This time, as I prepared for my journey to the other side of the world, things felt different. When I left for China last year, I had no idea what to expect and I was worried and apprehensive. This time around, I felt almost casual. I could have been boarding a plane for San Francisco as easily as I was boarding it for St. Petersburg, Russia.
Because of how the flights worked out, I got to spend the night in London with my high school friend Ryan and his wife Christie. I was delighted with London as soon as I stepped into the ‘tube’ and the mechanical voice announced “this train’s destination is Cockfosters.” I was expecting drizzle, and it was a lovely, sunny day. I kept grinning to myself as I walked through Westminster to get to Ryan’s flat. He had class that day, so he walked with me to Abbey Road, and then we parted ways on Baker Street. I went to the Sherlock Holmes museum, where they’ve set out different clues and aspects of many of the detective’s most famous cases. I then went to Regents Park and ambled about taking pictures and drinking tea. To round out my British experience, the three of us went to a pub for dinner where I had fish and chips and a pint of cider.
My seven hours of being conscience and exploring the city made me reluctant to leave. If I’d been offered a job that day, I think I would have taken it and just stayed there forever. Instead, I left at 5 am to catch my flight. Olga greeted me at the airport. She explained that this was the high season for finding apartments, and that despite her efforts she’d thus far been unable to secure a flat for me. The one she had in mind was in a place that housed foreign students, where we’d each have our own room and bath but would share a common kitchen. While driving into town, she was on the phone trying to arrange a time when we could go see this apartment. Hopefully that will resolve itself today. I spent last night in a hostel, and I’ll be doing it tonight, too, and while it’s an interesting place (it’s also an art exhibition) I’d rather start getting settled in my own place. (Speaking of the art exhibition, it features some competition with the theme ‘around the world’, and the winner of this was a picture of a girl with no nose. As a result, this gruesome picture is plastered all over the city.)
I was at the school last night. I was really surprised when the girls at the front desk begged me to do some of the oral placement testings for new applicants that had just walked in. The way the classes are set up is different than what I knew in China, and then you really don’t know where to place people until you start teaching and hear the level of fluency in each class. Also, there was no form to record their grammar, fluency, listening, and vocabulary skills. I was just supposed to listen and then mark ‘intermediate’ or whatever. I did the best I could, and I ended up doing these tests for an hour and a half. Tonight, I’ve got my first class. In China, I was observing classes for the first two weeks, but here I’m just getting thrown in. I really don’t mind, since I’ve taught before, but I would have liked to observe a couple of classes to see how they do things here. The resources are completely different, too, so this will be challenging me to do without a lot of the things I’m used to. There are two computers for all of the teachers to use, and there are no computers in the classroom.
I’m feeling OK right now. I’m not ecstatic about Russia, although I might have been if I hadn’t seen London, first. I haven’t seen a whole lot yet, and I’ve only met a few of the teachers. I’ll be fine once I start making friends, seeing the city, and learning the language. That’s both the hazard and the excitement of moving to a new place every year.