Posts tagged TESOL

Let the Defense Begin!!!

My former student Aigerim responded immediately to my blog of yesterday.  Aigerim referred to Madina who I don’t know but liked how she articulated her situation in Kazakhstan through the posting in Vox Populi.  Aigerim presses on a point that I want to make about another former colleague of mine who taught in the same English department in Almaty as I did.  We all got bruised and bumped around by the supposed “administrators” who ultimately “cut off their nose to spite their face” in the decisions they make.  It seems hard to think that their way of administration is democratic or fair.  Nay, I witnessed many injustices.  I like what Aigerim in Astana wrote:

“This young woman, Madina is an image of modern Kazakhs, they see the wrong but are not confident to make a step for a change. Yet Madina is different, she talks on this issue. She just needs support to act. Sadly, most of initiatives of activists are buried into bureaucracy and state control.”

Yes, this is what is happening to my friend in Almaty. Vera recently wrote to me about her problems with the current administration where she is trying to obtain her MA degree in TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages).

“Just imagine! Still struggling with KIMEP, trying to defend my thesis. They haven’t given MA Degree to anybody from TESOL. This is the fifth (!) year of our study!!! I’m really fed up with the way they treat people at KIMEP.

Our current advisor, who started this program five years ago, is a very difficult person to deal with. He informed us that he would take a leave for half a year. That means that if we don’t defend in May, the defense will be postponed until next Fall. Then another Advisor will be appointed. With his/ her view… And this will be an endless process. I said that I would give up then.”

This is part of what I wrote back to my beleaguered, Kazakhstani friend Vera,

“This is really depressing news! They are more than willing to accept your tuition money for five years but not let you graduate? It would appear that they don’t want anyone in the Language Center to graduate with an MATESOL degree. You have struggled and worked far too long for this obstacle you are encountering to not be recognized by the top levels of management. The university liberally gives out MA degrees in other business departments throughout the campus to people far less qualified than you and your two other colleagues.

Why should they be holding out in the English department except it would threaten those questionable, Kazakh administrators who are on top who don’t have the credentials or know how. I believe it is really unconscionable for your advisor not to tie up loose ends before he leaves for the U.S.  Whoever is at the top with decision-making is not doing the MATESOL program any favors by making it look impossible to graduate with a graduate degree.  Most sad and perplexing.”

Aigerim is right, anyone who takes the initiative to improve themselves, especially with better education are buried under the weight of state controlled bureaucracy. I quake and shudder to think what will happen to the newly minted undergraduates of the new university in Astana once the first batch graduates in 2014. I suspect this newer generation will not be bland in their revolt from the clueless status quo who were Soviet trained but Kazakh lazy. There I said it, let the defense-iveness begin!

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Letter dated February 14, 1994 – Krygyzstan

This letter was written on PINK paper for obvious reasons:

“It is wonderful to feel LOVED as I write a letter on this commercialized celebration of Valentine’s Day.  I feel loved by so many of you. Thank you for the Christmas cards that eventually made it to me.  I will keep them taped up until Easter, they are so pretty and colorful.  I continue to have parties for any excuse, just to have folks over.  Several weeks ago I had a hymn sing with ten people singing different parts and it brought back a flood of good memories back to my former Lutheran days.

Yes, I will be in the US once again for two weeks (March 8-20) to present at a TESOL conference in Baltimore and then to visit with my friend Ken in Washington, D.C.  He will follow me from Almaty two days after my departure and stay on until the end of March before he returns to Almaty.  His three children from a former marriage will be visiting him in D.C. on their spring breaks.  I want to meet them…I am convinced Ken loves me.

On our semester break, I went up to Almaty and managed to surprise Ken one day ahead of my intended arrival.  It was fun to visit with Ken and with my other friends from this past summer.  It was also fun to go cross-country skiing with Ken and his Kazakh friends in places close to Almaty.  Before all this fun though, I had finished up a busy semester of teaching Phonetics and Business English to my university freshmen.  Before this break, I was also getting four different syllabi prepared for teaching Reading Lab this upcoming semester.  I will continue to be busy reading many different books to find the most appropriate reading assignments for each of the four levels.  All the students seem in earnest to improve their English and thus their TOEFL scores in order to have a better crack at getting to the U.S. to study business and other related subjects.

