Archive for November, 2009

My Kazakh Student Sanat’s Highly Esteemed Grandparents

I remember my parents telling me about their own parents from my earliest ages. I tried to put together all I do remember from what I heard into a united story presented below.

Yesshan, my father’s father, was born on 1 January, 1912 in Akmolinsk (contemporary Astana) in family of mechanist’s assistant Zhussupbek and his wife Matluba. He was the eldest of three brothers. Yesshan’s mother was originally from southern parts of contemporary Russia. Her parents moved to Akmolinsk district when she was small and died soon. Zhussupbek’s family brought her up.  Zhussupbek and Matluba loved each other from the childhood and when became mature, they got married. They put their best efforts to give children education. So my grandfather graduated from the Gymnasium in Akmolinsk and later entered Higher Military School in Tashkent.

It was thirties, the horrible time of repressions, when people used to disappear as if they never existed before. Zhussupbek passed away, and after the death of her husband Matluba went to Russia to find out something about her relatives and seek for better place for her children to live. She never returned back. Through all his life Yesshan tried to find anything about his mother, but till now, no one knows what happened to her.

After graduation from Tashkent, Yesshan worked as a mentor at first Kazakh Internat (orphan house) in Akmolinsk, among the pupils of whom he took care of were his brothers. Before Kazakhs did not have orphans since in accordance with Kazakh customs of Amengerlik, children who lost parents were adopted by close relatives, or members of tribe, otherwise these kids had no chance to survive in the severe environment of the Steppe.

The Great Patriotic War had started right after Yesshan’s marriage. So he was called as an officer to the forefront of the war actions. During the battles in Ukraine a shatter from the bomb explosion injured his head. Luckily he remained alive, but he had to wear a plastic insert the rest of his life. After spending a long time at the hospital in Moscow, he came back home far later after the end of the war. By this time his wife, who thought of him died, got married. Yesshan took his son and moved to Merke, a small countryside in the South of Kazakhstan. He espoused again and this time his elect was my grandmother. They had 10 children, and their first child, a daughter, was given a name Matluba in honor of Yesshan’s lovely mom.

My mother’s father was born in Kulan which is about 30 kilometers far from Merke in 1921. He was called to The Great Patriotic War at the age of 18. He was a participant of Leningrad siege. During winter time he had to spend hours laying in the snow or on the ice of the Neva River to secure the border of the city from the fascists’ assault. For him the War ended up with the breach of the siege ring.  He had to spend a long time in hospitals to recover. After the war he lived in Moscow with his wife, working as a policeman. But he could not endure the Moscow weather (consequences of getting cold during the Leningrad siege). Doctors advised him to move to the South, so he came back to his native Kulan, where he spent the rest of his life. The after war period was rather difficult. Although it was not publicly announced, the criminal rate was high. When striving against the thieves of communal property, he was shot from the rifle. He was killed when my mom, the youngest of the children, was only two months.

Every year my parents and relatives give Kudaitamaks (Kazakh ‘Dish to God’) in memory of each of my grandparents even though it passed a long time since they passed away. Without considering that they are my ancestors and being unbiased, I could proudly say that my grandparents were truly honest and honorable people. I wish I could resemble them.

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My KZ Students – Photo Contest Prize Winners

Last Sunday I displayed at the AIWC Charity Bazaar the 22 entries that qualified as the finalists for the Photo Contest that I sponsored amongst my 100 students of this semester.  I got some really good entries and was glad to have two judges who had the tough job of deciding on the winners.  The following photos were chosen of three top photographers: Roza Sviridenko, a law student from my masters class, (Stained Glass Window and “Secret Treasurer” in Paris). Daniyar Belkhojayev, from my academic writing class (Zerenda Lake and Almaty Mtns).  Finally Yuliya An, from my academic listening classes (Daydreaming and Trailer Going Nowhere, Greece).  My students travel!!!

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Photos of Busy Holiday Season (Part II)

Yesterday I showed some of the photos from our Thanksgiving feast.  Today is the Culture Festival at our university which I experienced after the big meal with a full stomach, watching my students sing and dance.  What fun to see Aina perform a solo in French and Karlygash as a model for a fashion show in the French Club; Nariman, Assemzhan in the German Club, Dana was dancing in the Turkish group, Xeniya was one of the M.C.s and Young Su and Jisun from Korea were in the Russian group.  Did I forget anyone?  When you have almost 100 students, you are likely to see many of your students in extra curricular activities.  I was proud of them.  I think the crowd stopper and stomper were the Turkish dancers, break dancing and hip hop must be a derivative from traditional, macho Turkish dance!

