Archive for March, 2011

Photos of my friends left behind (Part II)

My long flight(s) home with three pieces of luggage and one carryon was meant to carry back three and a half years worth of accumulation for both my husband and me. I paid Lufthansa $170 for the third piece and was happy that I did not have to pay Delta airlines again in Chicago another $180 for penalty of three suitcases.  I was happy that there were people who helped me all along the way. I felt like they were angels on a mission. I was especially glad my husband was there at the Minneapolis airport to carry my heavy carryon and take me to our car where it was filled with precious things from Kazakhstan. We still had a five hour trip of driving ahead of us so I didn’t get home until 2 1/2 days later. (stayed overnight with friends about an hour out of the Cities)  The past week was less torturous because of amazing friends all along the way. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I’ve said goodbye to some very precious friends in Astana, Kazakhstan so for now less words and MORE photos of those I left behind.

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Photos of my friends left behind

Last post for a while as I sit waiting in the Astana airport ready to board my Lufthansa flight. Thankful for free wifi!  I have been in Kazakhstan since fall of 2007.  My husband and I accumulated lots of things in those three and a half years so it is amazing that I was able to get it down to three suitcases and one carryon.  I sold stuff to pay for my airfare, I gave many more things away.  I will have tons of fond memories of what I experienced in this amazing country of Kazakhstan.  For now, I’ll just end with photos of my friends who I left behind in Astana.

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Photos of our St. Patrick’s Day celebration

The other day my PDP students went through the graduation ceremony and that was very formal (see yesterday’s blog). However, the next day we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with full emphasis on GREEN, meaning “go forward.”  My PDP students are now no longer my students but they are graduates with their “Certificate of Completion” after 20 weeks together. They had good news to tell me where they would be working, all will be in Astana next year.  We were tired after the excitement of the day’s activities but not too tired to party, eat and laugh.

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New Day is dawning for my PDP students

As promised here are photos from the graduation ceremony for my Professional Development program students.  An emotional time for us all.

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What Mother Teresa lived by…works in Kazakhstan

I typically would be posting photos of our Professional Development program (PDP) graduation ceremony that happened yesterday but there are many other things swirling around. So much to do, so little time.  I will do the photos tomorrow because it was quite a major event for my ten students.  Today, we will have a final St. Patrick’s Day party in our classroom and we will reminisce the good times we all had the last 20 weeks together of our course work.

For now I am posting something that was given to me from an American friend who is teaching here in Astana. I think it is appropriate given our work situation in a foreign land such as Kazakhstan. Not easy for expats to live and work in this great land, but then again it is not easy for Kazakhs and Kazakhstanis either.  These words are keepers because I KNOW it works in Kazakhstan!

This version was found written on the wall of Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.

Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.

Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.

Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.

Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, other could destroy overnight.

Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.

Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.

Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.

Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

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Kazakh language conflict on the ski slopes of Kazakhstan

I very rarely feature another blogger on my own blog since I have so much to write about Kazakhstan. Besides, I don’t want to lose my blog traffic to someone else who might write better than me. 8) Anyway, I’ve met a few of the other bloggers out there who focus on Kazakhstan, both in Almaty and Astana.  I’d like to meet this American(?) expat woman Clare who wrote about a little altercation she had recently on the ski slopes of southern Kazakhstan.

At least I thought part of Clare’s blog was a good followup of our conversation with Annemarie last week about Kazakh culture and what values are being taught. We discussed this very dilemma in class the other day.  See what you think should be done to re-educate the Kazakh parents of children who are snooty about knowing Kazakh language and put down their own people or foreigners who don’t know the language of this country. This also happened in western Ukraine years ago where my husband tried to speak Russian to a Ukrainian. He was rebuffed by the Ukrainian person who pretended not to hear my husband.  The Ukrainian man refused to communicate with anyone who didn’t know the Ukrainian language.

Here’s my point, how can the Kazakh people expect everyone (expats and their own people included) to drop all that they know (English or Russian) and have studied for years on end and then to know and speak Kazakh language immediately? They can’t!!! These things take time and training AND a huge dose of patience.  By the same token this is true of the current Kazakh teachers all throughout Kazakhstan. How can they know all three languages (mandated by their government to be well versed in Kazakh, Russian and English) and then know their subject material PLUS to be computer literate?

