Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cultural Adjustment, dubbed.

Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a sophisticated reflection.

I lay the blame on its origin during the 16th year of my life.

Adjusting to dubbed movies

Stage I: At first you notice, you rejoice in, you grasp for the split second of the original English speech before the overlaid dubbed language kicks in. Something familiar! Something you can understand! But alas, these moments only last for not even the duration of a complete second and you are back, lost and confused, in the world of the new language. Even worse, soon you find yourself with a headache from the subconscious efforts of trying to understand the English beneath the dubbed language.

Stage II: Soon, you get used to the dubbing but become annoyed with it. You can’t help but focus on the delay between the actors’ lip movement and the actual speech. Why? Why would they dub movies? The movie looses so much from not having the original voices, especially Will Smith movies. Really, they do. Besides, it is so frustrating to know that you used to be able to understand every word of this movie and now you can barely laugh at the jokes.

Stage III: But soon, you get used to dubbed movies. You stop noticing the small delay. You become accustom to German Will Smith instead of American Will Smith. You even understand the language and therefore don’t have to ‘remember’ the movie to know what is going on. You even stop noticing that you are watching dubbed movies at all. Happy with such a great success, you decide to go to the local movie theater to watch the newest Star Wars movie. Wait, you just found out that dubbed into German, the word ‘Jedi’ is pronounced ‘ye-dee’. Never mind, you can’t handle multiple hours of ‘yedees’, that is asking too much.

Adjusting to a new culture

At first, you notice everything, the similarities and the differences. You often try to make yourself familiar with and understand what is going on around you. Eggplant? I eat eggplant. Tomatoes, cucumbers? I eat those too. Outhouse? I’ve used one of those before. Cows everywhere? I’m from Wisconsin, I see them all the time while driving past farms in my car. Armenian language? I can figure out a few words, I’ll be able to communicate just fine. But just as in Stage I of adjusting to dubbed movies. These moments only last for a split second before you become overwhelmed with the world of new, strange, and different phenomenon you are now living in. And after awhile, you get a headache from it all…

Eventually, you get tired. This is when you start to get annoyed. Shit, I just stepped in cow shit again? This is the third dog that has tried to attack me while running? And you discover how ‘incapable’ you are without language skills. I can’t cook for myself? I can’t walk myself to school? I can barely tell you what my basic needs are and certainly can not make a joke or engage in a conversation longer than two minutes.

Luckily, you eventually move on to Stage III of watching dubbed movies and cultural immersion. You gain a better grasp on the language and what is going on around you. You understand things. You become accustomed to the things that may have annoyed you in stage two. You become comfortable and make this new setting your life. You stop listening for that split second of English…

But of course, there will still be moments when you can’t handle German Yoda saying “Ye-dee” instead of Jedi. Such is life.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Armenia's Independence Day

Armenia’s Independence Day is September 21st. This year, 20 years were celebrated. A nation that is recognized as being the first Christian nation in 301 AD celebrated 20 years of Independence this year. This concept makes me think about a few observations I made…

One of the most recognized symbols of Dilijan is large concrete monument which from above looks like a star. It marks the 50th anniversary of Soviet Armenia. Follow the river and you will soon come to another impressive soviet monument—large being an inept descriptor of the structure. It was here that official pictures were taken of local school officials recognizing the holiday. If there had been any sun, they would have been taken under the shadow of the Soviet Union—the very entity that Armenia gained its independence from.

On the 20th of September, I received a few emails from various Peace Corps staff members who work and live in Yerevan that ended with “Happy Independence Day” wishes and hopes that we would enjoy celebrating the day. In Yerevan, a large military parade and political speeches were made, celebrations were had. On the 21st in Dilijan, we did not have school but other than a few kids walking around nobody seemed to be stirring from their houses, much less celebrating anything. There were certainly no greetings of “Happy Independence Day” exchanged. My sitemates and I were all surprised to see NO activity whatsoever. The 22nd brought a little more encouragement, the students at my school put on a performance after school for the teachers.

