Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving and Tourism

Thanksgiving passed by with very little recognition from anyone but me in Moldova. It was pretty hard because for me my biggest issue has been dealing with the difference in food and Thanksgiving is the pentacle of Americans overindulging in every quintessential American food, food that I don't have. So every time I had to explain to someone what Thanksgiving was and had to try and explain what a sweet potato was I was basically drooling all over my explanation. However, as luck would have it I didn't actually have to go without my Thanksgiving dinner after all. Instead I had to wait until Saturday and travel to Chisinau in order to join up with the other volunteers and eat the best tasting American food I have had in Moldova. Turkey, pumpkin pie, corn, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and even pumpkin soup, which isn't something I had ever had in America but it was a welcome addition to my Thanksgiving meal. The quality of the food was made all the more comforting with the overabundance of Americans and English conversations everywhere. By the end of the meal I was already marking my calendar for the next pseudo-Thanksgiving and rallying other volunteers to create a new holiday feast to signify the halfway point to Thanksgiving.

Because we ate sort of at an awkward time it was impossible for me to go home by train so I was forced to finally spend the night in Chisinau at the hostel. Because I am a Peace Corps volunteer I get a discount and the hostel only costs me about 9 dollars a night. I was pretty lucky because some other volunteers needed to spend the night as well so I didnt have to go alone. To make it even better the volunteers I went with are also some of the volunteers that I am planning to go to Istanbul with. Seeing as how we plan to stay at a hostel when we get there this was great practice for us. As for this particular hostel it was mostly quiet and there were a few other people all speaking different languages, German, Russian, English. It reawakened my since of being in a foreign country and started to make me feel like a tourist again to be around others who were tourist. I felt even more like a tourist the next day when we visited the mall, which just so happens to be right next to the Hostel. The mall is called Malldova, which is probably the best name for a mall anywhere in the world, and was very comparable to other malls I had been to in America. It had four floors, name brand stores like Adidas and Guess, as well as off brand knockoff stores, and most importantly it had a food court. I ended up eating a pizza at Sbarro, a waffle bowl of chocolate and hazelnut gelato and finally some McDonalds coffee in all its watered down glory. There were a couple other restaurants serving German, Mexican and Japanese cuisine but the most surprising was the Kentucky Fried Chicken. I wasnt really in the mood for chicken but not buying something from the KFC only means I will be certain to make a return trip to the Mall sometime in the near future.

Other interesting things from our things from our mall trip was finding a store selling electronics and being shocked by how expensive everything was. For instance in America right now a PS3 is about 250 dollars (unless you bought it on Black Friday for 200) in Moldova a PS3 is 8,000 lei, or about 650 dollars.

All good things most come to an end and because I was having such a good time in Chisinau I almost missed my train and ended up spending about half of the 4 hour train ride standing waiting for a seat to open up so that I could fight with the other people that were also standing for a chance to finally sit down.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bureaucracy is Everywhere

Because going to the capital requires such a large time investment, a four hour train ride to and from, and only provides me with a three hour window to accomplish things I tend to save up as many things as I need to get done and schedule my trip to the minute so as to make sure I accomplish everything. Well today started out on a bad foot with me having to throw my plan out the window and just tackle everything in any way possible. I was, amazingly enough, successful.

In addition to receiving my flu shot, the main reason for my visit to Chisinau and other errands, I was also able to finally send off my package of Christmas presents to the United States. I classify this success as a miracle and here is why...

Have you ever tried to fill out paperwork in the United States? Of course you have. Americans love to hand out paperwork for everything. And if you can fill out the whole sheet without making a mistake or having to ask for clarification than it doesn't count as paperwork. Now imagine the fun of filling out paperwork in another language. A language you had no comprehension of until you started learning it 5 months ago. In addition sprinkle in some mail room employees who in true bureaucratic fashion are ostensibly always in a bad mood and not very forgiving of mistakes. And again they do not speak English.

I had attempted to mail my package last weekend on my way to the train station after my week in Chisinau. I in my infinite wisdom had wrongfully assumed that I would simply waltz into the post office, wait in a small line, hand them my package and pay postage and be out in less than five minutes...oh how wrong...As I have mentioned the paperwork was the biggest contributor to my downfall, although cranky postal workers played a part as well. Also in case I have not mentioned it before lines don't really exist in Moldova. Where there would normally be a line in America in Moldova there is usually a crowd. Everyone just stands as close as they can to the window and exercises their right to go next by being the most forceful at shoving their way to the middle and speaking in rapid fire Russian.

However, that ordeal is now over and my package is supposedly on its way to America. But now that I know what goes into sending packages I don't think I will be sending very many more.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Welcome to the Circus

Conducting tests in Moldova have so far been so vastly removed from the way tests are taken in the United States that I struggle to even call them 'tests.' For the most part within the American school system tests are conducted with each student presented with a test and each student is expected to complete the test on their own with no help from their books, peers, cell phones, or teachers. Undoubtedly there will be someone in a class that will try and cheat but usually they will do it in the most discreet way in order to avoid being caught. If a student was caught the test would be taken away and the student would receive a zero. In most circumstances if a student was found to be supplying answers to another student both students would have their test taken and given a zero as well. This at least is how I remember tests being conducting in America while I was a student.

