Sunday, June 28, 2009

Semey is a Hard Road to Travel…

A few more thoughts from Kazakhstan (written Friday, June 26th):

The Vice Rector of the Ped. Institute and the head of the International Relations department came up to me Monday morning and (through Nailia) asked me to speak at a conference on “The Importance of Internationalization for Education as a Strategy for the Training of Competitive Specialists.” I was asked to speak on the subject of “Internationalization” and the “Mobility of Students” using my experience this summer and from PSU. I got started that night and finished up the paper (provided below), turning it into Valentina who had to translate it because she was going to act as my interpreter.

The conferences itself went pretty well (I think). They gave me my own name tag and name place up at the front table onstage with Nailia and the Vice-Rector who had asked me to speak. Ironically, due to a mistake on the part of the Russian Embassy this summer, who decided to transliterate my name the same way most Americans mispronounce it (Jurjis) this mispronunciation has followed me here. I had shaved my glorious whiskers and put on my good old Argyll-Sutherland Highlanders tie and one of my nice shirts, pants, socks and such that mom had made me pack. Thanks ma, I owe you one.

Speaking went rather well, Valentina and I had to share the podium—I would read about three or four sentences and then she’d translate. The audience reacted well to the format and we got a nice amount of applause. Afterwards the Vice-Rector stood up and spoke, thanking me for speaking and (from what Nailia says) saying that to make sure I come back they should give me a beautiful Kazakh girl. So I take it that he enjoyed my presentation (afterwards Nailia told me that he had said that I was more professional than many teachers, that’s probably also a good indicator).

That’s the good. There is some bad too. We’re having a little bit of trouble getting the morning class started on time. We’re supposed to started at 9:30, but often times students aren’t even showing up until 9:45 or so and when we have a break (ten minutes) they often come back ten or even twenty minutes late. Today for example I had to go find half of the class (and all the girls) downstairs eating cake and having tea ten minutes after the break was supposed to end.

To be honest, I wouldn’t really care all that much, except that they have been complaining that they aren’t getting their money’s worth because we aren’t starting on time. That bothers me, because we aren’t starting on time because it’s more difficult for me to start class and then bring everyone up to speed as they trickle in than to just wait till they all show up. For some reason the school has decided whenever there’s a problem, I should be the one to talk to…so if the classes aren’t starting on time: Talk to Alex. If they aren’t getting enough talking experience: Talk to Alex. If Jake isn’t prepared for class and is still writing on the board at 0931: Talk to Alex… So it really annoys me when they complain they aren’t getting the full amount of time and I have to go looking for them to make them come to class on time.

Not to mention, at least with the morning group (I think because they’re younger) we have a body odor problem. I mean only with the morning class and then only with a few certain members—but Gawd is it awful! It is like a cloud sometimes when you walk into the room and it hits you. Just terrible mates! It’s even worse when the stinky kids hang around you…

Gah, anyway, back on topic!

I also don’t think too much about a future for myself, so I’m not really that worried about that kind of thing at the present time. Much more worried about whether or not I’ll be able to keep in shape and thus get that Army ROTC scholarship (and keep it…). After that I have to worry about whether or not I’ll be able to get enough experience and knowledge to be able to pass LDAC or if I’ll just fail out (a lot more probable than you probably think. Then I have to worry about training (if I pass) and getting into my first unit and then service in Iraq or Afghanistan. To be honest, that doesn’t scare me quite as much the other stuff and failure (including getting Russian language knowledge). With all those worries, death honestly doesn’t seem all that scary.

Plus somebody has got to be ready to fight those darn Chi-Comms who seem pretty intent on expanding their empire. Ask the people of Semey-PRC’s damming up the Irtysh river to use for their own fields and slowly but surely killing the ecosystem here and causing draught conditions. Before too long there won’t be an Irtysh. Violating international law and just telling the people of Kazakhstan to buzz off…who are the imperialists now? And mark my words, we haven’t heard the last from the Russians…even if there military ain’t much to fear at the current time—war in Georgia (again, who are the imperialists?) did not impress me, no matter how the Russian media span the Federation forces’ performance.

Life’s just the same old thing-teaching isn’t easy, I’m busy often, lots of pressure, etc, etc, etc. Semey is a hard road to travel (reference to a Civil War song, just FYI).

Anyway, here’s another photo of me in the morning class (and for any of you wondering, none of the smelly ones are in that photo…thank Bog) and my paper for the conference. Hopefully they’ll get me the pictures to that later.

Gone Global: An American University Student’s Observations on Internationalization in Education

Before I begin, I would like to thank the conference for asking me to speak and giving me this honor. I would also like to thank the Semey State Pedagogical Institute, whose initiative in creating this exchange program has allowed me to visit your wonderful country. I hope that the Pedagogical Institute and my own University will continue this experimental joint program next year.

Today’s children are growing up in a world where news travels faster than ever before and one country’s actions not only affect themselves and their neighbors, but other countries around the globe. The world seems to turn faster when we are able to watch a news story occurring on the other side of the world unfold in real time. We truly are living in the global age and education must reflect this to remain relevant.

I have been exceedingly fortunate in the opportunities that have been available to me in my life. Since my birth, nearly twenty-one years ago I have lived in six different states, visited every state east of the Rocky Mountains, travelled to nine different countries, and including my current abode here, I have lived in three different countries. Besides my own personal experience abroad, I have also had much experience with people of other nationalities through my own summer job in the International Military Student Division at the United States Army’s Command and General Staff College, which hosts nearly two hundred military officers from other countries, including two from this country.

