Music Education in Ceadîr-Lunga

I’ve waited some time to write about this particular topic because I wanted to ensure that I was informed enough to speak properly about it. The truth is that I’ve not conducted quite as much research as I had set out to do. I had originally come to my sleepy little town with aspirations of creating close connections with the local music school and making some amazing, mind-blowing discoveries via qualitative work. However, it took longer than I’d like to admit to even get into the school due to difficulties in meeting with the director. I did eventually get the director to meet with me, and she was very warm and welcoming. However, the music school schedule clashed with the numerous clubs that I had created while waiting for admittance. I would like to juggle things around this semester and carve out more time to devote towards this important topic. In the meantime, I’ll lightly touch on my humble findings thus far.

There are two different ways students receive music education here in Ceadîr-Lunga: through grade school or through a separate music school that exists outside of grade school. This is the same system I had found in Moscow in 2013. I’m not sure what I was expecting here in Moldova, but I’m not surprised that it is the same – especially in Russian-dominated Gagauzia. What I did find interesting was the use of the Soviet books in the music school, which I’ll detail farther on in this post.

First, I’ll begin with what I saw in the lyceum that I work at. Students have music class one day a week, which is not uncommon in some schools in the U.S. (although two days a week is the standard). What I found interesting is that music class is only offered in the 1st through 8th grades. There is a small room in the lyceum that houses an out of tune piano that is in some disrepair (missing pedal, sticky keys), but still playable. This piano was, I’m told, purchased only a few years ago by a former Peace Corps volunteer. I inquired about getting the instrument tuned and fixed up, and was told that a tuning would be around $150 and a new piano would be $500. I declined the offer to fix after I learned that the library has a good piano near the American Corner. This is now where I teach private piano and voice lessons, as well as the chorus for young women (check out the chorus tab!).

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The piano at the library

Regardless of the piano’s presence at the lyceum, the music class is held in another room. The piano is left to gather dust and act as a holder for textbooks. In the alternative room, there are no instruments. The children sit at desks for the duration of the lesson, with the Moldovan government-issued music textbooks in front of them. Every once in a while, small groups of students are invited out of their seats to come to the front of the class for a solo or choreographed dancing. Other than these instances, there is no movement in the classroom.

Students are pushed forward according to the grade level books, regardless of level. This doesn’t appear to be much of an issue for them or the instructor, however, because the students learn songs mostly by rote. Students are taught some basic rhythm reading, but it does not compare to the considerably higher level of rhythm notation that is actually found in their textbooks. Take the rhythms from the following songs as an example:

 

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Any guesses what grade was “reading” this music? Fourth grade. Yeah…

If you’re a music educator, then you know that even high school students would have trouble reading these rhythms. When I first saw the students performing these songs, I was understandably impressed. I asked these same students to read simple rhythms in 6/8 with only dotted quarters, quarters, and eighth notes (no rests). They hadn’t seen the rhythms before and they didn’t belong to any familiar songs. They looked up at me and smiled, admitting that they didn’t know where to begin. Giving them the benefit of the doubt and thinking perhaps they were just nervous, I coached them through the first measure. They picked it up with remarkable speed, but were unable to proceed past the first measure.

So, the kids learn by parroting. Now…some music educators take no issue with this. They believe that it’s more important for children of young ages to gain experience by just “making music,” and that it’s preferable for students to learn how to read music only after a considerable amount of practice with singing only. Their argument is something akin to , “Well, you wouldn’t teach a baby to read before he can talk, right?” I’m definitely not in this camp, for the simple reason that I’ve had a lot of success in teaching even first graders how to read music. In my opinion, it all comes down to 1) proper delivery of instruction by the teacher, and 2) proper selection of music. While the teacher here tells the students, “This is a half note and it gets two beats,” they have no real concept of what that means because they haven’t witnessed it in practice. In addition to the reading issue, there is also the serious problem of the voice being the only instrument. One would think that if this is the sole instrument being used in the class that the students would be very adept. Sadly, many are pitchy shouters. No instruction appears to have been given to breathing, intonation, tone, or any other specifics.

In the music school, the situation is very different. The school is about a 2.5 mile walk from the lyceum. It’s housed in an old newspaper factory, as evidenced by the old sign that still remains fixed to the front of the school. It’s an old, dark building in need of repair, but is of a good size. The first floor has some offices and an art school, and the second and third floors house the music school and the music school director’s office (which is quite nice). There are no elevators, so hauling the pianos up three flights must have been a great joy to those lucky enough to have had the job of moving them.

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The school offers instruction only in piano, violin, accordion, trumpet, and xylophone. This is because they lack the instructors necessary to teach more instruments. In addition, there are two choruses for older and younger kids (but no voice teacher) and a sight-reading class taught by the director herself. It’s interesting to know that the director’s husband also works at the school as a piano tuner and teacher. He also boasts about knowing “every piano in Ceadîr-Lunga,” because he is the only piano tuner in the area. Students attend the school Monday-Friday, and sometimes on Saturdays. Instruction is given from 3-5pm, but students often arrive long after three and leave by 4:45pm to catch the last bus that leaves for the villages outside of town. 

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On the days that I was at the school, only about 5-6 students out of the 11 enrolled in the sight singing class actually showed up on a regular basis. It seems that grade school and “life” often get in the way of attendance. The class, called сольфеджио (simply, “Solfege”) teaches both melodic and rhythmic reading as well as theory. I haven’t witnessed any dictation, though I was very happy to see that students had creative assignments. They would be given chord progressions, and had to compose their own melody to accompany them.

The book used by the Solfege class is the exact same one that students used in the Soviet 1950’s. I was told that instruction also remains the same. This isn’t, I think, a bad thing. It’s very interesting to see and if it isn’t broke, then don’t fix it, right?

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3rd “grade” book

Unlike in the grade school, students move through the books by ability. The third “grade” class has one student from the 4th grade, two from the fifth grade, one from the 6th, and two from the 7th. They pass to a new grade level both by written and creative performance. A full copy of the 3rd grade book can be found here:

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Recitation of rhythms was accompanied by quite a forceful downbeat of every downbeat onto the desks. The following words were used for counting:

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раз, два, три, четыре (1, 2, 3, 4)

raz, dva, tree, chitiri

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раз-и, два-и, три-и, четы-ре

raz-ee, dva-ee, tree-ee, chiti-ri

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           раз-да-и-та, два-да-и-та, три-да-и-та, че-тыр-и-та

           raz-da-ee-ta, dva-da-ee-ta, tree-da-ee-ta, chi-tir-ee-ta

For quarters and eighths, the numbers and “and’s” translate directly. For the sixteenth’s, random sounds are added to the numbers much in the same way that English adds the vowel sounds of “e” and “a.”

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For solfege singing, a steady beat is kept with the forearm, which moves up and down. The elbow is placed on the desk and acts as a hinge, and the hand slowly and gently rises from the desktop and falls back down. The tempo never exceeds 50-60 bpm. This dirge-like speed is maintained while students focus on melodic accuracy. No emphasis is put on students’ tonal quality or other important aspects of singing – only pitch and rhythmic accuracy.

