Saturday, April 28, 2012

Friday, April 26- WINS

Tonight I was walking in town with a few of my neighbour kids. It was starting to get dark and near one of the apartment buildings there was a group of 4th and 5th grade boys hanging out. When we got close, they started talking to me (the usual, "Hello" "How are you?"). I answered and we kept walking. After we got a little ways away, they started chucking rocks at me (Win #1) and yelling, "Sara, do you like spaghetti?" (Win #2 and #3).

You might be wondering how these things can be wins. Well.... Win #1, during training we read case studies and it seemed PCVs getting rocks thrown at them was a common occurrence. I take this to be my real initiation as a PCV (and just so you know, I wasn't hit by any of the rocks. The kids really didn't have good aim.). Win #2, the kids were speaking English and Win #3, they pronounced in spaghetti, not shpaghetti like most do. We worked on that in class one day.

I actually was laughing during all of this and had to text a few other PCVs about it because it just was too funny. I mean really, yelling about spaghetti while throwing rocks. One of them responded asking how I retaliated. I told him I didn't think it would be appropriate to throw rocks back, but I felt very comfortable throwing words back- words like ravioli and tortellini. Take that kids!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Visit Home

This past weekend I returned to my first Macedonian home, Lozovo to spend the weekend with my host family and celebrate my host sister's 15th birthday. This was the first time I had been back since Macedonian Christmas in January and the first time I was there as the only American, which gives the place a much different feel.

It felt so good being home. Many PCVs will agree with this sentiment, that when you are living with your host family, it can sometimes be challenging as many of us have not lived with a family in quite some time. However, going back to visit is amazing. It is so much clearer to me just how much they care about me and I am a member of the family. Going back now is so much more relaxing and comfortable and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have such a caring family.

The weekend started out on quite an interesting note as within an hour of being there one of my host parents just casually asked how much I was paying for electricity, which I haven't talked about too much on here, but it is a big topic currently. (Peace Corps allocates us money every three months to cover our electricity, however, there is a flat rate based on I am sure some very thorough research, however, everyone's situation is different. Because of the size of my house and the fact that I had to buy wood and pay for electricity, I have gotten kind of screwed in the electricity department.) After I told them how much I had paid for three months, my host father immediately grabbed his phone and wanted to call Peace Corps to discuss with them how this wasn't fair for me. It took my host sister, host mother, and I all talking him down into waiting until I had spoken with the Country Director. He then wanted my landlady's phone number so he could talk to her about what was going on, but after I refused to give him the number numerous times, he finally gave in and said he would wait until I had talked to Peace Corps. It was kind of funny, and really sweet, seeing how quick he lept into action ready to fight for me. I compare going to Lozovo like going home when you're in college- you get really excited to go home and you enjoy being there, but you also, after a few days, are ready to head back to your life.

I had a good time hanging out with the family, especially my host brother. He speaks basically 0 English, but somehow he is the member of the family that I feel the closest too. I think age helps as he is just a couple years younger than me, but has always acted like a protective older brother. I also got to spend some time with Kenzie's host family which was a lot of fun. Vedran still wins the cutest child contest and I left the house covered in small child kisses and hugs (always nice!)

On my way home, I had a stop off in Stip and got to hang out with a few other volunteers which just added to the enjoyment of the weekend. We hung out on Phil's fabulous balcony that overlooks the town and made a blanket tent (yes we might all be in our mid to late 20s, but that doesn't mean we can't still enjoy blanket tents and forts). And even better, there are plans in the works for a tent city sometime soon.

Friday, April 20, 2012

4th Graders ROCK!

Today I taught all on my own. While technically, PCVs aren't able to teach alone as we are not certified teachers here in Macedonia, my counterpart was gone and my Director ok'd it this time. I had the three 4th grade classes and one 6th grade class. The 4th graders have been my favourites since I did my site visit back in November but today just solidified it in my mind that my 4th graders are the best ever!

