Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Keet Keetredzh!

Tonight Katya noticed this movie in the video section of our grocery store! "Кит Киттредж, Загадка Американской Девочки." (It's the Russian version of the "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" movie that came out last summer).

Well, whaddayaknow! She asked me if we could get it so she could lend it out to her Russian girlfriends, so they could know a little bit about her favorite stories. She's so excited to share it with them!

What a coincidence that we found this movie today, because she spent the whole day dressed as Kit, pretending to be a reporter. Natalia is Ruthie, of course, and they've been busy solving mysteries and planning stories.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On A Lighter Note...

My friend's son is in the backseat, watching every move I make. He loves to see the arrows blink when I'm about to turn, quickly telling me where we're headed. I compliment him on his awareness, saying, "You're going to be a great driver when you grow up!"

He reflects for a minute, then says, in all seriousness, "Nah... I think I'll have a different job when I grow up..."

I realize that he's truly an expat kid, thinking that "driver" is a profession and not something most people over sixteen do as a normal part of life... I ask him for some clarification.

He then adds, just for some more giggles, "You know, my daddy is a driver sometimes, when he's not a lawyer."

Not Feeling So Vacation-y...

I took my friend's son to play at the park... On the way home, a Hummer and a Land Rover raced each other, around me... Where are the cops when you need them??! It happened so fast... The Land Rover came straight toward the backseat passenger door of my car, right where my friend's son was sitting... There were no on-coming cars and I was able to swerve out of the way. Made it home and almost threw up in shock.


Brought the car to the car wash, had to wait in a very long line, along with a bunch of other people... I chose to wait outside at one point, standing between two luxury cars clearly being driven by drivers and not by the owners. At one point I felt a reflection of sunlight in my eyes; something in one driver's hands had deflected the ray. With shock I realized I was looking into the nose of a pistol that the the driver was cleaning, inadvertently pointing at me. Bodyguard/Driver. In real life, not in a movie... 

I promptly then left my car, only returning to claim it once it was ready. It was much preferable to wait at the nearby cafe over a $7.60 cup of coffee (!!!) sans weaponry as opposed to staying there. (Pretty much any beverage costs that, even water).  I must confess, though, how odd it is to have security guards in fancy suits just standing there at all times, keeping their eyes on all the cafe patrons. 


Not exactly great moments in Moscow this week.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Spies Here, Spies There, Spies Everywhere...

One of Katya's favorite games is Spy Alley, a great game for teaching logic and strategy. She loves having to keep a straight face as she tries to trick us about her allegiance... 

Sure, most of us have kids who love playing a good spy game, whether it's a board game, video game, or even good old make believe in the back yard...

What makes this all different is that I have friends who are actually be spied ON...

One woman I know comes home to find windows or cabinet doors open, with the only possible explanation being that someone wants to unnerve them -- just a reminder that someone is watching (and listening). 

Another woman experienced the open windows, drawers, etc... And then the creepiest thing happened. One day a hardcover edition of the Kama Sutra, in Russian, appeared on their nightstand... SHE didn't buy it... Her husband didn't buy it... !!!!!!!!! I KNOW!!! CREEPY!!!! 

Can you just imagine going in to your boss and trying to complain about that?! What a brilliant ploy, though... Talk about making the target unnerved and embarrassed... It wasn't until they learned that others had had the same thing happen to them that they had the courage to share their experience...

Such things must surely wear away at foreigners working here, making them acutely aware of or even influencing the choices they make... I'm so glad that none of this affects us; we're really "nobody" here. Anyone eavesdropping on our life would fall asleep more quickly than my kids do!

Hmm... Just a thought... I wonder if the fact that I even blogged about this will be noticed by "anyone" out there... At times things seem to be so different from when I was here in 1991, then at others, well, they haven't changed quite so much...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What's Going On This Week?

Katya and I have the week off from school, and we've been looking to fill it up with things we don't usually get to do. For me, that means actually organizing the apartment, spring cleaning, etc... But there needs to be some fun, too!

We're going to the gym a lot, having play dates with classmates who aren't going away, and checking out some plays and movies. There are, of course, many museums we could visit -- but neither girl "felt like it" this week. 

Here is a summary of what we're considering doing this week, a selection of plays and films. I didn't include any puppet shows or circuses; I'll do an entry on those some other time. Now that both girls are fluent in Russian, we prefer being able to take advantage of more "serious" theater and movies. 