Finally, I had a discussion with a traveler who was spending some time in Armenia. We were discussing the current education system and its many faults. We were both shocked at the sheer number of inefficiencies and negative practices found in schools. As we sat there discussing this and possible and even fewer, probable changes, the large star monument caught my eye. With this I realized that we were criticizing a government institution—the Ministry of Education, that was only 20 years old. 20 years old. Made me think of my little sister Karen—who granted is pretty darn awesome but let’s face it, makes you realize that with only 20 years of life, there is still such a long way to go. (No offence meant to either party in that comparison.) 20 years, that isn’t really even enough time to have a large change in personal or for many progressive ideas to take hold so our criticisms, while valid need to be made with the recognition of the relative youth of the institution.

Simply said, Armenia is a complex country. It is an ancient place filled with an ancient culture and a rich history. It was part of the Soviet Union whose effects are still seen everywhere. There seems to be a national mentality that dwells on the past—both the good and the bad. Yet there are so many young people now who never knew the Soviet Union and who read about the Armenian genocide in their history books. In some ways it is an ancient country in others a brand new country, younger than me. Armenia is a country that is beginning anew with much experience and knowledge of other circumstances. They have advanced in the past twenty years and continue to do so; making mistakes, struggling, and slowly moving forward just as any other young nation has done. It is exciting to be here towards the beginning and it will be a privilege in the years to come to watch Armenia’s progress with some first-hand understanding.

Monday, September 5, 2011

My School has a Blog

Dilijan School Number 4's Blog:

Check it out. The blog is updated monthly by the computer teachers.

The most recent post is about September 1st, Knowledge Day, the First Day of School.

I am in the bottom left picture. Standing to my left is my host mom who works as the school secretary and in woman in the middle, wearing a black dress with white stripes is my counterpart and wonderful English teacher, Marine.

Go ahead and Google translate the page, the translation is not the best but you will be able to get some idea of what is said.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The First Day of School

I’ve done the first day of school thing—many times—as a student. Last year was the first year in 18 years that I didn’t have a ‘first day of school’. This year was the first year I got to experience the beginning of September as something else—in this case three ‘somethings’. I got to be in the teachers lounge before the students all ran off to their classrooms, in Armenia, as an American.

In Armenia, the first day of school is September 1st which is also Knowledge Day, a holiday. It was neat to see the pronounced appreciation for the teachers through the congratulations offered by everybody we met that day, in school, on the street, everywhere in town.

We got to school at 8:30 and after greeting the other teachers by exchanging kisses and congratulations the “Welcome to School” program began. Okay, it didn’t begin for another 2 hours but for efficiency’s sake, it began…

Under a banner welcoming the students to school (Bari Galust) the younger students put on a skit, songs were sung, a traditional Armenian dance was demonstrated, speeches were made by all the right people, and certificates were handed out to students and teachers.

After the ceremony, our school director called each grade into the building and the kids tore off to their classrooms. Some of the teachers had classes to attend—others did not. Those of us who didn’t (my counterpart/myself included) soon left to first get coffee at a cafĂ© downtown and then along with the school director, spent the rest of the afternoon at a restaurant eating khorovats, fish, and mushrooms, and making toasts with apricot vodka.

The whole day quite a whirlwind, first, I wasn’t sure if I felt like a teacher yet. I didn’t really even though I was being treated like one and even received a bouquet of flowers (which are given to teachers by students on September 1st) and played the role of a teacher (granted with nothing to do) all day. It was also my first Armenian day one of school and I was never sure what to expect next. Would we teach? If we didn’t teach, would we at least interact with the students in some capacity? Why are we leaving school with the vice principles and school director at noon when students are still here? What are the students doing? Finally, I was definitely observing this day with judging eyes, constantly comparing it to what I know of the American school system. Although it will be awhile before I begin to fully understand the differences in the education systems, I did certainly notice a few superficial and somewhat amusing differences.

