keep that in mind.
7) When you really "reach out" to the kids--talking, hugging, playing, ect.--that's when you're going to feel closer to them, and you'll enjoy teaching more.
8) In my group of 6 teachers, 3 of us ended up living with host families, and the other 3 live with our head teacher in an apartment. Be open to wherever you are placed to live.
9) Despite the lack of drinkable tap water, make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day! Your host family may have filtered water, bottled water, or a water filter/boiler...whatever they have, make sure you're drinking the amount you need. As far as brushing teeth, washing hands, and showering goes--I have just been using regular tap water.
10) Time goes by fast, and before you know it you'll be getting ready to go home. Get ready for the fastest 4 months of your life.
11)'re going to leave behind not only your family, but a lot of other things you're used to. Keep yourself distracted by fully immersing yourself into teaching; read books, watch tv shows; play games and watch movies with the other teachers; sight-see; and appreciate the place you are living!

Things that have been really useful to me here:
1) A wrist watch. I prefer to have a watch than to look at my phone to check the time. For me it's quicker to glance down, instead of having to dig my phone out of my pocket. My watch helps with making sure I'm on track with my lesson.
2) Comfortable shoes. I brought a variety of shoes over...flats, tennis shoes, sandals, boots. I wore my flats and sandals probably about once, and ever since I've been using my tennis shoes and boots on a day to day basis. You're going to do a lot of walking here, so comfort is key. Keep in mind as well that St Pete's can be a wet city (with rain and snow), so water-proof/warm shoes are great. (This all is my personal preference; some of the other girls in my group have worn flats and felt fine, so just do what will suit you best.)
3. A small tote bag or backpack. This is nice to have to carry your school supplies around.
4. My laptop. At my host family's house, they don't have wifi. So I keep my laptop at the head teachers apartment. I've enjoyed having it to keep in contact with family & friends, and be able to use it for hang-out time.
5. A waterproof jacket.
6. Leggings. Not only are they comfortable, but they are great for layering under jeans. Long johns are also useful (I'm wearing them today)!

There's so much more that I could write, but I'll leave it at that. :) If you have questions, feel free to ask! I got a lot of help from a past volunteer before my trip, so I'd like to help future volunteers if they need any tips!

Good luck and have fun,

Sunday, November 24, 2013


I've taken random snapshots recently. Here they are!

Walking home 
Gotta love water-proof jackets! (I do have
an umbrella. I can't remember if I was too
lazy to get it out, or didn't have it with me
at that time;)

Making berry pie with Sveta. We ate it with ice-cream.

Sveta, Mckall,& Lauren with our pie

Walking to the head teachers apartment.
I love my scarf that I got in Estonia.

Part of my walk

Posing in front of a Buddhist temple. Went inside and showed
up just in time for a service. As the monk guys
were chanting and singing, people were praying
around us. The atmosphere was colorful. The music
was foreign and loud (loved the drums.) And I must say...
I did not feel like I was in Russia!

Lauren teaching our older kids at Private 1

Private 1 kids on their way to recess

Vlad and Matvey, from Level 1

Level 1 drawing (puppets)

Private 1 kids having fun

Maxim, Deema, & Motivey

Sight-seeing yesterday (Nov 23rd)

On "Lion Bridge"

 St Nicholas Cathedral

St Isaac's, my favorite

Sveta and I dancing and being silly
"The Bronze Horseman"
The outside of Mariinsky Theater, the most famous
ballet theater in St Petersburg
A mini replica of the inside of Mariinsky theater
(funny that it looks so real)
A part of town
Let's see....what else have I done recently... well, there's the most obvious: teaching! I've been having more fun with teaching. I think it's because it is coming more naturally to me now. I don't have to "think" so much about, so I have more time to be silly and have fun. I am also seeing improvements in the kids English, which is great.
The fact that my time here is quickly winding down has been on my mind. I am going to miss this place.
Today us girls went to a market in town. It turns out that it was inside a hotel. There were stands of different "countries", and they had food and other things that related to their culture. Other stands had things like crafts and Christmas decorations. I bought some ornaments.
And here I am. Just about to prep for my class tomorrow morning. This week will be my last week in November. Crazy.
You may be wondering about Thanksgiving. Us girls will not be celebrating on Thursday, but on Sunday (Dec 1st) instead (when none of us have to teach.) We will try to whip up the best American-style Thanksgiving meal that we can. Other items on our schedule will include lounging in our pj's, decorating the head teachers apartment with Christmas decorations, and watching Christmas movies. I'm sure it will be a fine day. And a post on it will probably follow soon afterwards. :)
Love always,

Monday, November 18, 2013


1 month left. Can someone explain to me what happened? Where did the time go?

I know I'm going to be sad leaving this place. I've had an awesome time. But, I am so anxious to see my family (and my anxiousness is growing, I believe, as my time is winding down here)! I am so looking forward to the time when I come out of baggage claim at the airport, and meet up with my parents. And not to mention, tackle and hug and kiss my siblings!

Here is a list of things I'm excited to come back to at home.