We'll also go ice skating at the Evropeysky Mall. The girls are begging for a trip to Kva Kva Water Park since they loved it so much last time... If Chris can take a day off from work, then I'd consider it... 


Pippi Longstocking and Mary Poppins are playing  at the Ermolova Theater. We really like the work they do; the acting and scenery are fantastic.

Tom Sawyer, and many other plays, are at the RAMT theater, a really great place. Katya saw Helen Keller there and loved it last fall. 

Peter Pan, showing at the Moscow Theater of Young Audiences. We went to see this on Saturday and it was very good, true to the book and not influenced at all by Disney. They also have The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn showing this week; Katya wants to go...

Thumbelina is also playing at the New Ballet Theater and it looks quite good!

We also like the Natalia Sats Children's Theater; they offer a wide variety of plays, ballets and concerts.


The Children of Timpelbach, a French "Lord of the Flies," looks really good. It's showing throughout the city in Russian. You can watch the trailer in French on the official website; it's great! If I were teaching French this year, I would definitely have fun using this movie in the classroom -- perhaps in the near future?

Hotel for Dogs, showing in Russian. I took Natalia to see it with a friend and they both enjoyed it. You can see the official trailer, in English, here

Monsters vs. Aliens, showing in Russian. We're going to meet up with one of Katya's friends and go see it tomorrow. You can see the trailer here

Inkheart, showing in Russian. This one looks good, but a bit scary! How can a movie with Helen Mirren go wrong? Here's the trailer. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Clawing My Way There...

(To myself)

"Two - more - days - until - school - vacation."

"Two - more - days."

"Two - more - days."

"Two - more - days."

The equivalent of a science fair project to advise, sucking up UNBELIEVABLE amounts of time, end-of-term assignments, grading, grade books, report card books, ETC., ETC.... 

It is MISERY! 

I'll be so tired come Friday... Our babysitter leaves today to visit her family in Dagestan until vacation is over and I'm guessing we'll eat cereal and live in a dump for a few days because I have no energy for ANYTHING else.

What a bummer that the break is only for one measly week... 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Katya's Third Culture Kid Interview: Part 2

Here is the rest of Katya's interview about being a Third Culture Kid. I highly recommend you watch Part 1 here before continuing with this one.

Differences between Russia and America 

(That People Often Can't Truly Understand Without Actually Living in Each Place)


Weather might seem like such an obvious answer, especially to those of you living in colder areas of the USA. What is harder to communicate to others "back home" in the USA is everything else that winter entails: seven months of grayness, for example. We rarely see the sun and it can be very depressing, even for kids. The pollution mixes with the snow and becomes a dark, dark brown sludge that can be very deep, varying from a snow-like consistency to looking more like water from a septic system. Then you have to walk in it for months. 

Moscow is expensive! Well, Katya's example of 1 Barbie in Russia = 10 Barbies in America isn't quite right... But three years ago, the Barbie that went along with Fairytopia did cost the equivalent $106 here, while you could have gotten it on sale in the USA for $15... The Littlest Pet Shop digital keychain games can be bought for $9 in the USA and cost $37 here... Some items are even much more expensive here than that -- but not all, however. 

In the end, what it has meant for our kids is that the little things we might get them as a reward in the USA aren't things that they could hope to get here. They don't even ask anymore, because the refrain "We can't afford that because it's sooo much more expensive here" has been engrained in their brains. It's very frustrating for them! They know that any special birthday gift they hope to receive has to have been chosen during the trip to the USA that precedes the occasion, or they won't be able to get it. This means that Natalia has to know what she'd like for her birthday in July -- and her birthday isn't until December! 

So much for kids' whims! I kind of like that, though... I have almost complete control over the kids' exposure to pop culture in the media and toys --- how many parents can say THAT in the USA? They don't even get exposure to advertising in stores since I don't usually take them with me to run errands, and their peers also have a low level of exposure -- so there's less talk at school.

At times I can really relate to the girls' frustration, though... When Katya has worked hard to save up for something that would only cost $10 in the USA, it's so frustrating to have to wait five months until she can actually buy it... The same thing happens to me when a favorite piece of clothing is ruined, the kids go through a growth spurt or I run out of craft supplies.

Katya sometimes feels quite different from peers at school when she sees that their parents will buy them clothing and toys that we won't. What she used to not grasp is that their parents might, indeed, have spent $50 on a particular item -- but we will often then spend that same amount back in the USA --- getting that item and four additional things instead. 


