Posts tagged Miras School

Too busy to write that I’m too busy

Oops, missing my daily blog two times in one week must mean that I am “up to my ears” in work. Yes, it’s true, not only am I doing the usual teaching and other self-assigned expat duties, but I am reading through apps for a scholarship grant to the U.S. I enjoy this process as I’ve read apps for the past five or six years.  I started this in Kyiv, Ukraine, then Almaty and now here in Astana, Kazakhstan.  I always like to see the perspective of the eager and nervous applicants about what their purpose would be to go to the U.S. to obtain a masters degree if they won in the competition.  They have to show they are worthy of doing volunteer service for the good of their country, prove they have high academic standards, great references and most important to me, that they can write well.

Here’s what I have observed with several of the recent applicants I have judged on.  One person was obviously wealthy, this person’s parents were able to pay for tuition at Miras school.  In Astana that would mean about $18,000 a year. (I’m not sure about the true amount of tuition, I’ve been told $8,000???)  Plus this person had already been to the U.S. or U.K. I can’t remember which.  However, when I put the Statement of Purpose in the good pile, I found out a different story when reviewing the academic transcripts and the references. This app went to my “No” pile which is a red file folder.  The person was a plagiarist, no doubt, because nothing rang true in the essay answers.  Interesting what you can detect from what is written or NOT written.

Another example was a young woman who had gotten her bachelors degree from the U.K. which meant she had studied for four years and was successful.  She was also a beauty queen from her area of Kazakhstan and seeing her photo on her c.v. she looked stunning.  However, her statement of purpose lacked heart.  She had all the head knowledge, she was articulate in all that she wrote but again it didn’t seem like she was the type to help her own people or to volunteer. No, her app went to the red file too. This particular grant is meant for those people outside of Astana and Almaty who need a “leg up” or an advantage they normally wouldn’t get.  Of course, there is always Kazakhstan’s Bolashak program that has helped 1,000s of young people in Kazakhstan. But I’m concerned with our American funded program that helps about 10-12 candidates per year.  A modest number yet there is GREAT interest in going to the U.S. on a full-ride scholarship by many aspiring Kazakh youth.

Another applicant whose proposal I looked at who is memorable in what she wrote was that she wanted to help young Kazakh people with disabilities.  They are the neglected group of people in this country and in some cases parents can no longer afford medical care or raise them.  Therefore, they are placed in orphanages.  (Her app went to my green folder, a possible candidate to interview in Almaty) What is very sad is that if these children don’t get some kind of life-long learning skills to live on their own, they will be put in an insane asylym at age 18.  I know some American friends of mine who personally know heart breaking stories about those children they have gotten to know at a special needs orphanage and when the time for them to leave the orphanage happens, well, some commit suicide or worse stories…

I have a third pile that is my “neutral” pile which means there is nothing that stands out in my mind after reading the “Statement of Purpose” essays.  Vanilla apps goes into my manila file folder. These students have perhaps been trained to not write anything too “edgy” or provocative. Just play it safe and write 1,000 words that are repetitive and says almost nothing. Obvious to me as a writing teacher, some students have not found their “voice” in writing. I pity them because they have not had teachers in school who knew about “voice” and “audience.” Others may plagiarize things but that will show up in the interview.  One applicant that I read last year, not in Education, had copied something off the Internet and it was really different and interesting but it was almost too good, too creative, too outside the box.

What I want to see in the application essays is a person’s heart but also their intellect.  I want to see anecdotes and quotes that show they are thinking about this a long time. The best applications have a tight storyline that helps the reader (me) see that they DO have a purpose and want to help their country prosper and grow by whatever they propose to study and implement once back in Kazakhstan.  Some people write and you can see they are out for “Number #1.” That is sad because if they don’t know where they have come from and they go to the U.S. on a scholarship, they will clearly get sucked into thinking and parroting what their American professors tell them.  I’ve seen this happen over and over again.