I was confused why the students were using “si” instead of “ti” for the 7th, and why the “l” in “sol” was being pronounced. After a little looking online I learned that in most romance and slavic languages the solfege is pronounced in this way. Also, it’s used to name notes the same way that the letters C, D, E, F, G, A, and B are used to name notes in English. So, if you ask a mezzo what her lowest note is, she will say “fa” and not “low F,” no matter the key. The key is unimportant because I also discovered that to native speakers, solfege is simply singing the names of the notes. They omit sharps and flats when reading. It’s called “fixed do,” which makes our English “movable do” that much more comprehensible. 🙂

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The older kids’ chorus (which I saw much more than the younger one) was a sight to see. They sang in three part harmony, and their attention to rhythmic and melodic perfection was irreproachable. The only thing that I noticed was, once again, a lack of breath support and a beautiful tone. I really think this is due to the fact that no teacher can be found who has a voice background. It’s a shame, because they really could be so incredible.

The chorus also suffers from an unbalance. There are many more middle voices than low or high ones. The lack of low voices is, of course, because some voices haven’t changed yet. But why so few sopranos? It turns out that they just don’t have the range! This is very strange. I have two theories: 1) they may have range, but are unable to access their head voice due to lack of a a proper vocal instructor, or 2) there is a biological difference in throat thickness between people from slavic nations and western nations, which is coupled with other factors like language and environment to produce a sincere difference in voice. The only Russian soprano that comes to mind who possesses a lighter quality to her voice is Rita Streich (whose father is German, so…). The most famous Russian soprano, Anna Netrebko, has a soprano range but a dark, dramatic color to her voice. This particular “chocolate” coloring is what I’ve found in 98% of my voice and chorus students. In the U.S., I’m used to having to convince true sopranos who have a low range to sing alto because there are so few low voices. Here, it’s the opposite!The differences in voice is very intriguing.

Consider the difference between white and black voices, for instance. Regardless of national origin, a person can distinguish both the singing and speaking voices of these races without needing to see them. For me, it’s the same with slavic vs. western voices. This topic is very interesting to me, and I’d love a straight answer but, sadly, I don’t think there is one to be had. It’s likely a mix of several different factors, including language, environment, and biodiversity. We must simply continue to wonder…

Fall “Break” in Chișinău

Moving to a new country on behalf of the U.S. government comes with a lot of perks, but abundant free time of is rarely one of them. While I did have a week off from the lyceum during its Fall break, my workload didn’t really simmer down all too much. If anything, it grew fuller on account of all of the speaking invitations I received. School vacations are my sole opportunity for proper travel, and while I could use that time to do touristy things, I know that I would feel guilty indulging instead of taking advantage of the extra time to respond to requests for my aid or presence. Yes, it’s true and really, really odd that so many people want nothing more than just American companionship. Usually it’s so that they can practice their English with a native or gain an insider’s view on various topics. It’s an interesting situation that I’ve never been in before.

So, during Fall break Oz and I packed our smallest suitcase and boarded a bus at 5:45am headed for Chișinău for a schedule nearly filled to the brim with meetings and presentations. It was a long ride with extremely cramped space (I’m talking knees in my back and armpits in my face kinda cramped) and potholes galore. While the same ride to Ceadîr-Lunga in the embassy’s SUV was about an hour and half, the bus trip was an agonizing three+ hours because of the fact that, well, it’s a bus, and also because we stopped not only in Comrat and other villages, but also for every hitchhiker along the way as well. Our sore tailbones and aching heads were profoundly relieved when we were greeted with the cool air and open space at the bus station in Chișinău. To get to the city center, we took a taxi. We could have taken a Marshrutka (smaller buses that operate like shared taxis), but we wimped out.

We arrived at our apartment that we found online, and were not disappointed! It was a chic black-and-white place that was close to the center and was reasonably priced at 500 lei (about $34) a night. It came complete with modern amenities, including ac/heat, microwave, washer, western toilet, and wifi. Best of all – no sulfur water! The south of Moldova suffers from such stinky water, and while I’ve become accustomed to it now, its absence was definitely noted and enjoyed. The owners Alla and Dima couldn’t have been nicer.

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Upon arrival, Oz and I relaxed in this posh little palace for a bit, and then indulged in a couple of lattes at Tucano, our favorite coffee house in the capital. It’s conveniently located near Cathedral Park, and offers a very chill, relaxed vibe.

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From the coffee house, we walked to the English Teaching Resource Center (ETRC). The ETRC is located in the Pedagogical University named after Ion Creanga, and was created by the  university and the U.S. and British Embassies to Moldova. For more info, check out their website at http://etrc.md/?page_id=14.

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Here’s Mr. Creanga himself. Fella looks pretty stern to me…like he’d hit you with his book if you proved yourself to be a dunce in class.

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These funny trees in front of the building lighten the mood 😀

Anyways, every Friday, the ETRC hosts a discussion club called “FACE.” The Friday that we were there the guest speaker was Kim Evarista, who is a fellow Fulbright alternate like myself. Kim had just recently arrived in the country, and was at the university to chat with students about horror films since this was right before Halloween. We joined in the fun and I got to meet both Kim and the ETRC’s director Irina. Both were very easy to get on with, and Oz and I had a great time walking with Kim before she had to catch a bus.

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The next couple of days were spent taking in Chișinău’s downtown area. Saturday evening we hunted down Tblisi, a well-known Georgian food restaurant. I had experienced Georgian food in Moscow when I was in Russia in 2013, and I really wanted to introduce it to Oz. Like every other encounter with Georgian food in my life, the restaurant didn’t disappoint!

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We arrived at the restaurant at around 4pm and the place was a ghost town. We had the whole restaurant to ourselves except for a single lady towards the back. The establishment was gorgeous, but it did feel a little odd to be the only ones being served, as the wait staff stood around like statues just watching us eat. Despite the somewhat awkward ambiance, the whole experience was wonderful.

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Behold! The best of Georgian food – Khachapuri. It looks like pizza, but is really a buttery, creamy cheese bread.

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Chicken kababs

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Pork and potatoes with sauce

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Another favorite of mine. It’s called Khinkali. These are dumplings filled with broth and meat. You hold a dumpling up by the pinched end and then take a bite out of the sack, taking care to suck the juice quickly and fiercely before it spills all over your face. Yes, I’m aware of the innuendo here. Mind out of the gutter, people!

The next day we took a long walk to Malldova, the cleverly punned mall of the capital. We went in search of a long winter jacket for myself, but they sadly didn’t carry items in both my size or price range. I did purchase a beautiful crimson sweater though. It was $30 – substantially more than any top I’d ever paid for in my life. In my defense, the temps were dropping and I was pitifully unprepared for winter. I’ve since worn the thing probably three out of five days of the week now that winter has come in full force, so I call that a win.

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The mall had four stories, but was still probably about the size of an average American shopping center because it wasn’t so long from end to end and two floors were filled with a food court, about six restaurants, a movie theater, a bowling alley, and an arcade. We were happy to find a sushi place and shared a sampler plate that was okay.

