Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Day 332.1: Farewell Romania, Hello Rome!

It seems like most of my travel experiences involve being ridiculously tired. This is probably because the budget airlines always fly at inhumane hours of the morning, like the flight I'm waiting for right now, which leaves for Rome at 6:35am. That's why I got up this morning at 3:30 to be at the airport by 4:30, where, fortunately, the check in desk and security queues were quite efficient. 

I'm waiting at the boarding gate now, slightly before 5am, so I've got awhile to go yet. Boredom, combined with extreme tiredness, of course puts me in the blogging mood. Apologies, internets. Whenever I'm awake enough to write coherent blogs I'm probably off doing something more exciting.

Passport control was a tad awkward, since the guy kept flipping through my passport, looking from my photo to me and back again. I have got my hair cut fairly drastically since that photo, so that was probably the issue. He also asked me about my trip to Ukraine, about who I went with and was it safe. After chatting for a bit and actually joking a little he let me through, so I don't really know what the holdup was at first. 

(Have I mentioned I went to Ukraine? Don't think so... Well, I did. The day after the plane got shot down. Definitely genius planning on my part. But I survived, and some interesting blog posts will come from it, at any rate.)

So, I'm going to Rome. In fact, by the time I actually post this, I'll be in Rome. That's pretty crazy. I'm not quite sure why, but Rome has always been one of the top places in the world I've wanted to visit. A lot of people have told me that it's overrated and actually kind of a dump, but I'm still excited. It's got the colosseum, for Pete's sake! And the catacombs! And the Vatican! There are quite literally thousands of years of history standing right there-- I don't see how that can not be exciting.

And now, time for a power nap, and then I'll start praying the boarding crew doesn't ask me to put my bag in the sizer...


I'm in Rome! And I've been in the colosseum! And St. Peter's basilica! And I'm not going to visit the Sistine Chapel because it's really expensive, but I've been close. And I've seen so many beautiful buildings... I love this city! 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Day 330: Romania is a Wrap

On Friday I finished my second (and last) English teaching placement in Romania. We had a party, handed our certificates, and had a celebratory water fight... and then it was over. A few hugs, some thank you's, and I said goodbye-- perhaps forever-- to the group or students and volunteers who have filled my life for the past few weeks.

(Edumax, the first school I taught at)

It's a bit cliche, but it hasn't sunk in yet that I'm done. I've gotten so used to waking up at 7 every morning to plan lessons, to walking into the staff lounge and greeting the other volunteers, and to teasing Georgiana (my hostess/student). I'm pretty used to life in Suceava, and, despite it not being the most interesting city on the planet, I have enjoyed living here. 

(Photoshoot by an abandoned barn)

It's been a great month. Teaching certainly hasn't been without its challenges, and neither has been adjusting to such a different culture, but on the whole it's been really rewarding and a lot of fun. 

Before I came, last year's volunteers told me that Romanians were really friendly-- that's certainly proved true. I've loved spending time with my host families and the Romanian volunteers at the school. Together, we've explored Suceava, climbed a mountain, and spent countless hours chatting in pubs. 

(The top of mount Ceahlau, 1800m up!)

I can't say I'll be sad to get back to Britain in a week. As much as I'll miss the beautiful countryside and the friendly people and the great restaurants, I'm looking forward to getting back to a familiar language and a shared heritage and cleaner public places. At the risk of sounding horrendously snobby, I will be happy to return to a higher-income country, leaving the cracked pavement and the stray dogs far behind. 

But before Britain, Italy! On the 29th I fly out to Italy, where I'll spend a week visiting Rome, Naples, Florence, Pisa, and Venice. It's going to be a whirl-wind tour, but I'm definitely looking forward to it. 

(A monastery)

Just one more month travelling Europe. Three new countries left, bringing my total for this year to 20. Being on the road again will be tiring, but there is just so much more to see and do. I'm gonna make the most of this year. 

Romania, farewell. I couldn't live here-- I'm definitely too accustomed to my western standard of living. But even if Romania isn't as comfortable as the West, there's something more real here, a genuine vibrancy and warmth that made my stay so memorable. Hopefully I'll return some day. But even if I don't, Romania will always be part of me. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Days 288-293: The Mikado

On June 21st, a few days after mum went back to Canada, I performed as Peep-Bo in Gilbert and Sullivan's most famous operetta, The Mikado. Set in Japan, the story follows Ko-Ko, The Lord High Executioner of Titti-Pu, on his quest to obey the emperor, the Mikado, and find someone to execute... or be executed himself. 

It's somewhat of a dark comedy, with a lot of the humour revolving around characters planning each other's deaths, and it's often been accused of racism because of its portrayal of Japan. However, I think that the over-the-top situations and the caricature of Japanese culture are used to satirize the British political system, rather than poking fun at Japan, and the sheer strangeness of the story makes the satire more effective.

(Three little maids from school- I'm on the left, looking rather pleased about something)

The production came about in a sort of roundabout way. The performers were all members of the G&S society at St. Andrews, but it wasn't an official production. We just happened to have all the right people this year, performers who exactly fit the roles for the show, so we decided to put on a semi-staged version during the week before graduation. 

