Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Life of a TEFL

Today one of my 5th grade students came in wearing a shirt that said: "Race for Sex". It had a picture of a car on the shirt. English fail- clearly his mother can't read English.

I also was required to become an expert on rabies. When the 6th grade students were learning about "scary things" in the book, there was the word "bat". One child then raised their hand and asked if you would die if you were bitten by a bat. My counterpart turned to me and said, "What does happen Sara?" I guess I look like someone who knows the ins and outs of bats and rabies because after telling them they might get rabies, they had a ton of questions about rabies. Peace Corps Training fail- I was not taught about rabies.

I was just friended by one of my 1st graders on Facebook. Life fail- not mine, but this country's obsession with Facebook just reached an all new high with this friend request.

Our school has been going through Ministry inspections this week. There have been four men from the area in town observing the teachers and writing up notes. In theory this makes sense, however, in practice, I am not really convinced it is the most effective system. I was with one of my counterparts when she got inspected and the man came into class with 10 minutes left. I had been teaching, but my counterpart took over since the man wasn't there to critique me. She switched to talking mostly in Macedonian because she wanted to make sure the guy understood what she was saying. He sat in the back and jotted down a few notes. When the bell rang, he left and didn't provide any feedback. I talked with my counterpart right after and she said she was super confused about whether she should speak English or Macedonian. It is English class, however, if the inspector doesn't speak English, how can he judge her teaching if he doesn't understand what she is saying. My other counterpart said she asked for feedback and the men looked super confused and said that's not what they do. What do these men actually do then? I talked with them both about the English vs Macedonian use in the classroom when the inspectors are there and they were both confused about which language they were supposed to use, so clearly the directions we not made very clear.

Because of the inspections, the teachers all are very diligently writing in the red book (the grade book) at the beginning of class instead of doing it at a later date. This means there is a lot of time when the kids are just sitting there, so I have taken advantage of this time to do some fun activities with my kids. In the 1st grade, I made up a song to help teach them what "how are you?" means since I get a lot of blank stares when I ask them that. Within the song, I also taught them a few adjectives- happy, sad, mad, sleepy, and hungry. They loved it and didn't want to stop when it was time for the actual lesson.

In 6th grade, we reviewed parts of the body and then did heads-shoulders-knees-and-toes, which you would never do with 6th graders in the US, but my kids loved it, especially when we went into hyper-speed. Another day I wrote, "Merry Christmas" on the board and they had to rearrange the letters to see how many words they could spell. Whenever I do this activity with them, I always think back to Mrs. Hughes's Language Arts classes because I am pretty sure that is the first time I did the activity. I promised my kids we would have a competition between the classes the next time we did it.

All-in-all, school is going pretty well now. There have been a few rough spots, but it seems like we have finally figured out a rhythm that works for us, just in time for the holidays and the winter break until the end of January!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mak-17 Swearing In and a Journey to the capital of the former Yugoslavia

After a few angry Facebook messages/emails, I am finally getting around to writing a blog post. It's not that there has been nothing to write about or even that I haven't had time, I just couldn't quite bring myself to write a post (or 10 that could have been written). So we need to travel back in time a little bit.

November 29- The new group of Volunteers (Mak17s) were sworn in and transitioned from being Trainees to official Volunteers. This was a very bittersweet moment as it really signaled the end of the Mak15s. We have a handful of 15s staying around for another year, but most of them had already left and the ceremony made that very clear.
Kaitlin is one of the new Mak-17s and the first Mak-17 I got to know.
Sisters (minus one)- Erika is the Mak-17 who lived with my host family, Bojana my host sister in Lozovo, and I celebrate Erika becoming an official PCV!
That night we celebrated the end of some Mak-15s service and had a good-bye party at the Irish Pub in Skopje. This included saying good-bye to my Minnesota companion, Marlys. She is headed back to the frozen north, but is hoping to meet up with my parents and left me quite a few Minnesota things she had here. Because of all the MN gear I have now, I did put in a request with our Country Director for a Minnesota Mak-18 so I have someone to pass it all onto.
Saying good-bye to Marlys!