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The mall was decorated up for Halloween, which isn’t typically celebrated in Moldova but which makes an appearance in the capital because it’s trendy and an excuse for fashion indulgences.

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We people watched a bit, which is always fun, and we also saw what appeared to be a tango free dance party. Some dancers were quite good and some were awfully bad, both to our amusement.

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We headed home and passed through the always beautiful Cathedral Park to see the fall colors.

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Flower beds were designed to look like baskets of flowers. So cute!

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A life-size chess table in the center of the park!

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We were lucky and also got to hear the bells toll

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The cathedral itself, across from the bell tower

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A gorgeous fresco inside the cathedral. The colors were enchanting!

On Monday we headed over to the main building of ULIM, aka Universitatea Libera Internationala din Moldova (Free International University of Moldova). There, all of the current U.S. Fulbrighters, a couple of Moldovan Fulbright almunas, and the ELF (English Language Fellow) met for an interesting colloquium where we discussed the idea of “boundaries.” The event was hosted by the always engaging Fulbright scholar Dr. Vadim Moldovan (yes, that’s really his last name!). It was an enlightening affair, where each person was allowed to put their own spin to the definition and inject anecdotes about life in Moldova thus far.

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University front, very welcoming!

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Wow, check out that title! Vadim always manages to take words to unprecedented levels of fancy 🙂

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There he is giving opening remarks. The ladies in the background are Public Affairs Officer Kate Bartlett and the two directors of ULIM

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Kate and I enjoying the stories!

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Giving my little speech 🙂

The following morning ULIM hosted a get-together with all of their international students. We were invited to the event and met a Spanish student and her friend. Oz and I had a nice time chatting with them, especially because the conversation was in Spanish! It was especially nice for Oz since he’s been feeling a bit like an outcast here in Moldova where he doesn’t know either Romanian or Russian. It was a nice event where students had tables and flags set up everywhere and were showing off small pieces of their culture, from trinkets to tidbits of food.

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We were only able to stay for a short time though, as we had to get back to the ETRC again for a presentation I was giving there for their Fall teacher training. I spoke for an hour about Regional Accents, Idioms, and Phrases of the U.S. and the U.K. Admittedly, I stuck to the American bits the most because of time constraints and proper knowledge. It was still fun for both myself and, judging by the comment sheets, the participants as well. Good thing too – because I was super nervous about talking to Moldova’s finest teachers! They were a very welcoming bunch though, so I felt relaxed as I worked with them. I will collaborate with the ETRC again in February 2015 in an online MOOC (massive open online course), where I will act as instructor for two weeks as I introduce online teaching tools to teachers living outside the capital.

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The ETRC room all set up for the presentation!

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What am I doing with my hands? Heh! 😛

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Here’s a short video of the whole week-long teacher training. PAO Kate Bartlett gives an introduction, and the RELO (Regional Language Officer) Kevin McCaughey is also featured near the beginning. I show up around 1:36.

After a long week in Chișinău Oz and I got on the bus for another three hours of torture and headed back to Ceadîr-Lunga. There, we went straight to the library and met with Kate Bartlett and the RELO Kevin McCaughey for his presentation on the “Moveable Class.” Kevin is based in Kyiv, Ukraine, but offers assistance and support to English educators in Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, and Moldova. His office supplies learning materials, teacher training, and professional development for all of these countries. Kevin and his team also take part in developing curriculums, textbooks, and state tests when they are welcomed in doing so. Teachers from Ceadîr-Lunga and Besh-Gios came for Kevin’s presentation. Afterwards, Oz and I were invited to attend lunch with Kevin, his wife, Kate, and the always amazing Valentina (who works at the post in Chișinău).

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Heh, I’m hiding in the back!

More info about Kevin and some amazing resources can be found at http://www.etseverywhere.com/bio

So, that was Fall “break.” The rest of Fall term was equally busy at school and the American Corner building up clubs, so expect a slew of posts coming in the next few days over the last bit of this Winter “break.” 🙂

Extracurricular Activities/Clubs for Students of Ceadîr-Lunga! Vote here!

Since Oz and I have been in Ceadîr-Lunga, we have already started couple of clubs, but would like to add even more. Here are our announcements for the debut of the first two clubs, which are held at the American Corner in town. For those who don’t know, American Corners are partnerships between an embassy’s public affairs section and a host institution (in Ceadîr-Lunga this is the town library). The purpose of the corners are to provide access to modern technology like computers, internet, printers, etc., and to serve as a place where the community can get reliable, current info about the U.S. They’re also just a great place to hang out and borrow books and dvd’s in English 🙂

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The first club, held every Wednesday from 3-4pm, is “Extra Help.” This club arose out of the community’s need for extra help in English in various forms. Students who need help with homework, grammar, and conversation practice are the norm, but other people from the community who need a native to look over business proposals, resumes, or translations can come here and receive free aid. I run this club with Oz and the Ceadîr-Lungan American Corner’s director – Ludmila.

The second club, which is gaining popularity exponentially, is called “Learning Through Leisure.” This club begins at 4pm and usually ends at 5pm, but can go longer if we are watching a film or having a particularly good time. The students in Ceadîr-Lunga are quite bright, and suffer/enjoy a very demanding workload. For instance, besides English students also study Russian, Romanian, and either Bulgarian or Gagauzian as they choose. Due to such a heavy, stressful schedule, I wanted to create a place where students could practice conversational English in a relaxed environment separate from school. At “Learning Through Leisure”/LTL, we share food while playing games, debating controversial, interesting topics, commenting on music lyrics, and analyzing and discussing films. 

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They’ve definitely got the hang of Apples to Apples 😀

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With the success of these two clubs, we’re eager to make even more extracurricular activities available to students and the community. One of the ideas for a club was actually brought on by comments made from students. A lot of people think that Oz is Bulgarian, and are surprised to learn that 1) he is American, and that 2) he is of Latino heritage, and was born in Nicaragua. Once students learned that he was obviously fluent in Spanish and that I can speak as well, they were asking if we could teach Spanish!

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Haha, I don’t see Bulgarian. Oz is bit dubious about it well 😛

Encouraged by students, teachers, and even community members, we are moving ahead with a Spanish Language and Culture Club. We will work together as co-teachers to instruct not only the language, but also introduce cultural aspects like food (ingredients permitting here!) and dance as well. We’ll be covering all Latin American countries, as well as Spain, which seems to be a very popular country here in Moldova, both for practical and personal reasons. A lot of Moldovans travel to Spain for vacation, but even more are interested in working or studying there. I think this may be due in part because of the fact that there are a few Spanish businesses in Chișinău.

There is debate over where and when to host the club, however. To handle this as fairly as possible, students and community members of Ceadîr-Lunga only, please vote below!