These opportunities have made me aware of the importance of the concept of “Internationalization,” As my own experiences have shown; the world is a much smaller place than it was even fifty years ago. Today it is possible to communicate with someone on the other side of the world instantaneously and quite cheaply or even freely, something unimaginable a generation ago. Because of this, internationalization is not only an important, but fundamental aspect of education.

My own university in Pittsburg is home to students from many different countries. The Korean Student Association has over sixty-five members. The Chinese community at PSU has at least two-hundred members. I do not know the exact number of international students at Pittsburg; I believe the number is close to seven-hundred, which is remarkable considering that my university only has a total enrollment of nearly seven-thousand. We have students from Taiwan, South Korea, China, Russia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, Spain, Malaysia, India, and several other nations.

This great diversity at Pittsburg State University is a wonderful thing for its students. American students such as myself are exposed to different cultures and viewpoints that we might never have seen otherwise. My own state of Kansas is well-known for its people’s hardiness and reluctance to leave their home state. Many people have never even been outside the state, let alone the country. So, for many of my fellow students; this is the first and perhaps only time meeting students from other nations. This allows them to see the world in a more full light and helps them understand that our nation is not and cannot be an island—we are part of the world community.

The benefits of this contact are not limited to the American students alone. International students in Pittsburg are introduced to the realities of American life and her people, which generally differ considerably from their preconceived notions or perceptions gained from Hollywood films. They also gain from contact amongst themselves, because often times the closest friends international students make are other international students, allowing them to gain even further cultural exchange than they were already getting from their study in America. I personally believe this to be an extremely beneficial experience for all involved and will help increase international cooperation as my generation grows up and assumes the mantles of leadership in our respective countries.

So far, however, I have only talked about the programs that Pittsburg State University has made for students coming to my country as guests. PSU also has made many opportunities for American students to experience internationalization. One way this internationalization can be seen is the use of graduate level students to teach classes; for example Russian language and culture classes are taught by a Russian graduate student from the city of Veronezh, while Korean language and culture classes are taught by a graduate student from South Korea. My physical science class was taught by a graduate student from Palestine and my lab instructor was an Indian student.

Pittsburg State University also encourages, but does not direct the international community of Pittsburg to form cultural associations. These associations have various activities throughout the year to promote awareness of their countries and cultures. For example, each semester the international students have an “International Food Fair” during which they sell tickets which can be redeemed for different foods from different groups—so that an American who has never been outside the States, or an Indian who has never been to Korea can both try the national Korean food “Bul-goh-gi.” They also have various culture days, such as “Korean Culture Day” or “Chinese Culture Day” where the students wear the traditional clothes of their home countries, perform traditional dances, sing traditional songs, and teach about their homelands.

Other opportunities PSU makes for its students are its study abroad and international experience programs. A study abroad program usually is made between an individual student and one of PSU’s sister universities around the world. The Pittsburg student will enroll with one of these universities for a semester or two and live in that country, going to school as a student of the university. For example, I have several friends who are currently doing a semester in our sister universities in South Korea.

An international experience program is very different. Instead of sending an individual student to another university for a longer period, PSU will usually send a small group of students and teachers to one of its sister schools for about two weeks. During this time, the PSU contingent will meet students and teachers from its sister school as well as see various cultural landmarks or historical sites. Since this period is shorter, more emphasis is placed on structured activities and the trip functions much like a tour of the hosting institution’s campus and country.

Both of these options have their merits and drawbacks. Generally, a study abroad program is preferred, since it is a longer time period, allowing for much greater cultural immersion. In fact, this is a requirement for international studies majors, who must spend at least one month abroad, preferably in a country where English is not the primary language. It is not without its drawbacks: a longer stay requires that the student shoulder a greater financial burden and since it is generally in a country where the main language is not English, it requires that the student have experience in other languages, which is not something many Americans have at this point. Indeed, this is a major pitfall, since Pittsburg only offers four languages currently: Spanish, French, Russian, and Korean—and only the first two of these languages have comprehensive programs.

On the other hand, an international experience program generally does not require that the American student be fluent in any language but English, greatly increasing the selection pool for participants. Also, it can sometimes be more desirable since it is shorter and thus generally cheaper. This shortened stay also has the added benefit of allowing students that may have other commitments for their time see other countries without having to spend an entire semester abroad. However, its length also is its major drawback as it means that it is impossible to get a true cultural immersion experience and it also has the hazard of becoming little more than a glorified vacation tour. Personally as a student who is experiencing both of them this summer, I believe that both programs are beneficial to the students who participate in them. It is important however, that we remember their different purposes and use them in that way. Each has its own time and place and can be helpful if used correctly.

One final issue I want to talk about is the idea of the “mobility of students.” I and my friend Jake Meredith are living examples of this, as are the students I met here in Semey last year who participated in programs like “Work and Travel.” The opportunities are there and the people of my generation are taking them. Something that might be overlooked however is the role of the internet in keeping international communication open. Nowadays, for a student to be considered “mobile”, they might not necessarily have to physically visit another country. Two days ago, I went to an internet café, got on an American “networking site” and proceeded to chat in real time with a friend of mine who lives in Kuala Lumpor, Malaysia. After talking with her for a while, I replied to an email of one of the students that I had met on my trip to South Korea who lives in China. I also forwarded a few photos from this trip to one of the Korean students I had met during this trip.

In less than an hour, I had communicated with friends who live in three different countries. Not only have I learned more about Malaysia, China, and Korea (countries I may never get a chance to visit) from my contact with them, but they also learned about Kazakhstan—a country they have never visited. I also used the internet to keep in touch with the students I had met with last year in Kazakhstan. Ideas and knowledge are being exchanged and thus increasing internationalization. This kind of communication will never replace true “mobility” but it does give my generation opportunities that have never been available before.

