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Sunday, February 22, 2015

What Is It Like Living in Russia as a Foreigner? | Pt. 1

What Is It Like Living in Russia as a Foreigner?
Written by Emma Rutherford 

Frasier actor Kelsey Grammer once said that he sometimes preferred not to learn his lines in their entirety before shooting a live episode to preserve spontaneity and creativity. His fellow actor, David Hyde Pierce, when asked what he would miss after the 11 year show came to an end, responded 'The routine, which is a cheap word for a very complicated procedure.' Both of these statements resonated with me deeply as a lover of performing, an EFL teacher and an expat living in Russia, married to a Russian.

As an EFL teacher, you are expected to be a mentor, disciplinarian, facilitator and entertainer all at once. As the only native English speaker in a language school in the 60, 000 strong Golden Ring town of Yaroslavl, I teach exclusively adults of upper intermediate to advanced level using the same 3 books. It is relatively easy to predict what games and activities and styles are required for each chapter. But, even after 3 years doing this, I still get nervous before each lesson and I try not to plan to the nth degree. What if they don't like the activities? Have I got enough to please both the extroverts and introverts? What if three students turn up when I was expecting ten? 

What about the time I had to explain the correct use of the word 'kinky' when a student used it in the context of 'I like kinky food.' And what on earth do you do when you have an homosexual couple in the midst of a group that holds tightly to Russia's highly anti LGBT attitude? Spontaneity is sometimes your biggest asset as an EFL teacher. If you stay fresh and on edge, so will your students.
As much as Grammer's quote serves in explaining the intricacies of life as an EFL teacher, Hyde Pierce's quote just as effectively sums up the inherent lack of routine that a day in Russia can bring. 

I have found myself teaching the director of steel production company Severstal Business English, Advanced English and Spanish in an office that is bigger and plusher than my flat.  On the odd Tuesday in a blue moon when my client is actually in town, I precariously balance my materials on the edge of her surgical table in one of Yaroslavl's best beauty salons. Just the other day, my boss treated me to a business breakfast at Пенаты restaurant, which is so exclusive that they only take reservations if you know the owner and which failed the Russian version of The Hotel Inspector 'Ревизор' due to its privacy policy and high prices. 

What Is It Like Living in Russia as a Foreigner?

I had to play the 'mystery customer' and assess their ability to deal with questions about the menu, which included 'cereal risotto', 'fake risotto' and 'the mist of Autumn hay' sauce, placing an order and complaining in a way that would have made my mother proud. I taught at a winter camp for 4 days in a remote village in a basement room with with only a register, a blackboard, marker and a day's warning. I was moved from my flat and teaching post in Zelenograd to a new flat and new teaching post in Moscow on 3 days notice. On the 2nd last day of a summer camp, I was rushed to hospital with a kidney problem. On my last birthday in another summer camp, the kids and staff, after knowing me 3 days, transformed the main hall into a circus and staged a whole performance because they found out by word of mouth that I'd never been to the circus. 

When Anton and I got married in September, there was no wedding rehearsal before either the church or civil ceremony. During the former, when I choked on the wine the priest poured into my mouth, he said 'Well I see our bride doesn't drink, that's a good sign.' To be eligible for an Orthodox wedding, I had to make the tough decision to convert to Orthodoxy and have water thrown over me. When I receive my monthly pay check, it can be anything from 25000 roubles (around £250 with the current exchange rate) to 50000 roubles (£500.) On one many 05:20 morning trains from Yaroslavl to Moscow to go back to work, having spent the weekend with my then boyfriend, now husband, I was woken by a jolly elderly lady spraying me with perfume because 'The bottle says 'For Women In Black' and you're wearing black!'

But throughout it all, the endless generosity, protection, love and indomitable spirit of not just my husband's family but those Russians ready to help a foreigner have got me through the 'very complicated procedure' of every day in Russia. 

to be continued... 
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