My background is in both English and music education, and I would like to use this to the advantage of my students. I have already spoken with the director of the lyceum, and she has agreed to let me hire someone to tune the school’s piano and give FREE voice and piano lessons to students who cannot afford to attend the music school here in town. Students, please look for the sign up sheet next to the class schedule this week. See me for permission slips! A parent/guardian must sign the permission slip before the director will allow me to teach you after school! Once all permission slips are collected and the piano is tuned, the schedule will be finalized and lessons will begin. 🙂

In addition to these lessons, I have a dream that I hope to make a reality. My principal instrument is voice, and back home in Florida I led and participated in choruses. While choral music doesn’t seem particularly exciting to those of a younger generation, I would like to show my female students just how much fun, exciting, and enlightening chorus participation can be – especially my style, haha :). My dream is take a group of young women from Ceadîr-Lunga and teach them a variety of song styles (yes, not just “boring” choral music!) while simultaneously discussing women’s issues in-between rehearsing. The songs would promote women in general, and gender equality in particular. We would perform first at Guboglo Lyceum in January, then have a performance for the Ceadîr-Lunga and Comrat community in February, and finally…a grand performance in Chișinău on International Women’s Day (Sunday, March 8th). Performances for Comrat/Ceadîr-Lunga and Chisinau would only take place if the group is strong enough for a successful performance. If we work and play hard together though, I think we can pull it off! Perhaps, if we are good enough, we may get an invitation to perform in a very important place in the capital. I will try to negotiate having expenses for the travel to Chisinau be paid for by the U.S. embassy or a non-profit organization, or we may even charge for our performance in Comrat. In between songs, I would like girls to give short speeches or recite poetry that is uplifting and praising in nature. This is a chance for acting, so to speak. I also need artists to help with making signs to entice audiences, and translators to make sure our message is getting across to the people.

I have spoken to our director at Guboglo Lyceum, and she likes the idea but is hesitant to give a green light for us because she is unsure how we could pull off such a thing. Nothing like this has ever been done before, and she and I don’t know if there would be enough interest for a group.

We would need to meet and rehearse at least one, maybe two times a week. While we will be having fun in rehearsal, the purpose of the Women’s Club and Chorus is serious. The goal is to inspire and create changes for women in Ceadîr-Lunga and Moldova. Please, vote below to show interest!

Any other ideas for clubs, please list them in the comments section! Thank you, dear students – you are most loved! 🙂

Birthday Surprises

“There are two great days in a person’s life: the day we are born and the day we discover why.”
– William Barclay

When the years are counted, they only add up to twenty-seven. Some may say this is hardly enough time to determine the meaning of life, and while I agree, I do think I have some inklings about the nature of this big secret and its plan for me. I know that I feel the most alive when I see positive change that I have affected. That’s what I feel I am doing here in Moldova, even though some days it seems like I’m not making any change at all. I am starting to see the advancements my students are making. I look on the wholesome influence my clubs are just starting to have as they build up in curious participants and number. I witness the change in demeanor when people find out I am from America, and then I see it again when I prove the negative stereotypes they hold about my country wrong.

This post is coming over a month past my birthday, which just goes to show how busy settling into a new country and job can be! My birthday came on a Saturday this year, which hasn’t happened in a few years now. It was a mostly quiet day. Oz and I went to the market and purchased a few items, and then came home. Oz had bought me a beautiful little cake from Linella, which is a more upscale, modern grocery store in town that we try to avoid whenever possible because of the heftier price tags they carry in comparison to the market. We didn’t have candles and debated using q-tips instead, but decided to just go without in the end.

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Before eating the cake, we were stopped by our neighbor Steven, who invited us over to have some of his wine and grape juice. Harvest season was in full swing here in Moldova, and he was very proud of this year’s batch. Oz and I put down our things and came over with an empty water bottle, as instructed 🙂

We ended up staying over at the house for at least a couple of hours, chatting with Steven, his friends, and eventually his daughter Zina who had come home. Zina is a student of mine, from the eleventh grade. While Steven showed Oz how the wine-making process worked, Zina gave me a tour of their lovely property.

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Most of the grapes had already been picked and sent into a machine which did the “stomping” for them. A large container held the remains of skins, which perfumed the area with a pleasantly sweet, earthy smell.

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One of their dogs (not the one pictured above), had had a couple of puppies. We got to hold them for a bit, but were asked to put them back by Steven, who insisted that we would ruin the male puppy’s temperament by caressing and holding him too much. The “American” act of treating pets as family is looked upon very strangely here. When people find out that we’ve brought our cats with us from America, we get some very interesting (and sometimes downright perplexed) looks.

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As is tradition, we were shown the house and cellar. Both were very nice, but the cellar was especially remarkable. Zina had been canning in preparation for winter since June (as her sister and mother are out of country), and she had quite an impressive reserve to show for it! It definitely put our little stockpile to shame, for sure 🙂 In the back of the cellar were large barrels that held the wine Steven had made.

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Things did become a little awkward when politics were brought up, which is a common occurrence here. Everyone wants to know why we are here, why we are interested in this country, and they seem to be a little disappointed when they found out it’s for education, travel, mutual understanding, and hopefully positive change. I am asked by strangers and students alike about my political views.

I tell them that I don’t follow the news, and they look at me like I’m insane. There are just so many awful things that happen in the world, and in the U.S. we are protected from many of those things, and sometimes – honestly – it’s better to be aware of them without video attachments. It’s just so depressing to actually see the horrors and know that very often, there isn’t much we can do about it. Not to mention, every news outlet has its own agenda that shapes the news. It’s untrustworthy, and I’ve always been fearful of committing the greater sin of believing in lies. I think that, often, us news-watchers may be privy to a news station’s opinion about a matter, but we don’t have the full story (and can’t get it unless we are living near it). There’s too much “telephone game” action going on.

I’ve realized while being here that maybe this does make me ignorant, but I think that if given the chance, a lot of people would love to be as unawares as I am. Also, while I have voted at home, I don’t think it carries as much influence as a vote here would. Steven asked if I voted for Obama, and I told him truthfully that I did. He then ranted for a bit about how the Obama administration is harming his country by coercing them to become part of the E.U. According to Steven, this would mean he wouldn’t be able to sell his wine and crops, and he would have to pay for land that he owns. What I gathered from that is a fear of taxes, which may not be present at this time. I assured him of my understanding that if Moldova did become part of the E.U., no one would take his land from him and he could still sell whatever he wanted, and if he got taxed, then that would only mean good things – like more opportunities for Zina and him, better jobs so his wife could work here, and heck – roads without crater-sized potholes!

My words fell on deaf ears as Zina shook her head and said, “Yes, I’ve been telling him.” Her father sniffed and implored that, “Russia is LIFE!” And you know what? I get it. I totally do, and I’m not offended in the slightest when my neighbor or anyone else bashes my country. Why? Because that’s what my country stands for – the right to dislike and disagree with those in power. Maybe it’s a good thing that Oz and I aren’t heavily into politics, otherwise we might be going crazy right about now. I understand the history that Moldova, especially this corner of it, has with Russia. It’s not surprising to me that I was accosted while buying a coat the other day. Yes, that happened – “Do you like your president? He’s an idiot! Putin – now THAT’S a man!”