The world is a changing place and internationalization is an important aspect of this change. If present indicators are any sign, then it will be even more important in the future than it is now. I think that any education system that does not give its pupils opportunities for this is not preparing them for a successful future. Thank you again for your attention and allowing me to speak.

Edit: Just realized i had this twice, so that's why its so long.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Coming from Kazakhstan Update Part II Including Photos


Coming To Kazakhstan: (teaching photo)

Finally I’m getting caught up on the details of our arrival to the K-stan. We arrived that evening around 2130, but my phone didn’t work-too long not using it and so it had been deactivated. Luckily, Jake’s phone got some signal in Almaty (but never in Korea…) so we called Symbat, who was meeting us at the airport with his girlfriend and they got us to a flat the school had for us that evening. It was tough to get all our luggage to fit though-and damn heavy-but that’s partially the school’s fault since we had to bring all those darn books. Dinner that night was burgers, which was kind of funny—I guess they wanted to make us feel at home, not knowing that we had done our darndest to avoid them in Korea.

They weren’t too bad though, quite funny actually—in Kazakhstan they stack ‘em wrong. Go to McDonalds, Burger King, or even just the Dining Hall and look at your burger. It’ll be two pieces of bread, on the bottom you might have some mayonnaise or ketchup, then on top of that, the patty, some cheese, and your veggies—lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles. Kazakhstan they do it completely opposite: on the bottom the lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers (not pickles) then the patty, no cheese, mayonnaise, and ketchup. After dinner, Jake and I cleaned up, but I think that made Alyona (Symbat’s girlfriend) uncomfortable, since we were guests and she’s a girl. In this country it seems that girls generally do all the work and I don’t mean like what women in America do—I mean literally all the work around the home. Alyona made dinner, breakfast, and lunch the next day and tried to do the entire cleanup herself, though at least for lunch we didn’t let her.

That night I got in touch with Leyla, Damy, and Victoria, the girls Jeff, Mark, and I had met last year in Almaty. They came by the next day and were really glad to see me again. I was pretty surprised at how excited they were. It was very good to see them and we had a lot of fun talking and taking photos. Alyona made permini (which is like ravioli, just boiled and eaten with sour cream or mayonnaise—most food here is eaten like that) for the five of us (Leyla, Damy, Victoria, Jake, and myself) and was going to clean up, but I wouldn’t allow her to do that—her and Symbat had left us alone with the Almatians and I didn’t think it was right for them to do that much stuff for my guests. But my high intentions were thwarted when the girls refused to let us do the work of cleaning dishes—women’s work in Kazakhstan and they thought it was too weird for guys to do it.

There’s some culture shock there for me—everyone is extremely hospitable and generous to guests, too much so. I hate being taken care of like that; it makes me feel uncomfortable. Yet, as Danny said to Peachy: “Different Cultures, Different Customs,” and I resolved to try and not make them uncomfortable by refusing their hospitality. That sounds really easy, but it isn’t. Americans (or at least me—I’m doing my best to not over generalize) are not comfortable with people waiting on them like this.

After lunch, I said goodbye to the girls and we hope to hang out a bit before I go back to Korea, but I can’t guarantee anything since I don’t know what Nailia will let me do. Then we headed onto the train and rode for the next eighteen hours to Semey. It was kind of warm on the train—AC isn’t so common here in Kazakhstan and the trains didn’t use it very long. We were lucky when we had it, which wasn’t for very long. The view was interesting, but pretty much standard flatlands and no trees. I spent most of my time shirtless in my bunk (above so the rest of the group didn’t have to look at my hairiness) getting my journal up-to-date, which took a long, long time to do.

We arrived in Semey the next day and were taken to our new flat by Valentina and Zarina, two teachers at our institute who help us out at the school. They showed us our flat and had stocked it with some sausage, bread, cheese, cucumbers, mayonnaise, and tomatoes. We’ve since learned that entire meals can consist only of these items. Many of our meal consist of these items; however, we’ve started to add ketchup to this combination. Turns out there are several kinds of ketchups over here (and types of mayonnaise, but we’re sticking to good old fashioned normal flavor for the time being on that). For the ketchups, I’m particularly fond of a brand called “Baltimore” (no idea why it’s called that, it is from Russia), but pretty much any hot pepper ketchup is good.

We started classes the next day and that hasn’t been easy. I’ve already complained a lot about high expectations from us and how difficult it is to teach, but I’ll just reiterate: I find it difficult to teach English to these people. I’m not sure how you make them talk—especially when some will talk, but others are too shy…just ain’t easy…

We spend a lot of time with the students however, and that is very good. Kazakh people (and I mean as in the nationality, not the ethnicity—you must be careful with that, people get a little offended) are extremely hospitable and kind, especially to guests, so they’re always taking care of us. I feel a little guilty actually, as they will pay for us when we go out, which makes me feel a little bad, because even though the cost of living is cheap, people aren’t paid that much (and not that often; learned it wasn’t uncommon for pay to be withheld for months sometimes) and it can’t be cheap to take us out so often. But different cultures, different customs…

Some of the events we’ve done with the students include going to a beach on the banks of the Irtysh river (the same river that the bloody Chicomms are diverting away in violation of international law, of course—who’s the imperialists now Hai-Xiao?) and having a barbecue, going to various museums and the zoo, hitting a local pizza joint and crashing for some Shashlik at a café nearby, going for a traditional Kazakh dinner at a local restaurant owned by one of our students’ family, and visiting the local military park—the location of the famed “Battle of Semey.”