Since most of our society members were gone from St. Andrews by grad week, the chorus was sung by the audience, and we ran workshops throughout the day for people to learn the music. The principle roles were all cast by our lovely director without auditions, since she already knew who she wanted for each role. 

I got to play Peep-Bo, one of the 'three little maids from school.' Normally it's the smallest role in the show, with only a dozen lines and small parts in a few songs. In our production, however, we switched things around to even out the three little maids parts, so I ended up with quite a few lines and some substantial solo singing. It was a fun role for me, one I could bring a lot of energy to, with some pretty amusing emotional highs and lows. 

("I will instantly perform the happy dispatch with this dagger!")

Our rehearsal period was less than a week. We began rehearsals on Monday and performed Saturday evening. This meant that everyone was expected to attend 9-5, and sometimes long into the evening. I was a little apprehensive heading into rehearsal week, but the condensed time period really brought out the best in people. We all knew it would be hard, and we were determined to make it work.

Show day was certainly stressful. Due to availability of two of our principles, we never actually managed a proper dress rehearsal- the performance was our first (and only) full run! However, as we saw a good twenty people show up for the chorus rehearsals, and as around a hundred enthusiastic audience members turned up for the show, we knew it would all work out.

And it did. The show was by no means perfect-- I think I managed to somehow mess up every one of my vocal solos-- but it was fun. We were having a fantastic time and the audience was laughing and cheering and clapping and calling out 'encore!' I remember, near the end of the performance, sitting backstage and thinking how being in The Mikado, my favourite G&S, was quite literally a dream come true. 

(Behold the Lord High Executioner!)

My career in St. Andrews drama is basically over now. The Mikado was my final performance in St. Andrews, and in August I'll perform The Sorcerer in Harrogate with the society. Due to an unexpected job offer, one of our cast had to drop out, so I've been given the role of Hercules, which is a small but funny speaking role.

I'm so excited to have one more show with the society. Performing in St. Andrews has been an amazing experience. Eight shows later, I'm definitely a better, more confident performer, and as enthusiastic as ever. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Day 308: Week one of English Teaching

My first week of teaching English in Romania is officially a wrap. It's really satisfying to have finished a full week, but it's also a little sad to think that a quarter of my time here is already up, with only one more week until I switch schools and host families. 

This week has gone pretty much as well as I could have hoped. Monday was certainly a low point: I was tired from my first day of teaching, I was really confused about what was going on because I don't speak any Romanian, I was lonely because I wasn't able to meet up with the other student teachers, and I just really wanted to call my mom but I couldn't find an app that would let me call phones.

The thing is, after last year in Quebec, I've learned that adjusting to a new place is hard. I know that I'm likely going to feel miserable for the first few days. And that's okay, because now, one week on, I'm so glad I came. 

My host family is great. They have a large house on the edge of Suceava, so I get my own room and bathroom. The food is amazing- we've had shrimp and calimari, homemade schnitzel, goulash, stuffed pastries, and, of course, plenty of Romanian traditional dishes. My main problem is knowing how to politely decline food because I'm already way too full!

As for the teaching, it's been better than anticipated. I was a bit upset because I was allocated my last choice of group, 9-14 year olds in the afternoon, when I wanted to teach 15-18 year olds in the morning. However, when I first walked into class, I discovered that my students are mainly 13-16, and their English is fantastic. They're young enough to be pretty enthusiastic (I was worried about a 'too-cool-for-school' attitude, but it hasn't been a problem) but old enough to be taught at a fairly advanced level. 

The teaching isn't really conventional classroom style. I don't give them workbooks or expect them to memorize lists of irregular verbs. Instead, the point of the summer school is to have fun in an English-speaking environment. Most of the lessons are much more like games, and if the students aren't enjoying a particular exercise I don't drag it out. I don't make a concrete lesson plan for the day; instead, I come to class with a list of games and choose whichever one seems to flow naturally from the mood in the classroom. As a former homeschooler, who worked one whatever subject I felt like at the time, I love this more organic approach. 

The school also puts an emphasis on learning about other cultures. Tuesday July 1st was Canada day, so I showed up to school in a big Canada hat, showed the kids photos about Canada on my iPad, and passed around some Canadian money. Since that was my first Canada day ever out of the country, I was so happy to share the occasion with my students. 

On Friday, instead of our normal teaching hours, we held a ceilidh (a Scottish dance, pronounced Kay-lee) in the morning. Since the other teachers weren't as keen, I got the job of 'calling' the ceilidh, meaning I would teach the kids the steps and then yell them out while they danced. I was impressed by how fast the kids caught on, especially the little ones, and I'm looking forward to next Friday's last day of school ceilidh party. 

Suceava itself isn't the most interesting place to spend a month- it's not a touristy place at all, so there isn't much for us to other than sit in pubs and enjoy the cheap cocktails. The weather has been fairly cool for Romania, which I'm quite happy about, as it's been consistently mid-20s. I was worried it would be ridiculously hot, but instead it's been pretty comfortable. 

I'll write more about Romanian culture later. For now, I'm off to visit a monastery with my host family, then tomorrow I'll hike up a mountain with the other student teachers. After a week of teaching, this weekend will be a fantastic holiday.