A good chunk of Moldova’s population goes to Russia for work, so of course many see it as a giving hand that provides. Books are donated to the lyceum with stamps that proclaim Russia’s love for them. The older generation lived in an era where they once were part of Russia! What has America or the E.U. done for them? As these feelings become more apparent to me, I am realizing more and more why I was sent here, to Gagauzia, to Ceadir-Lunga. It’s not to convince anyone that America/E.U. is better, it’s to convince people that while we’re not the best, we’re also not bad. And you know what? Russia’s not bad either. Yes, there are matters that our countries disagree on and that we are working out, but that doesn’t mean that we hate them. It’s like two friends who fight sometimes, but when all’s said they both still want friendship, they still want peace. Should the two friends’ squabble affect the whole playground? Only when other kids can get hurt. Until then, sometimes it may be better to just observe the disagreement and continue to be pals with those around you.

 

Around Town

I often find myself taking photos of random things whilst walking around Ceadîr-Lunga, admiring the beauty and the simplicity of life here. It’s a quirky little town where the past seems to live in tandem with the present, where there is a simultaneous desire for both change and tradition. Old houses sit next to modern ones. Babushki (grandmothers) with carefully wrapped heads stroll past manicured youths. It’s a bit surreal, and incredibly beautiful, and I’d like to share with you a few of those moments I captured around my new town.

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This cow is one of many that we pass on the way to the market. While Oz and I can take the “paved” roads, we prefer to take a woodsy stroll around some fields at the edge of town. The cattle farmers frequently move their cows along the path for grazing purposes, using chains a few feet long to keep the livestock in place. The chains are wrapped around the horns and then bolted to the ground.

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This is a small park a little ways from the market, donated by the Turkish government. When we first moved here in the beginning of September, the park was pretty active. Now that it’s colder and the sun starts to set at 4:30pm (no joke!), it’s been getting as bare as the trees.

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Close to the Turkish park stands a Soviet relic of power and might.

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This is a truly amazing sculpture, in my opinion. The mother and son sit neglected in a group of  untended trees in a small park near the market (not to be confused with the Turkish park).

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A horse and buggy is not an uncommon sight on Lenin Street (main street). The horses trot on right in front of tailgating cars with irritated, “modern” drivers.

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Look! Fall colors! It’s the first time I’ve ever seen them, being born and raised in Florida. Although I’ve visited family in New England many times, it’s never been in Autumn. I wish I could make use of the stage, but my chorus will *hopefully* be performing in January.

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To someone who’s accustomed to foliage, this probably isn’t that marvelous. To Oz and I though, it was like we suddenly woke up one morning and were greeted with these stunning leaves that had somehow decided to change on a whim.

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This one’s here especially for my Auntie Connie, who shares an obsessive love of table tennis with me 🙂

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As the leaves fall, the community disposes of them by raking or sweeping them into piles and then lighting them up. They call them “grass fires.”

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A scene from the much-mentioned town market, where you can buy organic, delicious homemade sauces, produce, and spices.

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t post any student work. Here are a few hand-drawn pictures from the 5th grade’s study of the seasons.

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I decided to make borscht one day…

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And it didn’t turn out half bad!!! 😀

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A kind woman herds her turkeys home before night falls.

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This is the pink church seen from our house. It’s a short fifteen minute walk up some hills from our place.

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The sleepy town as seen from above

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Whoa! Something else we’ve never seen in person 😛

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Lover’s Lane-esque

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Is this in a restaurant? Nope, this is a student meal at the lyceum (high school). American schools need to take a cue from this wholesome goodness!

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Cards given on Teacher’s Day ❤

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A decorative, traditional well in the old center of town. Wells dot the entire area, and we collect our drinking water from one near our house. Once a week, we fill up our jugs and carry the water home…with a few stops along the way, haha. 🙂

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The most familiar sight – Freckles sunbathing. We have a window just large enough for a couple of small pillows. Her and Prince Charming love to climb up there and bask in sun while watching the goings-on outside. I wish she could talk – then she could tell me the whereabouts of the chicken eggs!

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Acclimate, Adapt, and Assimilate

Things here in Ceadîr-Lunga are gradually getting easier by the day. I feel like our little family has adjusted to pastoral life here in this quiet, country town pretty nicely. The house has been set up properly, my official school schedule has been determined and hasn’t changed for nearly a month now, and two clubs have been organized at the American Corner in town. Even still, there are a sizable number of sundry items left to navigate, such as my integration into the music school, the development of the ladies’ club and chorus, starting up Oz and I’s joint-led Spanish language and culture club, and smaller, more mundane tasks like buying winter wear. I attempted to buy a winter jacket at the market this past weekend, but they were all well over $100! Silviya recommended that I do my clothes shopping in Comrat (the next town over, about a half hour away), where such things can be purchased for half the price. Apparently, Ceadîr-Lunga has the most expensive market in all of Gagauzia!

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Freckles has her fur coat covered 😉

These first few weeks have been devoted to cleaning and organizing our new home, maneuvering around town, and observing and beginning to teach lessons at the lyceum. My official schedule has been finalized to include co-teaching lessons in the second through the eleventh grades Monday to Thursday. I have Fridays “off,” but will soon be spending them at the local music school. For any Americans reading this, you may very well be scratching your head. To clarify, it’s a common practice for students in Eastern European countries (not sure about anywhere else) to gain musical knowledge outside of regular school hours. In other words, musical education is not integrated into the school day as it is in America, Canada, and the U.K. Students first attend their “normal” school, and then go to music school in the evenings. So, my Friday afternoons and evenings will soon be devoted to the Ceadir-Lunga Music School. I expect to be fully integrated into the school in the next couple of weeks, as soon as I meet with all of the teachers and it is determined where I can be of the greatest help. I am beyond excited about this!

For now though, I have my hands more than full at the lyceum. The students and faculty there are nothing short of amazing. Like any school, there are a few bad apples here or there among the student population. However,  those unsatisfactory fruits are, I have learned, usually due to a weak family tree. To say that there is instability present is a gross understatement. For all too many students, there is the issue of money. Of greater upset is the knowledge that many students’ homes are altogether broken because of the financial instability. Many mothers and sisters, as well as fathers and brothers (though to a lesser extent it seems), have been forced to leave their families in order to work in other countries in order to supplement an income insufficient in sustaining a comfortable – or in some cases, even humanly normal – life.

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The main entrance

Even so, most students come to class bright-eyed and eager to learn. Throughout all grades, I have seen remarkable imagination, diligence, and speed of intellect. Also, very good manners! Every day, I am greeted in the hallway with respectful and sincere calls of “Hello!,” or “Good morning, Miss Tamara!” The little ones are especially cute, mousing in and out of the crowds created by the older students. These children are very adorable in their adorations of me. They are still young and impressionable, and the idea of an American in school seems novel and interesting in the extreme. Meanwhile, the older pupils are beginning to warm to me. Most have been “testing the waters” and waiting to form an official opinion of me for the last couple of weeks. I guess teenagers are the same no matter where you go!