This park is one of the reasons I enjoy being out here in Kazakhstan so much. Back in the US, they don’t have parks in the middle of a small city that’s just full of old tanks and personnel carriers. And you absolutely are not supposed to climb all over them and a have a great time like you’re nine years old playing army all over again. This place is great dad, you’d have loved it. Several T-64s, a T-34, a Katushya, a BRDM, BTR, a Ural truck, a BMP, a mine clearing vehicle…it’s just wonderful. And you can climb all over the equipment.

So I call it the battle of Semey, since you’ve got two Yanks and a crowd of their followers climbing all over the symbols of the Soviet Union and its military prowess. That day was a great victory for capitalism, freedom, apple pie, and America in general. However, the Red Army did get its licks in—whilst jumping off the BTR, my back pocket got caught on the symbol of Soviet Oppression and the dirty communists ripped my jeans a new one…literally. All is well, however, as one of the students has taken my jeans to sew ‘em up because they’ve got a sewing machine. I wanted to get some practice sewing again, since it’s been a long time since mom showed how to sew by hand and I haven’t had any causes to do so, but the student tells me I’d need a sewing machine to make it stick, so she had to take it.

I’m pretty content here. Life’s not exactly a picnic, but it isn’t too bad. Worst compliant is I’m very nervous about teaching, since our salary is tied to the number of pupils that we have, and it’s been hinted that some students felt very let down by our teaching experience and are not planning to sign up again for the next course. There is one spot of brightness for me however, because Dr. Lee told me that Nailia and the other teachers have been impressed by my effort and my classes and that she’d be extremely happy if I came back to teach the next year. I wish I could, but darn ROTC and the rest of my life.

To be honest, teaching isn’t that bad…and certainly I think that teachers in the US complain WAY TO MUCH. I’m getting by here with no training, no more than a rudimentary knowledge of the specifics of English, students who don’t speak the language as first one and are taking the class to learn it, I’ve had to work Saturdays, I work more hours than they do daily, and I’ve got to balance this whole deal with limited resources on everything. I’ve got exactly one pot, one pan, two regular sized plates, four tea plates, one serving bowl, two regular bowls, two ladles, two spatulas, two forks, two knives, four tea spoons, two serving spoons, one regular sized spoon that Jake stole from Korea, two sets of chopsticks (one a gift from Kyung-Hee University, one stolen by Jake as well), a microwave, and an electric stove with two burners. We don’t have an oven—so that kind of ruins mom’s brilliant idea of giving us those cookies and stuff since the school won’t let us use their ovens. There still might be a way around that; I’ve got to ask the students for help.

Teachers here in Kazakhstan have it much worse than any teacher in the US has it. They do more work, for less money, less prestige, have more responsibilities for their students, and they have to work in the summer term. If I ever hear an American teacher or a student studying to become a teacher complain (I’m remembering the folks on the trip to Russia and their constant griping about it) they’ll have no pity from me whatsoever.

I’m sure you’re all wondering about my status on facebook—yes it is true, I now have cavalry whiskers. It wasn’t an easy process; I decided to grow out all the facial hair first and then shave it after about a week, to make it easier to keep the distinction. Not that it was a mistake, but that’s tough. First its itchy, second—a beard just doesn’t look good coming in and I had to listen to basically every single young woman (and even the older ones) in this country tell me it looked bad and that I should shave it. However, I stood strong and finally cut the stuff off and went into cavalry whisker mode.

Not really sure what I’ll do about it now. The plan was just to go ahead and grow it all summer, but the backlash against growing facial hair was pretty strong—to the point where I decided just to cut the whiskers, get a few pictures and go back to clean shaven. However, reaction to the cavalry whiskers has been a little bit more different than I expected: Jake whom I expected on my side on this one is against it, but a lot of the students are telling me to go for it. Some say that people shouldn’t be afraid of being different (which sounds a lot like saying “Yeah, you look weird, but you should be able to do what you want”), some say that the look is good on me—kind of perfect for my personality: old fashioned. So, I’m not really sure how to take that, but my big problem is I kind of like how I look; yeah its goofy, but when I see myself in the mirror I really feel like I’m getting out there ready to battle the Zulu or head off to relieve Chinese Gordon.

So I think I’ll put it to a plebiscite and let the students decide…but it’s cool…even if I do look extremely goofy. Any thoughts from home?


And one of me teaching:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Update Part I

It’s been a busy couple of weeks here in Kazakhstan. I’m starting to get into a rhythm but it is a little bit slow going for me because we’re so busy and I’m always so tired. I’ve resolved to finally start forcing myself to exercise. I’m not feeling too bad about weight, because I don’t think we’re really eating too much, we’re always on our feet and feeling tired, and we walk to and from the institute everyday, which is a good 20-25 minutes each way. I’m just worried that I am losing my speed and maybe muscle strength, since I haven’t been doing too many pushups or sit ups (though I have done them infrequently since I got to Kazakhstan).

An average day for us begins at about 0630 in the morning for me and 0700 for Jake. Jake always needs more sleep. I suppose the rigors of a combination of JROTC, Drum and Bugle Corps, Boy Scouts, and ROTC has made me more impervious to a lack of sleep than him. Anyway, I take about 12 or so minutes on average in the shower and since I don’t need to shave that makes it even quicker for me. After Jake finally gets up and out of the shower, we make our breakfast. Usually something involving sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, sausage, bread, some mayonnaise and depending on what kind we have-ketchup. I’ve learned that here in Kazakhstan they have many, many types of ketchup that go good on almost anything. We’ve discovered an exceptionally good one, called “Baltimore,” which is actually from Russia and I’m not really sure why it is called that.