But in Moldova....

If you were to walk into a classroom during a test you would assuredly witness the following:  dictionaries, textbooks, copybooks, and cell phones on the desk and all being utilized, no restraint in talking, students sitting near each other passing their answer sheet back and forth, and white out pens being tossed across the room. The best way I can think of to summarize the difference is to say that, in America, tests are an individual assessment. But in Moldova tests are a communal, collective assessment.

If I were to try and implement an American system into my classroom I would spend probably the whole period policing every individual student and most likely collecting every single test book and grading them all a zero after about 5 minutes. However, I have I learned to accept that change can not happen over night and have limited myself to small successes. For instance when I conduct tests now I try my best to cut down on the amount of obvious cheating by telling students not to talk, which basically means not yelling answers across the room, and I have learned to accept the low roar of constant whispering that occurs between the two students that share a desk. I collect any answer keys that are thrown or passed across the room but for the most part turn a blind eye to the students that are staring a little too long at their neighbors paper. Whenever I do have students that cannot handle even this level of academic honesty and I move them to another part of the room they simply stare at the wall or draw on their paper. For some of them I wonder if they have ever taken a test on their own at all.

Ive had a lot of ideas of ways I can make the situation better but most of them just will not work in my situation. For example one thing we used to do in my American school was varying the test so that it was impossible to cheat off of your neighbor because they would have a different test. However, this is not feasible for the most part because most schools do not have a copy machine, or at least if they have one they limit the amount a teacher can print to just a few sheets,  and most of the time tests are written on the blackboard and students simply copy down their answers into their copybooks.

One last thing. In Moldova the grades students receive is seen as a reflection on the teacher. So most teachers tend to grade students a lot more leniently than most American teachers. Even a student who has done no work or shown any learning will still receive at least a 4 and sometimes higher (the grading system being out of 10 points, 10 being the best). Because of this propensity for grading students higher it is very difficult to punish students who do not follow testing protocol because they are well aware that the teacher will not give them a failing grade and cheating offers them the chance of getting an even higher grade with no real work, so if they cheat they might get a better grade and there will be no consequences. Also because this is the system that the students are all familiar with, and all the teachers for that matter, you can say that it is a part of the culture. Because academic dishonesty is so well ingrained into the school environment I do not think I will be able to have any real positive effect on changing anything but it is definitely going to be one of my main goals for my Peace Corps service.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Productive and Exhausting Vacation

Vacation really isn't the right word to describe what this week was for me. Sure I was out of school and so were the students…but instead of going to school I was in Chisinau all week attending lectures/sessions about better teaching practices and Romanian language. From 8 until 5 with only a one hour lunch break and short coffee breaks thrown in. However I am not bitter at all for not getting a real vacation because the training was very beneficial and was a real inspiration boost. It was also very awesome to be among other americans, a lot of americans, who all speak English and understand most of my humor and share my culture. But personally my favorite part was the food. Because we were living in a hotel this week we all had to find our own food which meant most of the time we were eating in restaurants or picking up our own food from the supermarket. Italian food for some unknown reason ruled my stomach as far as my selection of restaurants and at the supermarket I spent my money on yogurt, dark chocolate, bananas as well as banana and strawberry juice (real and not from concentrate) and finally peanut butter.

In other spending news I was able to find most of the winter clothes I really needed to buy including a winter coat, a sweater, gloves, a hat, wool socks, and boots with a fur lining, as well as a whole host of school supplies. I also was successful in picking up some souvenirs from the souvenir piața that will serve as my Christmas presents. Amazingly since my training was from 8 to 5 everyday I didn't really have time to shop during the week so I had to do all my shopping on Monday when I first got to Chisinau and even though I was under a lot of pressure to find everything I was very successful and bought almost everything on my list within a 3-4 hour window. The exception being the winter boots which I bought on my way back to the train station, it was a real race against the clock though, This race with the clock also caused me to not have time to wait in line at the post office, though I almost attempted it because the post office is in a building beside the train station. However lines at postal offices in Moldova are like lines in postal offices in America and postal workers are just as irritable and have very little patience...especially when you don't speak the language they speak and have little to no idea of how to fill out the forms needed for overseas shipping...

Other fun things to happen last week include me realizing that European coats put the zipper on the opposite side of American coats, another fun thing for me to try and get used to, on top of all the other things that I have already just started to get used to. (It really has a way of making you feel like you are back in kindergarten when you struggle to zipper a coat)… I was also super sick again. Not overly sick just felt horrible for about 12 hours then it went away. This time I couldn't blame the sickness on something I ate (I felt confident that the food was well prepared and I avoided all sources of tainted water) which makes the situation worse because Im not sure what to avoid in order to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Back to the daily grind tomorrow, but I have English Club to look forward to on Tuesday and I only have 7 more weeks of school until Winter vacation…but really. who's counting?