Saturday, January 24, 2015

First Day: Teaching in Minsk

At last: my first day of teaching in Minsk!

I'd been thinking about this moment for almost a year, planning, anticipating, and stressing. And even now I'm still working to whip the course into shape. But today I would begin - though not without some awkwardness.

I'd collapsed in my bed the previous day and slept through dinnertime, only to awaken at about two in the morning. I commenced to arranging all the loose ends of my course materials into some semblance of a Prezi and felt more or less prepared by about seven. I had a throbbing headache and a rumbling tummy. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as the case may be), there's a McDonald's across the street from my flat.

I grabbed a coke and a cherry pie - and promptly squirted red goo onto my pants.

Yes, on the first day of class with a group of MBA students waiting to learn about Silicon Valley start-up culture, I'd look like I'd missed a few days of kindergarten. Only when I started walking toward the metro did I notice how extensively I'd managed to splatter myself. No time to change, I cleaned up with a liberal heaping of fresh snow. Class began at nine; I wanted to arrive by eight, and it was still pitch black outside.

Finding a seat on the metro, I (unadvisedly) napped two stops to my destination.

Entering the BSU building, I reminded myself to anticipate that nothing would work. I brought my laptop, even though we weren't able to connect my device to their flat screen monitor the previous afternoon. Just in case I also packed a portable hard drive and had uploaded the Prezi, but I presumed that I'd have to go Old School and teach without tech. It worked for Plato, after all!

Yet, sure enough, they'd scrounged up a cable that worked. They'd also set up name-signs for each of my students, and someone even offered to make me some coffee. These folks are pros, and I knew at once that things would go well.

My class is small, five students only (well, six at first - but I'll tell that story another time). They are professional, polite, and quite interesting. At the beginning of class, I assumed a formal "lecturing" position at the head of the room, but by the end of our three-hour period, we'd arranged ourselves into a much more comfortable manner, forming an irregular square of seats and enjoying a conversation punctuated by story-telling and laughter: my favorite kind of classroom experience.

As is customary around here, we shook hands at the beginning of class, and we repeated that ritual at the end. One of my students then offered to drive me back to my apartment, but I live nearby and didn't want to inconvenience him.

I was so pleased (and so relieved) that I decided to treat myself to lunch at Friday's.

The place looks like any other restaurant in that chain. The music is a mixture of 80s pop, hip-hop, and Christmas tunes (really!). At first, I stumbled my way through some introductory Russian, but there was no hiding my nationality. I've noticed, by the way, that even when I say the right word, folks tend to giggle at my efforts. Nothing mean spirited - merely a reminder that I carry my foreignness like a neon sign.

Once the waiter sussed out my nationality, he brought over a translator who asked me, "Is it a secret where you work?" I told them what I'm doing here, and she replied, "You are a great teacher. Your voice is lovely."

I answered that I find Russian to be a lovely language, one I hope to learn. They smiled at each other and then she teased: "Belarusian is even more lovely." Then they taught me a couple phrases, which I diligently practiced (though by the end of the meal, my brain had begun to shut down).

The food, if you're curious, looked nothing like what the menu promised. The steak had the consistency of something I saw in The Walking Dead. But I didn't care. I'd survived my first day of teaching without embarrassing myself too much. That was all the sustenance I'd need for awhile.

Walking back to the apartment, I noticed that my pants showed no sign of that errant cherry filling. Sitting on my bed, I decided that I'd hold off on arranging the apartment for a while. Just a bit of rest first…

I fell asleep almost immediately.


Unknown said...

I enjoyed reading about your first day...and previous day.
Linda Mitchell

Unknown said...

I've enjoyed hearing about your first few days. Look forward to more stories.

highway163 said...

Thanks, Linda! I appreciate your kind notes! :-)

Vienna said...

Wow! It sounds like overall it was an exciting first day and an awesome teaching experience. Did you know your class would be so small? And do they speak English or do they need a translator? It's nice that they had one on hand for you at Fridays. :-)