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Inside one of my classrooms

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Chalk art created by kids in my neighborhood. Chicken king and queen? Haha 😛

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Possibly inspired by this cute chick? She is often seen wandering around our front yard, as pictured here. I have yet to find where she hides her eggs…

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And here is one of the fine ladies of court, preparing to flee should I take a single step further

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Silviya and I with the sixth grade

 The curriculum is very straightforward and quite strict. All schools in Gagauzia have to answer to the officials in the capital, which is the aforementioned town of Comrat. There are two annual exams, one in Winter and one in Spring. If students fall below average, it is reflected most poorly on the teachers. Therefore, my co-teachers are subject to the official textbooks given by the Ministry of Education in Moldova. Of course, teachers may deviate from these texts, but many feel it is at their own peril to do so. The result is little movement or interactive, student-centered activities in the classroom. Even video and projector use is kept to a minimum. I am currently working to remedy this and aid my co-teachers in feeling comfortable by slowly integrating games and videos into the classroom that include vocabulary and grammar topics outlined in the textbooks. Still, it’s not an easy thing to change overnight. My efforts are further complicated by the fact that good, old-fashioned book studying is not bad in itself, only by itself.

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Lesson plan formatting is identical to what I was used to when I taught in the Florida Public School System. Grading is essentially the same, only numbers are used instead of percentages and letters are omitted.  For example, students are graded on a scale of one to ten. However, a five is not in the middle, not average. This would be like receiving a 50% on an assignment. Essentially, anything less than a seven is very undesirable. I’m happy to report that although students attempt to whine and bribe their teachers into giving them a better grade, the educators at Guboglo not only do not give in to such tactics – they see them as teachable moments.

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1) How hilarious is the last sentence?    2) *Sigh* The perpetuation of the myth that temperature is responsible for the catching of the common cold

Even still, with dedicated teachers, cameras in testing areas, and extra resources that other village schools don’t have…students still try to fall on cheating as the main vehicle through which they envision themselves in “getting ahead.” It is human nature to sin, to lie and cheat. Take babies, for instance. We lie before we learn to speak, carrying on with our fake crying (and even mock laughing!) in an attempt to get our wee hands on whatever it is we want. I’ve found that base human nature tends to surface in economically disadvantaged areas the most, where life is significantly harder. I was nurtured and taught the value of hard and honest work as a child, and disciplined accordingly when I tried to take the easy way out. However, many children live in areas where their parents either aren’t present or (sometimes more painfully), are in their children’s lives, but lead by poor example. Perhaps they worked hard, but it never got them anywhere because the system/other circumstances kept them down, and so…they learned to cheat. It’s a sobering reality that I witness when my students try to cheat on assignments. Already, I have caught a handful of students plagiarizing essays from the internet. Older teachers haven’t caught these kids yet, so they were very surprised when I handed their “work” back with the website address found. “How?!” they exclaimed, giggling. “How did you find it???” “Google works both ways,” I responded, and then had a heart-to-heart with the offenders. It seems the words stuck, because I haven’t had any more cheaters – yet.  🙂

Adjusting to our new home has been just as enlightening as the school. We live in a little blue, grey, and white house about a twenty minute walk from the campus. It’s set back near the edge of town, and has a lovely view of some hills dotted with homes and a church/nunnery.

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There is a front hall with nice handmade rugs, a modernized bathroom (ah, squat toilet, thou art a tricky dame…), a small sitting room and bedroom, and a kitchen with a breakfast nook and washing machine. There’s a stove/oven, but the oven is unusable due to the insane, extreme amount of grease inside. Actually, when we moved in the whole kitchen looked a bit like a food truck that had never seen a cleaning before. Fortunately, all of the walls are tile and the floor and ceiling is laminate, so it was fairly easy to clean and sanitize. It took a good week to spruce up the whole house, including washing each individual rug. The result is a very cozy abode that suits us perfectly.

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When we moved in in September, we had green vines heavy with sweet, red grapes. The landlord has since come and taken all of the grapes to make wine, and the leaves have now almost all fallen away. Here are a few pictures from back in Sept when all was warm and pleasant, including one of our clothesline! I do love clean clothes from the line. 🙂

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I am happy to say that we have extremely nice neighbors! An old lady who lives by herself and two dogs is to our right. This woman is eighty-seven, and she is still very  active, tending to numerous plants and crops in her yard.

Across the street from us lives one of my students from the eleventh grade, Zina. Zina has many chores in addition to school, because she lives alone with her father while her mother and sister work in Switzerland. She is a very bright girl who possesses all of the skills and heart necessary to have a bright future. A kind soul with a kindred spirit, she helped Oz and I during our first week in town, showing us where the local bazaar/market is and how to navigate it.

To our right lives a middle-aged couple. The woman’s mother, Elena, also lives there. They invited Oz and I to tea when one evening as we were walking home, and shared their wine, plums, and homemade Gagauzian bread with us.

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There are, of course, many neighbors of the animal variety as well. We have several stray cats that we feed, roaming geese and chickens, some cows that chew their cud on the path to the market, dogs kept as pets, and of course  there is always the “friendly” canines that call the street home. I’ll leave you with a few of them now, with the promise of a flurry of new posts to come this week. It is Fall Break here in Moldova, and I finally have some quiet time to catch up! 😀

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Chișinău and the Ride to Ceadîr-Lunga

As we were only in Chișinău for a couple of days, we didn’t have the opportunity to see too much outside of the city center. What we did witness was so beautiful though! The last remnants of summer flowers continued to bloom in the park near Stefan Cel Mare St. (the main street) and the city seemed relatively quiet and peaceful for a capital.Oz, Nick, Karissa, and I banded together and explored the nearby area quite a bit during the first full day. While we managed to walk a little over ten miles (!), it felt easy as our senses were occupied with all of the new sights and sounds.

Here is the statue of Stefan Cel Mare (Stephen the Great) near the street named after him. He was the Prince of Moldavia (the old name for Moldova) from 1457 to 1504. It’s interesting to note that “prince” is synonymous with “king.” He did in fact rule, and was apparently pretty indomitable from what I’ve heard. My students sang his praises when we were discussing legendary figures, telling me all about how he secured Moldova from Polish, Hungarian, and Ottoman forces interested in obtaining the area. As I’ve since learned that he won 46 out of his 48 battles (thanks Wikipedia), I’m in agreement where his ruling abilities are concerned.

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I expected to hear a lot of Romanian as we navigated the streets and shops, but interestingly I heard more Russian than anything else. This was fine by me, of course! I do want to learn Romanian though – and badly! The wannabe polyglot in me is dying to discover the intricacies of such a beautiful language. I can read some things here and there on account of my Spanish though , and Oz can get by even better of course. Perhaps in the next month or so I will be brave enough to ask one of the Romanian teachers here at the lyceum to give me private lessons. 🙂

Here’s Karissa and I near the statue of Pushkin in the park. It was a serene area with a fountain and flowers, very romantic and fitting for the poet who was exiled here when he was just 21 (on account of “Ode to Liberty”).

