Săptămâna Engleză (English Week at School)

My partner teacher (in the yellow skirt) explains directions during our after-school rehearsal
My partner teacher (in the yellow skirt) explains directions during our after-school rehearsal

Each school year, my school (and most other schools in Moldova) have a week or two when they celebrate the English language and American and British culture.  At our school, this was the past two weeks and was combined with Russian Week.

Students work on some grammar exercises during a competition between two teams
Students work on some grammar exercises during a competition between two teams

During this week (or weeks, in our case) the English teachers plan additional activities to do both during and outside of English classes which culminates in participation in a school assembly at the end.  This year, various students in 7th, 8th, and 9th forms memorized simple English poems, which they recited at the assembly.

Students work on a grammar exercise during a team competition
Students work on a grammar exercise during a team competition

They also made posters about the United States, Great Britain, or English writers and created “lapbooks”.  “Lapbooks” are basically like interactive posters.  Each grade level (7-9) was given a list of different topics they’ve learned so far this year (like clothing, families, health, etc.) and had to be creative to include those topics on a poster that opens like a book.  They did a really wonderful job!

Students work to figure out a riddle
Students work to figure out a riddle

In all of our classes, we learned poems, did new activities (charades to practice action verbs, pictionary to practice nouns), and read some stories that are not included in the curriculum.

Students work on a riddle
Students work on a riddle

After school one day, all of the students who had made lapbooks or were reciting poems at the assembly gathered to do a short rehearsal and then we played some different activities.  The students seemed to really enjoy some English practice that we usually don’t have time to do in classes.

I think it was a success and it was a good motivator to get an English Club up and running!

From Snow to Mud to Ice

Our muddy road on Monday
Our muddy road on Monday
Freezing rain coming down and making for a nice solid layer of ice
Freezing rain coming down and making for a nice solid layer of ice
Don't let it fool you- that's ice, not snow!
Don’t let it fool you- that’s ice, not snow!

I’m from Delaware County in New York State.  At least once a year a meme circulates about how there aren’t many other places in the world where you can experience all four seasons in a week.  This past week in Moldova felt a little like that.  We started the week off with some regular, winter weather.  Cold, but no snow, nothing unusual.  And then it warmed up on Monday and it was warm (about 40ºF) and super muddy.  By Tuesday, it was cold again and we had freezing rain, which covered everything with a solid layer of ice (though it looked like snow).  We had freezing rain and a dusting of snow later in the week.  Then yesterday, it was around 5ºF with a strong windchill.  Brr!

Life Lately in Moldova

This month has been a bit of a whirlwind, so here’s a bit of an update on my life.

design mom

I was featured on DesignMom.  

I’ve read this blog for a really long time, and was happy to share an overview of my day-to-day life here in Moldova.  You can check out the link here.

My host nieces, Sofica and Elisaveta helping set the table for "old" New Year
My host nieces, Sofica and Elisaveta helping set the table for “old” New Year

We celebrated the Orthodox New Year.

Moldovans celebrated the “Old” New Year on January 14th.  My host sisters and their husbands/families surprised us with a visit.  My host mom had been pretty sad that no one was coming to celebrate with us, and just after she said that, a car pulled up outside.  One of the traditions is to throw seeds (sunflower, birdseed, etc.) at one another along with wishes for success, health, and happiness in the new year.  Several groups of students also visited our door and received bread, candy, and money in return.

Volunteers and local partners during one of our training sessions
Volunteers and local partners during one of our training sessions

We had a training on planning for projects and writing grants.

This past week I went to the capital with one of the Romanian teachers from my school to participate in a Peace Corps training on project planning and grant writing.  It was a long week.  This is not at all my area of expertise, so it was a very exhausting 4 days of training.  Our school partners headed back on Friday afternoon and evening, but we had an additional session to meet with our country director, so we stayed until Saturday.

MallDova at night
MallDova at night

Visited MallDova for the first time.

Moldova has one large and very modern mall in Chisinau, which I visited for the first time this past week.  It’s huge and has a mix of clothing stores, stores for children, and even a huge food court.  I bought my first item of clothing in Moldova at LC Waikiki (a turtleneck sweater).  I was also able to find Dry Shampoo at the mall!  I am almost out of the supply I brought with me and thought I wouldn’t be able to find any in Moldova, so that was a very pleasant surprise!

Yummy pancakes with New York Pure Maple Syrup!
Yummy pancakes with New York Pure Maple Syrup!

Received some awesome packages from friends and family.

A group of my college friends got together and set me a package of my most missed food items from home, along with letters and drawings,.  I also got a couple of small packages my parents sent me and another college friend sent me a Christmas care package.  The package from my friends including maple syrup and pancake mix, so I made some pancakes this morning!  They were so yummy!

5 Ways My Students Give Me Hope

Living in a foreign country at the local level, especially in a country such as Moldova, it is sometimes easy to get caught up in all the problems and lose hope.  But then I look around me, and I remember that there is hope and that changes are occurring.  In particular, my students give me hope for the future of Moldova and for the world.

Festelita

1. They are generally very positive.  The English curriculum covers a wide range of topics, and my students are almost always positive when we have discussions, ranging from health hazards to environmental concerns.