The good news is that I was granted an extension with my Fulbright grant to stay and teach for ten more months at my university.  I am finding that I really LOVE Bishek and LOVE working with my Kyrgyz students.  That would keep me here until July of 1995.  The bad news is that Ken’s job is 3 1/2 hours away in Almaty and he finds that he is useful there.  Commuting through snowy and icy mountain roads is simply not an option.  I do enjoy Ken’s companionship and love and see him as God’s gift to me.”

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“Why We Teach Overseas” (Part III)

Several days ago I started this series about why my husband and I spend most of our time overseas in the former Soviet Union, in Astana, Kazakhstan.  Bottomline, we both like challenges of living in a different environment from our own.

4. Being and staying organized while living and teaching overseas can be a challenge. First of all, I’ve experienced in China, Ukraine and Central Asia that May is a dangerous month to require too much heavy testing or written work to be put into the syllabus schedule.  Holidays are liberally celebrated during this month and it is just as well because by this time teachers and students are tired of schoolwork and the great outdoors with warmer spring weather is a welcome distraction.

However, because we were Peace Corps and I was the TEFL training coordinator, I was able to set up my own schedule despite what the rest of the country was doing for their set holidays. During this training session in summer of 1993, I effectively used my time to enable the PCVs to be up to speed on how to teach English in a Kazakh classroom.  I implemented a Model School for three weeks, where 32 PCVs took turns in six different classrooms teaching English to primary school age children.  We had about 120 Kazakh students who participated in this Model School. It took a lot of coordination but was well worth it to give confidence to those inexperienced PCVs who did not have any teaching experience before this assignment in Kazakhstan.  Many of the PCVs were trained as journalists but they quickly learned during our TEFL training sessions, especially with young subjects in front of them, eager to learn English.

While I enjoy creativity and flexibility, I also appreciate structure. This makes it so much easier to walk into a classroom with a well thought out lesson plan, thorough textbooks that adequately cover the material and an overall good curriculum that touches on all the necessary skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking in an integrated way.

Second, I enjoy researching and have presented several papers having to do with my own Norwegian ancestor’s history.  I’ve also learned about my students (Ukrainian and Kazakh) history.  When I ask them about their grandparents or grand grandparents, they are very proud of their ancestors and do well in writing about them.  I have presented at history conferences (four papers) and many times at international TESOL conferences.  I enjoy researching and try to help my Kazakh students enjoy it too.  Many helpful websites such as Thesis Statement Builder and Citation Builder make the attributing of sources less onerous.

5. I have many years experience living overseas and coping with cultural differences. I enjoy the moment of breaking through to have a “normal day.”  I have taught in many similar settings to Astana, Kazakhstan and have lived outside of my own home country for over 15 years.  I think I bring an immense amount of experience that my fellow teachers and colleagues might benefit from.  I enjoy helping to coordinate solutions for those who are new at living overseas, dealing with exasperating “cultural moments” when things don’t go according to our westernized sensibilities.

Also, I DO know how extreme the weather can be in Astana but I’m from northwestern Minnesota that shares a similar climate.  In order to cope with the cold, you must find a sport that you enjoy doing outdoors.  I like to cross-country ski and it is great exercise to help alleviate stresses due to living in this sometimes very perplexing culture.

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Globalized Moments: Three Locations in Boston with Friends

First Globalized Moment:  I went to visit my friend Elizabeth from Phoenix and her parents living in Framingham just west of Boston 30 minutes by car.  Elizabeth grew up in this seven bedroom house and they had a kind of a family reunion with her adorable 6 year old twin niece and nephew, who came up from Philadelphia to visit.  They are very six-ish but very well behaved thanks to their well disciplined mother Sarah who is a pediatrician trained at Harvard.  Elizabeth and I ran into each other at the TESOL conference.

