Teacher’s Holiday Celebration

10.04.09 (backlogged)

Today is the Teacher’s Holiday in Kazakhstan. I think this holiday is one of the things we should import from Kazakhstan to America. Being a teacher is hard work that I appreciate all the more by observing the PC English teacher volunteers in the PC EDU Program who are here in our village – it’s a job that requires a never-ending amount of creativity, patience, attentiveness and dedication. Teachers give us some of the most precious gifts one can receive: not only knowledge, but also curiosity and a thirst for learning. I owe so much to the teachers I’ve had, whether they were world-renowned professors at Harvard or my Seattle Public School teachers (my 3rd grade teacher Ms. Alsdorf taught me most of what I know about writing to this day, after all;) And cursive, to boot!). So I’ll take this opportunity to quickly thank the following teachers for their knowledge, guidance, mentorship and passion. Each of them truly changed my life for the better.

– Ms. Castor-Peck (1st grade, Madrona Elementary)
– Ms. Monroe (2nd grade, Madrona Elementary)
– Ms. Alsdorf (3rd grade, Madrona Elementary)
– Mr. Schilperoort (4th grade, Madrona Elementary)
– Ms. Becerra (6th grade Social Studies, Washington Middle School)
– Mr. Knatt (6th grade Band, WMS. He taught me how to survive not getting an A in a class, a skill I would practice later on in life;)
– Ms. Merrival (7th grade SS, WMS)
– Mr. Pounder (8th grade Math, WMS)
– Mr. Schmitz (8th grade SS, WMS)
– Ms. Nottingham (8th grade Lit, WMS)
– Wendel (English, 10th/11th/12th grades, Beijing No. 55 & Beijing World Youth Academy)
– Richard (Math/Physics, 11th/12th grades, BWYA)
– Wang Lao Shi (Chinese, 11th/12th grades, BWYA)
– Liza & Valeria – My Russian tutors at the Academy for National Economy, Moscow
– All my Russian teachers at Middlebury Language School
– Prof. Natalia Chirkov (Beginning Russian (Conversation), Harvard College)
– Prof. Alfia Alminova – (Intermediate Russian, H)
– Prof. Curt Woolhiser – (Advanced Intermediate Russian, H)
– Prof. Natalia Reed – (Advanced Intermediate Russian (Conversation), H)
– Prof. Dmitry Gorenburg (Russian Politics, H)
– Prof. Terry Martin (Soviet History, H)
– Prof. William Todd III (How & What Russia Learned to Read, H)
– Prof. Matthew Baum (Public Opinion, Mass Media & Foreign Policy, Harvard Kennedy School of Government)
– Prof. Daniel Gilbert (Introduction to Psychology, H)
– Prof. Stephanie Sandler (Freshman Seminar on Feminism in Poetry and Film, H)
– Prof. Roderick MacFarquhar (Chinese Cultural Revolution, H)
– Patti Lenard (Social Studies Sophomore Tutorial, H)
– Prof. Jay Harris (Moral Reasoning 54: If There is No God, All is Permitted, H)
– Prof. Michael Sandel (Moral Reasoning 22: Justice, H)


So how did I celebrate the holiday here in Kaz? My granny, adorable as usual, gave me pretty pink flowers from her garden to give to all our LCFs. I was then invited to “gosti” (guest, if you haven’t learned by now – it’s not just a noun but also a verb here in Kaz;) at the home of the gymnasia’s music director, Natalia Mihaelovna. Damir and Yegor are very close to her (as her former & current students, respectively), so we went over together. Also in attendance were two other music teachers from the gymnasia, one of whom brought her adorable 4-year-old son. ☺ It was definitely one of the best cross-cultural experiences I have had yet here in Kaz.