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Photos from Busy Holiday Celebrations

Thanksgiving was celebrated in full American fashion with dressing, turkey, mashed potatoes, salads, pumpkin and pecan pie, the WORKS!!!  Thanks to my long time friends from Minnesota, Kim and Erik, I was hosted with 30 other people. 

Almost like home where we sang and laughed and carried on, almost like I was back with my own family in Minnesota.  Thanks Kim and Erik and thanks for getting the bird, what a sacrifice he made! Now I have my Christmas tree up with all the decorations and have pulled out my Christmas cards from last year.  I’m ready to enjoy a less busy pace of life once all classes and meetings are done and grades turned in.  Tomorrow I’ll show the photos from the Culture Festival at our university where many of my undergraduate students participated.  Busy times, but fun ones as the Kazakhs celebrate Kurbanait or KURBAN AYT (Eid al-Adha) holiday today and tomorrow.

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More Paintings from Tengri-Umai Art Gallery

Happy Thanksgiving!!! The following was an e-mail I got from an American art friend of mine.  As Americans, we are all thinking Thanksgiving and turkey today in this Central Asian former capital of Almaty, Kazakhstan.  We have MUCH to be thankful for. 

I would like to go see these paintings with my own eyes.  Some paintings appear to be affordable for my teacher’s budget.

 I have prepared the private show of pieces by artist whom were working in Kazakhstan between 1950-1990s of the previous century. In the show there are included around 100 artworks of different styles and sizes, price range from $100.
> I would be happy to meet and help to look around in the gallery for everybody at any suitable time since 12am upto 7pm everyday from the following Wednesday to Saturday.
> (on Sunday – by a preliminary appointment).
> It would be nice if somebody who would like to come to the gallery to look around the show… Welcome to Tengri-Umai gallery!

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Finished Reading “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian”

What a poignant story written by Marina Lewycka, where to begin?  This book “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian” depicts a dysfunctional family in the many layers she produces in this quick read of 324 pages.  For those who know their Soviet history in Ukraine, there will be nothing new about the different locations mentioned and what the Ukrainians underwent during the famine of 1932-33, Great Patriotic War and post war year repressions. 

For those people from the West who know little to nothing about the Soviet period of collectivization, industrialization, famine, purges, repressions, the reader is compelled forward, the author deftly records historical fact.  The reason you read on through the somber details is really the underlying fabric with the bright ornamentation of the character development of the 46 year old daughter Nadia who writes in first person about her Big Sis Vera.  The two sisters team up to help their 84 year old father struggle against the demon 36 year old hussy from Ukraine, Valentina who marries him to improve her lot in life in England.

Meanwhile, the engineer father who is probably certifiably crazy is paranoid and love starved, writes a short history that is woven throughout about tractors.  The eccentric father was the Big Idea guy who was married to the two sisters mother for 60 years, she was the one who had the Ukrainian friends in their community in England. Masterfully composed from beginning to end, this book reminded me once again that I had just finished reading another book (The Help) that was layered with family stories tied up in political big picture drama in the U.S. in the 1960s. 

Not sure I can read too many more of these emotional books about families being so far away from my own family during this Thanksgiving season.  I just learned that a colleague lost a one year old niece to swine flu. The one fear we as foreigners have is losing a loved one while living so far away.  It happens. Family is very valuable and blood does run thicker than water.

Here is one painting at the TENGRI-UMAI art gallery, here in Almaty, Kazakhstan that I enjoyed looking at. It reminds me of my Mom and three sisters, our sitting around the piano making music with singing and stringed instruments.  Looking back, I came from a fairly normal family.  For that I am thankful.

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Reading a Book from the AIWC Book Sale

Even though I was in charge of the Book sale for the AIWC Charity Bazaar, I only bought TWO paperbacks.  One book I knew about when I lived in Kyiv, Ukraine several years ago and was intrigued by the title: “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.”  It is a hilarious fiction novel that must have been built around a real life situation.  An author just can not make something like this up.  Layers of Ukraine’s sad historical reality are packed into every page with the development of each character.

Having lived and taught in Ukraine for about 7-8 years and interviewed and befriending older members of the Ukrainian community in Minneapolis, I know a bit about what went into this book.  It’s written from the 46 year old daughter’s perspective who teaches at Cambridge, about her 86 year old Ukrainian father who marries a 30 something voluptuous tart from Ukraine.  The family dyanmics become even more wild when two estranged sisters after their mother’s death fight together to usurp the brassy lady from their father’s home.  I’m in the middle of this book and the tension continues to build.  Funny, funny, but sad really.