After Breakfast, we usually have some students meet us at about 0830 and walk with us over to the SSPI-which usually takes about 25 minutes or so. Generally three or four students meet us, but this week only one has met us-perhaps the novelty of Americans in Kazakhstan is wearing off? We begin to prepare for class once we arrive-usually writing our “Joke of the Day” on the board and picking vocab words and idioms for our quiz. Also, we give Valintina or Zarina the pages we want them to print off for class.

Class begins at 0930 and we usually have the students read the joke and explain to each other the humor in the joke. We ran out of jokes recently, which is OK, since some of the ones we had were pretty bad puns…Once we finish our joke, I usually have Jake start the vocab quiz-words picked out of the TOEFL book that Jake reads a sentence with and then we have them try to guess the word’s meaning from the context of the sentence. That usually takes a little while, because we have them start individually, then get into small groups, and then combine as a class to try to figure out the words’ meaning.

Once we finish that, I or Jake go over the idioms that Jake has usually chosen (because he thinks the ones I choose aren’t used anymore- “Ain’t just whistling Dixie” is not dead!). We try to have them use the words in sentences on their own sometimes, but that usually is very difficult to get them to use it correctly. When that is done, we sometimes play a game or come up with another activity to stall time until our first break. Games we have played include telephone, categories (students have to come up with something to fit the category or they are out ex. Famous Americans-Lincoln, Obama, JFK…), madlibs, and twenty questions. Our break is about ten minutes long, though sometimes the students take a little longer to get back into the class room, which is OK by us.

After that I’ll usually do something about history for about 15-20 minutes, a short lecture followed by a feedback attempt-asking them questions. This usually does not go over as well as I wish, because I’ll write the key terms-like “STAMP ACT” on the board, explain it, and then ask them what the “STAMP ACT” was, and get blank responses, prompting me to explain it all over again. I talked with Dr. Lee once he arrived and he suggested just going ahead and printing off the sections I want them to read and then using that for discussion later. I may try that, my only fear is how much paper we’ll use up and ink and we have two other teachers who help us in that regard, but I hate imposing on them because they have to teach their own classes as well, and our equipment for making more copies and such is not very good.

In the afternoon we split the groups up, I get the teacher group first and Jake gets the younger group before me. I usually open up with a proverb that I try to have them figure out and see if there are any Russian or Kazakh ones that are similar. I then usually do a history bit and I’ve been going over how to a presentation with these groups as well. We switch after about an hour and a half and I usually do the same basic lesson for the younger group. It is kind of difficult though, because I can’t always figure out a good thing to get discussions going-when I find something for one group it doesn’t necessarily (and most times doesn’t) do anything for the other group.

For example, I had a period two days ago where the teachers wanted to talk about Iraq and US policy and the military-I, of course, defended my country and my army. I thought it was funny because I really do see what Nailia was talking about when she said they had difficulty organizing thoughts for an argument. Often they would start talking about one thing, then switch to something completely different-one teacher was talking about her father’s experiences in WWII and how he never talked about it-then jumped into Abu Grahib… Another was asking why Saddam couldn’t have WMD in his own country and why it was our business to disarm him. I started to explain the way Americans felt in 2003 and how we believed he had them and was a threat-then I said-“We made a mistake, he didn’t have them, but with the evidence we had, how were we to think otherwise?” She said, since he didn’t have them, why were we still there. It never seems to occur to them that things change and the situation is very precarious now-WMDs may not have been found, but leaving Iraq anytime during the recent years would just make the country a much worse place and a greater danger than it was before.

Not to mention, I think from Russian propaganda (as Nailia calls it) they seem to think we’re the only ones there and have been-they were genuinely surprise to find that there were Australians, British, etc, in Iraq-then they tried to argue that they were just peace keepers-defining that as someone who is near the frontlines (what frontlines?) and keeps people from attacking other people (isn’t that what occupation forces are doing as well?). They also seem to think that all Iraqis are actively opposing us and fighting us and I’m not sure they are even aware that there is an Iraqi government and they seemed surprised to learn that there was an Iraqi military (they asked what the American army has been doing in Iraq for the last 5 years-and I said besides fighting insurgents, rebuilding the country and training the Iraqi defense forces-What?).

So this was a big discussion day-of most of the class vs. me (but I’m OK, I think I defended well and it was just hard to argue when they wouldn’t accept my facts-but they can’t really argue, not effectively yet. Almost afraid to change it). Expecting the next class to be the same, I braced myself, but instead we talked about stereotypes and Jews and gypsies. They accept stereotypes much more readily than we do. I mean, they flatly accept that some stereotypes are true-that all Jews are talented (why else would they have so many rich people and famous actors and directors). I did see a bit of more anti-Semitism though-we watched Glory and I asked why the quartermaster didn’t give them shoes, and one student said, “Because he’s a Jew.” Not sure how to respond to that.

But anyway, see how different groups like different subjects? I’m sorry I don’t have a complete update, but the internet hasn’t been good to me here (down most of the week) and I’ve been very busy. I’ll try to get another update next week.