1. Obviously, as mentioned above, my family (and, a.k.a., playing with Wyatt; cuddling/talking with my sisters; watching movies, ect.)
2. More fresh fruits and veggies (I've been living on a diet of mostly meat and potatoes, with the occasional bell pepper or pickle)
3. Drinkable tap water (no filters or having to boil? What is that sorcery?)
4. My car (I haven't driven since August. Hope I haven't forgotten how.)
5. A room with my personal belongings (i.e., that reflects my personality. Not that I don't love the huge Russian rug hanging on my wall here)
6. A variety of clothes (you can only wear the same shirts so many times before you start hating them)
7. Mountains (I'm not in Kansas, but it feels close to it compared with home.)
8. Earning money (not that I haven't enjoyed being here and blowing away all my money on vacation!:)
9. Being able to fully communicate with anyone I want to talk to (although, I have gotten pretty darn good at charades now. Watch out, kids)
10. My mom's cooking (nothing tastes better than a meal made with love)

Things I'm going to miss from here:
1. The chance to go out and see new, awesome things (the architecture; palaces; parks; museums; ect.)
2. No chores (hehehe. Only have to do laundry and pick up after myself)
3. My kids (they are all adorable)
4. The metro (while it can be annoyingly busy in the morning and you feel like you are in a herd of wild animals, it can still be fun)
5. Whether feeling tired, lazy, or whatever the case may be, I am forced to walk everywhere. And it's been great. (I'm quite proud to announce that I'm a professional walker now)
6. My host family and grandparents (they have both quenched my hunger and sheltered me from the stormy nights without ceasing) (Really though, they have been very kind. And my host grandpa is just hilarious)

Anyway. :)

Yesterday two other girls and I went and found a Buddhist temple. Random, I know. And we just so happened to show up right before a service started (awesome, I know.) The Buddhist, monk guys were singing/chanting, and people around us were praying. The music was cool & foreign, the drums were loud; the room was colorful. And let me tell you - I did not feel like I was in Russia!

Next weekend I have not one, but two ballets I will be attending! The first one in "Swan Lake", which all of us girls bought tickets to. The second, "The Nutcracker", we got free tickets to (from a students mom)! I'm excited.

For the rest of our time here, us girls have made a list of things we want to do. Ice skating, museums, and churches are all on the agenda. :)

Well, by this time in 1 month I will be on a plane, heading home. See you all soon!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

4 countries, 10 days

4 countries, 10 days, hundreds of pictures. Here are some highlights of my vacation I recently went on!

We hopped onto the "Ecolines" bus on Nov 1st, and it took a surprisingly long time (about 17 hours) to get from St Petersburg to Lithuania. Border control took up a small chunk of that time, and just the fact that big buses don't go very fast caused the lllooonnnggg road trip! It was beautiful seeing the countryside, though.

I was so tired (but mostly excited) when we pulled into Vilnius, Lithuania. Exploring Old Town and the surrounding area took up most of our time here (and we also visited the Museum of Genocide Victims.) For lunch on our full day there, we ate at a restaurant called "Dvaras" which was so fun. The atmosphere and food is great. And I ordered their chocolate cake with caramel & ice-cream. It was amazing.

This city felt so European to me...with it's cobblestone streets, cute buildings, and rich history.



St Anne's

Riga, Latvia was a fun place to go to. On our first day we visited an "open air" museum...which pretty much was a forest with old-fashioned Latvian dwellings! It's like we stepped back in time going through this "village." On our second day we went on a free walking tour of Old Town, looked around souvenir shops, and that night went kayaking!
Open Air Museum

St Peter's (I think)



Oh Tallinn, how I miss you! This city was so awesome. Our hostel was awesome, Old Town was awesome, the food was awesome.
In Tallinn we explored Old Town and toured historic tunnels (called the "Bastion Tunnels") On our last night there, we met an Australian guy named Matt at our hostel. He was way nice, and we ended up talking and playing card games with him for the rest of the night. 

I got cheesecake in this cute, underground restaurant

Bastion Tunnels

Eating at "The Dragon"! An old-fashioned, candle-lit
viking tavern. I kid you not. It was such a fun place.
The only thing on the menu was elk soup, and different "pies"
to go with it. And don't forget the free pickles! 
My elk soup, mushroom pie, and a pickle. $3

We're out of the Baltic states now...into Helsinki, Finland...the most expensive part of our trip! Prices were definitely a lot steeper, but we managed. On our first night there we went to get dinner then saw a movie. The next day we went sightseeing, took a ferry to Suomenlinna Island, and ate reindeer for lunch. 

On the ferry to from Tallinn to Helsinki

Helsinki cathedral

"Rock" church

Eating local cuisine

Reindeer meatballs

On the ferry to Suomenlinna Island

Aren't these pictures awesome? ;) I had such a blast. And I can't believe I just dominated 4 countries in 10 days. I did things I never thought I'd ever do!
I would love to elaborate more on everything, but I'm pressed for time! Let me know if you have any questions, and I'll be sure to answer them soon. :)