On March 3, Katya and Ira invited me over to Ira's apartment for the afternoon. We spent several hours eating cake, drinking tea, and playing Scrabble. It was Ira's first time playing, sort of makes her my third convert to the ways of Scrabble after Sasha and Katya. The first game did not start particularly well for me. I had more trouble with spelling and took a few extra risks. Nevertheless, I made some solid plays and made a great comeback to win! If you count complete and incomplete games, this makes my record 5-0. But then, to my surprise, they wanted to play again. I can't remember if I've ever played back-to-back Scrabble games before. Usually people are too exhausted of sitting quietly and racking their brains for that long. This game, however, proved to be end of my reign of terror. Katya had a huge play that set her out ahead of everyone else early-on and we couldn't recover. I took second place and my first loss. I can't say I'm surprised. It was bound to happen eventually. But as long as I have a winning record against Russians in Russian Scrabble, I'll consider that a victory.
March 4-6 was the first half of last week and it was extremely busy. I had about two one-and-a-half-hour classes each day, which is pretty typical. The real work this time, though, came from the textbook. Irina (my boss) and I put a lot of hours into the book over these three days and it wore me out. This was honestly my first taste of what a real 40-hour per week job must feel like. I was at the university from 8 or 9am until 5 or 6pm each day, which is very different from my normal teaching schedule.
On March 7, Pavel asked me to help with a video-conference that some law students were having with a law professor from the United States. This professor was visiting the U.S. Consulate in Yekaterinburg was willing to tell us about herself and answer questions that Russian students had about the American educational system in law schools. I was there basically as a mediator and to provide a little extra English support. Now, I am not a law student, but because so many of the students were shy, I had to come up with a few questions to keep the ball rolling. All in all, it was a successful conversation and it was generally interesting. I will say, though, that the professor's tone lost me a few times and I found myself spacing out a little.
March 7 was also the day before the holiday International Women's Day. This holiday is also known here as just the 8th of March and it is very widely celebrated. In fact, I believe I heard or read somewhere that International Women's Day is more popular in Eastern Europe than anywhere else. Anyway, on the 7th, our language department held a party. There were probably around 20 or so people in attendance and plenty of delicious food. Jyun-lyan, a Chinese teacher, made a Chinese dish that everybody loved. I even prepared some fudge the night before. Apparently, fudge is Western thing and nobody had heard of it before. I got the recipe from another Fulbrighter and it couldn't have been easier. I just melted a bunch of chocolate bars, mixed it with a small can of сгущёнка (sugary condensed milk), and voilà. Everybody loved it and demanded the recipe. Also, another common tradition is to make toasts and let just about everybody say a few words. I, of course, had my turn. My toast was in Russian and not super elegant, but it got the job done.
Normally, on this holiday, women receive candy, flowers, and other gifts. It's very similar to Mother's Day in the US, but this one targets all women. The day is also taken off from work, which is why we held the party on the day before.
On March 8, since it was a holiday, I had no work. At the party, some of the teachers told Jyun-lyan and me about a meat festival that goes on in the center of town on the 8th. At first I thought Women's Day and the meat festival were somehow related, which made no sense. I later found out that they just schedule it then because they know nobody is working. Anyway, we decided to check it out. There were a lot of vendors selling beef, pork, fowl, venison, milk, and even horse meat. We couldn't find any place that sold cooked meat to snack on. I think it was more like a market with only raw products. In any case, there were a ton of people and the lines were all very long. There was also a small cultural element to the festival. At one end, they played Russian folk music over the speakers and performed some dances for kids. It's at moments like these, when I get hit with a big reminder that I'm still in Russia. We didn't stay long. We just walked the length of it twice and chatted. I was pretty shocked to find out that Jyun-lyan has already been teaching in Tyumen for seven years! As it turns out, his wife and child still live in China, but he just works here because he can make more money for them in Russia than he can in China. That and there are also a few more opportunities for him here. I imagine it must be very difficult for him to stay away from family for so long.
Later that night, I was invited by a new friend/acquaintance to hit the town a little. His name is Lomyan and he's from Turkey. He's already studied here for four years and his Russian is extraordinary. We got acquainted because he's friends with Ken, the Fulbrighter in Tyumen from a couple years ago. We didn't do anything crazy, but he took me to a few popular spots: Cafe 37 and "In the USA" (Ин Да ЮСА). The name is actually pretty funny because it's written in Russian but meant to sound a little like English. It looks like "een da USA" but most people say "een da yusa" which just makes the whole thing sound even weirder. Anyway, it's a pretty neat place with a bunch of American memorabilia on the walls, like license plates, clothes, golf clubs, and so on. Of course, because it was a holiday, it was jam-packed full of people. Still, that didn't bother me too much. It gave the place a little more energy.
Over the weekend, I added to my workload, but did so knowing that it would be a great experience. I was already slated as an organizer for the Tyumen Model United Nations but I also decided to become a participant. I applied to become the delegate for the Russian Federation in the Security Council (English-speaking). I found out almost right away that I got it. So, with teaching, textbook-writing, and the Model UN, March is proving to be a very busy month. I basically have two weeks to learn my country's position and get prepared to present on it at the council. The goal of it all is to write a resolution on a particular issue. This year's issue is the conflict on the Korean peninsula.
On Monday, I visited a different teacher's class to help with their activity. They were practicing work interviews in English and I stepped in to help as a second interviewer. It was fun to work with another group of students and spread my English around a little. Sometimes, I feel a little bad that my groups are so small and not many students get to practice English with me. I hope to correct this by sitting in on a few more classes like this one. I'm going back Thursday to continue with interviews. They also promised me blini (pancakes) in honor of another holiday, Maslenitsa. In my own classes, I'm starting to get back into the flow of things. At the beginning of this semester, it was kind of hard to get going and to think of lesson plans, but my creative juices are starting to flow again. This week, I drew a comic strip and their assignment was to write a story based on the images. I could have found something online more easily, but I think the students get a kick out of it when they know I made something myself.
I'm going to be pretty busy the next couple weeks, but I'll do my best to keep this blog updated.