Grant Writing

•February 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

As some of you may know, I’ve been working with local teachers, really, since November to plan a series of trainings for local university teachers.  We recently wrote and were approved for a small project grant to conduct these trainings. Last week we started meeting with some local teacher trainers to discuss the themes of sessions and discuss some of our goals.  I’m learning A LOT from this process myself. This project will finish up next December-we’ll break for summer holiday when everyone goes to the villages to farm. I know some of you are interested in what my job is like and I realize I’ve written more on cultural issues in the past. Below is some more information about the project we are starting.

Goal 1: To improve English teaching techniques by using communicative techniques of teachers at Issyk-kul State University

Objective 1a: To hold monthly sessions in March, April, and May on the topics of facilitation and feedback giving

Objective 1b: To organize a 4 day intensive teacher training during the last week of June to be attended by at least 25 of the university English teachers

Objective 1c: To Facilitate 10 weekly training workshops in Fall 2011 featuring Shaping the Way We Teach English training program


Goal 2:To foster an environment of shared professional knowledge, skills, and resources among English faculties at Issyk-kul State University

Objective 2a: To incorporate 15 new methodology handbooks into trainings and creative course planning

Objective 2b: To coordinate the use of a new DVD player and technology cart for trainings and lessons that include media supplement

Background Information:

The Issyk-kul FORUM chapter has shown great initiative and commitment to the training of local English teachers.  This year local trainers are scheduled to conduct 14 trainings in Karakol and 14 in various villages around the lake. This round of trainings ends in May 2011. Within the last year, there has been a trend of low attendance to these trainings by university teachers. The local FORUM leaders are rethinking the approaches to training this group of teachers.

There are three English faculties at the Issyk-kul State University. Two of the faculties, Grammar and Theory, prepare students who will become local English teachers. The third, Inter Faculty, teaches general English and English for specific purposes for first and second year students in various other faculties across campus. There are 42 English teachers at the university alone. About 30% of the teachers are young and are eager to learn new teaching techniques. There are several teachers who are extremely active in the local FORUM chapter and have participated in international programs.  However, according to most other university, they have not attended local trainings due to scheduling conflicts. They also feel that the content of current training sessions are appropriate for secondary teachers who focus on general English for children and teenagers; whereas, university teachers instruct adults in preparation for specific professions.


Needs Assessment:

In December, we distributed surveys to the university English teachers and their students to find out what skills and materials they felt were important for the students.  The teachers were also asked about what training topics they felt would be important for their professional development.  As a result, most teachers requested additional training in current teaching methodologies.  We also asked students to write what their future jobs would be and how they expect to use English. The surveys indicated that both teachers and students feel they lack speaking and listening practice.  We are continuing to analyze the information to use during curriculum planning.

In addition to the surveys, 14 teachers were observed giving regular class lesson.  The teachers observed demonstrated some knowledge of interactive teaching strategies but were not implementing them in their classes.  They are struggling to transition to learner-centered methods. Many use lecture and grammar translation methods to teach new language.  During feedback sessions, the teachers expressed awareness of areas in need of improvement.  They also mentioned that the lack of teaching resources is a limitation.

Description of Priority/Need/Desire:

Issyk-kul FORUM is focusing on the university teachers needs in trainings due to their role in educating future generations of teachers and professionals. In order to increase the quality of teaching at the university, we are requesting funding for new teaching handbooks and a technology cart to aid in the implementation of trainings.

The current teaching handbooks and resource books are at best fifteen years old and are few in number. We are requesting new teaching handbooks for trainings and teacher reference materials.  The books feature linguistic and pedagogic topics relevant to all three English faculties. By introducing the new books during the June training, teachers will be able to analyze how to best integrate the resources in their teaching.

