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