Thursday, March 4, 2010

School 2

Day 6

Today was another very long and tiring day, but we had a lot of fun! After a delicious breakfast, we visited school #2, where we stayed all day. We went to their first couple of classes, answered questions, gave presentations, met with all the incredibly excited students, teachers, and staff, and took a countless amount of pictures. I would be willing to say that if you added up most of the pictures I had taken in my life it would be close to the number of pictures we were in today. My first thought after the first class stood in a line to take pictures with me was that I felt like Santa Clause, or another other famous person, I guess. Everyone else had the same story; all the students wanted so many pictures with us and they were so excited to be so close to us! It really does feel like being a foreign diplomat or a movie star; we attract so much attention from everyone at every age! The nice ladies who work in the cafeteria at the school and who made our delicious lunch today even wanted a few pictures with us. I knew that the city was looking forward to our arrival, but don’t think I could have ever comprehended the level of their excitement and mystification. We are the first group of foreigners (with the exception of Professor Makin of course) to come to this city and visit, so in a small way I can try to understand their emotions, but I can’t help but think about it inversely; if a group of students from another nation came to America, we would of course be very welcoming, but it would not be anything like this! The schools have done so very much for us, and the students and staff have treated us so well, they deserve so many thanks and such praise!

School #2 was built in 1913, and it was originally the home of very wealthy merchant, so it was very large and very beautiful. I really enjoyed it. One thing that really struck me (other than all the constant attention paid to us) was that almost every time I entered a room, the teacher or principal apologized for something about the school (the age, the lack of decorations, the deterioration, the old desks, the chalkboards, etc.). I realize that the school is not in the best shape, but I really thought that the school was beautiful in its own way, and it has more history and culture in its walls than any school I have known in my lifetime. It is really clear that they are trying their absolute hardest to impress us and show us/give us their best; in some ways they seem to almost show off their best talents and their work for us, and we very much appreciate it! We know that they have gone to great lengths to do for us the things that they are doing. It is so amazing to see.

We discussed today many of the differences between the two schools and between these schools and the schools in America, but I think the thing that stuck out the most to me today was the pride that these people have in their school, in their accomplishments, and in their work, and I hope that they never lose that sense of pride, because they deserve it. Today they did presentations about their city, region, history, and culture for us, preformed a little play about the history of the scarf, involved us in traditional games, performed traditional dances for us, taught us to do these dances, and held a singing/poetry session which displayed the talent in both Russian and English of a large age range of students. They were so happy to share their culture with us, and it was easy for me to see how proud they are of who they are and where they come from. I think it is interesting that they are so fascinated by us and our nation while we are even more fascinated by them and theirs; they are sharing more of their culture with us than we can with them, but I really think that is a major part of this project and of the work we are doing here. Bryn put the idea into words really well when we were talking tonight. She said that part of our work here seems to be just giving them someone to tell their stories to and giving them someone who will listen to their history and see their culture. I think that this is perfectly said. We are here to experience them and give them someone to share with; we will be able to always remember their stories and their culture, and we will take it home with us and share it with others. They really do have so much to be proud of, and they have such a rich and deep culture that I only want to learn more and more about.

The presentation about the Russian scarves today was very enjoyable, because they put on a fashion show for us and then they asked us to play some games with them which involved scarves. I don’t think Pat/Joseph and I expected the game we had volunteered for, but we had a lot of fun! J Learning the dances was also a great time, even though we were all timid at first (all the kids in the school were in the hall where the school girls were dressed up and doing their dance, so we would have to dance around in front of all of them), but it all worked out in the end and we had a good time, whether or not we made fools of ourselves. These sorts of things are truly fascinating, because it is hard for an American to fathom the depths of their culture here. We are learning bits and pieces of their traditions and their history as we go, but I know it is only the tip of the iceberg.

To recap the rest of the day: we took a little break after school and some people slept, but Danielle and I went shopping/exploring around town. We ran into three of the students from the school who were so excited to see us and talk to us, and they ended up being our tour guides and helping us find places in town. After the break, we went back to the school for a very nice dinner with the teachers and the principal. The dinner they put together for us was so incredible! We really felt like royalty, because the table was set so eloquently and with so much food and wine, that no matter how much we all ate, we couldn’t possibly put a dent in it. After we ate and talked for a while we ended up dancing, which was both a lot of fun and really funny. But by the end of the night, we were exhausted! So it’s definitely time for bed in order to get some rest for tomorrow.

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