Second Globalized Moment: I saw Jamie and Dasha Peipon who I know from Ukraine this past Sunday. Dasha and I walked around the Harvard campus before we went to her place for tea and cookies to talk to her mother-in-law, my friend Marianna who lives in Kyiv, Ukraine.  We talked on Skype.  Dasha and Jamie live in Cambridge area while he is going to music school at Berkelee (sp?), he is very good on the marimba (check out his YouTube performances)

Third Globalized Moment:  I finally met Frank Thoms who is very much alive living north of Boston.  We met via this blog because almost two years ago I had typed up his astute observations from nearly 20 years ago about Soviet education in my blog.  He “googled” himself and found Kazakhnomad.  Frank is the author of the manuscript “Encounters with Soviet People” that I had used with my Peace Corps volunteers back in Almaty, Kazakhstan in summer of 1993.  Frank and I had a good time catching up before he heads back to Mexico and I return to Astana, Kazakhstan.  His wife Kathleen is an amzing artist with her own studio.

Boston has been an incredible experience.  I am glad that I have my passport back from New York with a one year multiple entry visa.  I am “good to go” as we like to say.  I have done my confusing turns on the streets of Boston, I hope to walk the Freedom Trail on a less rainy day as it is today as I write this.  Lufthansa will carry me away to my next adventures back in Kazakhstan.

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Boston Photos of People at TESOL

Enjoyed seeing my friends in Boston but a few others I didn’t see.  I’ll have to find out later what sessions they attended and why we missed each other.  The Convention Center is HUGE, the TESOL crowd was immense.  Here are photos of Elizabeth and me with our “cool” sunglasses from the TOEFL Spring Break party.  Also, a former Peace Corps volunteer from Talas, Kyrgyzstan and my friend Thom from our graduate days at the University of Minnesota.

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Fourth Movie and Howard Gardner’s “Five Minds”

I’m up early with my jetlag here in Boston. I forgot to mention in yesterday’s blog that I watched a fourth movie starring Matt Damon in “The Informant.” Must have been a sleeper movie for me since I didn’t even remember to add it to the list of movies I watched on my Lufthansa flight coming to Boston.  The theme of this satirical comedy based on a real life story has something to do with ethics and respect, something that Howard Gardner talked about last night.

Backing up a bit, I am really enjoying this TESOL conference in Boston thus far. I have a mile and half walk from my hotel to the big conference center and met some nice people in the research session I attended all day yesterday. I also won a book in a raffle, added bonus! Unfortunately, I haven’t hooked up with my friends I want to see yet who have come to Boston from parts scattered throughout the U.S.  I have to make a concerted effort to do so.  One must use great strategy to find people in the mass of 8,000 gathered ESL/EFL teachers.  Last night I saw the biggest crowd ever for the first plenary session with Harvard’s own Howard Gardner.  He is a TESOL favorite because he wrote a book years ago that many educators have read about “multiple intelligences.”  Funny, erudite and self-deprecating.

The following is what Howard Gardner said about “Five Minds for the Future” he is famous for coming up with multiple intelligences (logic/math, music, spatial, emotional, interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily/kinesthetic, naturalist).

Here’s Gardner’s latest titled “The Five Minds”

1)   Disciplined mind – working steadily to improve oneself, becoming an expert, learn major ways of thinking (historic, artistic, scientific, mathematic)

2)   Synthesizer mind – Early philosophers such as Aristotle, Aquinas or Augustine.  One has to decide what to pay attention to.  Need to have criteria, how does all the information make sense to me.  We need to develop a course called “Synthesis 101” for teachers and students, so much information in our digital age that is largely undigested and unevaluated, we must teach students to synthesize.

3)   Creative mind – Einstein and Virginia Wolff, these two synthesized what is known in the box itself, but they went beyond that.  They thought of good questions and new questions.  Mastering one or more disciplines using the 10 year rule

Begin being a master at something when you are young.  Ultimate judgment of the field.  Take on new things and be willing to fail, but one must have a robust and iconoclastic temperament thinking “I regard every defeat as an opportunity.” One can say, “It didn’t work out, now what?”  Back in our formative days, failure was tolerated.  One Chinese student asked Gardner “give me the 23 steps in order on how to be creative.”  Creativity is messy and not orderly!

Gardner wrote “To Open Minds” in mid-1980s.  IN China discipline is very good but not creative.  Whereas now in the U.S. we have a desire to be creative but don’t have the discipline or mastery of the discipline.

