Sunday, 9 December 2012

Learning, Languages and Laughter - An Alliterative Love Story

The train ride to Kiev was rather long, the window filled with monotonous, fleeting, snowy landscapes. I managed to get some shuteye in my four bed sleeper compartment but, aside from that, it was far from boring. As a forward looking person, I should have been excited about new adventures and about being on the road again. But my mind was still taking in the past month spent in Moscow teaching English. This was an experience, like all experiences on my trip, new and exciting. However, this past month was on a whole other level and probably, overall, the best and most unforgettable experience in my life.
The Kremlin in Moscow at night
 My situation could be described, as simply as possible, like this: on a help exchange website I found an opportunity to teach English. Despite some hiccups in obtaining a Russian Visa, I found myself in Moscow. I was given free accommodation and a Russian tutor, all for teaching English 5 days a week and requiring no training on my part.

Teaching English without experience is as challenging as it sounds, and this challenge threw at me just about all I can handle in one month. In fact, despite being fluent in English, I had to learn its rules from scratch, something which, on day one, the students had more knowledge of than me. It's shocking to realize how little you actually know about the language you've spoken all your life, especially when you are being corrected by your students! But once I familiarized myself with the rules, and got past the in-class embarrassments (and of course with the help of my charming sense of humour), I took charge, becoming the master my pupils were looking for, converting their contempt into admiration, and channeling my invaluable experience as a first language English speaker into their spongy, thirsty minds, while providing an entertaining learning environment.
Some chicken scratch about things the class wanted to learn 
Every class became more and more fun, and we grew closer day by day. It helped that it was a very informal teaching atmosphere, and that the students really enjoyed playing ESL games that encouraged conversation. I even adapted many popular ones from North America such as Taboo, Scattergories and Jeopardy. Overall, my time with my students transcended the classroom atmosphere, becoming not only a place to learn, but also a place to gather as human beings, to share cultures and to share laughs.

If any sore spot can be found in this experience it was in dealing with the managers of the institute that hired me, a mother-daughter combo. Despite the fact that they provided me a rare and invaluable opportunity, they were still, at their core, greedy, heartless people. They ran their registered non-profit organization like a shady business, perfecting the art of corruption, profiting excessively, neglecting their duties and, above all, treating us with no respect nor showing regard for our well-being. They constantly pushed us to conduct more classes or promote their organization, putting us in an awkward situation between them and the rest of our colleagues. The teachers became used to using words like "bitch" and "hate" when the subject of their bosses came up. Despite only staying one month, I got caught in the web of negativity and sent them a brutally honest e-mail condemning their business practices and also themselves as human beings.
One of my extra duties sprung on me was a doing a presentation at a language
festival. I spoke for 40 minutes in front of at least 100 people!
Their looming omnipresence in my daily affairs really polarized my perspective of the organization. However, in the bigger picture, their business model provided an ideal setting which both teachers and students thrived off of. It is a model that should be replicated in other language institutions, with the exception of the neglect of the volunteer teachers. (Who knows, maybe it's something I could venture into in the future.)

Besides the business of teaching, I was constantly stimulated in Moscow, acclimating to the big city, learning about Russia and its culture, and of course the language, meeting cool people and making new friends. However, the most valuable wisdom I gained from the past month was the power of languages to bring people together. Teaching English makes me want to teach everyone else who has the passion to learn it, and learning Russian makes me want to learn all the languages of the world. And the people you meet who share this passion also share an open mind to different people, cultures and new experiences.
Seven-twelfths of my class on the very last day 
Back on the train to Kiev, you could see how crowded my mind was with thoughts. One thing I reflected upon was many people's curiosity whether I spoke Chinese or any other languages. I shamefully had to answer regrettably no, just English. However, though it's now too far in the past to lament the loss of my native language, and not pursuing more French in high school, it's never too late to fill a clean slate, such as my mind is.

I hope I can continue to build upon my Russian, get back to learning other languages in which I have a basic understanding, such as French and Spanish. If my experience teaching English truly left a footprint on my memories, I will walk the fulfilling path of teaching and learning languages for a long time to come.

Special thanks to my roomies Anais, Katie and Mathieu. You guys were mature, kind, and just plain super awesome people! Best of luck in Moscow and I hope to see you guys again in the future.

Photos of Moscow:

Also - blog and photos of Moscow Metro:


  1. Andrew, I really enjoy reading your blogs and proud of your life experience achievement. Reading your blogs is like reading encyclopedia, fill with cultural experience, knowledge and seeing human expression. Life in itself has so much to learn and you really are experiencing life right now. This kind of experience you can never gain by just sitting at home. You have to go out there and you clearly have demonstrated such powerful will to actually do it. What you gain from this will certainly gives you many options and ponder your next path in life. You are just barely scratching the surface of life and human side. There is so much more to discover. I am really proud to have a nephew like you. You truly are an extraordinary human being.....May be one day you will write a book...................Uncle Allan

    1. Thanks a lot uncle. I really do appreciate those words. I have met many more interesting people than me on this trip, who are more worthy of a book than myself. But who knows, maybe someday!