I’m looking forward to reading my other nonfiction book once the Christmas vacation arrives but that will happen only after all powerpoint presentations are complete, all grades turned in, all chances of appeals by students elapsed.  Reading books is a nice escape from the funny/sad reality I am living in in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

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AIWC Charity Bazaar and Photo Contest – a SUCCESS!!!

Yesterday was a beautiful day for the AIWC Charity Bazaar at Miras School.  Because of our talented, experienced help from last year, we were able to pull in $1,444 from donated books, magazines and DVDs.  We must have seen 500 people come through our classroom door, mostly locals looking for good deals.  I also had set up my university students photo contest with 22 entries as finalists, we had room enough to display them.  The judges made their decisions on the top three by Roza Sviridenko, Daniyar Belkhojayev and Yuliya An.  Many other entries made it difficult for the two judges to arrive at the final decision.  I was proud of everyone, the workers and my students alike. 

We had set up the tables and pulled out all the books the day before only to discover that we didn’t have as many books to sell as we had last year.  That gave more room to show off the 22 photo entries.  These two gals (Alma and Kim) did a lion’s share of the brain work with making change and bagging up the purchases.  We had some real characters who came through later in the day.  One guy bought 40 DVDs at 500 tenge each but he had to make sure they were all licensed, which must have taken him a half hour.  Another older fellow bought 20 VHS tapes for 50 tenge each but had to ask my advice on which ones to buy.  Turns out that he must have a whole house full of VHS tapes because he goes to every foreigners’ sale and buys them out. 

Thanks to a mother-daughter team, the 16 year old goes to Miras school and thanks also to Olga (who has done this sale for the past six years) and her friend and many other volunteers made this a memorable experience.  Thanks to the Charity Bazaar Coordinator Anna E. who insisted we jack UP our asking price, the buying public didn’t seem to flinch with the amounts we asked.  Eventually we slashed the prices of everything and by 3:00 p.m. we were cleared out of the classroom.

A success when I thought that with lack of books we would be a dismal failure.  I was happy to see my university students show up also to see their photos on display.  I think a good time was had by all, at least, I had a good time selling books and making people happy with their purchases.

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Listening to a LIVE Speaker!!!

I asked the question to my 30+ English listening and notetaking  (ELN) students which they preferred, being taught out of a textbook and listening to taped lectures or having guest lecturers instead.  The following were their responses:

“I think that listening to a “live” speaker is better cause we can ask questions.  As for me, I understand better than listening to a tape.”

“While listening to a real lecturer you can ask your questions, have a real discussion. You also listen to real people with their specific accent…”

“No, I would prefer guest lecturers because you could improve your listening skills better.  I think all courses of ELN should have these kind of speaking guests.”

“Of course I prefer guest lecturers because it is much more interesting than textbooks.  And it is interesting you try to memorize more information, so it is much more useful. When I tell my friends that we have guest lecture every week, they just tell me how lucky you are.  So it is just obvious that guest lecturers not only interesting but also very helpful, you really get a lot of new information, and at the same time your listening improves!”

“I think when we have guest lecturers it’s better and I prefer this.  Because when we are listen taped lectures, its boring.  When we have a guest lecturer it’s interesting and we can listen real English language by that we improve skills.”

“It is apparent that I’d choose guest lecturer.  Live presentation are the most memorable. You listen to real speaker, you catch all gestures.  Because 60% of the speech consists of gestures and really makes sense.  Besides, I always struggle with my brain which wants to sleep when I listen to a tape.”

“It’s better to have guest speakers to talk with because for many students it’s laziness to listen to tape or read it.  It’s original to invite guests who can directly answer your question and maybe learn how can you behave yourself or present something correctly.”

“I am really appreciated that our class had a chance to listen to native speakers.  Listen to tape and listen to live speech it is two different things.  I have ability to listen to tape 24 hours a day but don’t have many chances to listen to the person who thinks in English and speaks that language all his or her life.”

“This is my first course with foreigner guests.  Personally I enjoy them and thank you my teacher for giving me opportunity to listen and communicate with them.  It is really practice for me and one of the ways to improve my English skills.”

“I think that it more understandable when you see the speaker by your own eyes.  It is great to see real speaker because students can ask questions also.”

“I liked a lot having guest speakers and their lectures because it was very interesting to see how they love what they are doing, how passionate they are about their topic!”

“I prefer handouts and real lectures from foreigners, not a textbook or taped lectures (it’s boring, not interesting and that means not effective!)  I think I got a lot of knowledges, real knowledges that I will be needing in the future.”