Depth = Discipline

Breadth = Synthesize

Stretch = Creativity

The next two minds are how we deal with fellow human beings

4)   Respectful minds – diversity is a fact of life, at home and abroad that goes beyond mere tolerance.  We need to understand others’ perspectives.  The motivation is emotional and interpersonal intelligence.  There is an inappropriateness of “corporate, top-down model” for schools and even corporations

5)   Ethical minds – Higher level of abstraction than respectful mind

Conceptualizing oneself as a (good) worker

Conceptualizing oneself as a (good) citizen

Acting appropriately in both roles

How things play out in the community (like school)

The Three “E”s of a Good worker

1)   excellent, expert

2)   Ethical, socially responsible, moral

3)   Engaging, meaningful, intrinsically motivated

Instead of DNA he showed a triple helix model with the three “E”s Excellence, Ethics and Engagement

“We respect those persons who behave ethically.”

Last response we have is shame (wish I had written more on this because it relates to Kazakhstan but Gardner was running out of time)

Howard Gardner had much more to say and went through his slides so quickly that I was doing like many in the audience around me, I was taking photos of his slides for later review.  Here’s an example.  I now wish I had taken a photo of Gardner on the stage and showing the size of the audience behind me.

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Watched Three and a Half Movies Enroute to Boston

What else is there to do when one is cooped up for a very long time, in a VERY full plane but to watch the latest that Lufthansa has to offer?  I watched three 2009 releases and only one I would recommend for our young audiences in Astana.  That would be the British film titled “An Education” about a young 16 year old girl named Jenny who studies hard to enter Oxford, her dad pushes her to those ends until she meets David.  David is a slick, older man, almost twice Jenny’s age and he shows her a different, exciting side to life from her playing cello, memorizing boring Latin and speaking French.  Jenny’s parents are as taken in by David as she is, until… You will have to watch what kind of “an education” Jenny receives on your own, I won’t spoil it for you.

The second movie that is rather slow moving but it fits the part of a recent widower played by DeNiro is titled “Everybody’s Fine.” He has four children who don’t show up for a reunion at his home so he sets out to surprise them in New York, Chicago, Denver and Las Vegas.  (BTW, against doctor’s orders because the dad has a heart condition.)  This movie pulls at the heart strings because he too pushes his kids to succeed like Jenny’s father in “An Education” but somehow his drive backfires on him.  His adult children turn out to not communicate with him truthfully and there are some painful truths we find out by the end of the movie.

The third and bottom of the barrel of a movie is “Pope Joan” or also known as “Die Papstin” which is about a woman who supposedly became pope in the 8-9th century A.D.  It shows the primitiveness of the Middle Ages but also the political correctness of our current age of feminism.  This movie is a pile of horse manure which is right along the same genre of “The Red Tent.”  I won’t even tag that book that I was required to read in graduate school five years ago because it was so awful to read.  “Pope Joan” is impure, adulterated fiction, created in fantasy land to be sacrilegious against the Catholic faith.  I’m sure it must have created quite a stir at the Vatican. But then again, it is a picture so unworthy to be watched that giving it attention is just what the filmmakers wanted, kind of like the “Da Vinci Code.”  Two thumbs down on “Pope Joan.”

Oh, I did watch but did not hear a fourth and very funny movie off of someone’s screen in front of me, “All About Steve” starring Sandra Bullock.  I had seen it before and thought it good for laughs to guess what was being said, her acting is silly and superb.  Now I want to buy the movie “Blind Side” where Bullock won an Academy award for Best Actress, so I can see that movie on my own time.

So, here I am in historic Boston and must discover the town while going to the international TESOL conference.  Many sessions to attend, people to meet and generally taking in the latest in political events in the capital of our great country.  I’m glad I live in Kazakhstan so I don’t have to deal with all the backlash of this latest legislation they pushed through.  I grieve for my country’s Constitution that our great forefathers diligently created to have a balance of powers so that no despot would rule the masses.  It’s only a matter of time…

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Blowin’ in the Astana Wind

Don’t have much to write because I am so very tired and it is only Wednesday.  The most notable news about today is that the wind was so wicked and fierce that I had to hold on to the poles at the two stoplights while walking to and from our flat to work.  The ice is also tricky where the wind was forceful enough to push you along on the ice if on a slant anywhere.  Having lived in Almaty for over two years where there was rarely any wind, this is a new wonder to get used to.  The temperatures are warming up but we are in the sloppy season now, sleet, pellets of snow, rain and back to hardened snow again.  No fun to x-country skiing, but who has time for that?