Alex and Jake's Totally Awesome Kazakh Stew 2


1/8 Italian Bologna like sausage (Salami Moscovskaya would probably be better, so if you have it use it)

1 onion

2 potatoes


Decide to go for a run, leave Jake with Dad's instruction on how to make a roux (because you'll be making a panfry), and meet a student from the institute and walk with them instead of running :(. Come back and discover that the instructions were not clear enough and that instead of making a Roux, jake has mixed the flour with water and a little oil but he's left them in a cup and not done anything with them while he started to cook the potatoes, onions, and sausage. Go ahead and try to cook the failed roux in the other pan, but fail miserably and make some sort of pancake thing. Decide to cook that in a bit of beer, throw that in the other pot and add beer to that and some water; because you say "To heck with this, we're having soup!" Go ahead and make the stew; try your own hand at making a roux-be slightly more successful as you only use oil and brown that. Then add it to the stew. Once the stew is almost finished, start roasting some garlic and add that into the pot. Cook about ten more minutes and get eat. This probably won't be good with egg in the morning. Resolve to ask dad for more detailed information about how to make a roux.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Final posts from Korea

Our last few days in Korea were pretty fun but they also had some low points for me. The night we went to the DMZ was our last night and we had dinner with the students who had been with us that week and would be coming to PSU to study. It was a nice dinner; I sat next to one and Dr. lee. Jake and I learned later that Dr. Lee has a bit of a darker side, according to the other students. They told us that, while Dr. Lee was very nice and friendly when he spoke English, when he spoke Korean he got pretty strict and pushy. Not sure what to make of that; he’s always been good to us, but it does explain a lot.

That night our group all went out to do something that I probably should not explicitly state, but I will say that it was completely legal to do so for us in Korea and we all had a wonderful time. Or at least I think we did. I’m not one-hundred percent sure, while the rest of the group played “Kiss” (which is more of “truth” than “dare” if you want to compare it to an American game) I was singing Irish and Scottish love songs-Whiskey in the Jar, Whiskey You’re the Devil, Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice, and MacPherson’s Rant-not of my own direct choosing; I just started to lose interest in the game as I was not vital to the game that they were playing. Going home was a lot of fun, though I think we were kind of loud. No one paid much attention to me, so I went ahead and marched home, staying up front, with the people leading us home. We all made it home safely-though we didn’t go to bed right away (if Jake or ever gives me trouble, I’ve got a nice little video that’ll be some marvelous blackmail).

The next day we bid the rest of the group farewell, for they were going home. I guess we were still feeling the effects of the previous night, because our goodbye was much more civil and fond than I would have previously guessed. Jake then proceeded to go back to bed, while I busied myself cleaning laundry and preparing for our departure in two days. Around 1300 we met Yuri down in Itaewon, who took us to grab some food; though none of us were feeling too hungry we all tried to eat. We then left to go meet Swan, somewhere near the university, but she got lost somehow and we waited for a while.

We had a pretty good Korean dinner-can’t for the life of me remember what it is called; it’s some sort of noodle soup, but it was damn good (in the words of Hai-Xiao). Still not too hungry, we ate, but not much; which is a pity because I enjoyed it a lot. Then the girls took us to a night club that was having some promotional deal so everything was free. I got to see the Korean version of a “whigger” and it helped cement my disgust with the modern pop-culture. We left around 10, said our goodbyes and made our way home. I went to bed because the next day Mark was coming by to take me to his church-a bit odd, but I didn’t want to make things awkward between me and Mark and he seemed pretty intent on taking me there. Turns out, it’s the largest church in the world. No AC in there, but it was kind of cool because we sang a Korean hymn set to the tune of “Marching Through Georgia.”

Jake didn’t come, because he wasn’t feeling well and he wasn’t inclined to go to something he didn’t believe in. That may have been a bit of a mistake because we didn’t eat until dinner except for a snack I ate with Mark before church. It was this toast thing with eggs and jam and it was amazing. We went back to pick up Jake and then Mark dropped us off at the Korean War Museum. I thought the place was extremely cool and I’m a little disappointed we didn’t have more time; though Jake seemed to want to move on though. I really liked all the tanks and all the information it had; from a totally new prospective (the ROK’s of course); though it was funny read about how “ROK forces stopped the KPA and began pushing them back, aided by a landing at Inchon by Southern forces,” because I don’t recall hearing all that much about ROK Marines (though I know there were a few there), Inchon being a primarily U.S. operation. Not to mention Chicomm and Nork sources all say how they focused on fighting U.S. forces.

In any case, the museum was neat. We decided to go to Itaewon for dinner, because I was having a craving for Middle Eastern food. We were extremely fortunate because one of those street pamphlet people handed us one for an Arabian restaurant. We decided to go there and were extremely satisfied by our decision. The food was not bad; though Habashi House in KC does better falafals, but the kebab were decent. We got to smoke a bit of hookah and that was Jake’s first time. We had fun, then went back to our hotel to pack.

Jake did his laundry, but spent the majority of that night talking with Yuri on the phone, while I busied myself with my preparations and then getting into arguments with people back home because of my black mood. It wasn’t really a good night, but the next day we got up and Jake started to pack while I went out looking for some gimbap to grab for lunch. I found a cheap little restaurant, had a roll; bought Jake a bit and a little extra for myself later. We then went to the airport, the sorry details of which have already been recorded in my previous writings on this blog. But it’s totally bull how they charged us that fee.

In the end what did I think of Korea? Korea’s a difficult country for me to understand. On one hand, I had a really great time meeting people and I saw some really wonderful stuff. And I think from my previous blogs you can see what a wonderful time I have had and all the positive stuff. So I think I’ll have to look at the negative in this post.
On the other hand I’ve heard some things from others and I saw some stuff that hinted at a bit of a darker side in the relationship between the U.S. and the R.O.K. Some of the stuff I had kind of heard from Elly and I’d seen during anti-US protests. Beliefs that make me question whether the South Koreans really want us as an ally and the only reason they tolerate us is because they’re afraid of North Korea. Hell, from what I saw, some of them think they should work harder to build ties with North Korea while beginning to sever the ties with America. From what I hear about Roh’s presidency, that was his political philosophy.

