Sunday, 23 October 2011

Kazakhstan - The first performance of Swan Lake

September 25-October 2

Hello everyone!

The summer weather seems to have left Kazakhstan for now – we are beginning to hit something of a cold snap. It’s all relative, of course. When we are in the depths of despair that will be January I am sure that we will look back on autumn and dream of temperatures approaching 4’C. It is partly because of this that we are still exploring at every opportunity, trying to find every gem that Astana has to offer before our expeditions are cut short by fatally freezing winds.

We tried and failed to find the Asian market on the Saturday – a real shame, as kimchi would do wonders for the cold I seem to have had for most of the month. We were told about this thus-far oasis by two other expatriates who are connected to the British Embassy. We got to meet some bigwigs and players when the Astana International Club paid a visit to our school for the first time on the Friday evening. Wine, cheese and reminiscing about home comforts (hello custard) – a great start to any weekend. Though we were told to shush when the British Ambassador started to play the piano.

As part of this event we were allocated a group of visitors and were encouraged to show them every positive aspect of our school, which seems to have garnered a fantastic reputation inside its first embryonic month of existence. Contrary to what I initially thought, our school is far from the sole international education establishment in Astana. Other schools such as QSI and Miras also employ English-speaking teachers, as do the universities. My tour was conducted to four members of the English Department from the Nazarbayev University – being connected with the President, it’s fairly prestigious, but also very new, meaning the teachers I spoke to could see many similarities.

Kazakhstan fun fact: Two years ago, not a single brick of our school had been laid. The land was steppe – deserted, lifeless desert. Not so lifeless now!

This Friday had been designated as Teachers’ Day in our school. I’ve experienced a Teachers’ Day before in Korea, where I was given enough pepero to encourage me to keep using the gym. However, this occasion celebrating those who made all of you what you are today is held on different days across the world. Korea’s was in May – in Kazakhstan it is held on the first Sunday of October. Obviously as we don’t teach on a Sunday, we would have missed out, so we bumped it up to a Friday.

As usual, this involved an assembly, and as usual yours truly was coerced into taking part. Not the easiest quiz either – ‘how much do you know about your kids’ was our topic. The other four teachers taking part had between three and eight kids in their respective classes. I have thirteen. Fair? Not a chance. I did get through to a tie-break before losing, aided by my ever-wonderful kids screaming ‘Mr Smith! Mr Smith!’ whenever I was thinking of the answer to a ludicrous question. ‘How many of your children’s surnames start with the letter Z?’ works better in Kazakhstan than it would in Britain, I can assure you of that. We then showed them a slideshow of us at work and play, which went down a storm.

As in Korea, I did get some presents. Cards, flowers, chocolate…oh, and two incredibly expensive pens. One from Dubai, and one which came in a Mont Blanc bag. As far as I’m aware, both are legit – they should be, considering the fees parents pay for their kids to enjoy the benefits of our school. It shouldn’t just be about teachers though – my teaching assistant, Assel, does a fantastic job, so on the sly we made her a card and then sent her on a fraudulent photocopy-collecting task so all the children could sign it for her. She was pleasantly surprised when we presented it to her.

Her work was never more important to me than on the previous evening, when we had our first – and my first – parent’s evening. For those who don’t know the British system, parents are invited to meet the teachers two or three times during the school year as means of a verbal progress report. Half of my kids don’t speak English – more than half of their parents are in a similar boat, so Assel was vital for translation. In spite of our nerves, it passed without incident, and was a positive experience for all of us.

Our reward for enduring the parents – unfortunately some other teachers had more issues than I did – was a trip to see Swan Lake, the famous Tchaikovsky ballet. I’ve seen Black Swan, off of Oscar movie fame, but had never to my knowledge seen a ballet performance in the flesh before. It started late, and we hadn’t had much sleep…no, I didn’t actually fall asleep. I thoroughly enjoyed the show, even though others described it as ‘amateur dramatics’. Moscow state circus may be out of reach for them for a couple of years. I may end up ahead of them in the queue for that if the threat to buy me the red tights worn by the jester is carried out.

It’s been another wonderful week in amazing Astana. I’m glad we’re managing to enjoy ourselves while it’s still possible to venture outside, and we will endeavour to keep this up for as long as humanely possible.

Love you all


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