Tuesday, March 2, 2010

School 1

Day 5
Today has been an incredibly long and exciting day. We have done, seen, and experienced so much today that it is hard to think about everything or really reflect on just a couple things. We had breakfast at 8:30, then another interview with the local news paper at 9:00, and then it was off to school. We visited our first school today, which had 615 students and grades K-12 all in one school. After school, we had dinner, and then the local youth (many of the kids which we met at the school) set up a program/dance for us at the cultural center in town. So, our day was very busy and tiring, but incredibly interesting.

The traditions and the culture of this town continue to astound me. When we entered the school this morning, which was in excited chaos due to our arrival, we were greeted with the warmest faces and the nicest “hellos”. Also, we were welcomed with the same traditional ceremony as yesterday with the bread and the salt. The cultural group at the school, which consisted of about twenty girls of various ages, was dressed in traditional dress and they sang a traditional welcoming song for us before presenting us with the bread.

The story behind the tradition: salt is supposed to be very expensive and there were times when it was very difficult to afford salt, so people went without, but when they had guests over, they would bake them special bread and put salt out on the table for them, despite the hard times.

The excitement in the school from the second graders all the way up to the principal was amazing to see. I have never felt like such a celebrity; they were in awe of us; we were so foreign to them, and they had so many questions for us.

The entire school seemed to stop and revolve around us for the entire day. They prepared plays, songs, dances, shows, crafts, exhibits, tour guides, special lunches, tea, movies, slide shows, and gifts for us! We received so many gifts from all the students, teachers, and school groups, and we were of course invited to tea and snacks and given more and more food. I felt very welcomed, and many of the girls took a strong liking to me for some reason (of course no one was even remotely as popular as Ethan, who they all fell in love with instantly!). The students were so outgoing and brave; they seemed so comfortable with talking to us, spending time with us, and sharing their lives with us. Meeting this school was truly amazing.

The dance after the school with all the youth of the town was also very interesting. Three of the girls who were always around me at school really wanted to sit with me, so the four of us all shared two chairs, and needless to say, it was very uncomfortable, but they were so happy! It seemed like the entire town was there to welcome us and show off their talents for us. There were films and slideshows of the town and the students, and there was a big concert with many of the local bands followed by a dance/rave. Very interesting.

Today was the first day when I got to really use my Russian a lot, and even though it was really tough at some times, it was really exciting and beneficial, and I know they were very happy to see me try to speak with them in their language. Other than the deeply rooted cultural ties which we have experienced, I think the most interesting/amazing thing that I noticed today was again the hospitality. The entire school welcomed us so warmly, and the students/staff liked us so much and became so attached to us. It was so hard for my three new friends to leave me at the end of the night, because they just wanted to hang out longer and talk more. I couldn’t believe the level of excitement that there was for us. I don’t think they really get too much contact from the outside world or travel very much, so it was like we were bring a part of the world to them; we shared our stories and our lives with them, so they could see a snapshot of what American life is like. We showed them pictures of our travels around the US, our home towns, the University of Michigan, our families, our friends and our lives; we described Ann Arbor and life on campus, and told them what it is like to be a student in America. By doing this I think we helped to broaden their horizons and learn more about the world which they don’t get to see (at least not yet), and I love that we could do that for them.

But I think the really amazing part is that they are doing the same for us. We would not have the same cultural experiences if we were merely tourists for a week in St. Petersburg; the students (and others in the town) shared their culture with us as they dance/sing for us, show us their traditional costumes, teach us their crafts, offer us their traditional foods and explain their traditional beliefs to us; they are opening up their world to us and showing us what life in Russia is really about and how it really is. We are amazed by each other, and we both have the opportunity to grow and learn because of each other.

Also, I think they have a fear that we will forget them, and the gifts are just as much a way for us to remember them as they are a way to welcome us, even though we could never forget our experiences here. When Katya was giving me gift this afternoon she said, “just so you think of us and don’t forget about us when you’re home”. I appreciated the gift, but I did not need it in order to not forget her and the rest of the school; these are important memories that will stay with me forever, and I hope that they know that.

Last thing: dinner tonight was very good! Crepes filled with the local farmers’ cheese with sour cream and homemade jam. Delicious.

1:00 am, time for bed.

1 comment:

  1. It's such a pleasure to read your stories, Chelsey.