My counterpart told me I could just continue on with what they were learning and teach them the new vocab words then read the dialogue from the book as the kids like reading. I thought about it and decided that since I had complete control over every aspect of the classes today, I wanted to do it my way. From the moment I walked into the classroom, I knew it would go well as when I told the kids I was teaching on my own today, the room was filled with screams of delight and huge smiles. I started out teaching them the new words by showing them a picture, having them guess the word in English, then I wrote it in English and Macedonian on the chalkboard next to the picture. The kids were so amazed that I could write in Macedonian that the whole time I kept hearing, "wow!" I asked them what they were "wow-ing" and they said, "You know Macedonian! You've only been here a little bit. You must be really smart". To that, I laughed. I told them I studied hard, just like they should with English (had to throw in a little plug for studying). Every time I wrote a word in Macedonian, my writing was matched with "wow".

After copying the words and repeating them, we moved onto the dialogue from the book. I read it to them first as they followed along. Next was my favourite part of the dialogues. I read a sentence, they repeat it. When they repeat from the CD, they just repeat. When they repeat after I have read something, they imitate my every intonation, raising their voices when I did, expressing emotions just like I did. They also do so with slight Minnesotan accents which is really cute. Finally, I had volunteers read a speaking bubble, then translate it into Macedonian.

The last thing I did with them was introduce BINGO to them using the new vocabulary words. Last night I made BINGO cards with pictures of the new words. They had never played BINGO before so I was a little curious how it would go explaining the directions, however, they did really well. At least one child in each class understood what I was saying and was able to translate the parts I didn't know how to say into Macedonian for the others. They LOVED BINGO and asked to play it every day. I told them we would play again sometime in the future with  new words. When they got a BINGO, they had to tell me the words they got in English before coming up to collect a prize (thank you again mom and dad for the pencils, erasers, and stickers!).

The kids behaved so well for me and were so excited and every child participated, which doesn't always happen. Hopefully this will be a good start for me getting to do a little more in the classroom, at least with the 4th graders.

For homework the other day, the kids had to write a letter to someone based off the sample in the book. They had to give a description on themselves then talk about what they like and don't like. Some of them were so cute I just have to share.
This girl is so sweet and quite. I loved her spelling.
A drawing on one of the letters- the letter is below.
She chose to write to one of the characters from the English textbook.
Another drawing with the letter below.
I too wonder if Lady Gaga likes fish.
This boy copied the text from the book almost exactly, however, he doesn't have a cat so he just left a blank where the cat's name would go.
Apparently this student's friend is Hitler?
This student got a little confused if he is Blago or Cindy.
And the writing of one of the best English students in the 4th grade.
 My 6th graders were good today to, however, they just aren't as cute as the 4th graders. Rounding out my day today will be a trip to the pazar, a phone call with the Peace Corps Country Director about my exorbitant electricity bills (and how my current house does not meet the requirements for being electrically efficient which may mean I need to move) and a trip home...well to my Macedonian home of Lozovo for a weekend with the host family to celebrate my host sister's birthday.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Secondary Projects

Peace Corps Volunteers have what are called primary projects and secondary projects. PCVs in Macedonia have one of two primary projects, working as a TEFL volunteer in the schools or as a Community Development volunteer in local opstinas (local government) or with local NGOs.

Outside of the primary project, PCVs often have quite a few secondary projects. Some of these projects are Peace Corps based, others are local projects done in the PCVs community. I have already started on several secondary projects and I know there will be lots more to come, especially since I don’t have as much work going on at my school right now. The five projects I have been working on so far are briefly detailed below and of course I included several photos from my biggest project, the National Spelling Bee.

National Essay Contest: Every year Peace Corps puts on a English language essay contest for students in 7th-12th grade. This year’s topic was “My Life, My Passion”. I read and judged essays in January and next year I am one of the coordinators for the project.

Camp GLOW: GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World and it is an English language leadership camp for girls. This year I will be working as a counselor for the 10-day camp in July. GLOW is a worldwide camp put on by PCVs and Macedonia has the best camp in the world. From this, I am hoping to start a Club GLOW in my town to get the girls here to be more involved in leadership activities in their own community.

Young Men’s Leadership Project (YMLP): This is the boys’ version of Camp GLOW focusing on developing the leadership skills of the young men here in Macedonia. I will be teaching environmental education at this camp in June/July. Perhaps the largest goal of this camp is to work on bringing ethnically diverse young men together to show them that they share far more similarities than differences. In order to make this camp happen, however, the group is still looking for funding. Through the Peace Corps Partnership Program, they are asking for donations from friends, family, and anyone who wants to help support this initiative. I told the guys organizing the camp I would put a plug for donations on my blog, so if you would like to help support YMLP camp, click here to donate.

