As I stare at the Excel sheet I'm typing into, frequently glancing at the top registration card on the stack next to me, it hits me afresh. I am only struggling to input the names into this file because they are foreign to me. I am only typing this roster because I will be teaching these endearing souls how to improve their English. I am living in Kazakhstan. Is this real life?!
It seems to me this is the best job in the world. Here I am, living in a charming city full of friendly people, meeting bright-eyed students who wish to do great things, paying sixty cents a day to ride the bus, and teaching classes at night which preclude me from having to wake up early. There are so many rich additions to life here: we have teatime and toilet closets and integrated public transportation. And there is not so much to miss from western culture: we have peanut butter and fine chocolate and ketchup. We have even begun running into people we know on the sidewalk! The only piece missing is to find a coffeehouse.
The rose-colored lenses will come off in due time, I think. I don't mean to sound like some saccharinely optimistic Lisa Frank butterflies and rainbows caricature. It's just that this is all such a supreme privilege, and I want to preserve these feelings for when it is thirty degrees below zero and the ache of missing Rhode Island cannot be contained. I want to remind myself that there is much to love about Karaganda, so that I will be less in danger of forgetting it.
Conducting placement interviews has sufficiently whetted my appetite to begin teaching. In most cases, one really only needs to talk with a student for 90 seconds to get a feel for their comprehension and speaking ability, but in practice I spoke with each for as long as I could keep the conversation rolling. I never tired of hearing their aspirations to one day visit London (an aspiration I share!) or their puzzled rebuttal of the concept of a "dream job" ("You work at the job you receive!") or their summer adventures paired with back to school woes (the young boys are particularly crestfallen over this.) I like them all so very much, it seems all too fortuitous to be offered such agreeable students.
I asked the very last student I interviewed, "What are your goals? What plans do you have for your life?" She furrowed her brow, maybe confounded by the word "goals." I clarified, "What do you want to do in the future?" She seemed to understand this. "Well, I like Karaganda." I couldn't stop myself from smiling widely and replying, "So do I."