The last week of March another volunteer and I organized a teacher training in the city of Semey. Semey, formerly called Semeipalatinsk, is located in the northeastern corner of Kazakhstan. During the Soviet Union, a large area to the west of the city, known as the Polygon, was used as the center for the Soviet nuclear testing program. Some 460 nuclear bombs were exploded there from 1949 to 1989. As a result, the area has a high rate of genetic mutations, mental illness and cancer. Because there's still a lot of radiation in the area, no Peace Corps volunteers are stationed there.
However, there are still English teachers in Semey, and those English teachers still want to improve their English and their teaching skills. So Becky Johnson and I joined with the head of the local English Teachers' Association to organize a two-day training for teachers from the city. We invited two other volunteers, Denise Nyffeler and Roshan Devaraj, to join us. Together we hosted different sessions on the theme “New Methodologies in the English Lesson,” which was purposely vague so we could all teach whatever sessions we wanted to.
Nina Nikolaievna, on the far right, went all out to welcome us to her home and organize every logistical detail of the conference. She found a location to hold it, her school “Zhas Ulan Lyceum,” which is a bordering school for 5th-11th grade boys who are training to be future officers in the army. She got us an apartment to stay in, bought us lunch in a restaurant every day plus food for breakfast and dinner, and even arranged a driver to take us around the city. She also put together two excursions in the afternoons, and finally invited us over to her house for dinner on the last night. Needless to say, we all felt like we got the VIP treatment.
I gave sessions on “Fun and Easy Grammar Activities” and “Working with Ayapova.” Ayapova is our national abysmal textbook that needs all the help it can get. One 45-minute session doesn't even begin to correct all the problems that book has.
Roshan gave presentations on “Lesson Planning” and “Using Visual Aids in the Classroom.”
Denise's presentations were about “Setting High Expectations” and “Critical Thinking.”
Becky talked about “Teaching Vocabulary” and “Teaching Speaking.”
At the end of the training, the English Teachers' Association gave us beautiful books about Kazakh history. Like I said, VIP treatment!
Because of train schedules, we had to be in Semey for three days. Since the training was only two days, we spent the last day holding English clubs with the students from Nina's school. About 40 boys total came to two different sessions of two and a half hours each. Like I mentioned, these boys are training to be future officers. As a result, they have the coolest school uniforms I've ever seen.
Their uniforms for outside.
For the English clubs, we planned to play a lot of games, both to practice their English and their teamwork. As soon as we found out we would be working with teenage boys, we immediately tried to think of ways to tire them out so they couldn't cause as many problems. We did a big team competition, and one of the stations was how fast the team could do 30 pushups each. Standing there with my cellphone/stopwatch, I felt like an army captain, although I didn't yell as much.
Denise and Roshan demonstrate a teamwork game, where two people have to move three pop cans across the table to form a pyramid using only spaghetti and their mouths.
The boys race to complete the task.
For another game, the boys built a tower of cups and index cards. Then they had to pull out the index cards without touching the cups, but in such a way that the cups stacked neatly together.
Another station in the team competition: answering a crossword puzzle using Scrabble pieces.
Our standby game, and a guaranteed crowd pleaser: Uno! I can't begin to count how many times I've played Uno in this country.
Nina organized a couple of excursions around the city, and one of them was to the local art museum. It was a very nice museum, with several pieces from western Europe as well as a large collection of Russian and Kazakh artists. The local guide was excited to practice her English on us.
Our other excursion was to the Dostoevsky museum. Dostoevsky was exiled to Semey for 5 years. He met his first wife there, and they lived on the second story of this house during their first years of marriage, from 1857-1859. Now it's a museum.