It's significant that Katya talked for sooo long about this one point! Traffic has been a big part of her life here, leading to many other decisions that aren't easily apparent to family and friends in the USA. For example, she would have a visceral reaction to the questions, "Why don't you have swimming lessons more often?"; "Why did you stop being a Brownie?"; "Why do you need a nanny?" (so I could keep her out of all that traffic!)... 

She used to have to be in the car to get to and from school and every other activity we did. Traffic jams were a constant and stressful part of her life (and mine!). She knew that I couldn't let her do certain activities that only lasted an hour because I would have needed to allow an hour and and half in driving time before and after in case of bad traffic -- which I couldn't do. (It would have taken too long by public transportation, too, so that wasn't an option, either).

Cars park along both sides of one-way streets, making it a "Mission Impossible" feat to get through without scraping both sides of the car in the process -- on a daily basis. She can sense my fear as I maneuver... It can often take an extra 30 minutes to find parking, too... 

When she now says, "I get to walk to school!", someone in the USA might say, "Oh, that's nice..." -- without realizing what a life-changing event this is for her!


Since Russian law requires all cars to stay on the spot, usually blocking the roads -- even for minor bumps and scratches -- she used to see at least ten accidents a week, sometimes more. Most weren't serious -- but she did see some that were bad... People here drive so badly, breaking rules, aggressively... Many simply "buy' their driver's license instead of wading through the bureaucracy entailed in obtaining one honestly... 

Poor child to be so afraid of this... (And thank God she doesn't realize the fear parents harbor about how would the ambulance to get our car -- through the traffic -- if Heaven forbid we ever needed one...) Yes, that's why our kids are hardly in the car any more! 


Here she shows how she acts as a typical cultural chameleon, having one set of feelings about the police in America and another in Russia. Those feelings aren't QUITE so separate, however... Her American indignation causes her to challenge the Russian police. If they stop me, she and her sister instantly start complaining that they need to pee or are about to throw up, putting on a masterful act about being sick. Once Natalia -- at age four -- even told the cop, in Russian, "Could you please just hurry up and take my mom's money? We're late to ballet!" The girls' beliefs are now overlapped, influencing their feelings in both countries. Katya is so appreciative when we can approach the police for help (directions, for example) in America.

Cultural Differences in Both Countries: Taboos

(Is there anything you do in one country but not in the other?)

Wearing Fur

Wow, my little Katya is a future PETA activist! She certainly got upset about her classmate's wearing real fox fur for her costume in the class play... She does understand that people have traditionally needed to wear fur in Russia -- but she knows that other alternatives now exist. 

She "gets it," though, that culturally fur is acceptable here -- and that it's part of the country's practices going back centuries and centuries. I pointed out, "Honey, they were wearing fur here long before the Columbus discovered America -- and for that matter, the Native Americans wore fur, too!" She thinks that if people were educated about the matter, that attitudes could change -- the way they have in America. She won't be the one to start "enlightening" them, though; she doesn't want to stand out among her peers.

Being a Cultural Chameleon (Fitting In)

She keeps "her mounth shut" about her feelings about fur -- and about quite a bit more, I suspect... It hasn't always been that way. Last year she got in quite a spat with her roomates on the school overnight trip because she wouldn't wear slippers (a MUST here) and she wouldn't share hair elastics (as all moms in America, I've raised the girls to know you don't share hats, brushes, etc.). Luckily her teacher lived overseas and can easily diffuse tensions due to cultural differences!

While she may not voice her dissenting opinions when with her Russian peers, she certainly shares them at home and with her other expat/TCK friends. This, I think, is the key to understanding third culture kids: they have this unique experience of understanding the reasons behind the cultural practices in their different countries, and they grow up making choices about which aspects to take from each in the creation of their own identities. 

Best Parts of Growing Up in Two (or More) Cultures


Languages, obviously... As I said in "Part 1" of the interview, she thinks is natural to know many languages, and she has the mentality that she can learn any others she chooses. 


She stresses the importance of friendship because she has gone through the pain of feeling it's absence! Moving here -- having to go from having a best friend in New York to not knowing anyone here -- and not knowing the language any of the new children spoke -- was extremely hard for her. She will never take friends for granted. 

