English Club

Students from 8th and 9th grade help create a video showcasing how we say “hello!” in Moldova
Our English Club welcomed our Peace Corps Country Director, Tracey, and my fellow volunteer, Alicia, to our village

One of the best parts of my final year here so far has been the continuation of the English Club I do with students in grades 7 through 9 at my school.  I started the club last winter in February and had about 70 students sign up and about 50 students regularly show up.  We took a break over the summer other than a couple weeks when we had a summer English Club/Camp, but started up again in October.  Last year’s ninth grade students have moved on to other school, so the new seventh grade students got to join us.  I had about 55 students sign up, and about 35-40 attend every week.

There are three mixed-grade-level groups and each group meets once a week for an hour.  My site mate, who teaches health at the school, sometimes helps out, and one of my partners also attends sometimes.  This semester, we covered a variety of topics including: introductions and greetings, talking about ourselves, numbers (from simple numbers to more complicated numbers like 5,406,827,359), Halloween, how to research, Thanksgiving, winter holidays (Christmas, New Year, and Hanukkah), and a United States of America states project.  We’ve played games, used whiteboards for practice, had conversations, talked about American culture, and worked in teams to create posters.

There are a number of reasons I love doing the English Club so much.  I like that there is no set curriculum and what we do each week can be tailored to what the students need more practice on (like saying numbers) or are interested in (like American holidays and traditions).  It’s also nice to be able to teach in a more relaxed setting, as we don’t need to worry about grades or do things in a way that we are expected to do when teaching normal lessons.

Most of all, I love the opportunity to get to know my students better.  During class, we have a lot to cover in a very small amount of time, so things need to be rigidly scheduled.  During English Club, we can take time to have conversations and I have more time to work one-on-one with a struggling student or in smaller groups.  I feel like the club has allowed me to get to know my students on a more personal basis, and I also have more opportunities to share about myself, my family, why I am here in Moldova, and about American culture.

The students are very curious about my life in the United States and my American family!  Last week, I talked to my dad briefly while one of the groups were working on a poster project.  When the students realized I was speaking English on the phone, they were silent!  They looked at me in awe as I rapidly (well, to them) spoke English.  After, they told me, “Wow! You speak so quickly in English when you speak to other Americans!”.

I can’t wait to start the club up again after our winter vacation, and know that I will dearly miss these students when I leave Moldova in a few short months.

Travel in Romania: Braşov

Council Square

We arrived in Braşov in the early evening.  After checking into our hotel room and finding parking (which was a bit of a hassle), we immediately set out to explore the Braşov historic town, which was founded in 1211 by the Teutonic Knights.  We were quite hungry, so first on our list was to find some food.  We ate at a burger place right in the town square, then walked around some more.

Nicolae Titulescu Park
Me and my dad at Nicolae Titulescu Park
My mom and dad at Nicolae Titulescu Park
Historic center
Historic center
The Old Town Hall

The historic town is really cool, with so many old buildings (many are restored, others are in less-than-ideal shape, especially off the main town center).  The citadel is encased by a medieval wall, complete with towers and a gate entry (Catherine’s Gate) dating to 1559.  Our first night, we checked out the Council Square as well as the Nicolae Titulescu Park, which is located just outside the historical town center.  We also walked down some of the streets connected to the Council Square.

Council Square
View from the Black Tower

Our second day, we checked out the Council Square again (it was less crowded), the outside of the Black Church (Biserica Neagra), and the defensive fortifications of the town.

View from the Graft Bastion of the Black Church
View from the Graft Bastion
Museum located in the Graft Bastion, which we visited on opening day
Graft Bastion
My parents in front of the Graft Bastion
Strada Dupa Ziduri- Behind the Walls Street

We walked along Strada Dupa Ziduri (Behind the Walls Street), hiking up to see the White Tower and Black Tower as well as the Graft’s Bastion.

Catherine’s Gate
Strada Sforii (Rope Street)

We then explored some more side streets before making our way to the other side of the citadel to see Catherine’s Gate (1559), Schei Gate (1827), and Strada Sforii (Rope Street), which is one of the narrowest streets in Europe.

Carpenter’s Tower
Carpenter’s Tower
Draper’s Bastion
Draper’s Bastion
Peacock flowers at a park

From there, we headed towards Tampa Mountain, although we didn’t go up the mountain.  Instead we walked along Aleea Tiberiu Breliceanu, which is just outside the city walls.  There, we saw The Weaver’s Bastion, The Carpenter’s Tower, and the Draper’s Bastion.

Council Square at night
Old Town Hall, night
Council Square, night

We ate dinner at an Irish Pub and Restaurant, a little bit off from the Council Square, where I had the best meal of our trip (Guinness Pie- so good!).  We checked out the square at night, which was just as beautiful as during the day, then headed to bed.  The following morning, we headed on our way.

Where we stayed: Residence Central Annapolis (Booking.com)

Notes and tips about visiting Braşov:

  • There’s a lot to see and do around the town- I’d recommend walking around to see as much or as little as you’d like.
  • There is a lift up to Tampa Mountain and you can also walk up to the top, where you have good views of the town from above, but we didn’t do either.  Instead, there are nice views from the White Tower, which is off of Strada Dupa Ziduri.
  • We really enjoyed where we stayed, and had a really nice room there.  One early evening, before heading out to eat dinner, we played cards and shared a bottle of wine in the inside courtyard.
  • I wish I had read up a bit more about the town’s history before we went, but most things are well labeled with informational signs.
  • Other than food and lodging, everything we did was free!

Happy New Year!

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this a few times, but many Moldovans celebrate both Christmas and the New Year based on the Orthodox calendar.  Some also celebrate “our” Christmas and New Year.  Basically, in Moldova, the party is just getting started, and Christmas will be celebrated on January 7th and New Year on January 14th.

