The Places We Go: A Letter From Karie Von Fange (MA ’10), Teacher, St. Petersburg, Russia

Karie Von Fange (MA ’10) was a student in the Department of Teaching and Learning‘s TESOL and Teaching French as a Foreign Language programs.  This year she’s teaching English in St. Petersburg, Russia.

This is an excerpt from her letter to her friends at NYU Steinhardt.

First Day

When I first entered my new school in St Petersburg, Russia, I was full of uncertainty. Walking from the metro stop to my school, I had passed nothing but large, bleak, grey high-rise apartment buildings. In fact, some of these apartment buildings looked abandoned and only at night, when the lights were on, did I realize that they were indeed homes. The St Petersburg sky, which rarely knows sunlight, was drizzling and as gray as the buildings.

At school, I was greeted by smiles and warm greetings from the other Russian teachers of English. That’s still the impression that I carry in my heart today about Russia:  This is a place where people are treasured.

Inside most of those shabby, dull apartment buildings, are little families that greatly care for one another. I think a lot of foreigners in Russia may be surprised at the monotony of the never-ending sea of apartment buildings and the serious expressions worn by inhabitants on the sidewalks and in the shops. But if you look under the surface, you will find immense generosity and a loving spirit.

A Small Triumph

I teach in a private school, which is run by a large company. These private English schools dot the cityscape in Russia, due to meager English instruction in public schools. Parents, who can afford it, pay for their children to attend a private English school after their public school day has ended.

My students are teenagers who inform me of their difficult schedules; their struggle to eat healthy food, their lack of sleep.  (They attend public school six days a week.). They come into my classes after a full day at school, and most of them focus intently, knowing that their parents are spending hard-earned money on these classes. Despite heavy loads, their smiles light up the room as I begin class.

At the beginning of the year, one student continually scowled at me. Since she never smiled, I wondered if she was dissatisfied with my class. One day, I taught them the English song,  “Call me maybe!” and the whole class was roaring enthusiasm, except for my one scowling student. I felt sorry that she seemed to get so little enjoyment out of the class. A few days later, in the midst of a grammatical exercise, this young woman’s cell phone started ringing in class, and her ring tone was “Call me maybe!”  I knew that she was probably embarrassed (liking the same song as the teacher is taboo!), so I quickly moved on with the lesson as she silenced her phone.

Inwardly, though, I was delighted. She had enjoyed the song! Over the following lessons, this student began raising her hand in class and participating. I’ve even seen her crack a smile from time to time.

For me, that is a small triumph.