TCK's who grow up moving every few years often find it very hard to maintain those friendships, however... Each friendship was so intense at the time -- but when one has lived in six or more countries before attending college, it becomes a logistical impossibility to visit them all -- or even to keep up with regular correspondence... I'm glad we don't move continuously; I don't know how others do it!

Appreciating the Local Culture

She knows it's a priviledge to see things other kids back in America can't even imagine. She doesn't value the things a typical young American tourist here would love, however... She doesn't really talk about the circus, or walking on Red Square. What she meant by "visiting the Kremlin" was going on very detailed tours about specifics of Catherine the Great's life, learning eclectic facts about exhibits in the museum. She isn't just "visiting" Russian culture; she has Russian culture inside her in the way she loves certain poets or traditions. 

Hardest Parts of Growing Up in Two (or More) Cultures

Not Fitting in 100% in Either Culture

Not feeling completely understood by kids in either culture -- only by fellow TCKs who have the same experience. This is why I think it's important for parents who are raising their kids overseas to provide their children with ample opportunities to meet other children who have similiar experiences. It took four years, however, for Katya to finally  meet a TCK girl with whom she instantly clicked! Nevertheless, during the past four years of simply knowing other expat kids, she was aware that she wasn't the only kid going through the ups and downs of being an American kid here.

I think this point also applies to kids in in the "foreign" country who attend English-language schools. There are plenty of cultural differences in that context, too! For one, cultural values and behavior certainly differ between America, Canada, the UK and Australia... Assuming that there are so many similiarities can make it a real shock when differences pop up! Another factor is that the teachers and students in such schools have often lived in many different countries prior to ending up in the current place -- just because everyone is speaking the same language, doesn't mean that many of same issues TCKs face in local-language schools aren't also present. (It is, however, a very different experience to be surrounded by a whole school community of TCKs as opposed to perhaps being the only one in your school). 

Missing Relatives

This one is obvious... It's so hard on everyone... 

An Uncertain Sense of Time in the Future

Since we don't know when we'll be moving back to the USA, she doesn't know... When kids at school talk about a certain class trip that usually occurs in a particular grade, she doesn't know if she'll be around to go... It's hard truly having no idea about where the rest of her childhood will be spent. Her friends back home know what their middle schools and high schools look like, have driven by them many times... She doesn't know what school activities she'll get to do, since they vary so much from country to country. School sports? Not in Russia... School play? Not in Russian high schools... 

Sounding More "Grown Up" than non-TCK Peers
Some of you have commented on how "grown up" Katya seems in her videos -- how she expresses herself, etc. This is quite common among TCKs since they grow up often spending more time with adults than peers -- and in a wide variety of social situations (this is particularly true for kids who move overseas in diplomatic families). Perhaps this is why she seems more reflective/older? Trust me, though, she doesn't always come across that way!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Marketing in Moscow...

THAT is how you get people to check out the new ipods... In their myriad of colors... Ahhh, Russia.

Very young women in skimpy dresses are how you sell just about anything around here! They'll be at the grocery store, dressed in outfits that somehow resemble the packaging of whatever they're hawking... Alcohol, cigarettes, children's yogurt, potato chips... 

I have SO much more to post... Responses to your comments about yesterday's post about the traffic cops, Part 2 of Katya's TCK interview... But I've had NO time and I am T-I-R-E-D... So here's this tiny tidbit I hold out as an offering!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Really Dumb!

Whoever did this graffiti must be truly stupid... I mean, do you really want to take the risk of defacing a police cubicle which is under video surveillance? 

Wait, the hooligans were probably drunk... Not dumb... Or both... This IS Moscow, after all.

I'm luvin' the police today... Turned onto a deserted street yesterday in a new neighborhood, only to realize it might be a one-way one since cars were only parked in the direction facing me... I instantly stopped to head back, but of course got stopped when a cop car appeared out of nowhere...

There were NO signs that warned it was a one-way street. NONE. 

I wonder if those cops hid the sign and just sit there waiting to nab people and extort money.

The cops, of course, didn't care. I managed to hide the $400 that I had just withdrawn to pay the child psychologist, but didn't have time to get the remaining $90 (in a mix of rubles and dollars left over from our trip to the USA) out of my wallet... 

You know where that cash is now...

One officer took out his brand spankin' new iphone to take a picture of my American license (not for any official purpose, I'm sure, more to just to show how cool he is to have a picture of a real American license...). It took all my self-control to not make the snarky remark, "Wow... Nice phone on a traffic cop's salary..." (An honest cop could NEVER buy a phone like that. It would cost approximately one month's pay). 