  • · School Uniforms—white shirts and the only other color to be worn is black. Other than this, there is no dress code. Tight pants, short skirts, distracting add-ons to shirts…all seemed to be okay as long as it was black or white.
  • · Middle school boys—greeting each other with a hand shake and a kiss.
  • · Students and teachers greeting each other with kisses on the cheek.
  • · Toy guns being played with in front of school.
  • · Students all standing and offering a greeting when a teacher enters the classroom. (It was fun to enter the 1st grade classrooms—they are still learning this)
  • · No set class schedule for the first week or so.
  • · Alcohol can be an acceptable beverage in the teacher’s lounge.

I’m excited to start teaching. Our first class is on Monday and I should be teaching two classes a day Monday thru Thursday to grades 3, 6, 7, and 8. I have my reservations about some teaching methods and the organization of lessons used here but I’ll have to be in the classroom for a bit first before I can make any useful judgments.

I hope the first day of school or the start of fall goes well for all of you back home…

-Ms. Kellianne

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Week One at Site

This post wont be long. As the title implies, I have been at my permanent site for one week. School doesn't start until September 1st. I have been reading, taking naps, studying (a little), making tea, and amusing myself with any activity I can create for myself.

I have been lucky enough to work with my counterpart for an hour or so every day at school. I will be team-teaching grades 3,6,7 and 8. In Armenian schools, the students stay in one room all through school and the teachers move from classroom to classroom. We are lucky enough to have an English Resource Center which is a small room with a white board, printer, projector, one computer, a few desks and chairs, and various English resources my counterpart has collected over the years. My main job will be to help my counterpart effectively teach English despite the textbooks we have to work with. Hopefully we’ll be able to get the students more involved in the classroom with games, activities, visual aids, etc. Other than teaching I’ll be helping run an English club for students and possibly one for teachers. As time goes on, I’ll pick up other projects as well.

My new host family is just one host mom who is wonderful. I will most likely rent her second house from her come November when I can finally get my own place. It is right next door to where we are living now, close to school and my counterpart’s apartment and has a view of the mountains surrounding us. It is also completely furnished and has indoor plumbing.

Dilijan is a pretty spread out town but I don’t mind the walking. The Armenians think I am crazy but I try to point out to them that I walk 10x faster than they do and I don’t wear 4 inch stiletto heals all the time so walking is much more enjoyable for me than it is for them. It is about a half hour walk to downtown Dilijan where I can get some shopping done, get mistaken for a Russian tourist, and visit my sitemates for a bit. Judy and I are taking our time off before school starts to slowly explore the town and see what is available in various stores. So far we have found some small grocery stores, and a few warehouse-esq buildings with as many Chinese and Turkish products as you could want. I know where to go when I want to buy a lime green housecoat.

Because Dilijan is a larger tourist town, most people just ignore us assuming we are just tourists passing through. Some try to sell us tablecloths. Living in a town is different from living in a small village where EVERYBODY knows who you are but we still have our micro-communities in Dilijan. The other day when I was walking home, two different neighbors stoped me and asked me if I had eaten that day because they knew my host mom was gone and that I was home alone. Only after assuring them that I had and that I was in fact headed home to eat right that minute did they let me continue on my way.

I’m enjoying the relaxing pace of settling in but am also excited for school to start and to begin working.

If you want my address, let me know and I’ll send it your way!

I’ll be uploading more pictures soon!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Vartavar Holiday

I was sitting in my garden. Literally just sitting there staring at a flower. All of the sudden I see just the heads of a couple Americans bobbing down the path. Joining them are the heads of three Armenian boys from the village. Seconds later I am doused with buckets of water. Happy Water Day. After engaging in an entertaining water fight with my family, my mom handed me a bucket and the Americans ran off through the village intent on proving their worth. We were attacked halfway down the street but managed to hold our own. After emptying our water supply, we ducked into Lisa’s house for a refill and were promptly attacked by her mom. Filling our buckets in their front gate bathtub we ran outside and after a few minutes of battle with the village kids enlisted them to help ambush the last two American girls.

