Students' Questions about Russia

The first school day that I returned from Russia, I had my students write me a letter to get out all the questions they were bursting to ask me. The following questions were asked by my 50 12- and 13-year-olds:

Did the Russian students send us anything?

Yes, I received a few penpal letters from students before I left. Others will be arriving in the mail, hopefully by May.

What fun things did you do in Russia?

If I could name just a few of the fun things that I did in Russia, I went ice skating, cross country skiing, and played volleyball against some very tall and strong Russian players. I went on day trips to visit Russian fortresses, churches, and monasteries. I visited art and history museums. I went to a children's theatre where I was asked questions like a celebrity after the show!

Did you bring any pictures?

Yes, I took almost 1000 pictures. It has taken me a few weeks to organize them into interesting slideshows but soon you will see them in class or on my blog!

Did you meet any ladies in Russia?

What an interesting question! If you mean, "did I meet any women?" then yes, of course, I did. Actually, most of the teachers in every school are women because teachers aren't paid enough to live on. Teachers need to combine their income with a spouse, so that's why so many Russian teachers are women. If you mean, "did you find a girlfriend?" then the answer is, no I did not, but then again, I'm happy with the one that I'm with now!

Did some students see our pictures [in the photo albums]?

Yes, I shared the "Days of Our Lives" photo albums with about 100 students from two schools. They were very interested in the foods and activities that La Paz 7th graders like.

Did you make a lot of friends on your trip?

I certainly did! One of the goals of my trip was to increase understanding between Russian and American teachers and students. I did that smiling, making jokes, giving gifts, and listening to the Russians that I met. Almost everyone was curious about the USA because they only see pictures of the USA on TV and sometimes they are not positive images of America.

Who did you meet in Russia?

I met a lot of school children. I counted over 400 children in 7 schools that I met. I met teachers and principals of schools. I met 2 TV reporters and 1 newspaper reporter. All of these people were very curious about the USA and our town of Salinas.

What did you eat on your first day?

Great question! I ate chicken soup, rye bread, and tea. Russians eat the tastiest bread with every meal. They also like to drink lots of tea.

Where did you sleep?

I slept on a normal bed in my own room. Someone from my host family had to sleep on the couch because I took their room. Russians are very hospitable people!

How did you get there?

First, I flew on a little jet from Monterey airport to Denver. Then I flew on a bigger jet to Washington, DC, our nation's capital. I had meetings there for a day with the other teachers from all over the USA who were also going on this trip. The following day, we all few in the same plane to Franfurt, Germany. We stayed there for just 2 hours before we boarded our last plane to Moscow, Russia. Once we landed in Moscow, however, our trip wasn't over. We had to carry our heavy bags through the crowded subway system to make our train because the surface streets were in a traffic jam! The train ride lasted for 2.5 hours. Finally, I was met at the train station by Tatiana, my host teacher, who drove me the 2 hours back to Korablino. Phew! I was certainly tired by the end of that journey!

How cool was it?

Russia is a very cool place, literally and figuratively! On most days it was around 32 degrees, so I had to wear my winter jacket but I got to throw snowballs, too. The first thing you'll notice when you are in Russia is that all the signs are in a different language and different writing system, called Cyrillic. Once you know how to read the Cyrillic letters, you'll discover that Russian has some words that are the same in English. Look at these two examples:

What did you see, taste, hear, and feel?

A great sensory detail question! I saw beautiful works of art and architecture (how buildings look and are made). I saw a TV show dedicated entirely to accordian music in Siberia! I tasted delicious beet soup (Borsht) and cabbage soup (Shchi). I heard a guitar concert in a kitchen, a women's day concert in a school. I felt the icy water of a frozen river when my left leg fell through it! (I was trying to cross the river to get from the country house (dacha) to our car).

Why did you go there?

Last year, I applied to this program that takes teachers to Russia to understand their people and schools better. They liked my application and what I had to say about my students and how I teach, so they selected me. Pretty cool, huh? But if I didn't apply, I wouldn't have had a chance. So the next time you have the chance to apply for an opportunity, go for it! Even if your chances are slim to be selected, they're still better than your chances if you don't apply at all!

Did you learn different things for your teaching?

Yes, I did! I went to a university class where Russian students were studying to be English translators. They were studying 19th century English painters and the vocabulary to describe the style and message of their art. I learned how to make an English class useful and interesting for very advanced students by studying a topic that they all like.
What did you bring us from Russia?

I made sure that I brought back different examples of Russian candy for you! I hope that you enjoyed it.
Did you get to meet your penpal partners?

Yes, I met the students that will be your penpal partners. They are very nice students with some interesting hobbies. I hope you'll be patient with them because it takes them longer to write good letters in English.
Is Russia a big place?

Yes, it certainly is. The area of Russia that I was in, Ryazan Oblast (state), was very flat. There were fields a mile wide and 3 miles long. In summer, these fields are filled with wheat and oat plants for people to make bread with. Russia is the largest country in the world. There are 11 time zones in Russia, compared with 6 time zones in the USA. That means that Russia stretches almost halfway around the world from itself!

How was the weather in Russia?

For the first 5 days, it was cloudy and cold. Then on the 6th day, the sun came out and it was warm enough to go outside with just a sweater on. The sunshine caused some river ice to melt, and we got to see some raging rapids through the snowy fields!

Did our penpals send pictures with you?

I was only able to get a few pictures from penpals. I will request that the rest of the penpals send pictures when they send their letters.

Did you understand everything that they said?

I understood about 50% of what they said. I studied Russian in college, so I knew a lot more than the other teachers on my trip, who didn't study Russian. But now that I'm studying Spanish, I've forgotten some Russian. Still, it was fun to speak Russian with them and have them practice English with me.

What questions did the kids have about America?

What a great question! Russian kids wanted to know what sports Americans like, what they do in their free time, and what sort of challenges they have in their lives.

What was the favorite thing about your trip?

I think the opportunity to experience a different culture was my favorite thing. It helped to me understand how big our world is. Russians have many similar beliefs and traditions to Americans, but they also have different ways of doing and thinking about things. Every time I travel, I understand how beautiful, complex, and fascinating the people of planet Earth are.

Countries I have visited

Where I've been in the USA