I’ll be flying out to Kostanai for another recruiting trip with a work colleague named Irina.  I think I will be learning about her Korean roots though she was born in Kazakhstan and considers herself a Kazakhstani.  It will be fun to meet the students, especially those who want to practice their English on me.  In any case, I’ll be home on Saturday and then I have one day with my hubby before I take off early, early Monday morning for Boston.  The Narooz season is starting up as early as this Friday with an office party, Ken will go in my place. But for the next five days starting on Friday there will be no work done, offices will be closed. Just as well that I am away to the U.S. for the TESOL conference.

I just hope and pray that all my flights go on without a hitch.  The attached photo is of Aigerim and me at the Taras airport when they cancelled the flight due to high winds. All the other 15 passengers were turned away until we finally left at 1:00 a.m instead of our scheduled flight of 7:00 p.m.  Fortunately they gave us candles to see by and I had my Dell computer on which gave a kind of comforting glow in the darkened terminal.

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Debunking Myths about me (Part II)

Myth#5 – The most painful lie used against me was when I was betrayed by someone I thought of and trusted as a friend.  She twisted a sentence that I wrote in a handout for an international TESOL conference paper that I delivered last March in Denver, Colorado.  She immediately flew into a rage that she did not agree with the term “dumping ground.” Here’s the errant sentence I wrote: “The Soviet Union from the North made Kazakhstan a “dumping ground” of other nationalities, making Kazakhs a minority in their own land.”  Why had I put “dumping ground” in quotations? Because there are plenty of journal articles, while doing a literature review, that use this phrase when referring to the number of nationalities (Korean, Ukrainian, Russian, etc.) who were thrown off the train in the middle of the steppes of Kazakhstan.  Thankfully, many Kazakh sympathized and helped those people who were dumped onto Kazakh soil to find food and shelter.  I believe the spirit of generosity and hospitality extended to strangers thrown off of trains during the perilous times of Stalin’s purges says something noble about the Kazakh people, doesn’t it?

In fact, when I went to ALZHIR, the memorial built by the president of this fine country, he was quoted as saying, “It is not Kazakhstan’s fault that it’s land was used as a “dumping ground” of many nationalities.”  Why can the president use this disputable phrase but I can’t? (ALZHIR is just outside of Astana, the new capital for Kazakhstan.  This place was where the wives whose husbands were considered “Enemies of the people” from all over the Soviet Union were sent as punishment. They were separated from their children and forced to do labor, some for 10 years if they lasted that long.) 

Logic went out the window in our heated discussion when my “friend” said that I thought her mother was garbage if I wrote that Kazakhstan was the Soviet Union’s “dumping ground” much the same as Siberia was used with its penal system. I never mentioned her mother, I was puzzled how that came up in our conversation when I thought we had been talking about Kazakhstan. But my supposed “friend” loves her mother and didn’t want her to be thought of as an imperialist Russian who came down from Moscow to Kazakhstan to tame the wild Kazakhs into submission.

I have much sympathy and compassion for this former teaching colleague woman who only has an older mother and one daughter.  We shared some very good times together but this is a very complex country to live in. Unfortunately she was born in Kazakhstan but she is not Kazakh herself, she is what is known as Kazakhstani.  Perhaps her main fear is that the nationalistic Kazakhs will rise up against the Kazakhstani who are of Russian ethnicity and kick them out as has been done in more nationalistic countries such as Estonia, Lithuania and other former Soviet countries. In actual truth, her mother was a history teacher and that is where the political rub comes in.  Even the president of this country found that the Moscow elites were changing Kazakhstan’s history in the history textbooks to fit the Soviet ideology and would obliterate any truth to what the Kazakhs had handed down orally for generations.

So from that little incident last spring, it was noised around with a change of wording that I thought Kazakhstan was a “garbage dump.”  Nothing could be further from the truth!!!  I see Kazakhstan as a very beautiful country with very beautiful people.  What saddens me is that there are Kazakh and Kazakhstani alike who are still so twisted up in their old communist dogma. They are NOT beautiful people but are soulless and still very much misled by untruths. In some cases, the older teachers and administrators have been communist party members longer than they have known the liberating air of democracy.  I have learned from this experience that the old habits of intimidation, fear and bullying die hard. 

