July 14, 2014

How 21 days at camp went by so fast is a mystery to me.  The Russian- American session at Lesnaya Skazka has come and gone and camp is like a ghost town.  Two nights before, the camp was alive with the final disco of the session and many of the children were running around taking pictures and exchanging numbers with their newfound friends.  The night ended with the closing video of the session which typically features the different groups and highlights from the session.  Gwynn and I both made appearances and it was funny to see how the kids cheered when they saw us on the screen.  Most were reluctant to go to bed since they knew the morning meant heading on buses back to the city and away from Skazka.   Tears, hugs, and goodbyes were present that night and in the morning as the children left one by one until there were no people left besides the counselors.  It is definitely a bitter-sweet atmosphere around the camp now.

While I was sad to see the children leave, I had a sense of satisfaction with the session ending, mainly because I was happy to have finished my classes.  For the last class, I had each student go around the room and say any thoughts they had about the class.  I did this because it is tradition for each group at the end of the night to have “candle” where a burning candle is passed around to the group and each person gives their opinion about the day, good or bad.  Since they were accustomed to this activity, I thought it would be a cool way to finish my classes.  I wasn’t prepared for the flood of amazing feedback and comments about the class the kids gave.  Like I have mentioned before, Russian kids are honest so I felt they would tell me the truth regardless.  I was almost moved to tears from the things the kids were saying about me, the class, and the things they thought they could take away from the lessons.  For those of you who don’t know me, I rarely cry, but I was close to losing it a few times, especially when the kids who I thought weren’t paying attention said the most powerful things.  Some feedback included seeing the world from a whole new perspective, me being a hero for coming to the middle of Russia to teach them despite the challenges, they would never forget the things I taught them, they wanted more lessons and looked forward to my lessons every day, the lessons weren’t boring and were interesting, and they appreciated my smile and positive energy.  I was honestly speechless and was glad I had time to recover before I gave my final remarks.  I’m still shocked that things turned out as well as they did and my predictions about the activities the kids would enjoy were accurate.  Even though I heard what the kids said aloud in class, I wanted to give them the chance to leave anonymous feedback in a small box I had so they wouldn’t feel pressure to say something they thought I wanted to hear.  I still haven’t gotten the feedback translated, but when the director of Lesnaya Skazka read the feedback (just in case there was something negative she needed to be aware of in case a parent called the camp), she was moved to tears from what the children had to say about the class.  I feel blessed to see my hard work pay off and mostly to see the change in the kids and the small role I had in helping them see the world in a different way.  That’s exactly what I came to do!  Definitely worth the struggles and challenges along the way.

I am happy to have a small, one day break from the action and have the chance to sleep a little bit more than usual.  I’m pretty sure I will be teaching next session, but I won’t know for sure how many children I will be teaching until camp actually starts again.  I’m excited to do a second run at the class to see what further adjustments I can make along the way to make the classes better.  So thankful for all the support I have had along the way!

To wrap-up, here are some highlights from the last week or so:

  • Being compared to Tyra Banks…again!  The same thing happened last time I was at camp.  I don’t think we look anything alike, but I’ll take it being compared to a model haha
  • The Day of Traditions at camp is one of my favorite days because the counselors play “secret angel” (which is just like Secret Santa) and leave/make gifts for the counselor whose name they picked.  It is fun and exciting to try to hide and make gifts without someone seeing you do it.  Also, each child is given half of a paper heart and they must try to find the other half of their heart with another child at camp.  Camp is covered with “ads” with drawings of the shape of the heart and the name of the child who owns that half.  The night ends with the entire camp singing songs and making wishes while standing around a tall structure in the shape of a heart that counselors light while the camp sings.  Such a cool and great way to end a special day!
  • Giving what I considered small gifts to friends (pictures I had printed out and a water proof watch for one of the kitchen staff who loves swimming) and it meaning the world to them. It’s the small things that matter and I truly believe it is more blessed to give than to receive!
  • Finally seeing the camp video of the 4th of July from when I was here in 2011.  I had been waiting to see it played on one of the camp TVs and I finally saw it!  Such great memories from that day.
  • More trips to the city and visiting not one, but two restaurants called “Chicago”(one is little Chicago and the other is big Chicago haha)!  No one knows why there are two restaurants called Chicago in the middle of Russia, but I enjoyed some pizza and milkshakes with my friends haha.  Plus, we got a super discount on the bill, maybe because my friends explained that I was from Chicago haha.
  • The kids for the second session arrive tomorrow so I have to help finish with decorations and figuring out the logistics for the first day.  I’m glad that I have a chance to help out and I feel like a true counselor because I am able to contribute and kind of know what is going on haha.

I have been in Russia officially for one month and now have 21 days left at camp and 23 days left before I head home.  Let the adventure continue!

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