The stakes are high because most of these Kazakh teachers know that they are teaching the future of their country. They are doing the best they can with what they know, but I believe they need more professional development training and quickly!  But I digress…I think also the parents of these children need some re-education or training in teaching their children manners and civility.  Look what is currently going on in Japan with all the heartache and death and destruction of earthquake, tsunami and now nuclear complications, there is no looting of stores.  Many things may be broken, damaged or people missing in Japan, but there are morals and characters that are broken in Kazakhstan that need fixing.

Here’s what Clare wrote:

“…What was not a lot of fun was the waiting in line.  Granted, waiting in line is never fun.  However, this was a quick moving line so it was pretty painless. Or rather, it should have been pretty painless.  However, there was a group of local kids (middle school age) who felt entitled and kept cutting the line.   Not only were the skipping the line—thus making it much longer for other people—they were doing so and splitting up families or groups that were traveling together.  So, for example, I always wanted S or his brother to be there person right behind me.  I knew that if there was a problem and they were going to ram into me, either of them would have thrown themselves to the ground or done anything humanly possible to no risk injuring me or the baby.  I did not have this confidence in random strangers.  But, these kids, would try and cut in the middle.

We watched several times flabbergasted.  For the most part, I was not actually tobaggoning.  I did a few runs, but mostly I watched everyone else and took care of the stuff.  We also knew a lot of other Americans there that day: people from work, my boss and his two girls, our friends we had traveled with.  Finally, I got fed up.  The kids tried to cut inbetween S, his brother and the daughters of my boss.  Using my best Russian, I explained that there was a line and they were expected to go to the end.  They decided to cut right behind us.  Luckily, someone else (another American I know with better Russian than I) saw this happen.  He went and got the kids and marched them to the end of the line.  You know, to make sure they knew what a line looked like.

Next round, the kids cut again.  This time, they had a MOTHER with them.  She told them to pay no attention to me.  She told them to only speak to me in Kazak as I spoke Russian.  She, the mother, the supposedly responsible adult was blatantly telling her children to disrespect others and treat the system. This is the attitude in Kazakhstan that drives me absolutely nuts.  Yes, people are selfish and generally act in self interest, but refusing to stand in line, illegally parking my car in because you don’t want to park ½ a block down, and doing anything to push down another to get something first drives me nuts!

After watching this, it was hard to blame the children. This is what they are being taught.  And, it is frustrating.  It was particularly infuriating for the children in our group who also wanted to go more times, who also didn’t want to stand in line, but who had learned in kindergarten and at home to respect others.

After a while, the mother disappeared. The kids continued to push in line.  At one point, I physically put my big pregnant belly between them and cutting between my bosses kids and my husband’s family.  When one pushed his way around me, telling me that he spoke no Russian (same kid who had spoke to me in Russian an hour earlier), I picked him up and put him behind me, forcing him to wait.  I guess, in some ways, I became the bully.”

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Using Content in Kazakhstan’s Context (Part III)

Finally, the last part of the brochure explains the future goals of the Professional Development program (PDP) that we launched last fall of 2010 at our western university in Astana, Kazakhstan.  Tomorrow, we will have a closing graduation ceremony with my ten PDP students.  It will be a proud moment for them to receive their “Certificate of Completion” after working long, hard hours for 20 weeks of this program.  I hope it will continue next year.  I’ve heard rumors that those in charge want 50 teachers, maybe as many as 100 teachers to do a PDP curriculum like this.  We shall see what happens…