Gradinka: In addition to working at the primary school in my town, I help out at the Gradinka or daycare/kindergarten one day a week. Some of the children there are working on getting a basis in English before they enter school. While there have been some challenges as the methods of teaching are quite different than the USA, it has been interesting work.

National Spelling Bee: This has been my largest project so far, which is why I put it last since there is a lot to write. This year PCVs with the help of some local partners organized the 3rd annual National English language Spelling Bee. I served as a committee member this year and next year will be one of the co-coordinators for the event. We just held the National Bee this past weekend and it was quite successful. Over 800 students in grades 5-12 from around Macedonia came to Skopje to compete for a chance to be the best speller in their grade level. Prior to the National Bee, PCVs and a few Host Country Nationals (HCNs) held approximately 60 qualifying bees in cities, towns, and villages across the country. In order to receive an invitation to compete at the Bee in Skopje, students had to spell 10 words correctly at a qualifier.

I held two different qualifiers for my students in 5th-8th grade and had 95 students show up, which blew my mind. The English teachers had told me they had a few kids, but I never would have guessed that many. Of the 95 students who tried out, 21 of them spelled their words correctly and were able to compete in Skopje. My kids were so excited, nervous, and determined. They studied hard too. After the qualifier we had what I jokingly referred to as Spelling Bee Boot Camp every day after school for a week. At the Boot Camp sessions I would give them words and they would write them for me. We practiced for at least two hours every day, with one or two days being four hour practice sessions.

Then this past weekend, on April 7th, we held the National Bee in Skopje. 92% of the kids who qualified attended the event, which is phenomenal since many had to travel several hours to get to Skopje only to incorrectly spell their first word. This year we were fortunate enough to have not only our Country Director come to the Bee, but also the U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia. It was really cool that they both were able to attend because the committee had put a lot of time into the event and it was great to have their support and hear their feedback on the event. I am pretty sure National Spelling Bee is the largest Peace Corps event in the country as well, as we had over 4000 students participate at some point or another and probably 300+ teachers. I can tell that this project will be where I focus a good deal of my energy.
Practicing words with a student
5th graders at the qualifier
Some of the 7th graders who qualified to go to Skopje
One of my 6th graders who is phenomenal at English
Two more 7th graders who qualified
Students trying to qualify to go to Skopje
My first 5th grader to qualify
The National Bee, April 7, 2012- University American College, Skopje
Registration was crazy!
One of my students thinking hard about his word
A 5th grader from Kamenica
Gotta love the tongue- necessary for thinking
The US Ambassador to Macedonia graced us with his presence
Part of the committee this year
We found a few more committee members, but not quite everyone
The 2013 National Spelling Bee Committee Chairs

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Very Macedonian Easter

While America celebrated Easter on April 8th, for Eastern Orthodox areas, such as Macedonia, Easter or Велигден, was this past weekend. And Easter here is a multiple day event.

The highlights:
-       Got to check out some of Kamenica's most beautiful Easter eggs
-       Walked around the church with a candle at midnight
-       Woke up Easter morning to the sound of a pig being slaughtered outside my window (for those who have heard pig's being slaughtered before, you know this is not a pleasant way to wake up)
-       Painted my own Easter eggs
-       Lost my battle in the traditional Easter egg cracking contest
-       Spent 8 hours on a na gosti with some students of mine in a neighbouring village

While I could give more descriptions, the pictures captured the event much better.

The church in Kamenica
Inside the church

The Easter Egg Contest: The Opstina put on an Easter egg decorating contest for the first time this year. Below are the entries. Lots of beautiful eggs.
Hiking with my neighbour girl Marija
And neighbour girl Sara
At the church at midnight with neighbour kids
Breaking eggs...who will win!
My candle
Some of my students walking around the church
The clergy walking around the church singing
A couple more students of mine with their candles
Two of my Easter eggs this year- American and Macedonian

At the village of Todoroci