During the Fall training workshops, local FORUM trainers are eager to utilize the Shaping the Way We Teach English training program from the Embassy. This training has not previously been used because it requires participants to view and discuss video clips.  The Dean of Foreign Languages will make a television available for these trainings but there is no DVD player.  We also request funding for the construction of a cart to put the TV and DVD player on so it can be easily moved into classrooms. Though two classrooms have computers capable of showing the video, these rooms are often held for special events and are unavailable.  Having a portable technology cart would allow trainings to be scheduled in rooms and at times that promote teacher attendance.  When not used for trainings, the technology cart will allow teachers to begin using multimedia in their lessons.

Community Impact:

The Issyk-kul FORUM chapter seeks to improve the quality of English learning and teaching at all levels throughout Issyk-kul oblast.  We see a distinct relationship between the Issyk-kul State University and the secondary schools that teach English.  The university English teachers instruct students who will become future English teachers themselves. Once these teachers graduate, many go back into the villages to teach secondary students.  To complete the cycle, local secondary students come to the university to continue their studies in English. In which case, some of these students will become the students of the English faculties at the university.  If the teachers at the university are practicing creative, learner-based teaching strategies, their graduates have the opportunity encourage creativity and critical thinking in their future workplaces. These qualities add to the overall improvement of organizations and communities in Issyk-kul oblast.


Christmas 2010

•January 19, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Christmas eve: Was a typical day at the university because it isn’t a holiday here. However, there were several volunteers from Naryn oblast (aka Narnia). Naryn is the truly Kyrgyz part of Kyrgyzstan, even the locals admit this.  The volunteers in my city and our Narnian guests (about 11) got together to share cookies and watch Christmas movies. One guy even borrowed the projector from his organization so we could enjoy watching 3 foot Peanuts characters dance around on the  living room wall. After “Charlie Brown’s Christmas,” we watched “Home Alone.”

On Christmas day, I actually had to work. It was a Saturday, but we had a training scheduled so another PCV and I gave sessions. My session stunk. It didn’t quite feel good when I was planning it, but I had run out of planning time. The topic was ‘Writing Objectives.’ At the end, the teachers were not able to tell me the skills I wanted them to learn, and I didn’t give them a whole lot of time to practice writing objectives. I’ve since given the training 2 other times and have worked out many of the problems. It was just frustrating because I wasn’t connecting with the participants.   I’ve been trying to goal set and figure out what my role will be next semester since I will not be co-teaching any classes. I still will work with FORUM English Teachers Association, but I still want to work to support the 43 English teachers at the university.  After the training, I went back to my apartment to get ready for Christmas dinner.

In the evening, all of the volunteers where getting together for a potluck dinner. It was really nice to hang out and talk with a bunch of people. Some of them we don’t get to see all that often. Plus there are some foodies in our midst, so we had tasty food. I made a beet salad…which I took a lot of home. Others made fried chicken, southwest stuffing, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, spinach and even Betty Crocker brownies. It was a good night.  Later,  I went back to my apartment and called home. I think I talked to about 12 people in about 15 minutes at my Gramma’s house. Very symbolic of the usual chaos. I talked to a few family members  for the first time since coming here.

The day after Christmas a bunch of us went skiing. This was my first time. The ski base here is actually really nice, or so people say. What do I know? A couple of the other volunteers went with me down the bunny slope to teach me how to balance, turn, and stop. One of the guys likened skiing to skating which helped me out. They said I was doing really well for my first day. I think it’s because of the skating thing. I really liked it. I thought I would get bored, but I didn’t. The bunny slope was nice and long, and a couple of volunteers where snowboarding or practicing some skills for the first half of the day. There were a few others who were beginners too.