After a sad good-bye, we parted ways, some to America, some to Italy, and a group of us headed to Belgrade, Serbia- capital of the former Yugoslavia. We hoped on an overnight bus and after an hour and a half at the border crossing, one bathroom break, and one "sandwich", we arrived in Belgrade early in the morning, ready to find our hostel and dump our gear before exploring the city. Well, finding the hostel turned out to be a little harder than we thought and I think we ended up wandering around a 5 block area (containing our hostel) for close to two hours. Eventually, we found it, had some Serbian rakija, coffee, a quick nap, and were ready to hit the town. As always, pictures show it best, so here is a short photo compilation of our three days in Belgrade.
Supposedly this is the largest Orthodox church in the Balkans, however it is unfinished on the inside.
My favourite piece of art from the trip- of course there should be a dinosaur peeking out of the corner of this mountain scene.
Enjoying some coffee and hard cider
The Nikola Tesla Museum
We got to see a bunch of his experiments work- Phil even participated in a couple.
Czar Dushan's tomb- only significant to me because prior to coming, I was working on editing a book for a Macedonian about the local history and Dushan was mentioned a lot.
The parliament building
Anna likes to take artistic shots of the group, but that means she gets left out of the photos.
We went on a free 2 1/2 hour walking tour (that was really good) and got to see the Bohemian quarter. Our guide was great and liked to add in little language lessons, but because Macedonian and Serbian are so similar, we were "those people" answering all of his simple questions before giving the others a chance- good thing he liked the fact we could speak the language!
We got to pass by the Macedonian Embassy in Belgrade and might have broken out into the MK national anthem.
Our guide pointed out the bullet holes above some of the doors from the break up of Yugoslavia in the '90s.
At Kalemegdon- the old fortress
Where the Danube and the Sava Rivers join together as one.
There was a US States photo exhibit going on and of course all of us and the American International teachers from Kosovo had to take pictures in front of our state!
The oldest kafana (bar) in Serbia called "?". They served the BEST honey rakija.
We made a journey to the Yugoslav History Museum and to the grave of Josif Broz Tito- one of Phil and Jason's favourite people- Чичко Тито
Tito's grave
Anna, Jason, Phil, and I decided to take the train back, instead of the bus and we had a grand ole time in our quite dirty and old train cabin. The bathrooms were to be avoided at all costs as it really was a free-for-all, but we played a series of games, got a little sleep, and those who had been to Kosovo got their passports anti-Kosovo-ed at the border crossing (Serbians are not at all in support of Albanian Kosovo and do not recognize it as an independent country).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I ate a rooster today. Chicken is quite popular here, but this was the first time I have knowingly ate rooster. Rooster is a lot more gamey, fatty, and chewy than chicken and a lot more pinkish/reddish. The bones also appeared to be of a different consistency- they seemed more hollow. I don't know if that is true or not, but it seemed that way. The drumstick that I was given was massive (my host mother joked it was almost as big as that of a turkey as turkey has been a frequent conversation topic since Thanksgiving). My stomach feels quite heavy after eating it.

I turned down eating the spinal column and the kidneys as well as the thick fat-saturated skin. Those parts were all swiped off my plate and placed on the plate of my host father who hungrily downed them all in one fell swoop. I have eaten small pieces of chicken kidneys before, but there is no way my stomach could muster eating one whole or even taking bites of it (it was about the size of a grape). The kidney was no match for my host father though who swallowed it like a champ and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I was also quite thankful I was at school this morning because the rooster was brought from the village last night and slaughtered in the yard this morning. I think that is an experience I can live without.

All in all, I give rooster 5/10. Chicken and turkey both beat it. I haven't had duck, goose, quail, or other fowl recently enough to compare.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Happy Turkey Day from MK

Despite their being a word for "Thanksgiving" in Macedonian, most Macedonians have never heard of the holiday and if they have heard of it, they know very little about it. I had one teacher at school approach me to tell me an early "happy holidays" for Thanksgiving, however, she told me "Среќен Црн Петок", or Happy Black Friday. Ahhh... apparently the news here focused more on Black Friday than it did on Thanksgiving! I decided to take this opportunity as a chance to teach some of the kids about Thanksgiving. In 1st grade we made turkey hats that were pretty adorable. There wasn't time in any of the other classes to talk much about Thanksgiving, but I did probe the kids asking them what they are thankful for. Many of the responses were along the lines of: cell phones, Facebook, and friends. With my adults we read a mini book about the history of Thanksgiving and I did the same with a little 4th grader that I tutor.