2. They are informed.  Moldova is a small country and technology is fairly new, but many of my students are well-informed about topics ranging from healthy habits to how to prevent pollution to American politics.

3. They are curious. They are interested in learning about different things, different places, and different people.  They ask good questions and bring up various topics that are sometimes related to and sometimes not related to the lesson we are teaching.  They love to hear about how people live in other places.

4. They believe in change.  When presented with a problem, they come up with solutions.  When we discuss problems, they talk about the positive changes they’ve already seen happen, particularly within our town.

5. They respect tradition while also living modern lives.  They know traditional Moldovan dances (very well!) but also love listening to rap and hip-hop and dancing to modern music.  They keep up the traditional cultural celebrations and customs while also leading modern lives.  At school events, the first performance might be a traditional Christmas carol, and the second might be a ninth grade student rapping in Romanian.

My students both inspire and motivate me.  They are confident, positive, and full of hope, and they encourage me to do my best while here to provide them with opportunities and knowledge to take them into the future.

This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week four: Change and Hope.

Cheating? What’s That?

Moldova

I’m going to start  with a little story that is familiar to any volunteer who has sat in a classroom here in Moldova on a test day (this story is not fictional, but my observations from a recent test).

Today is test day in the 9th form.  In our last class, we reviewed for the coming test and we even gave our students pretty specific hints as to what would be on their test the next time the class met.  Students shuffle in and take their places.  They have switched their seats from the ones they generally sit in and most are sitting two to a desk.  My partner teacher and I tell them “Only one student to a desk!”.  They sigh and grudgingly move to other seats.  One student attempts to move his new seat as close to the edge of the desk as possible toward the desk next to it.  We hand out the evaluation notebooks and write the test questions on the board.  The students begin to work on their test.  Every student has their textbook open, their class notebooks open, and a dictionary is passed around the room as needed.  This is by every means an “open-book” test.  My partner teacher, once settled at her desk, tells the students “If you have the same written responses as another student, you will both receive a grade of 5 [out of 10- passing here, but just barely]”.  Many of the students look at her in disbelief and shift uncomfortably in their seats.  

In the next forty minutes of the class period, I catch students (all but two, in fact) “cheating” in the following ways: passing notes, passing entire evaluation notebooks, talking to one another, not-so-subtly putting their textbooks (with correct answers circled) in a particularly visible spot on their desks so others can see, using their phones (and then using them again and again even after being warned), throwing wads of paper with the answers to students all the way across the room, getting up and walking around in order to see others’ answers, and asking the teacher for the answers (which thankfully, she doesn’t give).  Despite this obvious and known “cheating”, we only take points off for two evaluations in which every answer was word for word the same.  Those students still “pass” but with a grade that’s not considered good.  

If you are an American reading this, you might be surprised to learn that “cheating” as we understand it in the United States is not really considered a bad thing here in Moldova.  In fact it’s quite rare for rules regarding cheating to be enforced even as “strictly” as they were in my story here.  We took points off on two tests and ended up taking away five phones.  We also verbally warned students not to talk to one another or help one another (albeit, without any real consequences).  If you ask students about how to “cheat the test” they will proudly tell you of all the techniques and strategies they have used.

In the United States we take cheating to be a serious thing.  Any course you take in college and many you take in high school will start with a short review of all the ways in which cheating or academic dishonesty will not be tolerated.  In elementary, middle, and high schools, a teacher might give you a zero on a test if you are found to have cheated.  In college, they can throw you out for academic dishonesty.

But cheating and academic dishonesty is viewed quite differently here.  It’s seen as a way to succeed and not as a morally wrong thing.  It’s simply part of what you do as a student.  Students know how to and do “cheat” on tests and homework assignments.  Even if teachers or schools have rules to curb cheating, they are rarely enforced.

So why the difference?

Americans tend to be quite individualistic in nature.  We value doing our own work, working hard, and giving credit where credit is due.  Although we aren’t opposed to helping others, we tend to value independence and most of us want to know that we’ve succeeded because of what we’ve done, not for what others have done for us.

Moldovans, on the other hand, tend to be much more collectivist.  The group is more important that the individual.  If you can help another person, you should do so.  It doesn’t devalue your work or theirs by doing so.  They aren’t as concerned with who did the work or who “deserves the grade” but that the work was done and the grade was achieved, regardless of the means.

This is one small example of the ways in which American culture and Moldovan culture is different.  From my standpoint, based on my experiences in America, cheating is “wrong”.  But I’ve had to rethink how I view cheating when in a Moldovan classroom.  Perhaps it’s less “wrong” and more just simply different.  It’s easy to think that our opinions, particularly if they are supported largely by our culture, are right, while others’ conflicting opinions are wrong.  But when we simply think of ourselves and our culture as right and “their” opinions and culture as wrong, we are making a very big mistake.  We aren’t considering that for “them”, the opposite is true.  We aren’t considering that for many things, there is no one right way to do things or to think about things.  When we instead look more deeply and with more understanding, we have an opportunity to learn about another group of people and to experience something really beautiful.

This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week three: Cultural Differences.