“I like more guest speakers because I think it is easier to listen to a real person than the taped lecture and I think it is more interesting you see people’s feelings, you understand them better.”

“I certainly would be negative towards such, in my opinion, “old” types of lectures; because when lecture is live, you are not even trying to sleep because people who makes them are really skilled about it and will not have you fall asleep.” 😉

Yes, our dear, Kazakh students write about sleep a lot because those who are NOT lazy and work really hard suffer from sleep deprivation.  Weekends are the time when they try to catch up on sleep but the main point of all these responses is that students have enjoyed having LIVE speakers to listen to.  Tomorrow I will write about what they said about some of our guest lecturers.







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T/F Laziness is a problem (Part II)

The other half of my 30 respondents to the above T/F question had admitted True to the statement: “Laziness is a problem for me.”  My listening students continued to write about what grade they think they deserve at the end of this semester long, academic course:

One hardworking female student wrote:  “I believe I deserve a good grade, because I try to come to each class, I was always listening.  I love foreign teachers, I was pleased to be in this class.  Of course everyone wants an excellent pass grade, but as I figured out, you are very fair person and will do all the work honestly.  I know I could do better, all problems were from illness, lack of time and maybe some laziness.” 

A male student claimed: “I tried to be realistic during my whole life and I do not like to lie to myself.  When I feel that I’m not deserving a mark, I will work to correct such thing.  I’m absolutely sure, that I’m not a perfect student, which deserves “A+” I also know that working out of deadlines is not a typical to “A” student.  But I think the effort I’m trying to put in my studies and researches is at level of “B” which I think, in future, will give me a boost to further academic success.”

Another self-admitting lazy male student with the ability to get an “B” grade wrote this:  “To be honest, I should deserve fail or D- because I missed many classes because of my illness.  Despite this illness, I tried to study my missed classes but I’m not tried enough.  But I hope that if will do my best at final presentation and final exam, I could get D.”

One male student who got a D- at midterm but probably doesn’t even know it because he missed the day I was doing one-on-one conferencing wrote the following: “I believe that my grade will be B.  Because I have some mistakes in this course, but after I could understand that it’s important and need to me!  If my grade will be B, it’s for me would good news and help to me studing better and better!”  Another delusional student like the one I mentioned yesterday but at least this one admits he is lazy.  He also came to my office begging for mercy which I have little patience for.  I only do office hours for those who are seeking help on their assignments, not from lazy students who can’t take responsibility for their own laziness.

Another female student who admits to being lazy wrote this:  “To be honest, I know that I can’t have A+ [that’s an understatement!!!] because I missed classes and sometimes I was too lazy in my self-working to have A.  I should be at all classes and do all my work.  I understand all responsibility for my absence and understand that my fall studying wasn’t good.  But I hope that I could have B or B- or C…because this lessons wasn’t just a credit for me.  And at the moment when I was in the classes, I was working as hard as I could. But I regret that I miss a lot of classes and therefore had low quality of my grade.”

This next response was a surprise, he strikes me as the type who seems to listen but still doesn’t get it.  He admits to being lazy but still thinks he should get an A because of perfect attendance:  “I believe that I can get A, A- or at least B+ because I never missed classes.  I do maybe not all, but almost all homework.  I know it depends on my final paper and ppt presentation.  Also I don’t want to fall my GPA. Now I have 3.5 and I’m going to improve.”  He is one of those goof-off guys who will be in for a big surprise when he gets his final grade at the end of this term.

Finally, this female student knows how to articulate her thoughts and I despair that she didn’t perform better in this class.  I believe she was surrounded by a bunch of students which did nothing to motivate her to excel. Something needs to be done about the collective force when they have a negative influence on the above average or good students who could do better given the right circumstances.  She wrote:  “I think at the end of listening classes I deserve about 70% of my grade.  I didn’t do my best, unfortunately.  I was able to get higher grades, because I got passion about learning English.  But my laziness spoils everything.  I am able to impress teacher because I’m not stupid and I want to learn more.  But I didn’t have enough skills to express my feelings and thoughts.  That makes me sick and I can’t stand it.  I’m sure if I got opportunity to express myself in Russian, I would get the highest mark.  But I’m just learning and I am sure mistakes I did in this class gave me a lot of experience.”

Sadly, I will have to fail about half of this particular class because of their non-compliance to the rules of my class and their not doing their homework or showing up for class.  Maybe that will teach them to take their education more seriously and not to tease the good students who are trying to work the best they know how to do.  Often I see these lazy students playing cards or sitting around and talking when they should be at the library studying and preparing for their other classes.  Laziness is a sad affliction amongst student and teacher alike in Kazakhstan.





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