What I found so perplexing was why would I, as an American citizen, prefer to stay and teach longer in Kazakhstan if I thought this country was a “garbage dump?” I certainly was not teaching at this institution of higher learning for the pay as many other foreigners are who draw large professor salaries.  Compared to other universities in Almaty, our institution is also the best paying job for any Kazakh or Kazakhstani teacher. There’s the irony because it would be much easier for me to go home and live in a culture that I know as my own and be paid twice as much as I was paid in Almaty.

8) to be continued 8)

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Three Adils and One Dima, an Angel

Yesterday I met with three fifths of my Kazakh students.  In total, this fall semester I will have at least 100 Kazakh students’ names to memorize. Some are easy to learn, others are difficult to pronounce. In one class I have three Adils so I will need to learn their last names as well. 


After my three classes that were spread out from starting at 11:30 a.m. and ending at 8:15 p.m., I was able to find out the level of English they had in each class.  My last class in the evening is filled with different Masters degree students from their respective programs of Law, Economics, Social Sciences and other specialties.  This cross teaching with more mature students has its pros and cons.  One is that these older students take their education seriously yet some have greater facility with the English language in writing than the others do, or speaking for that matter.  I think I will enjoy getting to know these students better over the course of the semester.  I certainly enjoyed my forty Masters students last semester.


However, even though I have three preps and five different classes, I still have NO contract. Strange to travel 10,000 miles over the Atlantic Ocean and the Central Asian continent with no teaching contract and no promise of a raise because of the budget problems. This is after I spent over $2,000 on roundtrip airfare of my own money to represent my university last spring at a TESOL conference.  We are having our own budget problems. This recent flight on NW and KLM took me 28 hours from port to port, leaving my family and friends behind in Minnesota to come to a land that is strange to me.  That is trusting on my part and I have no basis to trust except that I feel called to back in Kazakhstan. For some people, this is difficult to fathom.


Also, seems that even though the university administration let go of about 15 experienced teachers in our Language Center, there is one new freshly minted Kazakh teacher sitting next to my cubicle.  As soon as I arrived and was going through my 295 unread messages, he wanted to talk and get to know me.  Friendly guy, but I’m still mourning the loss of those qualified, experienced teachers who were let go over this summer due to lack of enrollment.  He pegged me as an opera singer (do I really look like one?) and then he went on humming, he is as happy as a lark to be teaching at our university with his new MA degree from our very own university.  Also, several of the administrators have moved into their own spacious offices.  Consequently, I am requesting my own office since I have such a heavy work load compared to all the other teachers in the Language Center.  What I don’t understand is that if we have lack of enrollment, we get less teachers but we still have the same amount of administrators.  I just don’t get it!!!


Another request that I’ll make is to have a university car bring me home to my new apartment after my Tuesday and Thursday evening class.  Last night I took the bus and ended up in a place I didn’t want to be, so unfamiliar and dark was it.  Sure enough a drunk was ahead of me swerving back and forth.  Fortunately, I had met a nice, young Russian guy on the bus who looked at my map and told me which busstop to get off on.  He lived in the same general area so was aware of the dark path I needed to take.  Dimitry had fairly good English but when I asked him what university he had attended, he didn’t know how to answer.  I asked him if he considered himself Russian or Kazakh after living in Almaty all his life.  He said Russian but when he goes up to Russia, he considers himself Kazakhstani.  We talked as the drunk Kazakh wanted to engage in conversation after he playfully had blocked a narrow entrance pretending he knew karate.  Dima took that in stride and kept walking with me.  Finally, the drunk wandered off and I was in my courtyard area of my new flat.  While shaking hands, I thanked Dima profusely and the last words I said to him was, “You are my angel.” 


I really need a university car to transport me home just two nights a week because not only do I have to think about the “harmless” drunks, there are yapping and snippy dogs to beware of.  (the saying “Once bitten, twice shy” comes to mind) Okay, back to looking at the names of my 100 students, 20 in each of my five classes.  We are on to a great semester because that is why I am back in Kazakhstan, for the Kazakh, Korean, Kyrgyz and Russian students.

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