Sunday, February 5, 2012


Our street 4 days after the last snow.

         The thermometer outside our door reads 16 degrees F this morning. I am bundled up in my down coat, Smart Wool long johns and multiple layers of clothing which I’ve learned to wear on such winter days in Armenia.   The sky is classic azure blue and the snow from this week’s fairy-tale like snowfall still lies abundantly outside out apartment, on the streets and sidewalks, and on any available surface.  Before arriving in Armenia and even months before the winter began and the snows came, I dreaded the idea of the cold.  I complained about it before even experiencing the first drop in temperature! Now I am amazed at myself and at the pleasant feeling I get while walking to school in the snow.                           
I now actually enjoy the crisp winter weather. Hearing the crunch of my boots on the snow’s surface is reassuring. With that crunch comes traction and less of a chance to slip although it still may happen. Now as I walk along, the crunchy sound adds another dimension to the already brisk morning air on my face, and the brightness in my eyes from the snow’s reflection.  It is unbelievably quiet and peaceful this morning. The young children in my neighborhood have already reached their school a few blocks ahead. Older students who attend my college get the day off again today so are probably still buried in their heavy bedding enjoying extra sleep and warmth.  But teachers and staff must report to my college today.  If teachers do not go tol, they are not paid, and there is always planning and preparation for classes which can be done whether students are present or not.

Judy leaving for school on a snowy, January morning.

I am a Peace Corps volunteer and not paid, although many Armenians have a difficult time understanding this concept. I am going to my college today to do lesson planning with my team teacher as well as to merely “show up” and continue my pursuit of being a more familiar and legitimate part of the college’s faculty and staff.  It is difficult to describe the feeling of being an outsider yet an accepted part of the organization at the same time.  This is my challenge as a volunteer teacher of English as a foreign language (TEFL). My college strives to provide a technical education as well as to include courses such as English, Russian, economics, physics and other subjects to enhance a student’s overall education. Many students are poorly motivated to study a difficult foreign language which they must take and did not choose.  The students want to learn to cook, to sew, to repair cars, to work in the tourism industry, for instance.   Any attempt to explain why learning a second and sometimes, third language might be beneficial in the job market often falls on deaf ears.   But it is my aim to do just that and to continue to try and add something to the educational process by interacting with students as a native speaker of English. I want to help the students with communication at all levels and to make the learning of English more appealing through new ideas and teaching techniques. All of this takes planning and coordination with my team teacher who also has goals she must reach both to satisfy the Armenian Education Ministry’s expectations, those of the students and herself.
As I walk to school on this invigorating, snow- filled morning, my pleasant morning is interrupted by the sight of dogs and cats who wander the street before me, searching for food from the street-side garbage cans and a dry place to rest.   My heart goes out to them because as an American, I can’t help but view these animals as pets needing protection from the cold yet in Armenia they are not treated that way.  In a future blog I’ll discuss other aspects of animal life as we’ve seen it in our short time here.  But today, I proceed to the college where other teachers  are arriving, relieved to know that students are spared the endurance of cold conditions while also trying to learn something.  Who know what the following week will bring, however, today the camaraderie of teachers is felt, informal gatherings develop and a measure of planning for future lessons takes place.  My goal of at least being present and taking part is met for today. It is further enjoyed when one small group of teachers invites me to lunch where traditional Armenian salads are served, accompanied by small shots of homemade vodka and Armenian music. These women  lead demanding lives and occasionally need the release of laughter and friendship with fellow teachers to relieve the stress of a cold environment.        

Teachers/friends at Judy's school

 Ah, so is the life of an Armenian teacher in the depths of winter!

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