The next two hours consisted of the following: 100s of buckets of water being dumped on my head while the boys yelled “Kelli-jan is showering!” We broke off for a bit to douse our language teacher with water and also to chase somebody’s older cousin and his friends through three of their houses. After finally deciding to go home, I ran out the back gate of a friend’s house and started a steady jog home, hopping to put some distance between myself and the kids with water. They didn’t notice my escape until I had at least 100 yards on them and I was able to outrun all of them until I reached my turn off where two girls were waiting, ready with buckets. They got me once and I just barley dashed in our gate and slammed it in some other kids’ faces before they hurled water over our gate in one last attempt to get me.

I didn’t leave the house for the rest of the afternoon. However, at 7 I had to get all the way across town to our language teachers’ house where we were going to make pizza. I put my supplies in a ziplock bag and set off, thankful the streets were peaceful. I took with me a nalgeen full of water, for drinking naturally, but to be used in case of needed defense. I ran into a small child, no older than 4 halfway down the street and when he saw my water bottle, he ran over to me and punched me in the thigh. I told him I wasn’t going to pour water on him but he just punched me again. I wasn’t really sure how to handle him so I just kept walking, chuckling a bit. He ran after me and tried to pull down my shorts. I heismaned him as gently as possible and continued on my way. As I neared the main street I could hear the kids out by the running spring so I made my friend’s tatik let me in their back gate and got a bucket. Once I got out the front gate I was dry for all of 5 seconds.

Now, not only were the Americans mercilessly attacked but everybody was fair game that day. Tatiks, mamas, small children, store owners, cars driving by with open windows, bus passengers. I saw an old man run faster than I would have believed and jump a wall (cigarette in hand) when we chased him through his garden. I saw Lisa’s tatik take a whole bucket of water to the face. We dumped 6 buckets of freezing cold water on our language teacher’s head, one after the other.

I think we earned the respect of the village boys. We proved that we could not only take multiple buckets of water to the head but also that we were willing to chase them all the way down the street and throw our own bucket of water right back in their face.

The holiday occurs 98 days after Easter. Needless to say, this holiday makes my top 5 list.

Two simple Armenian recipes.

So far the Armenian food has been good. It can be very greasy and oily, but my mom does a good job of cutting down on the salt at least. The oil, not so much.

Most Armenians eat seasonally which means there is a lot of fresh produce during the summer and early fall months and none during the winter months. I’m trying to eat my fill now, but I know I will miss the fruit A LOT come December. And to think, last December I was eating exotic fruits every day in Hawaii. This year, I’ll be eating cabbage. Good thing I can make a good sauerkraut.

I’ll be posting more about food, as it is one of my favorite topics, but for now, I just wanted to share two simple recipes I have seen prepared a lot in my time here.

Walnut Eggplant Rolls

Slice eggplant into long thin slices.

Fry in oil or butter until cooked and soft.

Set aside

Mix together: chopped walnuts, garlic, salt, pepper, minced cilantro or dill and one of the following: sour cream, plain yogurt, or mayonnaise.

Spread mixture on cooked eggplant slices and roll.

Eat warm or cold.


Take plain yogurt and thin with water. Add diced cucumber, onion, and cilantro or dill. Salt if you wish.

Drink cold.

My permanent placement

I will be working as a TEFL teacher in an Armenian school, grades 3-9. English is the students’ third language, following Russian as their second. My school has over 40 teachers and over 300 students. My counterpart is works as both the vice principal and one of two English teachers. She has previously worked with volunteers and has been to the states on a teacher exchange program. This translates into: I am lucky. I will be working with somebody who has experience with Americans and knows how to work with a volunteer.

I will be living with the secretary of my school. She is 45 and has a son who works in Russia. It will be just the two of us in her house which is pretty big and also has indoor bathroom and shower facilities. Her house is just 5 minutes American walking speed and 10 minutes Armenian away from my school. The city center is a good 45 minute walk but there are plenty of stores nearby and also a bus that runs up and down the main street.

My town itself has a population of about 15,000 and used to be an old resort town and is located in the middle of a forest reserve so there is plenty of hiking etc. Part of the town as been preserved as an “old town” and consists of a couple of restaurants, a hotel, a museum, and a few local art galleries. The rest of the town is spread out along one long main road that stretches through a valley.