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I have already shown you our apartment that the embassy housed us in in the last post, but here are a couple of pictures from Sheryl’s apartment – which is very nice and can show you what kind of place you could get in the capital. Sheryl is one of the Fulbright scholars who is conducting research in the capital. I am very interested in her work, which concerns education. Specifically, the preparation of new teachers. 🙂

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There are tons of stray cats and dogs all over Moldova. When passing by one building, we saw a whole gang of close to twenty of them! I went to take a photo of the horde, but they all crawled under a gate and fled. I did manage to take this neat pic of a few of them from underneath the gate though.

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There were many interesting sights to look at and ponder about as we explored the city center, including the following…

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Haha, I’ll risk it 😛

Funnily enough, a lot of friends and family are very curious about the food, and have asked for pictures and details. I am definitely not the type to post pictures of food on facebook or in an email, but since so many have asked and this is a travel/work blog after all…here you go 😀

We ate lunch at a very cute restaurant recommended by previous ETA Brent, called “La Placinte.” A placinte is a type of stuffed, circular, baked dough creation that is absolutely delicious. I’m not sure what cannot be stuffed into a placinte, but the menu had both sweet and savory options like apples, berries, meat, and seasoned potatoes. We had walked quite a bit, so we chose the potato one with a side of pelmeni with smetana (kinda like sour cream) for Oz to try. He had heard me talking about it when I came home from Russia. For those who don’t know, pelmeni are little pieces of meatball wrapped in dough and usually served with a chicken or vegetable bullion. Delish!  😉

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After lunch we went back to our apartments for a cat nap and to relax before going out again at night. Again, everyone slept except for me. Darn internal clock! Well, the cats were also – finally – up too.

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He’s such a creeper sometimes 😛

After about three hours or so of rest, we all met up on the playground outside of our building and took off for dinner. While waiting for Nick to come down, Karissa attempted to get some strength training in. Even though the bars weren’t meant for dips like that and were uneven, she did well 😉

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We tried to find a Georgian restaurant, and ended up going a little out of our way. It was worth it though, because we met a local who took our picture in front of the parliament building!

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She was very nice and also recommended a nearby restaurant called “Mojito.” The bar was pretty swanky, but we found some bean bag chairs to dine in outside that were comfy.

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They didn’t have any ethnic food there. We ended up having salads, some very good sushi, and a pork dinner.

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After dinner we strolled home, passing the vibrant Moldovan flag under a beautifully lighted arch.

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The 4th of September was mostly spent at the embassy, where we were given loads of information about the country and our work, as well as meeting with Public Affairs Officer Lauren Perlaza, Consular Officer Dawn Michelle Roberts, Coordinators Irina Colin and Valentina Spinu, and even Ambassador William H. Moser! All were very cordial and frank with us, which calmed anxious minds and made us feel welcome and cared for.

In the evening after orientation was over, Oz and I went to the hospital recommended by the embassy (called Medpark) to have our blood drawn for our visas. The process was fairly simple, and as a former phlebotomist I can tell you that all proper procedures were followed and that the hospital seemed very sanitary and bright. Or, the lobby and lab was anyways!

On the morning of the 5th, Irina picked up Oz, Karissa, the cats, and I and took us to our cities. The drive was peaceful and informative thanks to the incredibly dedicated Irina. Walnut trees lined much of the road, and the landscape breezed by in earthy tones of rich greens and golds.

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Karissa’s city of Comrat was closer to the capital, so we stopped there first. We visited the university where she is to work and met with the rector and other faculty. Then, Karissa was dropped off at her co-teacher’s place and we continued to on to Ceadîr-Lunga.

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On the way to my city, we saw students cleaning up trash from the streets and picking weeds. Irina explained that this was called “субботник.” Sybbotnik, taken from Cуббо́та (Saturday), were days of volunteer work after the October Revolution. It is without pay, and is for the betterment of the community. We talked about how some are of the opinion that it is a form of child labor and should be done away with. I personally think it’s a fine idea to teach youth the value of taking care of one’s things. After all, is it really that unlike classroom cleanup in the states, or even chores at home?

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As we drove into the small, sleepy town that is to be my home for the next few months I was eager to see the school. I was not disappointed with what I saw!!! Greeting me was a welcoming party composed of the principal, vice-principal, notable members of faculty, my new co-teachers Silviya and Tatiana, and students dressed in traditional Moldovan clothing. I was hugged and kissed by all, with lots of hand shaking thrown in between.

We took a few pictures and then left to a classroom/faculty meeting room, where the students and the rector/principal welcomed me in full. I was also able to say a few words about my excitement. Afterwards, we retired into the rector’s office and had tea and chocolates and discussed all of our plans and hopes for the next month.

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After all the niceties were over, Oz and I were shown an apartment directly behind the school. It was very cozy and clean, but unfortunately was a little dark and only had one twin bed for the two of us. Not expecting us to refuse the apartment, the teachers and rector began calling their friends to see if they had anything available for rent. We traveled to a few different apartments near the school. One was only $50 a month, but it was priced low for many good reasons. Another was quite nice, but the landlords wanted us to agree to renting for the full nine months and we didn’t feel comfortable doing that without living there for a bit first. Finally, after feeling very guilty and like stereotypical picky Americans, we were able to contact a former ETA’s roommate’s friend who had a house for rent. We saw it and immediately fell in love. I promise to include pictures and more details in the next post 😉

Although we had found our home, it was too late in the day to have the utilities turned on. We agreed to meet the next day and stay at a hotel that night. We stayed at the only hotel in town, called “Rendezvous.” Irina stayed with us all the way until we had checked in, going above and beyond to make sure that we were settled. The hotel was a nice little place that had a comfy room and an excellent cafe on the lower level. It even had ice in the shape of strawberries! We ate our dinner and promptly went upstairs and died. Haha 😛

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Made It!

We have made it safely to Chisinau! The cats, Oz ,and Karissa (the ETA to Comrat that we’re rooming with) have already passed out, and I’m heading that way as well as soon as I update y’all 🙂

The flight was okay. Aeroflot was the only other large international flight I took, and I preferred their service and food. There were tons of movies to choose from though. I ended up watching “The Other Woman,” “Neighbors,” and “La belle et la bête.”

The cats rode like champs. Prince meowed a few times when we were moving about, but other than that they slept in their carriers. No news about what tomorrow holds. We’re gonna sleep first and then probably get up and hunt down some food and a cell plan.

Love you all!

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Somewhere over Canada

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Checkers with Ozzle Bozzle 😛

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Freckles during takeoff

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Landing in Germany

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Moldova!!!

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Our bed for the next couple of days

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The kitchen

The Wedding Planning Weekend

The saying goes that God never gives you more than you can handle. I can apparently handle a LOT.

In the midst of doing all of the endless things necessary for the big move, I also needed to do as much wedding planning as possible. Ozzle Bozzle and I arrive back in the U.S. on June 2nd, and the wedding is on June 27th. Yeah…

Luckily, I have an AMAZING family and friends who have agreed to help assist me in pulling this off with grace and minimal stress. 😀

After my return from the Fulbright PDO, Oz and I went straight to a wedding preparation retreat. The program is required by the Catholic church, and we also got $30 off of our marriage license. Woot!