That is why critical thinking is absolutely necessary for the students to grasp here in Kazakhstan.  They should be able to decipher what is truth from what PC propaganda is.  That is why I blanched at reading in the app that I blogged about several days ago about “great leaders create great followers.” There are a great many followers here in this country of Kazakhstan, no one dares to raise their head among the rest because they might get clobbered by someone above them. Sadly, those Kazakh students who go overseas on whatever program but when they come back must acquiese to those who don’t know as much, especially about the information revolution we are in.  But since age is deemed to haveultimate wisdom, these Central Asian students have to capitulate to people who don’t really know or understand the West. Such is the struggle that continues here in education, the Old School will not give up their powers to those young people who come back with a western education. All this will take time to sort out but in the meantime, you have Kazakh students who want to help their country improve but are under the thumbs of bureaucrats who don’t know anything different from the way the Soviet five year plans operated.

I guess I’m not too busy to write about this, but there are soooooo many other things on my heart right now that I dare not share on this blog. Something big is coming up in the next two weeks and it will impact all of us in Astana, our schedules, our plans.  The rest of Kazakhstan will carry on with “business as usual” but not us.  Maybe it will be a good thing for me because I will have a chance to catch up on life, something I need to do ASAP.

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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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A continuation of yesterday’s blog entry…What I don’t understand is that I’m being flattered by some of my Kazakh teaching colleagues to give talks which will ultimately help them look good in front of their Kazakh students. Yet at the same time some of these same flatterers will run to my boss and say that I’m not teaching according to the syllabus or something else they deem wrong. Words, words, words!!! Other things that have been said against me have trickled back to me. I must rise above the fray.

Yes, I’m being complimented left and right about how I can lead seminars and workshops for my Kazakh colleagues so these same teachers can passively sit back and take it in while I actively put the talks together.  All the while trying to grade the rough draft papers that are supposed to hit my desk within this week and returned to my <100 students by the end of next week.  (My numbers in my five classes have dwindled somewhat dramatically since I gave out some dismal midterm grades several weeks ago.  I have an average of 16-17 showing up in each class that used to have 20 or more.)

Here is my schedule of speaking engagements and topics that I will deliver before the end of the semester:

Nov. 4, Today – AIWC (Almaty International Women’s Club)– “Violence against Women” with my MBA student from last semester presenting on what she found in our library’s electronic databases.

Nov. 11 Next Wed. – will lead 35 potential MATESOL students in a Computer Lab in a hands-on workshop “How to use electronic databases successfully” (Ebscohost, ProQuest, J-Stor)

Nov. 19 – talk to my Kazakh colleagues about the research I’ve done with my ESL, EFL and American students in the last 15-20 years regarding learning styles, multiple intelligence and temperament sorter inventories.

Nov. 24 – talk to these same Kazakh colleagues about the differences between student centered and teacher-centered paradigms

Dec. 1 – willing to talk to my writing teacher colleagues about student-centered learning and assessment.

But somewhere in all this, what is left of our fall semester, I am supposed to also help with Professional Development and explain to my Kazakh peers about the Internet sources I use, such as Thesis Statement Builder, Citation Builder,, etc.  I’m not sure where that will fit into my already packed schedule. I want to have these teachers go to the computer lab to learn this for themselves and USE it.  I would rather teach them how to fish rather than give them the fish.

I didn’t mention that I am in the middle of assembling the 50+ wonderful and beautiful photos I got from my <100 students for a Photo contest that I’m sponsoring.  We (I have four judges lined up) will present the winners at the AIWC Charity Bazaar at Miras School on Nov. 22.  I also didn’t mention that I am in charge of the Book Stall at this bazaar where we hope to sell 1,000s of books, DVDs, CDs and other things at this event on Sunday to help raise money for orphans and pensioners. [BTW, for those who live in Almaty, I’m still taking donations of books, etc. to be sold at this special Sunday event.]

I guess all that I do is for charity and is volunteer work if you tabulate the extra hours that I put in as a teacher at my “westernized” university.  Others know that I am doing front line battle with plagiarist students and also with lazy, unmotivated teacher colleagues who have job security while I don’t.  Other foreigners and some of my teaching colleagues help me do battle in this great land of Kazakhstan. Yes, I’m flattered that I am so needed, yet this reverse flattery of not being wanted reminds me of what Ezekiel encountered:

“…do not be afraid of them nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you dwell among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words or dismayed by their looks, though they are a rebellious house.” 2:6

Yes, I am needed but NOT wanted. I have no contract to teach next semester.  Like I said, I have no job security, NONE!!!

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