Well, week one has come and gone. Most weeks probably won't be like this, which is both good and bad. The good part is that I've hardly been working at all because people have been giving me time to get settled and teachers don't know their regular schedules yet. The bad part is that I really haven't known what I'm doing. It's taken a week to try to figure out just what sorts of things I should be talking about and what my position is -- am I just a lecturer, am I a teacher, am I just supposed to lead discussions, or is there something else? Well, I don't QUITE have all of this figured out yet, but I think I'm something in between. I'm supposed to think of America-specific topics, share my knowledge, and then try to get the class to talk as much as possible...which means that I need to start brainstorming games and other such sneaky teacher tactics. The hard part is that with the exception of 2 groups I won't be seeing the same students regularly. This means that I have to overcome my innate desire to introduce myself every time I see a new class. I will also have to get over my love of logical progression as far as themes go.

Tolyatti/Togliatti (I like Tolyatti because that's the name in Russian, but on most maps it will be Togliatti) is a big town as far as numbers go, but little when it comes to the atmosphere. A huge contributing factor is that the town is actually physically split up into 3 sections (with woods in between...bizarre, but sort of nice). While it's bigger than Irkutsk, the transportation system doesn't seem as advanced...if one could call Irkutsk's transportation system advanced. I've seen a few buses, but these seem to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to getting around. Mostly people rely on either their own cars or marshrutki, which are generally yellow ~15 seater vans that zip around at breakneck speeds and more or less have regularly marked routes. In Irkutsk I generally avoided them because 1) it cost more, 2) you have to know exactly where you're going so that you can tell the driver to stop, 3) you had to yell out the name of the stop that you wanted...and there's a lot of pressure involved with that! Here they're pretty unavoidable unless you want to take a taxi everywhere (even though they're very cheap..about 50 rubles/$1.60 to go from one part of town to another). Tolyatti marshrutki have taken a small step toward atoning for any discomfort/confusing that they may cause though. Rather than yelling in an uncivilized manner each row of seats is equipped with a buzzer to let the driver know when to stop. You can now pass the entire trip in complete silence! Some of the seats face backwards though, so there is still plenty of awkward eye contact to keep you busy.

Today I didn't have any classes, so I took my first solo Tolyatti marshrutka trip. Luckily technology is catching up to Russia and you can now look on the internet and find out which marshrutki and bus numbers go to the area that you're trying to get to. Additionally the map has all of the stop names on it. This will only help you when it comes to making sure you get in the correct vehicle. The only place that you'll ever find the names of stops written is on maps and on the sides of buses and marshrutki. It's up to you to figure out where the stop is...which can be accomplished either by asking fellow passengers or, my preferred method, gut instinct. Luckily everything went smoothly, and I now know how to get to the mall. My mission for today was to find winter boots and a medium-weight coat. My predecessor left behind a full-length winter coat that fits bearably well. However, it's starting to get a bit chilly, and I wanted something to wear for those days when it's not -25. After about an hour and a half of looking in every store that had coats I finally found one that will suit my needs. As I learned in Irkutsk, for a coat to truly fit in in Russia there must be fur present somewhere on it. Well, this one has a massive fur ruff, which means that I can now fit in. I will probably feel too awkward to wear it anywhere besides Alaska in the US (PETA fanatics everywhere and whatnot), but I may have to since I'll be coming home for 2 weeks in the middle of winter and taking my Russian clothing with me.

I know you're curious to see, and since blogger still won't let me upload any pictures, go HERE.

What do you think, do I look Russian? If you ignore the pajamas? I am obviously way too cool to ever consider looking at the camera.

Unfortunately, I did not succeed in finding boots. After much agonizing I finally found a pair that I intended to buy, only to notice a tag saying that they were the last pair...and not my size. Shopping for size 8-8.5 shoes is like shopping for big foot in Russia. Seriously, it's ridiculous. There is NO way that all the 6'2" women have smaller feet than I do. I think that there must be a secret back room or something where they keep the real shoes. Russia is also one of the few places in the world where fully lined boots can have 6 inch spike heels.

It's really odd being in Russia basically by myself. I'm really used to having at least a small group of other foreigners with me to rely on and hang out with. I'm not completely abandoned because there are still plenty of people to help me get things done, but this first week has been fairly lonely. I think that once my clubs (chat hour and movie time..woo) start up my social life will as well. However, the other day during one of my midday bored naps I got woken up by a knock on my door. It was O. from down the hall (I'd thought that this was mostly just a dorm for visiting professors). It turns out that hiding under my nose are at least 10 students. Well, O is an incredibly chatty and curious girl, and she introduced me to everyone that she knew. Later that night she, S (a guy who lives down the hall) and I went for an evening walk around the town. This seems to be the cool (only?) thing to do. It was very nice, and involved a great deal of Russian. I haven't seen her around since...although to be honest I haven't really looked. I needed time to recover from all of our previous conversations! I will definitely see her again this week though, because coming Monday is a group of Italians that she is especially keen to meet...who, unfortunately, don't know any Russian and must rely on English to communicate here. Sadly, O's English skills are mostly confined to weather observations, so I suspect that I will be sought out as a translator. Should be fun. I've been told by the people at the international office that this will be a great chance for me to learn about Italian cooking. Later tonight, if things go as planned, I've been invited to walk around with one of the other teachers once she finishes work. She's super nice, so that should be good too. I have to say, after several multi-hour walks I know everywhere within walking distance pretty well....but I could always stand another walk. With all the walking that I've been doing I will probably be in great shape by the time that I come home. I will also be spectacular at giving presentations. Both useful skills.

Sunday I'm going to meet up at the mall with another American who's in town. I actually already know her since she was in St. Petersburg with me 4 years ago..I will probably get to know her a lot better though. She's also teaching English somewhere, but I don't know the details. Unfortunately, she's in another section of town and about and hour away by marshrutki...so she might as well be in another town entirely. I suspect that we'll get together from time to time though.

Hopefully in about a month's time I should be completely settled in. I'm currently just hanging out in the dorm because I have a month where I can stay here for free, so I might as well save some rent money. I'm really looking forward to having a permanent place though...more particularly a fully-equipped kitchen. There is a kitchen here, but it's rather sparse when it comes to pots/pans/other useful things. I did, however, find out an address that I can use for getting letters. If any one is interested, just ask. Serious inquiries only though, so if I give you my address you had better send me something. I've also been told that it's a Russian custom to dance before you get your letters, so perhaps I'll come home with some improved dancing skills also.


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