Working on turkey hats
Typical- no smile
This kid is quite a character. His English skills are quite impressive for a first grader, but he often only pulls them out for me. I work with his older sister in fifth grade and she is quite good at English, so clearly the family is doing something right at home.

My counterpart and all the little 1st graders. The boy sitting outside of the group without a hat was the most excited about making the hats, but couldn't make his feathers as nice as mine, so he threw his hat away and pouted.
Four of the boys decided it was their job to crawl on the floor and bawk like turkeys (chickens).
As far as my own plans for Thanksgiving, as with everything in Macedonia, plans changed last minute. I was going to go to Bogdanci (a small town on the border with Greece) on Thursday for casino night (the Greeks have built several large casinos down there) and then we would have Thanksgiving dinner on Friday, however many people cancelled on Thursday last minute, so I ended up just going to Shtip to see Phil. We spent most of the day enjoying the nice weather walking around town and running a few errands, including getting me my first Macedonian haircut. Phil's landlord's daughter owns a beauty salon in Shtip, so we decided to go there to 1) get him brownie points with his landlords and 2) I decided I trusted her more than the random old guy with no hair I had seen cutting it in my town. While I don't have a picture, it is quite a bit shorter than I wanted, about chin-length, but can't really put hair back after its been cut. She did a pretty nice job, other than the fact that we later discovered about 10 hairs randomly that hadn't been cut. 

We then went back and started our cooking for Thanksgiving, which turned into an 8 hour process that finished about 3:30 in the morning! However, some pretty epic food was created- two loaves of homemade wheat bread, hummus, thai peanut ginger dip, and homemade crackers. Tied into the cooking was a Skype call to Phil's parents and family. I had been prepped that the next time I went to Shtip, I would be meeting his parents over Skype and so I figured I might talk to them on Thanksgiving, that day I was informed that it wouldn't just be the parents, but also his brother and sister-in-law, the niece and nephews, some cousins, and an aunt. Clearly since I am writing this, I survived! It was so easy to talk to them. One of Phil's cousins was a PCV in Nicaragua a few years back, so there were lots of jokes exchanged about how "easy" we have it over here in MK (Phil didn't really help the cause by sitting there drinking a Guinness).

Friday we had one more errand we wanted to run before going to Bogdanci and that was to get to the Bargala Shoe Factory in Shtip to see if we could find some boots large enough for skis like mine. Most stores don't sell women's shoes larger than a 39 (US 9), but the factory was wonderful enough to make size 41 so I bought myself an early Christmas present- brown leather riding boots. I don't think I have ever owned shoes this nice, so I am a little protective right now! After the factory we headed to Bogdanci by way of Veles and after a bus never appearing, we had to take a taxi down, but made it in time to do last minute preparations for the meal. Turkeys were found here (they are very rare and most Macedonians have never eaten one) as well as ingredients for stuffing, so we had some of the typical T-day foods as well as some Macedonian dishes. All in all, a good second Thanksgiving in Macedonia. It is up in the air as to whether or not I will have a third one here or not as my COS date will be sometime in November of next year.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What would we do without Google?