I wasn’t sure we would really do anything for New Year’s Eve or not.  I had thought about going into Chisinau and meeting up with other volunteers, but ultimately decided to just stay home as I was feeling pretty tired.  We ended up having a very simple celebration at home.  We did at least stay up to ring in the new year.  We had a yummy dinner of chicken and potatoes, as well as yummy champagne from the Cricova winery.

Valerica ended up falling asleep before midnight, but my host mom, host dad, and I were awake.  As soon as the clock hit midnight, all over my little village, people were setting off fireworks.  We couldn’t see a ton, but those we did see were very pretty.  We went outside to watch them and it was also a very clear night with gorgeous stars in the sky.  After, we toasted each other with champagne and my host parents called their loved ones.  I skyped for a bit with some friends from home as they prepared for their celebration seven hours later.

It was a pretty perfect evening to start off the new year!  Welcome to 2017!

Moldovan Cuisine Monday: “Borscht”

Borscht

Borscht: I used to think that borscht was a beet-based soup, and although that can be true and is what Americans generally consider it to be, there are many variations.  I have had the traditional, beet-based borscht once, and it was actually not too bad, but it seems that a cabbage-based borscht is more common.  Since moving to my permanent site, I have had cabbage borscht almost every single day, generally for lunch.  It seems to be mostly made up of cabbage, broth (which is red, so I think it is made using tomato juice), and potatoes, and not a whole lot else.  It’s actually pretty tasty, although after eating it every day for over a month, I’m not sure I like it as much as I originally did!

First Few Days at Site

My new host niece, Valerica, and I.
My new host niece, Valerica, and me.

I’ve spent most of the last few days at my permanent site hanging out with my 6-year-old host niece, Valerica. She won’t usually be here, but she’s visiting her grandparents (my host parents) for several days. She is full of energy and wants to spend every waking second with me, including walking me to the outhouse every time I need to go to the bathroom. We’ve spent a lot of time coloring, drawing, and playing cards. Markers, especially good markers, don’t really exist in Moldova, so she has loved getting to use the Crayola markers I brought with me. She also loves to look at the stack of pictures of my friends and family that I brought with me from the US. Her favorites are my prom pictures from high school with friends. She’ll go to the stack and shuffle through until she finds her favorite picture. She originally said that my dress was her favorite, which isn’t surprising because her favorite color is pink and my dress was pink, but she’s since changed her mind, and now she likes my friend Beth’s dress the best.

She wanted to play pretend school, so I gave her an actual lesson and we learned the days of the week in both Romanian and English- and then she wanted to write them!
She wanted to play pretend school, so I gave her an actual lesson and we learned the days of the week in both Romanian and English- and then she wanted to write them!

She’s currently in gradinita (which literally translates to kindergarden, but is more like a pre-school which children can attend from ages 2 or 3 to 7, when they start school). She can count, knows most of her letters, and can spell and write mama and tata (mom and dad). She likes to use my Banagrams to spell those two words over and over.

When we walked to the valley, she insisted I bring my camera so we could take pictures!
When we walked to the valley, she insisted I bring my camera so we could take pictures!

On Saturday, we were at the house while my host parents worked in the fields in the “valley”. She decided we should go visit them, so we took a short walk to the valley. It seems that they mostly have potatoes, corn, grapes, and tomatoes, but I think they’ve already harvested some other things. They also have lots of pumpkins. We’ve also made a couple of trips to the store, which is very close by, maybe a 3 or 4 minute walk, to get ice cream.

Among the corn rows.
Among the corn rows.

One of the benefits of spending time with her is that we talk a lot, and she doesn’t know English, so that means I’m using a lot more Romanian than I was with my previous host family. Sometimes she gets frustrated when I don’t know what she’s saying, but we’ve been able to communicate pretty well! It’s a little harder to understand her than adults because she mumbles a bit and also speaks less clearly. In fact, I’ve only spoken Romanian for 3 entire days now- not a single word of English! That’s a really good thing, because once school starts, I’ll be speaking a lot more English, so it’s good to speak just Romanian for now.

On Friday morning and again this morning, I went to the school to do some work. I hung out in the library with the librarian, Elena, who is also 22 years old. She’s very nice and I think we’ll be able to collaborate with some things in the future. She also uses Google Translate when we can’t seem to understand each other, so that’s cool! She let me check out all of the English textbooks, and I’ve been going through the first units to make notes of possible things to do for lessons, and also through the entire books to get a better idea of what’s in them. Each of the textbooks is quite different. Although the curriculum flows well from one to the next, they are not at all consistent in terms of set-up, organization, and kid-friendliness.

Today, I spoke briefly with the adjunct director in charge of academics, and I chose which classes I will team-teach with my two partners. Peace Corps requires us to teach at least 18 hours a week and to teach with all of the English teachers at our schools (unless there are more than 3 English teachers, which doesn’t apply to me). My school is a gimnasiu, which means it’s only grades 1-9. English is taught starting in 2nd grade. Unless things change (which is always possible), I’ll be teaching 3rd form, 4th form (2 classes), 5th form, 6th form, 7th form (2 classes), and 8th form (2 classes). Because my school is so small, I have fewer options, and have to teach more levels than some volunteers, but that’s okay. Also, it sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t- each of the classes only meet 2 hours per week. I won’t know my schedule until possibly the first week of school, but if things are spread out well, I could only be teaching about three and a half hours per day (although I’ll have to be at school for all of the regular school hours). I also have met many of the other teachers at school, including the teacher (possibly French teacher? although I don’t think they offer French anymore) that hosted the only other volunteer that lived in my village, a few years ago.  I attended my first “conference” with my fellow teachers yesterday, but I think I’ll save that for next time!