July 2, 2014

Time is really moving by fast!  I can’t believe that the 4th of July is only two days away.  Here at camp, the 4th is one of the biggest events all year and since I am the only American student, I have to do the planning.  Most of the counselors have seen at least one 4th celebration here at camp, as well as many campers, so they will definitely be a huge help with decorations and leading activities.  So much to do, so little time!  I wanted to write some things down before the 4th because I am sure that will take one post by itself.

By this point, I have taught 17 classes.  Every day is an adventure, but the feedback has been good from both campers and counselors.  The children have been engaging, asking great questions, and making connections between classes.  Russian children are typically pretty honest, so I take it as a good sign that they say they enjoy the class!  They have told me that many of the questions I have asked them are the first times they have ever been asked to answer those questions out loud.  While it is sometimes hard to read their faces, it is interesting to see the range of responses the kids have to some activities. They keep asking if I am a teacher in America and one kid asked if I wanted to be a psychologist!  I guess they see I am trying to shape their young minds. Working with my friend Anya has been a great experience and I am so proud of her work with the class.  She was a camper last time I came and her dream is to become an interpreter.  She is doing an awesome job and getting great practice for her future career at the same time. Fingers crossed things continue to go well with the classes!

In the spirit of being brief, I will list some events and highlights that have occurred since my last post.  Please excuse the randomness of the list; that’s just how my brain works!

  • 2014 has been literally the coldest year of my life!  After surviving the worst winter in Chicago history, I was looking forward to sunshine here at camp.  Up until the last two days, the weather has been pretty crappy.  It was cold, damp, raining, and windy, making camp life a little more difficult.  But thankfully, the sun has arrived again and with it some warm weather!  It’s so nice to walk around in shorts again.  I have a much greater appreciation for sunshine than I ever thought I would.
  • I have decided to just wait till I get home to post pictures on Facebook.  The internet and electricity can be unpredictable sometimes, and I don’t want to tie up the office computer trying to upload 500 pictures.  Thankfully Gwynn can post pictures of me!
  • Since most days are typically the same here at camp, I truly never know what day of the week it is!
  • I have had the munchies since I have been at camp.  It’s not like they don’t feed me:  we eat 5 meals a day.  I guess my metabolism has speed up more than I realized.  Last time, I lost about 10 pounds and hopefully history will repeat itself!  As long as I don’t gain 10 pounds, I should be ok.
  • Still battling fatigue.  Teaching is hard work, plus I have to try to balance my time with the groups of children who are not taking my class.  Everyone wants to hang out with me, but there are only so many hours in a day.  That is only disadvantage of being the only American student: it is hard to get around to all the groups and spend time with them.  I do the best I can!  It is a good problem to have that people want to see you.  I’m proud of myself for knowing when I need to take a break and step away from the action if necessary.  Self-care in action!
  • One reason it is a struggle for me to learn Russian is because everyone wants to speak to me in English!  Even when I talk in Russian, the response is always in English.  I completely understand why people want to talk in English: they want to practice with a native speaker.  But it definitely doesn’t help me learn Russian.
  • Since the weather has improved, that means more time outside in the camp forest!  I love being outside and with nature, especially after such nasty weather.  The forest at camp is truly beautiful and peaceful.  I was even able to eat wild berries, something I would never do at home because all I can think about is the poison berries in the Hunger Games.
  • Campers and counselors alike are fascinated when they see me writing in my journal around camp.  I think it is a combination that I am left-handed, I am writing in English, and I am always writing something down somewhere.
  • I had the chance to visit a friend’s dacha (google search that for more info!) and pick fresh berries!
  • Apparently I have been blowing up the Mari El Instagram network.  People keep saying they saw pictures of me on the internet and I’m like, what picture are you talking about?!  Lord knows I probably look crazy in most of them.
  • Had my first “holiday” or vacation yesterday.  It wasn’t very restful, but I had a chance to go to the city again.  This time I went to my friend’s English class and spoke with the students.  They were lots of fun and asked tons of questions about life in America, comparing Russia and America, my interests, and even what is the American secret to having white teeth!
  • If there is one rite of passage for American students at Lesnaya Skazka, it is surviving picture day.  Taking pictures with every group (including the individual pictures within each group) in the heat is no walk in the park.  Last time, we took pictures for 8 hours.  I missed 5 groups this morning because of class, but I spent 5 hours with the rest of the groups!  Man, it is exhausting, but it really means to the world to the kids.  Their smiles and happiness are worth it in the end!

So that really wasn’t brief at all, but in conclusion, one of the things people tell me the most at camp is how much they enjoy me smiling all the time.  In fact if I am not smiling, they think something is wrong or I am upset!  Most people respond back to my smile with another smile, but some just stare back, in awe, wonder, confusion, or all three haha.  I consider it a personal challenge to get these smile-resistant individuals to smile back eventually.  For some it takes a day, others a week, and a few it takes almost the entire session, but in the end, I have yet to fail!  And the sense of satisfaction and happiness to see those smiles from the most serious faces is truly priceless.  So keep smiling friends, even when it is hard; you might just bring some sunshine to someone’s day.  If it works in the middle of Russia, I’m sure it will work for you wherever you are!

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