It was a long weekend filled with things that I had not anticipated. While I was expecting it to be a time of mutual discovery via interactive games or activities, it actually ended up being very lecture-heavy. They brought in a Chinese-Jamaican (yes, you read that right) doctor who talked about the amygdala for a few hours. Oz fell asleep and I had to nudge him a couple of times when he started snoring, haha. 😛

The couples were all very nice though, and we really enjoyed talking with them. There was also a couple from New York who had been married for 40-something years who came in to talk to us. They were our favorites, and we took the most away from their discussions.

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Here are some pictures of the church and surrounding area of the retreat property. They had a nice, but solemn trail around a lake that had the stations of the cross laid out every few feet.

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After the wedding prep retreat, Oz and I returned home and I went bridesmaid dress shopping with three out of my four bridesmaids. We went to David’s Bridal, which wasn’t my first choice but due to logistical constraints I was thinking it had to happen (my junior bridesmaid lives in Ca). We had a ton of fun trying on different dresses, but there wasn’t anything that really showed off my bridesmaids and fit the country style of the wedding. Still, we had fun!


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Angela holding up Alex’s dress color to her face so I could try to envision, haha 😛

After being in the store for about an hour or so, we decided to have lunch and see what Dillard’s evening wear section might have for dresses. And what we found was AMAZING. The dress is a champagne a-line with a ballet pink lace overlay and sash. It’s simple, sweet, and country. It fits comfortably and the girls can dance in it without getting overheated. The delicate, feminine lace will also fit with my dress nicely. By the by – I plan on purchasing my dress in Romania, where I’m told the lace is to die for. Eeeee!!

Here’s a few pics of Veronica and Angela in the dress. Shoes are still being decided, but overall I am one happy little clam!

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Yeah, my girls are awesome 🙂

Fulbright Orientation – Is This Real Life?!

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Apologies to all who were expecting this post in a timely manner. I got back from the Fulbright PDO (Pre-Departure Orientation) and went straight into a jam-packed marriage prep weekend. More on that later. 😉 Plus, you know…preparing for an international move is pretty much a 24/7 job. I have a little time in my schedule today in between saying goodbye to family and friends, so I’m taking advantage of it now.

The trip was everything I expected it to be – and more! I had a wonderful flight up on a plane that wasn’t even half full and negotiated the D.C. metro with relative ease. My only other experience with a metro was in Moscow, so I don’t have much to compare it to. In my opinion, Moscow’s system was much more pleasurable experience. The stations in the Russian capital were grand and unique in style, had immaculately clean cars, and every stop was clearly indicated by both visual electronics and audio denotation before and during a stop.

In comparison, D.C.’s metro was a bit smelly (at least the car I rode in was), darkly lit and gave off a really queer, ominous feeling thanks to all the cold, blank cement. Additionally, it offered little assistance with stops. It was difficult to hear the directions due to the driver’s thick accent and scratchy audio, and the only way I could figure out what stop I was at was by peering outside the window and reading dimly lit signage. Meh. First world problems, right?

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I survived the metro and found the hotel easily. I was surprised at the high number of homeless people that I encountered on my walk. They were all harmless with the small exception of one man who yelled at me, proclaiming, “No, no, nope! They’re out of bologna! Don’t even think about it! Nope, nope!”

I arrived at the Loews Madison around 10:30am, and hung around in their swanky lobby until a room was available. This was, by FAR, the nicest hotel I have ever stayed at. Ozzle Bozzle was going to go with me, but we couldn’t swing the cost (half the amount of a room).

The service was impeccable and the accommodations were way beyond what I am used to. For instance, when I called the front desk to inquire where the ice machine was located, the lady sweetly said, “A gentleman will be right up Miss!” What? Less than five minutes later, said gentleman in a bow tie arrived at the door with a silver ice bucket filled with crushed ice. O.O

Here’s a few pictures of my room and the hotel for those who are interested in that sort of thing:

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        The walls in the room were covered with some…interesting wallpaper. Yeah, we’ll go with interesting 😛

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After getting into my room, I was able to check in with Fulbright at 3pm. I was given a bag stuffed with teaching aids, a t-shirt, a prepaid debit card of $195 for D.C. expenses like food, taxi, and the like, information about the program, and detailed timelines for the next four days.

The next two days were spent attending to ETA business. It was a little tiresome to those like myself who have taught before and were already familiar with teaching strategies and lesson planning techniques. Overall though, I found the training to be very informative and personalized. It was led by two women with decades of experience, Ms. Rae Roberts and Ms. Shearer Weigert. I especially connected with Ms. Weigert, as she reminded me of my Aunt Connie. Her speech and mannerisms were very similar, and I told her so. From then on, she referred to me as “niece” instead of Tamara 🙂 I wish I had taken a picture with her. Here’s a silly one of me (being very excited) on the first day instead:

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During the ETA orientation, we were shown a trailer for a video game created by the U.S. Dept of State for English teachers. It’s called “Trace Effects.” It’s about a student from the future named Trace, who gets transported to the present time. The goal of the game is to get him back home in the future, which is accomplished through a series of tasks that require students to demonstrate their knowledge. Here is the hilariously dramatic trailer that had us all giggling uncontrollably:

After the ETA orientation was completed, there was a reception the following night for all of the Fulbright grant recipients (including the scholars who had arrived that evening). I was able to meet with other grantees and alumni from all of the Eastern European/Eurasian countries and talk about their projects and interests, which was very enlightening and engaging. I also met with an outreach specialist named Brennan, who can help me in my efforts to pay it forward to future Fulbrighters.

Meeting the other Fulbrighters was my favorite part of the PDO. My roommate was an awesome girl named Kate, who was an ETA to Latvia. Her and I had some great laughs.

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So pretty and professional! I really need to have a professional pic done, huh?

I also got to finally meet my fellow Moldova ETA’s, Nick and Karissa.

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Of greatest influence was last year’s alumnus to Moldova, Brent. Brent was a near-constant source of valuable information, as well as brilliant storyteller of candid tales of his adventures in Moldova that had us in tears with laughter. After talking with him, I’m more excited than ever about this endeavor!

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I also met an awesome ETA named Jena, who I spent a good deal of time with exploring central D.C. during our limited off time in the evenings.

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Here are a few pictures from our adventures…

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I also had the chance to go to the National Art Gallery and the Newseum with Nick and Karissa before we had to leave for our flights back home. The Newsuem was fun, but in my opinion a little overrated. The section of Pulitzer Prize photos was the best part. There was also a polical comic section and a bit of the Berlin wall. Here’s a few shots from there:

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The Fulbright PDO was a literally a month ago, which just goes to show how crazy planning an international move is. It’s basically like playing a game with constantly moving targets. There seems to be an endless supply of hoops to jump through. Ready or not, we will be sitting in a plane off to Moldova in two days. Am I scared? Oh yah. Excited? The most I’ve ever been in my life.