Furthering the Main Goals of the four courses of blended learningThe targeted students should be Orken teachers and recent graduates of pedagogical institutes from throughout Kazakshtan. Secondary schools in Kazakhstan need to be integrated with higher education goals and objectives, sadlymany secondary school graduates are not adequately prepared for the rigors ofuniversity studies in a western setting. The secondary education curriculum needsto support the goals of this University for future success of the students.Those goals as stated by the President of Kazakhstan are the use of creative solutions toproblems by innovation and using modern technologies.
This goal can only be accelerated and managed if the Kazakh teachers are givenadequate instruction on how to use multimedia programs, teacher-studentcommunication tools and social networking programs. That way the Kazakh teachers can efficiently teach English in all skills of reading, writing, speaking andlistening more effectively to young students who are receptive to this form ofinstruction that uses the self-access approach. That is why all teachers throughout Kazakhstan should be equipped with the high standards of information literacy.That was my mission from the start and to the very end for my PDP students.
Kazakh teachers need the extra training and instruction in information literacyand the use of modern technology especially. These courses were targeted to helpfacilitate the teaching of English in a meaningful manner where the burden istaken off the teacher to “know-all” and placed squarely on the students’ to haveintrinsic motivation to learn on their own independently. Because we are living inthe information age, students will have to take more responsibility for their ownlearning autonomously while the teacher becomes less teacher-centered and allowsthe classroom to be more student-centered.
However, the parents of school children need to become involved in this processas well so that the learning community is not only with teachers and students.Sometimes the parents may expect teachers to be wizards and to make their children geniuses. Teachers in Kazakhstan need to be given higher status bylearning and knowing more. Otherwise, it will be impossible for the public to beopen or ready to have specialists in the field of technology, if the teachers are notgiven adequate training and continuing education courses as the President of Kazakhstan knows is important in any company or corporation.
I believe that if you teach the teachers properly, the rest will follow. I believe the changes that are needed are those in education and that is why an achievable goal is to eventually have a Masters degree program for teachers so they are betterequipped to teach modern technologies to their students. These four courses aremerely a certificate program that can be thought of as a pilot project to eventuallyturn into an MA degree program. I believe from the caliber that I have seen inthe teachers I have worked with this past year, they are very capable. Once they learn different teaching methods and the use of information literacy, it will have a tremendous ripple effect with the Kazakh students for the ultimate good of this great country of Kazakhstan.

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Using Content in Kazakhstan’s Context (Part II)

For those people who are invested in academia, you will recognize the following as course descriptions for the four courses I taught the last two sessions starting fall of 2010.  As you can see, my focus is computer technology and also cross cultural methods.  The whole time I focussed much on writing since I required my students to reflect on things they heard or read.  I think we enjoyed the learning process rather than studying to pass the IELTS test, taking it to the next level.  That is NOT learning, that is cramming.  You never hear anyone cramming for life but living it by learning all along the way.

The following four courses were used in our PDP classes for 20 weeks:

1) Educational Technology in the Language classroom (ETLC I and II) These two courses explored the uses of computer technology in ESL/EFL classes,including language learning through word processing, language practice, home-oriented and educational software and the Internet. During the course, studentshad practical experience with social networking, Moodle, applications software,instructional software and classroom management tools.
2) Teaching Reading and Writing (TRW) This course enabled students to explore academic reading and writing development bywriting discursive and problem/solution essays. Also, reflective writing in weblogs onparticular topics such as assessment, grades, organization, learner autonomy, imaginationbased on the chosen relevant reading texts from academic sources. Further, TRWstudents examined the teaching of writing by becoming familiar with the use of effectivetools such as Thesis statement builder and Citation builder. Finally, designing researchmaterials through the use of surveys (i.e. Survey Monkey and Web Survey Master) fordata to be included in the final research project was required. This course contributedto the development of critical thinking skills with the process approach of building up aportfolio including (working bibliography, outline, three self-study reactions and the finalpaper using APA formatting style).
3) Cross-Cultural Teaching Methods (CCTM I and II) These two combined courses over two semesters brought better understanding about western style teaching (learner-centered) versus the traditional teacher-centered approaches that are commonly taught in the Kazakh pedagogical institutes. In order to facilitate the successful transition in Kazakhstani classrooms, the PDP students watched several relevant films about teaching and also listened to outside guest speakers who were oriented more to a give-and-take approach intheir delivery. This helped the adult learners to know western culture in generalbut also reflect about their own Kazakh cultural influences to appreciate thedifferences in teacher-centered and student-centered interactions from various cultures. Emphasis was placed on the effect of culture on communication, multiple intelligences and learning styles.
4) Teaching Listening and Speaking (TLS) – This course was designed to help adult learner students to prepare for thedemands of developing effective principles of oral communication in an academicsetting. The TLS students built on their linguistic competencies, improved theirEnglish pronunciation, stress, intonation and vocabulary by listening to native speakers lectures and listening to online speakers. This course facilitated TLS students’ ability to confidently deliver two mini-lectures (informative and persuasive speeches). Also, they learned effective Powerpoint presentation skills necessary to accomplish their goals in being a fluent, public speaker of Englishin an academic setting. They presented their research findings from their final written paper to an audience of guest expats who gave helpful feedback and asked questions.