During the second half of the day, we moved to a more challenging slope. The next run up in difficulty happens to be two runs up the mountain. So we took the lift to a high part of the mountain. Then the slope ends or you can keep going. If you keep going, it is a pretty fast run. So we were skiing just down the top run. The first time I went down, I was feeling it out and just trying to stay on my feet. It got faster toward the bottom; I was just focusing  on keeping the front of my skis together to slow me down. I didn’t try to cross over the run in those wide turns because I thought if I shifted my weight weird I’d lose control. I made it to the bottom so thrilled that I was in one piece that I let out an enthusiastic ‘ Yeah.’  To which, a slim Russian woman in a coordinating ski suit just stared at me. The second time I went down the run. I was more relaxed. The first part went well again, and then I came to the fast part where I had shot straight down. I figured I’d go straight again…why mess with what works? ….Until it doesn’t. I couldn’t keep my toes pointed together. I remember looking at them and thinking that I couldn’t. Then it happened.  My right ski turned out, and I biffed it hard. I lost that ski and rolled a little. I managed to laugh it off and get up. Another volunteer coming down behind me helped me get my stranded ski. We couldn’t get my ski back on. Turns out that it had been omitted from my lessons. So I walked down the rest of the slope and took a break.

We had a snack in a café with two other volunteers. I had tweaked my right knee when my ski came off, so I returned to the bunny hill via ski lift for the remainder of the day.  Overall,  it was a good day. I’d go again. But it is pretty expensive for us to go on our pay. So it will probably be a once in a while thing.

Kurman Ait

•November 21, 2010 • 1 Comment

Last Tuesday was the Muslim holiday Kurman Ait. The holiday is meant to celebrate life. In someways, it’s the opposite of Orozo Ait, which is a memorial day for those who have died.  For locals the day started with men going to the local mosques for reading of the Koran and animal sacrifices. A family or a group of people may kill a sheep or a cow. Custom dictates that the sheep be divided into 7 parts and then given to the poor or orphan houses.

While the men are at mosque, the women are at home cooking. Usually the meal involves plov (rice,meat,carrot dish), numerous salads, and borsok (fried pieces of dough). In the afternoon, people come and go from each others homes (guesting).  It is said that one should try to go to 7 houses; however, this is not a must. I talked to a few ladies that cooked for their families and made it to only a neighbor or two’s houses.  I managed to make it to 4 homes, and it took about 6 hours. Also part of guesting is the ‘to go bag’ of food guests are given. I ended up with 3 bags of borsok, candy and rolls. Needless to say, it’s been a carb heavy week!

Potato Week

•September 27, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Well, university started here at the beginning of September, but our schedules are still irregular. Case and point, this week is ‘potato week.’ A working-holiday (whatever that means) for staff and teachers to go to the villages and harvest potatoes. It is not scheduled in anyway, but everyone knew this week was coming.

My work right now involves co-teaching about four 80 minute classes with my counterpart. We have had little time together since a recent death in her family has taken her off guard. I also have started two English clubs for teachers in my faculty: TOEFL Prep and Conversation. We meet once a week for each. I will also be observing and doing needs assessments to find out what types of trainings my zafkafedra (faculty head) would like to have me help with. Other than university work, I will also be training with the local FORUM English Association. I’m very excited to work with these ladies. Several are already great leaders and motivated to improve the quality of English education. Interestingly,  the English teachers here have more opportunities to receive continuing education trainings or participate in professional development programs than do other teachers. Hopefully, some of the methods we present will also transfer to other disciplines as teachers share what they’ve learned. The biggest challenge that I see right now, and this is not unlike teachers in any country, is finding out how to motivate teachers to think critically and reflectively about their own teaching.

For fun, I also volunteer to teach short English classes twice a week at a local daycare. In part, it is so I will have a link to my host family even though I’ve moved into my own apartment. My 6 year old host sister attends the daycare after school. Here kids have a 6 day week, but they only attend classes half of the day. I’m still working out the scheduling for this group. It is proving to be an amusing challenge since most of my little students speak Russian and I don’t. It’s really not fair to ask the 6 year old Kyrgyz-Russian speakers to be translators. Needless to say, we are using lots of mimes, songs, ASL, and pictures.