I don’t think some Koreans really like Americans apart from anything other than our power. They respect that, but would be just as happy to see us all take a great running jump off a cliff if we didn’t have it. I suppose that’s the fate of a super power. No real friends and plenty of enemies (we’ll get on China later). The stuff I hear from even reasonable people makes me very annoyed. Of course they’re eager to complain about how the U.S. treats them, not really considering the benefits they get from the alliance-military security, nuclear security, an extremely favorable treat with regards to the U.S. camps in Korea, and a highly profitable trade (for both sides). Not to mention how poorly they treat smaller countries themselves-Philippines and Vietnam come to mind-and what bloody benefit do they bring to them? No security, trade agreements that are more unfair than the worst of the US-ROK ones (which are pretty even handed-what’s wrong with having the Koreans allow more beef in their country-which is safe-so that they can ship more cars to ours-how’s GM doing these days?)
Some of the stuff also just irritates me; “US didn’t unify the peninsula just so that they can sell weapons to South Korea.” OK…so 38,000 combat deaths and many more wounded just for arms sales? Let’s not forget that now the R.O.K. is not doing too badly for itself-K1A1s, not M1A1s… Or let’s ask the Chicomms and Norks how they felt about unification? Why the hell should we have risked World War III and tens of millions of lives (and probable nuclear war) to unify a peninsula with a population of (then) less than 40 million? Nichevo; can’t be helped. The fate of the mighty American grizzly: to life out his life alone and die alone. Teddy called it on that one: “The world will never love us. Fear us, maybe even respect us, but never love us. We’re to independent, strong headed, and a bit arrogant.”

Another problem is how emotional the Korean people are. When Roh was alive, he was facing charges of corruption that were beginning to look pretty accurate and the country was howling for his blood. He jumps off a cliff and now he’s a national hero? People condemned his presidency as a failure and him as (apparently accurately) a hypocrite crook. Now he’ll be remembered as one of the finest presidents Korea has ever had (not that he’s got all that much to compete with-military dictators and all that). So, I think this whole morning process was pretty much a whole hunk of bull. But, what can you do? That’s the natural culture. I’m sure that these negatives are related to some positive somewhere, even if I can’t quite see it; and Korea does have a lot of positives going for it. I’ll miss the country very much.

I think that’s enough for now. I’m almost caught up; I’ll try to get into Kazakhstan in the next few days.

Also, here's a few recipies from our time here.
Kazakhstan Recipies:
Alex and Jake's Totally Awesome Kazakh Stew

2 Carrots (one small one, one freakishly huge)
4 potatoes (cut up midway through the boiling process)
1/8 Salami Moscovskaya

Start by washing the carrots and potatoes. Cut the carrrots (but not the potatoes) and then put them into a pot of water. Bring to a boil. Realize that you need to cut up the potatoes so fish them out and cut them into smaller chunks. Put them back in-try not to drop them in, or you'll splash boiling water onto your arm and that sucks. Then realize that you need some more flavor, so slice up some sausage (Salami Moscovskaya is a good safe bet-best sausage we've had in Kazakhstan so far) and plop 'em in, adding a little salt for flavor. Once the stew stops smelling like dirt and the potatoes and carrots looked cooked, stop and enjoy. Add a little sour cream to make it authentically Russo-Kazakh. For a hardy breakfast, save the left overs and then drop in two eggs the next morning, while reboiling the stew.

Alex and Jake's Totally Awesome Kazakh Pan Fry:

1/2 giant carrot that you didn't use when making the Totally Awesome Kazakh Stew (TM)
2 potatoes
1/4 Italian Bolognia like sausage (Salmi Moscovskaya would probably be better, so if you have it use it)
1 tomato
Vegitable Oil

Slice carrots into small pieces and potatoes into small cubes or wedges. Slice Sausage and tomatoes. Throw some oil in a pan and start to cook the carrots. After they have had a little while to start, add in the potatoes. Once these have een browned and are starting to looked cooked, add the sausage. Feel free to add salt for flavoring anytime during this process. Once the sausage and the rest of the ingredients are almost cooked add the sliced tomotoes and cook them for a short while. Remove from heat and enjoy with Chili-Ketchup, sour cream, or even mayonnaise.

If you can; get some onions, garlic, or other spices. I'm sure this would be even better with more options. Our menus are a bit limited by what is in our fridge at the moment.

So Goodbye Korea, hopefully we'll see you again

Saturday, June 6, 2009

What's going on?

No idea what I'm doing-

So I'm in Kazakhstan. Things here right now kind of remind me of the opening of "A Tale of Two Cities": "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

Best of times: Got an awesome flat, two bedrooms, living room, kitchen, bathroom, have a TV, electric stove, couch, beds, washing (and possibly drier too), in an interesting country that no one else usually goes to, I've got my own mobile phone working here, and there's lot of interesting and friendly people. Another plus is I’m a couple of thousand miles from reality and the roles I’ve been assigned by people back home. I’ve also got a really cool trip in the works for Korea before I come back to the states.

