Wednesday, December 25, 2013


It's Christmas in Canada! No, I'm not talking about the South Park episode. The holiday is here. Much of the world has spent the day consumed with gift wrap and turkey and strings of cheap colored lights. How did I celebrate? I went to work.

In Russia, Christmas is on January 7th, due to the Orthodox calendar. However, it's mostly a church thing. The real celebration is New Year. It has the tree, the presents, even a local version of Santa Claus, but it's on a different date. I think it's a Soviet holdover. Whatever the reason, it means that December 25th is completely ordinary to most Russians. Businesses are open, kids are in school, and everything is status quo.

For someone coming from the North American holiday frenzy, it's downright disorienting. To be cut off from family and friends on top of it all makes it that much worse. I've had a few nostalgic moments today, no doubt about that - and a wonderful Skype conversation with my parents, though it was hard to miss out on Christmas morning with them.

At the same time, a holiday season is a holiday season, no matter where you are. The kids have been keyed-up and babbling about their vacation plans for weeks. Every building has a string of lights thrown on it. New Year trees are being sold on the street corners. We've had pub nights, season-themed lessons, and a staff outing to The Wizard of Oz on ice. So it's a weird combination of Christmas and no Christmas.

Today, however, was perfectly ordinary. In some respects, this was a good thing - working kept my mind off what I was missing. I taught my classes (well, if you call "showing them The Grinch and A Mickey Mouse Christmas Carol" teaching) and put on a brave face. Some of the older students were thoughtful enough to wish me a Merry Christmas - one even brought me a gift! - and one of my classes had several students from South America, so we shared a little OMG IT'S CHRISTMAS moment.

At several points during the day, I stopped and thought to myself, "Today is Christmas Day," like that kid in A Christmas Carol. The world was still going on around me. People rushed around living their daily lives. I missed the complete standstill that happens every year - the moments to reflect and spend time with family and celebrate together. But Russians have their own time for that, and I knew that coming in. With the wonders of the Internet, I even got to communicate with my family. Today, I saw so much goodness in so many people, from Russia and Canada and all over the world. There were so many people willing to make the day just a bit better. That is worth so much more than a holiday - even if I still miss home.

A very merry Christmas to all of you reading this, and may you never be alone. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Сто дней

On Tuesday of this week, unbeknownst to me, I hit a milestone in my Russian journey - my first 100 days. This is out of roughly 280, as calculated by a random website. So, like Obama (and this is only marginally less important), I will take the time to reflect on my first 100.

For starters, this was my first ever "grown-up" job, and boy, did I pick a doozy. Adjusting to the working world, moving to a new country, and starting in a new industry - I did that all at once. It's been bumpy, and it's a hell of a lot of work, both in terms of time and energy expended. Teaching is difficult and stressful, no matter where you are. And for the rest of this month, it's going to be a long and rugged path, as we get all the marking and paperwork done for the end of term. But I'm getting better. God knows I'm not perfect - I'm not even "good" yet, no teacher is without experience - but my students seem to like me, and my boss is more or less satisfied. Even my more difficult classes are starting to come along. There's a lot of room for improvement, but I'm not terrified every morning, and that is progress.

As far as Russia itself, it was nowhere near as big an adjustment as I feared. There are the usual bureaucratic hoops, but they have been sorted out and I can more or less move about freely. With the Internet's existence and increasing globalization, I don't feel nearly as cut off from home as recently, and a lot of the changes from home are reduced (seeing the brands you like, navigating local sites, etc, etc). There's something both good and bad about that, I think - it's not as easy to have an experience unique to that country, but on the other hand it makes adjustment that much easier. Winter is no problem (much to the disappointment of my students, who love to see their non-Russian teachers recoil in terror at the weather). I'm Canadian. I laugh in the face of winter. HA HA HA!

Due to a crazy schedule, I haven't gotten out as much as I would have liked, but have managed to see some of the city. Red Square is always interesting, and I really enjoyed Gorky Park. The Pushkin and Tolstoy literary museums were excellent, with Tolstoy in particular standing out for its fantastic displays. I've also made a few friends, all other teachers (Russian and non-Russian). They have kindly shown me the city and given me invaluable help over the past few months. In fact, tomorrow I will be off to a most excellent karaoke bar to celebrate someone's birthday. This friend also introduced me to Georgian food, which I expect will be a lifelong favourite!

Having a vacation makes all the difference. Even in the past few days since I booked the Israel trip, I've been much happier. It's a break from routine, a time to do nothing but sightsee, bask in the sun and enjoy being me. It's going to be awesome. And tonight, I get to do something I've been looking forward to for months - I'm going to see Elton John in concert! Yes, I've seen him before, but this particular location at this particular time should prove to be extremely dramatic.

So here I am, more than a third of the way through the school year and feeling pretty good. There have been good days and bad, but I've had some fantastic experiences and hold the promise of several more. The first one hundred days of Russia have been the experience of my life, in ways both good and bad. As I head into the last one hundred and eighty, I think it's going to get better and better.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


So...can anyone guess where I'm going for the New Year Holiday?