Oh, well. Blog fodder.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"Third Culture Kid" Interview with Katya: Part 1

This post contains video of the interview I taped with Katya about what it means to be a "Third Culture Kid." I did it as part of my 9th grader's project for school, then decided that it might be of interest to others as well.

I'm purposely placing the video first, then the explanations... Why? Because I'm betting that many readers who have never lived overseas will hear what she says and not "get it," thinking some stuff she says sounds odd or even spoiled. She won't come across as she actually is, and I bet she'll be misunderstood... And that's the point. TCK's are often misunderstood!

So, here goes... And then PLEASE read the explanations. I'm curious to hear how many of you will have reactions that then are explained to you below -- perhaps changing your reactions. 

This is only Part 1 of the interview; I'll include Part 2 in a separate post.

The Concept of "Home"

Uncertainty about what the word "home" means. She's not quite sure where her home is, a typical response by TCK's. The confusion comes from hearing us say, "We're going home to the USA in the summer," giving the idea that "home" is the USA -- but when we're there, we don't have an actual "home," a house that's ours... We go from relative to relative...  Then, while in the USA, we get ready to go "home" back to Russia. In Russia we know we're here temporarily, so we don't have "roots" here -- and we rent an apartment that isn't ours in a lasting sense. This leads to a sense of instability -- or you can look at it positively, saying that it leads to great adaptability in TCK's. 

Concept of Future/Future Time and Concept of Travel

Uncertainty about where she'll live when she's a grown-up. This is quite common in TCK's: unlike non TCK's who grow up in one country -- and perhaps in one town -- she has two countries, and the whole world, actually, in front of her as a possibility. By the age of eight she has already formed friendships with kids who are expats from around the world, making those other places "real" to her. Non TCK's tend to imagine their lives in a linear fashion, with natural progressions: grade school, high school, college, first job, marriage... And they usually can imagine the backdrop to such things. TCK's live in the moment, not sure what the background will be for those events in their lives. They know they don't really have any control over where they'll be until they're grown-ups, so those spaces stay nebulous in their minds.

She just assumes that traveling will always be a part of her life, since she has crossed the globe frequently since the age of three. TCK's tend to remain in motion for the rest of their lives -- if not in practice, in mind (through literary interests, friendships, for example). 

She is aware that her non-TCK friends in the USA have never considered the question of where they'd live, since they've always lived in once place their whole lives -- or at least in one country. She doesn't see this as a negative -- but she does realize that it differentiates her from them.


Multilingualism is the norm to her; she has grown up thus far surrounded by people actively speaking a variety of languages from all over the world. Her friends here have been from Sweden, Argentina, Israel and Japan -- in addition to being from English-speaking countries from all over the world and Russia. 

While learning Russian wasn't initially easy for her, she now has confidence that she could learn any language if necessary... It's simply what people do if the occasion arises. Interestingly, she thinks of learning Russian as being "as easy as eating a piece of cake" -- mixing up the English idiom and being unaware of it!

Not Feeling Completely Understood by Peers in Native and Adopted Countries

She knows that her friends back in America can't quite grasp her life here; without actually living it, they can't understand what it's truly like. As a result, she sometimes says she feels a bit more Russian when in America -- and more American when in Moscow. This is also common; TCK's identify with both cultures -- their native one and their adopted one. When in one country they tend to be more aware of the other one -- and how it differentiates them from their peers.

TCS's Identify Most with Other TCK's

TCK's tend to identify most with other TCK's -- even if the other child's native culture and adopted one are different! Studies have shown that the simple awareness of what it's like growing up with that sense of a blended culture creates a very strong bond. Her best friend for two years in Moscow was a Swedish girl living as an expat here. Even though that friend spoke almost no English and only a few words of Russian when they met, they quickly became friends because they both realized that they were in the same boat. They never were able to carry on elaborate conversations, but they understood each other's feelings perfectly.

Her best friend now is Agatha, another TCK, an American girl growing up in Moscow who attends a Russian school. Even though that girl is half Russian, she has lived in America and goes there frequently enough to identify herself as a citizen of both cultures. They have told each other things such as, "You are my friend in my heart because you understand me on the inside." 

Like most TCK's living extensively in their adopted country, Katya can fit in almost unnoticed with her Russian peers -- so she does have many good Russian friends. Those friendships are different than her relationship with Agatha; she knows that her Russian friends don't know all of her, they don't "get" the American side of her.