We started dinner at 3:30 p.m., which should have been a warning to me – it was an absolute feast! The table was laden with beautiful dishes when we arrived, and I ate my fill of plov (an Uzbek dish that is very common here in Kaz, usually consisting of rice, carrots, meat, onions and spices), “black prince” salad (dark tomatoes and onions in vinagrette), Greek salad with delicious, salty, melt-in-your-mouth feta, eggplant salad, and little open-faced sandwiches topped with salted fish, cilantro, and dill. She even put out home-made spicy sauce especially for me (after coming to our house to gosti and trying my own Chinese dishes after the ballet, they knew I love spice!:). We also had two kinds of exquisite champagne, plus cherry-apple and orange juices. Kazakhstanian juice is amazing by the way – it is always fresh and tastes just like the actual fruit, without being too sweet like most American juices. After we finished our first several plates and glasses, the table was cleared and I breathed a sigh of contentment — only to find that five minutes later, new courses were being brought out! Succulent roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, and a fantastic “pie” filled with meat and onions – declining was obviously not an option! We finished off the meal (which really was more like 3 meals) with the obligatory tea, chocolates, and a ripe watermelon. I could barely move!

The full dinner table, that we sat around for 6+ hours!
Obligatory adorable baby shot. How he knows how to wink at age 4 is beyond me! 😉
Food is a means of getting to know each other here in Kazakhstan. You sit around the same table, break bread, make toasts and “общаться” (a common word here that means something like to associate/mix/establish relations). We represented all sorts of nationalities and cultures between us – German, Russian, Kazakh, Chinese, American. Natalia Mihaelovna gave a moving toast to having an American at her table for the first time, which she said she never would have imagined while growing up under the Cold War. They asked me many questions: what I thought of President Obama, Gov. Schwarzenegger, Michael Jackson and other Hollywood celebrities, my work and travel experiences, the American welfare system, Borat, and what people in the U.S. think about Kazakhstan. They all thought it was quite right that Borat was banned by President Nazarbayev here in Kaz. I explained that the movie was not at all about Kazakhstan but actually was an attempted social commentary on the U.S. and American people, though it was of course upsetting that he borrowed a real country’s identity for the farce. We talked about life under the Soviet Union, Kazakh nationalism, diversity and national identity, and of course about their collective passion – the arts and music. They each sang a few songs for me (Damir and Yegor accompanying on the piano), and I did my best rendition of the American National Anthem. 😉 We also sight-read some a cappella church music together, as both Natalia Mihaelovna and Yegor are part of the church quartet (that I mentioned in a post below – take a look at the new video!). They sing every Sunday, rain or shine, even on all the holidays and the new year – but their tenor recently left to Germany to study abroad and it is going to be hard for them to find someone to replace him. They then suggested that they could get a female tenor (Alto II), and after testing my range on the piano and were thrilled to discover that I could cover 2.5 octaves and hit down to a low C (comfortable tenor range, up to mezzo-soprano)…until I told them I would only be here in Issyk for another month! ☹ ☹ If only I could stay here, I would most certainly have been happily recruited to sing at Sunday mass.

The first thing we covered when we got to PC Staging that very first day in D.C. were the 3 goals of Peace Corps, and I should mention them here.

1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

As you can see, the first goal, of course, represents the work we do here in our various programs – in our case, working in NGO development or as English teachers. But you’ll notice that the other 2/3rds of PC goals are to facilitate inter-cultural understanding both ways between the U.S. and the countries we serve in. Thus to Peace Corps, sitting around a table celebrating a holiday with local country nationals (or writing about your cultural experiences on a blog that people back home will read:) are just as crucial a part of your service as sitting in an office writing business development or capacity building plans for our organizations. So please do ask questions/leave comments if you have any, and thank you so much to everyone who follows this blog – I really appreciate it. ☺

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2 Responses to Teacher’s Holiday Celebration

  1. Cursive writing does not mean what I think it means– Bart Simpson

  2. Joyce Zhang says:

    Becca! I should comment more on your blog. I'm so glad that your experience has been truly incredible, and I agree: I love and remember all of my teachers as well, though I'm not sure I could produce quite as extensive of a list as you did off the top of my head… take care and talk to you again soon!-Joyce

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