Thursday, March 7, 2013

School in Vytegra

The first school we visited in Vytegra was school #2 (there are two schools in Vytegra and they are distinguished by school #1 and school #2). When we first got there I was very nervous about interacting with the kids and anxious about how the day would progress. I am not typically very good with kids, and having a language barrier between us surely didn’t increase my confidence that I would be able to connect with the students. We started with a student-led tour of their school and immediately you could tell that they were just as nervous as we were. As we walked through the school, children gathered, stared, and whispered as we passed, almost always with huge smiles on their faces. Our tour guides spoke in their best English and it was obvious how eager they were to impress us, as were the teachers and staff. I realized then just how important and special having us at their school was to them and I was taken by such an honored and humbling feeling. It was amazing to think that just having the ability to host and get to know 13 American students gave everyone at the school so much pride, so much satisfaction. You could almost feel how much happiness and purpose it gave them to know that there are people in a place as far away as the Univerity of Michigan who know and care about them and their town.
After our tour, we split up and gave presentations to different classes that we had prepared about life in America. I worked with Aaron, Mackenzie, and Victoria about birthdays in America. As the lesson moved along, the kids became more and more engaged and got over their nervousness. They started asking questions, loosening up, and enjoying hearing us speak native English and learning first hand about America. It was very satisfying to me to mostly be able to explain my answers in Russian if there were parts they didn’t understand in English. After the class had ended, the students presented us with small gifts they had made for us and in return I introduced them to the magic that is Reese’s cups, which they all seemed to enjoy thoroughly.
All in all, the first day of school volunteering was a remarkable experience that gave us a view into what schools in provincial Russia are really like. It left a strong emotional impact on me knowing that I could impact someone’s life so much just by knowing they exist and by wanting to get to know them. We have since seen our friends from school #2 nearly every day for an hour or so and as our friendship grows stronger, so does my attachment to Vytegra. 

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