Armenia is only about the size of Maryland and I will be living in the northern region, just about an hour north of Yerevan (the capital city), am pretty close to Georgia (the only border Americans can easily cross), and can conveniently get to a few other big cities and volunteers from where I am.

I’ll be moving from my training village on August 17th and will start school on September 1st.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Armenia I

So far I am thankful for two things.

  • The verb “to be warm/hot” cannot easily be confused with “to be turned on.” To my knowledge. Although it took three months for somebody to tell me last time…
  • Smiling and giving the thumbs up to my mom to show that I like something or understand is not politely telling her to F***k off.

Without these two mistakes to make, so far I haven’t had any problem with the language. Ha. I tried to tell my family I was going hiking with some fellow volunteers and my host dad got out the car and was ready to drive me to church because they thought I wanted to go pray. I also told my family that ice cream was called “Eskimos” in America. Sorry Alaska. And when asked if I thought cows smelled and I said no, the smell didn’t bother me. The next question was whether or not my mom and dad owned a cow. To that I answered, No my parents do not own a cow; but all of America just smells like cow manure. At least I know this to be true in 1 out of the 50 states. Go Wisconsin.

Speaking of cows… I got to milk one the other night. Now I know all of you Wisconsinites are not impressed (although the Minnesotans secretly areJ). I do however want to assure you that I rocked it. I’ve always heard milking cows is hard. Nope, I got plenty of milk out of that cow. In exchange for milking the cow, the woman who actually owned the cow promised to stop by sometime and read my fortune in the coffee grounds left in my cup. (Similar to reading tea leaves. Which Armenians found to be weird? Reading tea leaves is so much weirder than reading coffee grounds.)

Speaking of cows…* another volunteer and I have started going for cow runs. These runs are dubbed such because they happen at the same time the village cows are being taken out to pasture. (about 7am). We run through the town, dodging potholes, water, and cow manure, saying hi to all of the Tatiks and Papiks.** while they stare at us, dogs bark at us, and cows seem to “pull over” and let us pass.

*I plan to start as many sentences as possible with this.

**Grandmas and Grandpas

Coffee. If you were to race Armenians against the Spring Garden Coffee ROMEOs (Retired old men eating out), I am not sure who would win. I spend at least a quarter of my day “drinking coffee”; another quarter is devoted to eating. I have set a limit of three pieces of bread a day. That is one with each meal. It is hard to stick to when each member of my host family at some point throughout the meal insists that I eat more and puts another piece of bread in my hand and food on my plate. Confession: I consumed at least a weeks worth of lavash tonight while helping/watching my host mom and sister knead the dough, throw it, and bake it. Delicious.

On a more or less serious note…

I’m squatting again. Okay, that wasn’t the serious part. But seriously. I am. The first time I saw my squat outhouse some nostalgia swept over me (Oh those China memories). The second time I saw my squat outhouse, all such feelings were fading memories. The third time I saw my squat outhouse I realized: it’s still a squat outhouse. On the pro side for personal hygiene: I have a hot shower.

Now seriously…

I find out my permanent placement in July which I will move to in August. We (the volunteers) are kept pretty busy right now with language six days a week, technical training three times a week, and other activities once or twice a week. It is nice but exhausting to be this busy. During my free time I usually “hang out” with my host family, study up on the language or get together with some of the other volunteers. “Hanging out” with my host family usually consists of a lot of staring. I can describe their physical appearance in almost perfect detail. While I understand more than I did on day one…which was nothing; my comprehension and speaking skills are still developing. And by that I mean severely lacking…but developing.

I hope life stateside is going swimmingly for all of you. Send me updates when you can. Things I may be interested in: How many brats were sold at Bratfest? Have all of the winter kegs finally been switched out for the shandys? What is the newest Chris Brown song? Are all Wisconsin politicians present and accounted for?

In all seriousness, I do appreciate any emails, messages, phone calls, letters, smoke signals you may send my way. I probably will not have a lot of access to internet until sometime in July but I’ll make an effort to respond when able!

If you would like my contact info, phone number/address, email or message me and I’ll send it your way.