Read my previous post from the link below;
Post #2. My (first) apartment in Russia. And apartments in Russia (from my experience)
It was Friday. The morning after I arrived.
The previous night, having no shower, or no food or drink in my apartment, I unpacked my bags and tried to place things away. I put up some photo’s of family and friends and places on my wardrobe with some blu-tac (which became quite a novelty with my students), and made my sofa bed up. Then I sat down. And thought ‘what the hell have I done.’ Where was I, what was I doing, why was I here?
Unpacking helped to take my mind off these questions, and so eventually being so tired I crashed and slept.
I had to be at work at 11am. The first day in my new job. The previous night my director had asked the taxi driver to drive past the school so I had some sort of idea where to go. From what I understood, my apartment was basically 15 minutes straight up the road. Luckily I was correct. I had been given a ‘Welcome Pack’ the previous night also.
The welcome pack contained 2 pieces of paper in an A4 envelope. One piece of paper was a maps print out of how to get to school. Luckily it was pretty straightforward. The other piece of paper had my first day’s schedule on it. It showed the following;
‘Orientation with Administration – 11am-12pm’
‘Academic Orientation – 12-1pm’
That’s it. I was expecting a pretty cruisy day, and maybe a couple of drinks after work with my new colleagues. That’s what I hoped anyways.
So I arrived at work, which was located in probably the most modern office building in Volgograd. Most other offices in Volgograd seemed to be either in apartment buildings or grand and old Stalin era buildings (the post office building for example took up an entire city block). The school was on the third floor of a pretty drab looking although modern building, in the very centre of the city on Ulitsa Komsomolskaya. Of course, the first thing I was doing as I was walking toward school down the main street was trying to spot supermarkets, produktis (Russian minimarts), coffee shops and the like.
Shops in Russia are quite different to Australia as an example. Particularly food stores. Normally you uncover them behind quite uninviting facades, and cleanliness is definitley not the top priority. Neither is service. Normally you walk in, get told (or yelled at) by a surly security man to put your bag in a locker (or to put your bag in a sealable plastic bag) and walk through a pair of gates. Once through the gates, especially in smaller supermarkets, you could wander up and down the 3 or 4 aisles consistently finding foods and items in no particular order. Normally you have to do a bit of push and shove to get what you want, as a polite ‘excuse me’ does not go down so well in Russia. Force does the job. In the bigger supermarkets, you can walk up and down with a bit more free space, but it’s an awkward thing to leave the shop with nothing, given there are about 20 security guards watching everything you do and looking at you as if you have just robbed a bank.
Collect your items, and take it to the cashier or ‘Kassa’.
When you make it to the Kassa, a long queue normally is already waiting for you. Customer service is something which is yet to make a full entrance to Russia. Waiting, and curt service is the norm. Which is fine to be honest.
Looking back at it, and comparing it to how we do things in many Western countries, we sometimes go way over the top.
In Russia, a supermarket cashier greets you with the necessities. The standard phrase is “Пакет? Здравствуйте” , which literally translates as “Bag? Hello.”
It’s efficient and get’s to the point. You get your bag, and pay 2 rubles. There’s no waste.
If your in a bad mood, no one is going to be upset if you don’t use pleasantries. If your’e in a good mood, no one is going to be upset if you don’t use pleasantries. You pay and go.
Don’t mess around repacking your bags at the end of the cash desk. People won’t wait, and you’ll be ‘forced’ to leave.
Compared to Australia, where we are taught and almost forced to say thank you for even the most meaningless things to a point where the word itself can become meaningless, a motion we go through and say without even realising.
Imagine the look you would get if you forgot to smile and say thank you to the shop assistant who helped you?
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be polite, but just find it interesting as to how conditioned we are in a place like Australia to do this.
One more thing I liked more about Russian supermarkets. Instead of putting one item per plastic bag as people and cashiers seem to do in Australia, Russian’s actually pack bags like…bags. They stuff them full and make full use of them. Partly because they cost between 2-4rubles, which can add up if you went shopping everyday. But partly because they realise it’s not nessecary to put a bottle of milk in it’s own exclusive plastic bag so that it doesn’t potentially somehow cross contaminate with your other packaged goods.
And to put it in perspective..Cashier’s in Russia are ‘professionals’, literally. This is a full time job, and you couldn’t possibly expect a smile or much more than they do given they get paid the equivalent of about $380-400 a month.
Anyways, moving on…
So I arrived to work, up the stairs to the third level. The language school entrance was a really uninviting massive black door. Obviously this kept some of the wind out but didn’t look pretty!
I spent my 30 minutes with the administration, providing my passport for them to be able to ‘register’ me in Russia and also to begin the process to apply for my new visa. Strangely, to enter Russia to work, you enter on a single entry 3 month visa. The employer in my case then had to reapply for an extension, and also to make it a ‘multi-entry’ visa so I could leave and re-enter the country if I needed to. They also had to ‘register’ me with the FMS, or Federal Migration Service. I then had to carry my passport with me at all times, including my registration card. This was the law anyway. Still felt quite Soviet. Though I had realised the previous times in Russia that all hotels are required also to register you, so I did not feel it as strange, just Soviet.
I then had my meeting with the academic director. Who informed me I was teaching my first class at 4pm.
Let me give some background to my teaching experience at this point.
I did a 10 week course to learn how to teach using various methods and practical experience of doing this. I taught a total of about 3 hours under heavily supervised conditions and had between 5-8 days to prepare a 40 minute lesson.
Initially, when I applied for the job in Russia, they told me my knowledge of grammar was so bad that they wouldn’t hire me.
The next day they emailed back and said, “Actually, we have a position in Volgograd”.
Even though they took this risk I didn’t think they would take the risk of letting me teach a class of paying customers (or teenagers) on my first day.
With a ‘throw you in the deep end’ approach, I had 2 hours to prepare a lesson for 10 teenagers. Of course, there was some help, but limited. So between meeting my new colleagues, trying to understand what the hell past simple meant, and finding a really long video on YouTube to fill in any spare time in my lesson, I managed to scrape together 90 minutes worth of classroom activity. About 30 minutes of that was a video.
The class went fine, and to be honest I think that it was because only 2 of the 10 students actually understood anything I said. Although I wouldn’t say I have a strong Australian accent, it’s definitely different to an American one. And I speak quickly. I learnt pretty quickly to slow down.
To be honest, the first day at work was fine. The facilities were what I expected (one computer, 3 TV’s and DVD players and a couple of dodgy stereo’s), the classrooms were average, there was a copier (well at least for the first month) and a teachers room.
The teachers room was actually the biggest disappointment, our desks were smaller than the student’s desks in classrooms, and the room was really small. But it served it’s purpose and over the next 8 months that room became my second home (unfortanately).
The day went quickly, I guess in part because everyone was friendly enough, and I was super stressed about teaching a bunch of 14 year olds.
Feeling pretty exhausted after this, I was happy when my American colleague suggested drinks. It was Friday, and I didn’t work until Monday. And what else did I have to do except shop at the supermarket?
The night is another story, for next time. Because a lot happened. And I promise it won’t be an entry for each day I was in Volgograd. But the first one was pretty long. 🙂