(to be continued)

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Using Content in Kazakhstan’s Context

The following is what I put together in a brochure to help explain the Professional Development program (PDP) that I started at our western university in Astana for young teachers. See if you think this might be a good idea for Kazakh teachers in the outlying areas of Kazakhstan?  How would you get busy teachers from far away to buy into this PDP idea?  I think distance learning is the way to go but then you would need good equipment and tech support.  All these things take time…

As a seasoned ESL/EFL educator for over 30 years, half the time spent teachingin other countries such as Philippines, China, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and finally thelast three years in Kazakhstan, I believe it is imperative to teach English within thecontext of one’s host country. Our Professional Development program (PDP) has done just that. We have enjoyed listening to guest speakers who know the countryof Kazakhstan or have some relevant area of expertise delivered in English. That is also why we have taken field trips to different venues in the Astana area. Besides using Kazakhstan rich historical and cultural context, the content of learning andteaching English in these four courses have been accomplished in a textbook-less and paper-less setting.
A Kazakh proverb “Hard in learning, easy on war” means that the struggle in education is worth it in the end. Put another way, if we, as diligent educators, continue the fight long enough, we will achieve much future gain. Another Kazakh proverb that reveals the challenge of obtaining a good education is: “Education is like digging a well with a needle.” It may seem difficult but it is not impossible. A Chinese proverb provokes a more positive spin which I want to encourage in all myclasses: “Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.” As a western style teacher who has taught in many teacher-centered environments, the freedom for today’s Kazakh students to enjoy autonomy in their learning is importantespecially with the advent of the computer.
Currently, the Information Age we live in compels all 21st century teachers globally to honestly reassess their own teaching methodologies. Kazakhstan is no exception among all the other teachers in the world. In order for Kazakh teachers to effectively use electronic research databases, administer platforms such as Moodle and find helpful resources on the Internet to enhance classroom learning, they readily recognize they need Professional Development.
Therefore, the driving force behind all PDP classes is to learn about one’s own country in English, develop new teaching methodologies and with these tools enhance critical thinking for all Kazakh students. Admittedly, the computer has ushered in a new era of not being able to know ALL the facts from a teacher-centered approach. However, all teachers should be proficient in knowing HOW to access information. The PDP students have learned to use keywords that willfind the necessary information needed to solve pedagogical and methodologicalproblems. In other words, the thrust of each course is direct application andimmediate implementation, NOT simply theory.
Teaching Kazakh teachers in English has been a supreme privilege because I have seen how these individuals have taken what they have learned in my PDP classroom and turned around and used it with their own students. In today’s rush of lesson planning and structuring curriculum, there is little time to be creative or implement imaginative lessons that capture the Kazakh young people’s attention. So much is in competition with the teacher-centered approach that worked in years past. Now is the time to shift the responsibility of learning to the Kazakh students. This happens with structured lessons that use modern technology in a judicious manner.Technology smart teachers mean they are able to use lessons that are ready madeand interesting to the students so they can continue their own quest for learning.

(to be continued)

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Teaching in the Trenches (Part II)

As a follow-up to my last question I posed yesterday about why the money can’t be evenly distributed to the rural areas of Kazakhstan, why the concentration of elite schools in the bigger cities such as Almaty and Astana?  One Kazakhstani answered that for me, because the money can’t be trusted if it were to go to school administrators in the far reaches of this great country.  Corruption abounds, especially in education.  So, how does one educate the young people of Kazakhstan to be honest if even the school administrators and teachers resort to bribes?  Okay, back to what Annemarie talked about with my students the other day…

Annemarie asked my English teachers, “Which English do you teach your youngsters?”  They answered, “British English.”  The next question, “Who do you do business with the most as a country?”  Answers: Turkey, U.S., Saudi Arabia…  Her next strong statement was, “you don’t just teach English, you also teach culture.” When you teach British English, you do it within the context of how Brits interact (and there are MANY kinds of British accents besides R.P. – received pronunciation, the Queens English or BBC).  If you teach American English, you may do so in the context of how Americans interact in business, at play, at home, in families, etc.