Being a PCV means you assume the role of 'expert' lots of times when you shouldn't. However, sometimes, you need to just hold off answering until you have access to Google. And let me just say, I don't know what I would do without Google! My two most recent Google searches: "what are penguin arms called" and "parts of an ostrich". For those who care, penguins wings are called flippers and ostrich arms are classified as wings.
Today, the 7th graders finally got their new books. You know, its only two months into the school year and the Ministry just released which books they are using. The craziest part is their English books are the first books they have received, so teachers are having to use the old books until the new ones arrive, but are still expected to accomplish the same standards (aka finish the book) but in much less time. I don't think I could be a real teacher here. The penguins and ostriches tie in here. We started using the new book today and there was a fill-in-the-blank question about can and can't with penguins and flying (Penguins ________ fly.). The kids all knew penguins couldn't fly, but then we got into a discussion about what their arms are called. Are they wings? Aren't wings for flying? My counterpart wasn't even sure what they are officially called in Macedonian, so we couldn't even attempt to come up with a translation for the kids. I spent about 20 minutes of class sitting there thinking through what they would be called. They aren't exactly wings, but they aren't flippers. I wasn't sure. Then we brought up ostriches. They don't fly either, but they have wing-like arms. I think my counterpart and I were more curious than the kids were, but I was determined to find the answer, hence the Google search.
 I also had to be an expert on pronouncing numbers today. That doesn't sound too hard does it? Try it: ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, one hundred. How did you pronounce 30? Thirty or thirdy? Seventy or sevendy? Ninety or ninedy? They are written with a "t", so logically it would be a "t" sound, but it really is more of a "d". Which lead me to my current Google search of "pronounce numbers + english".  After lots of searching, my cconclusion is that people pronounce the numbers both ways. Everyone knows they are written with a "t" but the sound might be more of a "d". 
 My last Google search was about the popular "gangnam style". I have heard people talk about this, but due to my blockage of YouTube, I didn't actually know what this meant. (Clearly I don't know much about this since my Google search was for "gangham style" and Google had to correct me- gangnam style). This search came about by walking into a classroom of 7th graders where 5 of the girls were in the front of the room all doing some sort of dance. When asked what they were doing, they said they were doing the "style dance". I first checked out the Wikipedia article to learn about this and then, finally was able to watch a short clip of a video before it told me I couldn't. Apparently Gangnam style became popular in August. At this point, if I mentioned it to my parents, I think they could tell me what it was. That is how out of it I feel over here sometimes- when you parents know what a popular trend is and you don't. #peacecorpshardship# (I think this is a "cool" thing to do too- with the #s. I gotta show I have some street cred). Yes, that is what my girls were doing. Yes, I did then feel the need to practice in my room to see if I could do it. And yes, I do feel like a cool kid now that I know what this thing is.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Recycler Art

The Ministry of Education now has/now is pushing ecological standards for schools. My school decided today was the day to take a step forward on attaining the ecological certificate (certificates are everything in this country). A few of the teachers worked together to put on a workshop about how to create new paper out of old. As usual, a picture is worth 1,000 words, so here are 20,000 words!

The kids loved the first step of ripping up paper into small pieces.
One boy was joyously ripping up his English notebook from last year. Not sure how I feel about that- Thumbs up for recycling, Thumbs down for 4th grade English.
Of course we had to take a break from ripping paper for a little "photo with Sara" time! I can't attend any event with my students without this happening. These are some of my fantastic fifth graders- for real, some of my favourites!
Look at all that paper!
Had to play around with the camera settings a little.
Two of my 5th grade boys. The one in light blue is one of the funniest kids I have ever met, but 98% of his funniness isn't planned.
Two of my 6th graders reading about how to make new paper from old.
The school Director making some new paper.
One of the 1st grade teachers making paper.
Dip the screen in the watery paper pulp.
Lift the screen out and flip the paper onto a sheet to dry.
Sponge off the extra water.
One of my 6th graders making her paper.
Sponge off the extra water.
Scoop up some of that paper pulp.
One of my fifth graders getting ready to flip her paper.
Flip that paper!
The finished product

Monday, November 5, 2012

Random Thoughts

  • I have a brand new wood burning stove (my third one in country) and this one wins the award for being the most amazing stove ever! For once, I feel like Sara has won in the heating department.
  • I was given a plate of mashed wheat and walnut balls. Yup- they sound pretty nasty, but they sure do taste good. My host mother has been boiling wheat, then mashing it and mixing in sugar, walnuts and cinnamon. The idea is incredibly odd, but they really do taste oddly good.
  • I have the teachers at my school thinking about possible SPA (Small Project Assistance) Grants to create some large "action" within my community. The idea has melded from they typical TEFL project of an English Language Resource Room, to a creative community center and having creativity workshops including one where kids write and publish their own English storybooks. At this point, there is still a lot to be done before writing and submitting a grant and I think they have now decided to wait until the February grant round instead of the one going on right now, but at least they are thinking of ideas, getting excited, and one even volunteered to talk to the Mayor to get his input.
  • I have a consistent three students in my adult English class and another 4 who come on and off. While it would be nice to have more, the three regulars are a lot of fun and I can tell they are proud of themselves for what they have learned so far.
*Sorry, you would have had accompanying pictures for some of this, but I am too lazy to take the pictures, transfer them to my computer, and then upload them. Instead I will give you a few random photos from the last few weeks.

Most of Mak16 and Mak17 Lozovo Crew in Skopje
Blake showing off his going away present from the circus. It only seemed fitting to get him a clown nose since, while he might have been the oldest PCV in MK, he was also quite youthful.
The gorgeous and delicious cake Laura bought for Blake's going away party.