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.

Looking Beyond Our Assumptions

Moldova's Beauty

I’ve been trying to convince my brother to come visit me here in Moldova.  Now, I’m sure there are various reasons he is asking if I would pretty please meet him in another European country rather than him come here (like finances), but I think part of the problem is that he is buying into a “single story” of Moldova (check out this awesome TedTalk about the “Danger of a Single Story” to see what I’m talking about here).  Basically:

Adichie shares ‘the danger of a single story’, warning that if we only hear a single story about a person, country or issue, we risk great misunderstanding. She says:
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
From what I’ve been able to find online and what friends and family from home have told me, here’s what people think Moldova’s single story is:
  • It’s poor.
  • There isn’t much to do.
  • There isn’t much to see.
  • It isn’t a very interesting country.
  • It is difficult to travel to and around.
  • It’s not a very pretty country.

I recently read a blog post from a seasoned blogger that said Chisinau, Moldova’s capital, is the most boring capital in Europe.

But here’s the thing: these ideas of what Moldova is like are not exactly true or are at least not the whole truth.  Although it is, indeed, a poor country (the poorest in Europe, for that matter), Moldova is also a pretty cool country.  So to counter those single stories, here is what you might find in Moldova:

  • There is an abundance of natural beauty.  There are sunflower fields in the summer that stretch as far as the eye can see, gorgeous river banks, gently rolling hills, and nice forests.
  • There are a number of interesting sites to visit.  In Chisinau, there are numerous interesting monuments and nice parks, as well as the former circus building, which is known as an excellent example of Soviet architecture.  Outside Chisinau, there are cool sites in the northern part of the country such as the Soroca Fortress and Orhei Monastery.  To the west of Chisinau is Milesti Mici, the world’s largest underground wine cellar.  There are other famous wineries, including Cricova, Pucari, and Castel Mimi.
  • There is a unique mix of old and new, traditional and modern.  In the capital, you can find modern amenities, such as a cinema, excellent restaurants, and dance clubs.  In towns and villages, old customs and traditions are still very much alive.  You can experience impressive traditional dances and watch wine being made in house courtyards.
  • There is an extensive public transportation system.  Although not always particularly comfortable, there is reliable, affordable, and extensive public transportation in virtually every part of the country.  In the capital, you can take a trolley bus anywhere in the city for just 2 lei (0.10 USD).  I can get to the capital from my village in 2 hours riding in a mini-bus for the cost of 48 lei (2.38 USD).
  • The people are wonderful and welcoming.  Moldovans are friendly and will generally welcome you with a glass (or two or three) of good, homemade wine (or compot, which is homemade juice, if alcohol’s not your thing) and a masa (table) of food.

You see, if you believed the single story, you might miss out on a lot of really wonderful things (Hint: Chris (my brother)! You need to come visit here!)!

This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week two: The Danger of a Single Story.

7 Ways Globalization Shows Up in Moldova

A group of my 8th grade students performing a dance to an American hip-hop song.
A group of my 8th grade students performing a dance to an American hip-hop song.

It’s easy to think of the world as this huge, vast place.  It’s easy to think that we are so separated from one another, that we’re so different from one another.  It’s easy to think that our actions and choices can’t possibly affect people halfway around the world from us.  But that’s not true.  As I’ve traveled and as I live halfway around the world from the place I was born and raised, I’ve come to realize that this world is actually a pretty small place.  We’re not all that different from each other.  And our actions and choices do have the possibility to affect people we’ve never met or even know exist.  In reality, the world is rather interconnected.  Here are 7 examples of how globalization shows up here in Moldova.

1. Music.  As I write this, I’m listening to a local radio station.  In the past hour, all but maybe one or two songs have been in English, and almost all of them are songs that I was familiar with in the United States.  Although Moldova also has plenty of its own music, American music is very popular here, particularly with my students.  One day, one of my students asked if I (personally) knew Justin Bieber.

2. Technology.  Many of my students and other Moldovans have “American” technology, such as iPhones and iPods.  They also spend time on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.  This allows them to watch videos and see content from the United States and other countries.

3. Work.  A large percentage of Moldovans live and work abroad.  Though estimates aren’t particularly exact, most sources say around 25% of the working age population is abroad.  Many work in Russia, England, Germany, Italy, and Romania, as well other countries in Europe, the Middle East, and America.  I have students born in other countries, many students have one or both parents working abroad, and most older adults I meet have children working abroad.  There are at least two teachers at my school who have children living in the United States.

4. Language Classes.  Every time I go to the capital, I see many signs advertising various language classes and tutoring, from English to German to French.

5. Bi-Lingualism and Tri-Lingualism.  Because of Moldova’s complex past, almost every single Moldovan is at least bi-lingual, and many are tri-lingual.  Everyone speaks Romanian and Russian, and an additional foreign language is mandatory in grades 2-9 at schools (usually French or English).  In Gagauzia, the semi-autonomous state within Moldova, people also speak Gagauzian (an endangered language that derives from Turkish).

6. Food.  Particularly in the capital, there are many restaurants serving foods native to other areas, including Italian, Mexican, Thai, American, Greek, and Uzbek.  In particular, pizza is quite popular.  Another volunteer’s host father explained that prior to Moldova’s independence 25 years ago, Moldovans had never even heard of pizza, but now it seems to be one of the most popular foods at restaurants across the country.

7. Media.  The cinemas show quite a few American movies, and there are some channels on television that show American shows.  The TV shows are particularly interesting, as they are often dubbed in Russia (over somewhat still audible English) with Romanian subtitles.

See?  Even in this little country halfway around the world, it’s easy to see how interconnected our world is.

This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week one: Global Citizenship.