What was interesting was that Annemarie took a side path about how Russian, Slavic and Asian people are “person-related” while Americans, Germans and other westerners are “object-related.”  One example was the way Kazakhs shake hands, they have an open palm extended but then they put their other hand over the shaking hand to show that you are not bearing arms.  If one would have their hand behind their back or in their pocket, it would keep the other person wary. Kazakhs and especially Chinese will stand close to each other (depending on the depth of the relationship). For Americans they simply extend the arm at elbow length and expect the distance to not invade their bubble of space.

Another cultural thing that Annemarie had observed when she lived in Odessa, Ukraine, she learned that to be considered truly intellectual one was expected to be witty or tell a good story in Russian.  You may be German or Jewish but if you went into a bread shop in Odessa and you were to buy some bread, it was expected to establish a relationship with the seller of the bread.  You were to make idle conversation because it was person-related, rather than object related.  Then she went on to say how interaction with sales clerks here in Kazakhstan were aggravating because they were not personable but rather perfunctory or rude.  I thought it was multi-tasking or distraction but in any case, the impersonal nature of sales transactions here in some Kazakhstan stores leads one to believe that it is NOT “person related.” I blame it on old communist morals that did not encourage a service mentality or the “customer is always right.”  That is an American value.

Annemarie next asked, “What are the typical Kazakh values?” One important one is “The individual is less important than the group.”  The big family in older Kazakh times travelled together as nomads.  One member of that group could not rebel and say to his family, “I’m not doing this anymore, I’m moving to Almaty!”  No, now you have a shift in the ideas of travelling within the country of Kazakhstan.  People are taking on European values of getting on a plane and travelling one day to Almaty and back to Astana again.  That would be unheard of back in the Kazakh nomad days.  You would not have the speed and time of travel that we “enjoy” today.

Every country has their basic social values and rules to live by.  Annemarie feels accountable and responsible for the money she has been allocated by her German government to make decisions on how it will be properly administered to help the most people in this country of Kazakhstan.  She comes from a background of the Enlightenment period from 500-600 years ago where the individual is the focus.  Her civic society expects her to make individual choices that will not only reflect well on her, but on her country.  However, there are people in Kazakhstan who would pad their budgets or do things under the table with bribes because they see it as normal.

Annemarie ended her talk with citing an example of the Minister of Defense in Germany who resigned because he had cheated on his dissertation thesis.  He had noble background and had been in charge of at least two army universities that graduated young people who should know how to write papers that were not plagiarized.  Yet, he had done that very thing himself, he was supposed to be accountable for his individual action because he was in charge of a group of individuals.  Yes, accountability is a value that we share in the western world and sometimes we as English teachers are not just teaching English but we are teaching culture and cultural values.

What cultural values are being taught when an important dignitary is brought to a university to speak but where MOST of the Kazakh students are not in the auditorium of their own volition? This happened a few months ago when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came and talked to a university in the old part of Astana during the OSCE conference.  Most of the students in the auditorium didn’t have a good grasp of English but were required to fill ALL the seats.  This also happened in Kyiv, Ukraine as well when the American ambassador showed up.  All the pedagogical students who didn’t know English were to fill up the 350 seats of the auditorium so as to impress the ambassador.  Our western university in Kyiv at that time only had about 120 students. The questions that were asked of the ambassador were all planted and well prepared questions too.  Those are old style Soviet tricks to play it safe when a visiting dignitary comes for a visit, it is meant to impress the said foreigners.

What happened recently at our university, which is supposed to be a new one founded on democratic principles was to close the cafeteria at the very time of the speaker’s engagement so that the “dutiful” Kazakh students were all forced to show up to listen to a dignitary say politically safe things and give vanilla answers in order to be politically correct in his host country’s environment.  You can be sure a long queue was formed by hungry students who perhaps resented having their supper delayed by one hour.

Okay, I’m shooting from the hip but then I’ve been in the trenches teaching in Kazakhstan for three years and Ukraine for seven years.  I think I know a little bit about what is going on with Kazakhstan trying to get out from the Soviet values, embrace their own culture from the past while taking on the modernization of the West’s. It is VERY complicated.

Annemarie and I chatted in the cafeteria after she was through with talking to my students as they took off to the computer lab to do their many assignments.  We were being “person-related” from our own “object-related” backgrounds in a “person-related” environment of Kazakhstan.  This culture is fascinating for both of us, who would dare even write about this for a western audience to read and understand and appreciate?

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