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Saturday, September 3, 2011

English Camping Trip 2011

"When I was went to the camp before 2 months, I said to Miss Jennie: "Miss Jennie, I will learn English.  I will learn by heart words, I will always speak with Gulbina in English.  But, I can't. But when I went to the camp, I understand that I am best!  Thanks to Miss Jennie for the camp.  It was very interesting days in my life."              – Akbota, an 11th grade student

"I learned many new words.  I developed my English.  I spoke English very well. I liked this camp.  Thanks to camp we learned many things and we developed our English."          –Erbol, an 11th grade student

These are some quotes from the reflections my students wrote about our camp.  Okay, so I fixed some grammar mistakes, but their words touch my heart and give me goosebumps.  I love them so much!

I have written in previous blogs about our plans for an English Immersion Camping Trip and, despite all odds, we actually pulled it off and it was a great success!  I worked with my counterpart teacher, Gulshat, to organize the trip, write a grant, buy all of the materials, take 17 students into nature, teach them English, and bring them back with only a few minor bruises and sores.  This project is one of the top on my list of most stressful experiences in Kazakhstan, but it was worth it and we are already brainstorming ideas for the English Immersion Camping Trip 2012.

The 17 students were selected as the top of their class in English and even though we had a lot of last minute changes, we took a really good group of students.  Peace Corps and the US Embassy ultimately made this trip possible by donating over $1500 in the form of grants.  Their money allowed us to buy 10 tents, all of the food, and rent a bus and its driver for six days.  We went so far from the city that we had no cell phone signal, so for safety reasons our bus driver stayed with us in case an emergency evacuation was needed.  With the purchase of tents and other reusable materials, we should incur far fewer costs next year and allow the community to sustain this project without US funds!  I hope to organize some fundraising events with the students in order to raise money for next year's food and transportation so that the money doesn't have to come from the students' pocket.

Two of my closest Peace Corps volunteer friends came to help me with the camp and for that I am immensely grateful.  Without their energy, patience, and perspective I could have never survived this week.  In total we had four English teachers.  Every day the two volunteers and Gulshat would teach two hour lessons to their groups.  The higher level group named themselves "The Friendly Leaders", the middle group was "The Freedom Eagles", and the lower group was "The Majestics".  The groups and their leaders held lessons together, cooked together, and cleaned up the meals together.  I ran around like crazy trying to organize things and make sure all of the supplies were ready when the teachers and students needed them.  To my extreme surprise, one of my students said, "Miss Jennie never gets tired.  She is always happy!"  The volunteers know that isn't true; I was more tired than I have ever been.

Aside from lessons and meals (which took A LOT of time!) we played tons of games with the kids.  I told the kids before camp that I had made a list of 100 games (which is true) and by Day 3 they assured me: "Miss Jennie, we will not have time to play 100 games."  Better safe than sorry.  The games we played were standard among any youth gathering, leadership conference, etc and were nothing new for us volunteers, but the students were blown away by them and begged to keep playing over and over.  We also organized two night-time games of Capture the Flag (the kids renamed this WAR) which the students thought was the coolest thing they had ever played. 
My two biggest fears going into the camp were 1) not having enough food and 2) the students being bored out of their minds.  We had more than enough food and the students said it was very tasty and the students were far from bored.  Even after the lessons, students ran up to me saying, "Miss Jennie!  Miss Anne's lesson was so interesting today!  I learned so much!"  One student wrote in the reflection: "If I came to camp next year, I want 2 lessons every day."

I can't even express how this warms my heart.  I can tell you that I should not choose teaching as a career because I cannot be angry with these kids.  They are just too funny- in a totally sincere way that is completely organic.  The things they say are just so frank because of their limited English skills, but their messages always hit the mark and I can't help but beam at them.  They know that I have no real power over them- it can get dangerous!  Today was the first day of school- Knowledge Day in Kazakhstan- and it is SO good to be back.  We made new posters for our room and I have a lot of new ideas and projects to start!  The one year mark is a really hard time for most volunteers.  There is threat of falling into what I call the "everything is better in America" rut as we think about how long we have been gone and start another arduous, but hopefully successful, school year.  I am counting on these guys to pull me through and I am sure they will make me smile every single day.

I will try to get some pictures onto this blog, but if it doesn't work, I will upload some to my Facebook page.

Thanks for all of your continued support,

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