She's aware that there is a huge part of her life that family and friends in America just can't understand -- and that what those people in America might think of as odd is completely normal here. She knows that there are different cultural practices in each country, and she adapts when in each place. 

Differences in Lifestyle

It's common for lifestyle issues to differentiate TCK's from their peers in their native countries. American kids living overseas are often there because their parents are businessmen or diplomats; as a result, they usually live a lifestyle that is more privileged than that of their peers "back home." Their parents' salaries often include cost of living adjustments, housing in a safe area, travel allowances, some kind of domestic help to aid in adaptation to the new culture, private school tuition in an English-language school. In many countries it is normal to have a driver, maid or nanny. (We're not living a life with all those perks, but some of it applies to us! Even though all of that doesn't describe our life, Katya knows that such perks are normal for many of the other expat kids she knows here -- so she does consider them "normal.")

For example, many expats in Moscow are forbidden by their employers to drive because of their insurance package -- they are required to use local drivers. Life is also so much harder here than in the USA that I really do need someone to help me in the home; otherwise I wouldn't be able to give my kids as much attention as I would were we in the USA. Too much of my time would be taken up by the long, long hours necessary for grocery shopping, traffic jams, and constant house-cleaning due to pollution. Hired help is also much cheaper here than in the USA, so it doesn't mean that you're a really rich family if you have some.

Travel once a year back to their country of origin is the norm, and usually families travel much more than that to get a break from the stresses of living in their foreign country. Many expat families make it a point to travel extensively while overseas, aware that the chance to "hop a train" to a different country as tourists won't be available to them once their time overseas comes to an end.

Even missionary families we know in Moscow travel often to get a break from being in Russia, aware that the stresses of living here are so great that they need to get away a few times a year. Getting away from the pressure of living here is something expat families on a variety of budgets do, so the idea of "needing a vacation" is very real to Katya -- and not a "spoiled" want. 

Travel and Vacations

It's also important to point out that visiting relatives when in America really does not qualify as a vacation. The travel is lengthy, tiring, and then they have to deal with jet lag. There isn't much "down time" when we're in the USA since we're always staying in someone else's home (for the most part) and we need to be careful to follow their rules. They can't just "let go" and relax. There's also the stress of getting everything done that needs to be completed before we return to Moscow -- all the medical visits and shopping for the next half year/year. When we get back from America, they're usually relieved to be back in their own apartment.

TCK's also have more stress because they live with parents who are going through the stress living in a different culture; most expat families realize this and that's why they make an effort to have more vacations for the whole family's health.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Girls' March 8th Presents


They were each excited to get a new book for International Women's Day: "Hotel for Dogs" for Katya; "Kung Fu Panda"* for Natalia.

Katya usually reads in English; her reading in Russian isn't as strong and she needs to do it more often. We're simply thrilled she's a passionate reader and have pretty much let her decide what she wants to read out of all the books we've provided. 

Natalia is really blossoming as a reader, too. She shunned most of our beginning reader books this fall, not wanting to be pushed at all. She refuses to do anything her sister has done sometimes, insisting on finding her own way; unfortunately, that has meant staying away from any of the books her sister loved. (Come on! She just has to read all the Magic Treehouse books!) Then all of the sudden, of all things, she became passionate about an inane "Wizards of Waverly Place" book about the Disney Channel show (probably because Katya had never read it). The book is way above her reading level, but she has stuck to it, steadfastly, stubbornly, and proudly. 

Two weeks ago she put down that book, however, and devoured her children's Bible in two days. While the text wasn't as hard as the "Wizards" book, it was not easy -- and it was 150 pages! Since then, she has reread it! 

At the same time, her skill in reading in Russian is also taking off! She can figure out sentences in her sister's new book, and she can read her own without much help -- albeit VERY slowly. 


*The Panda book is part of the "Learn to Read" series in America, translated into Russian. I'm glad there are slowly becoming more books designed for beginning readers to read on their own; while this type of literature is the standard in the USA, it's not here. Children's books here go from infantile picture books to l-0-n-g fairy tales with text way too difficult for a nervous beginner, without care taken to create reading levels.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Katya's School Play/"Family Holiday"

Disclaimer: This post is a bit long so that the girls' grandparents can get a sense of what the performance was like; they don't actually get to go to any of these things! I included the video of the whole play because I know that some of my readers are Russian kids who might enjoy watching it.