Worst of times: teaching three groups (all at different levels of proficiency-with one of them being a group of teachers from the bloody institute) for about 8 hours a day every weekday (including Saturdays-which my biggest problem isn’t working Saturdays because I want freetime, but because I have no idea how I’m going to keep these lessons going), apparently Dr. Lee has “highly recommended” us and they have “the greatest confidence in us.” Kazakhstan is also a very strange country; the flipside to its interesting country status. Also, the flat started with one desk chair and two stools for the kitchen, but we have two desks and one of those damn stools broke. The bleedin’ washer (and possible drier) has been giving us a lot of teething troubles while we try to figure out how the bugger works, since it’s all printed in Russian. And while reality might be 1000 miles away, it is closing fast-I haven’t been able to run since Jinju; I’m always tired now, not sure where I can run, and the air quality here is a bit poor. Not to mention I have to learn Russian while I am here so I can pass the test (and thus graduate with my international studies major)-I’m so screwed.
I don’t remember any Russian and I’m not even sure how I can learn it here; I am so busy planning for the next lesson (and I’m never really sure what I’m doing-like Mad Max: “Plan? There ain’t no plan!” and I have no idea how to teach English). I’m terrible at any language anyhow! But I’m expected to teach English? I’m not sure how to fulfill their expectations; they want to learn about American culture, History, presidents, education system, idioms, etc, but they also want a 30% TTT (Teacher talking time) and 70% STT (Student Talking Time). Look, I’m a bit talkative person, I admit it, but dammit, what am I supposed to do about it? I am a historian; I don’t know how to teach facts getting other people to talk about it. So freaking hosed…not to mention Jake is in an even worse position than I am, regarding teaching these people. I’m trying to have a lesson plan; for the past two days though, I’ve had to work both of ours out. I just finished mine and he’s gone to sleep-will I have to help him tomorrow? Almost definitely. How can I do that in class without either cutting out of my own lesson or making him look like he isn’t doing anything? I don’t know.
Not to mention I’ve got problems on the home front. I don’t want to talk with my family, but I can’t do this on my own and I need Dad’s help. Wonderful! The last thing I want is to ask for their help.

Oh, yeah; I forgot about that-still no word from Singapore airlines, so who knows how that’ll work out? And I’ll have to pay for the change in flight, flights down to Jinju, and also that extra $100 for Kazakh air.
So here’s what the students want to learn about-it’s a pity I don’t know much about any of these subjects (or if I do, I have no idea how to teach them in a 30-70% TTT/STT if at all):
Things Teachers Want to Learn:
Education in the US
US History (Special Focus on Presidents)
Student Life in America
Teaching in the US
US Stereotypes of the World
Family Traditions and holidays
Customs and traditions in Kansas
Society problems (global warming, etc for group discussion)
Youth Problems in the US
Critical and Creative Thinking
Psychology (personality-like introvert/extrovert, preferences-stuff I've taken before) tests
American culture: The Dream, business, Modern Culture, etc
Famous people and their lives
the Founding fathers
Creative/Critical Thinking

Things Students want to learn:

Preparation for their exams
Better critical thinking
more creative thinking
Be able to discuss things
Be able to hold a dialogue
Help with monologue
US Culture

I wonder if when the school fires me for incompetence I’ll be able to stay in the flat or get another one until I can get back to Almaty and then the US. Probably not, right?

Also, sometime later I’ll get back ontop of the Korean trip. Lots of stuff happened and I have many opinions on things (not that they matter or are any good, but I’ve got ‘em)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Alive and kicking and exauhsted

So I'm alive folks. But that ain't saying much. Got a kicking new flat, but am teaching 6 days a week for the next 3 weeks ~8 hours aday. And one of my classes is a class of adult teachers and I have no idea what to do.

Got to go plan for this afternoon and tomorrow.

Also, Elly says the family is praying for me. Don't do it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Worst Day Since Yesterday...

Its been the worst day since yesterday

So its been a rough couple of days...I've still got to update those lousy days, but I'm going to go out of order and write about an experience that frustrated me to all hell today.

So it starts out at the check out; our bloody hotel charges money for internet use. The only hotel we've been to in Korea that does that, but I don't really have a choice; its the easiest way to keep in touch with people back home and I need to upload my photos and try to keep this thing going; so I accepted the charges after the unsecured network that I had used disappeared...anyway, I knew it would be nasty, but it still isn't nice getting hit with a 36,000 won bill. Fine; whatever. That sucked, at least Jake and I' lunch/dinner was cheap (3 rolls of gimbap for 9,000 won and Jake went a head and let me finish them off here, so I'm not so hungry anymore.

So whatever, its out of my mind; I don't have to worry about that anymore. I call Singapore Airlines to find out about my return trip home and I find out they still don't have any seats open for us; so they'll keep in touch with us via email; which will be a pain in Kazakhstan...

Then we get to the airport, start checking in and find out that for economy class passengers, our weight limit is 20 kilograms. That's ~40 pounds for two bags that are filled with books for my classes and are going to last me all summer. We I ain't got any choice, so I've got to pay...117,000 won! That's $96 basically. So I'm caught between a rock and a hard place since I'll have to pay for it on the return trip; I don't know about the Singapore airlines bit, I have to still buy domestic tickets to Jinju and back (which will be cheaper than this luggage is), I'm tired to all hell, I'm not talking with my family, I think Jake is using up my korean phone card to talk with a girl he met a week ago,we've got to board in ten minutes, there is no sign of him, and the room is packing up and everyone has a ton of crap and I don't want my stuff getting checked. Also, we have to start teaching class the day after we get back to Semey and we have almost no lesson plan yet. The only good news is that with my luck these days, the plan will crash into the sea or somewhere in China and I'll be killed before I have to worry about all this junk.