School’s Starting

•September 2, 2010 • Leave a Comment

School started yesterday. Here were some of my reflections at the tail end of the school year last Spring. We’ll see what it’s like in a month after everything has settled into a routine.  Right now, I’m observing teachers and students. It would have been good to know my role a week ago before I freaked out about not having a plan or a schedule for this week. Now that I know, I’m rolling with the punches a little better.

Visit your school with your counterpart/other faculty member and create a map of the school. Identify the English room(s), faculty room, zavuch’s and director’s offices, library or other resources, big hall, cafeteria, and any other rooms that you or your counterpart think are important.

Between Katie, the former teacher trainer, and my counterpart, I was able to get a good understanding of the university buildings. I was impressed to know that there is an internet lab, a classroom with computers, and a room with a projector system. We also toured the small café and the offices of the Interfaculty and English faculty staff. Since, my department teaches English to programs other than English or Theory, my counterpart and I will be traveling to other buildings as opposed to having the students come to us in Building #1. I will become familiar with those classrooms in the Fall.

I also learned while touring campus and talking to my counterpart that some department heads feel that there are too many teachers per department. Apparently there are many teachers working few hours and earning little money. Because teachers receive little compensation for their work, they tend to be less motivated to work at becoming better teachers. Some feel that if some of the teachers were fired the best teachers could continue teaching and be better paid. It seems people are reluctant to do this because then several teachers will be unemployed. There are several systems in the States that have performance based salary. It may work. Culturally, I’m not sure anyone would actually agree to fire an okay teacher to further a better teacher’s career. I know of several teachers at the university level here who work at least two jobs. My thought is that the teacher’s have many responsibilities, and it is difficult to devote enough time to any of them to perform really well. If this is true, it starts to negatively influence overall quality of life, integrity, and professionalism of those spread thin. I’ll be interested to get to know these teachers more this Fall and find out their opinion.

I’m still here

•September 2, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Hey all,

I do exist…and fail at social networking. I don’t really have an excuse, so I won’t give you one! What I will give you is a couple of posts to make up for the weeks I’ve been remiss.  Recently, I had to write a “Community Entry Toolkit” document and send it into PC telling them how I’ve spent my summer. Turns out it also happens to be blog fodder for you guys.  Enjoy.


5 Help your family with summer tasks (harvesting, canning/preserving food, working in the garden/around the house, doing repairs, preparing for cold weather).

The primary summer task that I’ve been able to help with is preparing food for canning. I came home one day ready to plan for the English club I was co-teaching in July, and my host mom enlisted me to help clean cherries. We cleaned cherries from about 5:30pm until midnight! I learned how to pit cherries with a toothpick. It’s not as impressive as MacGyvering a tent or shopping mall with a toothpick, but I’ve learned a skill.

Another day I came home to find a pale of blueberries that needed cleaning. Not as time consuming as cherries, we picked the stems off of blueberries for only about 3 hours. Oddly, I’ve gained a slight aversion to large quantities of fruit appearing in our kitchen. Two days ago, I came home to a sizable pail of raspberries and began bracing myself for hours of picking through the juicy fruit. I was relieved to learn that raspberries don’t really have any pre-jam prep work.

One observation I have made about lengthy kitchen tasks is that women here enjoy them perhaps solely as a medium for socializing. Ideally, 2-3 ejes will come together to roll logman noodles or can endless jars of jam. Subsequently they pass the time in conversation. This is probably one reason I do not have the same affinity for cooking as these local ladies. My limited Kyrgyz leaves me miles behind in the conversation (especially if they switch to Russian on me)!

26 Cook American food and introduce your family to food culture in America using the local language.

I have only cooked twice for my family. The first time I made Ooey Gooey Bars (PC cookbook). For all of the sweets and sugary jam that my family eats, they didn’t seem to enjoy the chocolate-peanuty goodness that this recipe produced. While I was reminiscing about Christmas candies and truffles, my host mom was exclaiming how sweet the dessert was. Even my six-year-old, ice cream addicted host sister, only ate a piece or two.