Friday was the big school show that Katya's class put on for their families. You might remember how upset I was when I misunderstood the time and missed the whole celebration last year... This year three different moms called me the night before to make CERTAIN that I had the correct information! They remembered how miserable Katya had been, so alone as the only kid whose family didn't show up that day...

Well, we were all there this year! And it was great! The kids created much of it themselves: they did the choreography for the songs; they thought of the costumes; and they wrote the play. Katya goes to the after school clubs for theater, music and dance -- so she played a very active role in planning the show.

As the only native speaker -- and a self-professed future actress and pop star -- she loved being in the spotlight during the ESL songs. Being able to be so creative keeps her from being bored when they sing simple songs that are geared to kids who are just learning English. (Her own English class, however, is separate; she's with other native-speakers during those lessons). 

The drama teacher is fantastic! Having taught drama in grades 6 - 9, and put on plays, I'm in a position to analyze how she does what she does and to assess the results. Katya is SO lucky to work with her! After-school theater is her favorite activity; she always brings a notebook and writes down every comment the teacher makes. All of her teachers comment about Katya's notebook... They love how serious she is about everything!

The play they put on was "Kolobok," which is the Russian version of "The Gingerbread Man." A kolobok is a sweet bun (according to Katya); in their play they had three kolobki in order for everyone to have a part. Other children played the family that baked them, then bunnies and wolves that tried to eat them, and foxes (clever GIRL foxes, I might add...) that outsmarted them. Katya was a fox.

Katya was quite upset that her friend Masha wore a real fox as part of her costume; she's quite the animal lover and future activist... She keeps those opinions to herself here, though, knowing that she'd be the "vox clamantis in deserto," (the voice of one crying out in the wilderness).

The play was very cute and we, the parents, definitely appreciated that not only did out children get the chance to act in it, but also to gain confidence in creating it from start to finish.

The teachers then had three activities to involve the families, giving each team a plate, and awarding us sushki (basically hard bread rings -- a bit like pretzels, but not salted) as points. The first one involved Russian proverbs about families that were missing key words. The groups had to come up with the actual words -- or others that would make sense while also working grammatically.

These were ours:

"Гость на пороге -- счастье в доме."

"Дом без хозяйки сирота."

"Дом вести не полой трести."

"Не красна изба углами, а красна пирогами."

"Когда семья вместе, то и душа на месте."

I just don't have time right now to figure out the exact translations... Anyone want to take a stab at it for me?!

Then we  had a parent/child contest in which the teacher asked each team two questions and both partners had to write down the answer, ideally getting the same one! I think the teachers did a great job on this one. You can watch Chris and Katya do this in the first video below. Their questions were: "How many siblings does your parent have?" and "What is your dad's favorite kind of car?" I didn't expect Katya to get that one, since Chris doesn't really even have one... But somehow they both wrote "Jeep" -- the car his parents have in Colorado.

Next the teachers had the parents act out a quick version of the fairy tale about a radish that was stuck so hard in the ground that it took an entire family (and their animals) to pull it out. That was so funny to watch! (You can see it in the first video below). 

The last activity was to see which team could create a linked chain out of ribbons the fastest. 

Then Katya and her friend Paulina surprised everyone with a solo from High School Musical; they had been practicing the song during the after-school club "English Songs." Katya loves that club, too; the teacher is so young-at-heart and she enjoys using pop culture and contemporary music to get the kids excited.

It was great to see the "Honorable Mention" corkboard in Katya's classroom; she was commended in three of the five areas for last week's work (when she was sick for a day, too)! She excelled in math problems written vertically, word problems, and copying literary texts without any mistakes.

There were gifts for the girls in honor of March 8th (International Women's Day -- HUGE here) and a big "tea" for everyone in the classroom. All the parents brought something. Two of us baked, to everyone's amazement. (Why don't people bake anymore??!) I made biscotti and everyone wanted the recipe. I'm going to make a big basket of them to thank Katya's teachers for all the work they put into creating that Play/Celebration.

In this next mini movie you can see clips from the whole celebration: two ESL songs that the whole class sang; Katya's scene as a fox in the play; a game that parents and kids played; an impromptu play put on by the parents; and a duet Katya sang with a friend at the end.

Disclaimer: Chris took the videos, and heads are often cut off... I was busy taking pictures.

In the next video you can watch the entire class play of "Kolobok."