30 November 2012
On 24th November 2011 my plane from Edinburgh touched down on a runway that was like a black liquorice stick on a cake covered in icing sugar. My adventure in Russia as an English language teacher had begun!
I had left the Scottish climate and Scottish weather behind and was now suddenly in the middle of a real Russian winter.
I had been warned to watch out for vodka and bears …. the vodka I understood as it warms you heart and puts heat into your soul. Russian women were strolling the streets in fur creations and from a distance you could imagine a bear was approaching. I was met by Irina and Dimity who took me to my flat in Togliatti (it’s a long story…it’s an Italian name…more on this later) and I found myself on the top floor of a five storey block. The heating was going full blast and I wondered if I was supposed to live in a sauna all winter!
Outside 6 foot snow drifts were all around and little ribbon pathways gave access to cars and people. In Russia the weather changes…but with the people nothing changes, and life continues uninterrupted by the cruel cold blasts from Mother Nature’s kitchen of climate choices.
My feet had barely touched the ground when I discovered I was being introduced as the new native English speaker for my new school, Language Link in Togliatti. They had arranged an Open Day at my new school, and many guests came to learn more about how good teaching can make learning English a pleasure and a delight
One of the reasons I was here was because of my TEFL qualification taken in a warm Edinburgh office where dreams of foreign places were nurtured and stirred. Before long I found myself involved with students of all ages and all abilities. My lessons were completely in English and Russian was not allowed. My youngest student was 4 years old, and my oldest was 59 years old.
It wasn’t long before the mayor of Togliatti had me in his sights and after the building had been checked by the burly bodyguards you only see in films, the mayor arrived, ready to learn English and find out more about Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. At Christmas I made a special Christmas pudding for all the students and staff and we had a party especially for me! Sometimes I would be collected by chauffeur driven car and taken to a quiet residential area close to the Volga River.
Here I would meet an army of “minders “before going through this protective cordon and teaching English to a young Russian boy who was soon going back to Berlin and an English speaking school.
My Russian language is at best “survival Russian” and it has allowed me to settle here with relative ease. I shop for food and clothes, I phone for taxis, and I even had my computer repaired over the phone with a Russian computer expert.
My biggest achievement in Russian language terms, so far, has been to purchase a “clothes horse”. It was interesting asking for this apparatus and finding the good humour and kindness of the Russian people as they helped me find what I was looking for.
In the Summer I was taken on a short trip on the Volga River by a river gypsy who lived on the shore. He took us to a cave where Stepan Raizin had hidden from the Russian authorities. Stepan Raizin (1630 – 1671) was similar to Robin Hood, but he was more of a gangster, and it is rumoured that somewhere in this area he buried a vast treasure.
Now I have started my second year here and have armed myself with more TEFL qualifications. Having the ability to study online is great and so convenient.
To prospective TEFL teachers I would say one thing: “Do it!” Adventures and laughter and new friends await. So take your brave heart, and step into the blue beyond…