The second time I cooked for my host mom was for her birthday. I somehow forgot that Kyrgyz birthdays are never small. About 10 relatives that I’ve never met before showed up, after I’d already agreed to cook for her. Thankfully, I chose something that I could easily make in the States. My American mom calls it goulash. The recipe is simple and involves a tomato sauce, browned hamburger, corn, and macaroni (one might call it a hot dish). Because I don’t cook often and my own sense of taste is rather bland, I am ALWAYS hesitant to prepare food for people. Unfortunately this mild sense of anxiety over cooking for a bunch of strangers revealed itself as defensiveness when one of my host relatives commented that, “This isn’t American food. This is Italian food!” Pretty sure no Italian would claim this dish and aware of my lack of culinary skill in general, I tried to calmly explain that America has many different types of food. And what food is really American anyways? When the eje repeated the comment again, I wanted to firmly point out that, “My mom is American! This is her food. I grew up eating this pasta stuff. Therefore by shear logic, this IS American food!!”

Moral: Food is an important cultural component. If some aspect of it is not as you had originally perceived, try it anyway. If you have sever reservations about its origin (geographical or physical), have some tact for the sake of those who are sharing a piece of home with you.

Guesting: Going

•July 16, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Hello all! Hope you had a great 4th.  It has been a busy month here. Another volunteer and I are halfway through two English clubs. One is TOEFL Prep and the other is a conversation club. We have about 14 students coming on average; however, they are a little younger than we anticipated. We have many high school aged students. This works fine for our conversational class but our TOEFL prep is a little advanced. Last weekend I had the opportunity to go guesting. This is a common Kyrgyz tradition, and I’m not sure how I haven’t gone guesting until now.

Last Saturday, my host mom took me and my 6-year-old host sister, Ayana, to go to the mountains to go guesting. We were going to a colleague’s house. In fact, the whole party of people were colleagues and various family members. So we got up on Saturday at 6:30am to meet the carpool at 8:00am (this might be a reflection of Kyrgyz time management. definitely more relaxed here). Then we drove about an hour and a half into the mountains. The view was amazing. We followed a river most of the way up the mountain and passed herds of horses grazing on the green slopes. The only downer to the trip was that my sister got car sick as the driver swerved around rocks and pot-holes.  We stop one time to take a quick picture and then continued on our way. Near the end of the drive , we rarely passed a small village and eventually there were more yurts than permanent houses.

We finally got to the house that actually had a yurt set up right next to it. For the day, the yurt operated as the kitchen for all of the food needed to feed the 20+ guests. We began the afternoon by eating various salads and toasting. There also was an older gentleman who played the accordion and sang to provide the afternoon’s entertainment. After the first course of salads, a cycle of eating, drinking, and shuffling to the next room began. There were too many people to all eat at the same time, so we rotated through. I somehow made it into the kids group (though my sister didn’t…hmm). This was fine since only the kids and teens spoke any English.  During one break in the food cycle, the teens took me to the river nearby to go fishing. I successfully marked myself as the awkward American when I tried jumping a stream, landed a foot in the ice-cold water and had to be pulled to the other side to avoid falling in. I took pictures while the rest of the group foraged for worms and tossed the line into the river. Unfortunately, there were no worms in the unturned ground, so the group started digging through manure piles with shovels. I was a little relieved that they didn’t find any there either. Giving up, we headed back to the house and warmed up by sitting in one of the minivans.

At about 5pm, we all got into cars and drove farther up the mountain until the road ended. The group piled out of cars and began digging up various wild flowers such as edelweiss. And soon a circle formed, the vodka reappeared, and accordion music ensued. I have a great picture of a white soviet car parked next to a snow bank with the accordion sitting on the ground behind it. Once the field trip was finished, we headed back to the house for meat. At about 7pm, the remainder of the food was divided among the guests, and we were on our way home.


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