Category Archives: culture

Guest teaching, everyone learning (in Hue, Vietnam)

My first trip with Teachers Helping Teachers SIG to Vietnam is over now. It was a whirlwind – and a blur. There is a lot and too much to reflect on as a result, there are projects to work on, decisions to make, new friends to keep in touch with, professional and life goals to set and work towards. You’d never think so much can happen to a person in a week’s time! But this is all material for some other posts that I will or will not write here. This one, however, is about a class I taught as part of our program and that many of YOU, readers, Twitter and Facebook friends, made possible. Here’s how it happened.

***** Planning *****

As I mentioned earlier, the program involves some of us, volunteers with the THT SIG, guest teaching a class in the university where the seminars for teachers are later held (Hue University of Foreign Languages which has apparently been the partner and platform provider for the seminars for about 12 years). Anyway, I had never before been faced with a task to teach a class of students in a country I hadn’t even been to before and frankly, know very little about in terms of education or English education. So the first thing I did was write an email to my partner teacher.. and ask a million questions. I thought I could come across as a little over-anxious, but I needed to know certain things before thinking of a lesson plan. Things I needed to know were the following:  What time exactly does the lesson start and finish? Is there any break between two periods? Who are the students? What is their major? What is their level of English? How many students can we expect in the classroom? The class is scheduled to be a listening class – does that mean that same group of students has a variety of classes throughout the week that focus on different skills? Should our lesson be a listening lesson as planned – or any other focus is possible? Would you like to team teach or would you prefer me to teach the whole time? What do you think will be best for students? Is it necessary to use the topic shown in the syllabus, including the textbook and materials that you and students have – or are you allowed to diverge from the syllabus in this guest teaching class? If it’s necessary to follow the syllabus, could you please fill me in on the important details (textbook pages, what students will have done by then, etc). And if you are allowed to have some freedom in our guest teaching time, would you have any preferences as for the topic? 

Luckily, the teacher, Ms. Phuong aka Kathy was very positive in her response and seemed happy to communicate on these and other points I had for her later. She gave very useful feedback to my lesson idea, too!

And my idea was to have students explain things related to what they know best – their culture. Using Twitter and Facebook, I asked a simple “What would you like to know about Vietnamese culture?” – and got a list of 15 or so questions. Thank you! 🙂 Again, I so easily got the proof of how social media (AND personal) connections can empower our teaching, something I’d almost forgot about teaching in my current job.

Fast forward to March 21st. I’m in the classrom and students slowly trickle in – and I know we won’t be starting on time (which is fine! I remember how to be flexible.) I was feeling nervous, but then I saw maybe students were kind of uneasy, too, and that’s only natural. We chatted about it a little, we smiled. I tried to use the marker on the whiteboard and it didn’t work. Ms. Phuong took a marker out of her own bag and gave it to me. Somehow, I wasn’t even surprised that would be the case – both in Russia and in Japan I carry my own markers to the classroom.

Anyway, back to class. In the first 45-minute period we did an activity where students speculated about what my life as a Russian living and teaching English in Japan might be, on certain topics that I gave them, such as my house, my daily routine, my free time, etc (I modified one of the activities from Culture in Our Classrooms book).  Time-related and other reasons prevented us from working on ALL of the questions you asked in the second period, I hope you understand. I had to make a choice and picked, together with Ms. Phuong, ten questions that would be most suitable for the level of the students and their ability. I dictated the questions, then students had to choose at least 3 questions that were interesting for them to respond to and work on those individually. I was surprised and happy to find that most students answered almost all of the questions! After talking about their answers in pairs, they were to put their name and a smiley face on their paper IF they agreed to let me use their ideas for this blog post. 🙂 Now, this is what it’s all about. Here’s what you wanted to know about the Vietnamese culture – and we bring it to you.


1. How often and what do college students drink in Vietnam?

College students often drink milk tea and beer when they hang out with their friends.

College students in VN hardly drink alcohol like beer but they drink milk tea and canned drink like Coke. We sometimes drink beer on special occasions like birthday or reunion party.

They often drink milk tea and coffee 5 times a week.

In VN, they often drink milk tea, coffee, fruit drink, cane juice with friends after school, in free time or on weekend.

Quite often. Especially among young college students and young people who are so corrupted (playboys/girls). They drink on most occasions, like random parties, birthday parties, relative parties, etc.

Coconut, sugarcane juice…

Students in Vietnam often drink some fruit water, milk tea, coffee, etc…

Vietnamese college students often drink beer, local beer, and some kind of soft drink.

Twice a month, beer or sweet canner.

Sometimes, when we meet highschool classmates or have some parties. We usually drink beer. Some girls drink coke or something not alcohol.

College students often drink milk tea and smoothies. They drink when they go out with friends or sometimes order from home.

They often drink milk tea, soft drinks, beer.

2. How do Vietnamese people celebrate Lunar New Year?

Vietnamese people celebrate Lunar New Year by cooking “Chung” cake, decorating their houses by blossom trees, and giving lucky money.

VNese people shop for new things for celebrating in their house, buy new clothes to prepare for Lunar New Year called “Tet.” During Tet they visit each other and hang out with their friends or relatives.

Vietnamese people usually cook delicious kinds of food and put them on altar for commemorating ancestors. In addition, they decorate their house and go shopping before Tet. On the first day of the year, they often visit their relatives and children receive lucky money from adults.

The Vietnamese often decorate and clean their houses in Lunar New Year. They decorate their house with lamps, flowers, papers, etc. They also paint again the walls in their house. They prepare a lot of materials to make “banh chung, banh tet,” such as pork, banana leaf, green bean. Members of the family come back and celebrate Lunar New Year together.

The Vietnamese often offer the five-fruits tray that symbolizes the good luck to expect good things in life. It is considered the tradition of Vietnamese culture. Besides, they often buy some flowers, apricot blossom, kumquat tree, etc…

Vietnamese people try to be tactful and careful when they celebrate Lunar New Year.

We clean the house before the new year. Three first days of the year we visit relatives, children receive lucky money, they go to pagoda for wishes.

Before Lunar New Year, everybody in family stay together to cook rice cake and vegetable pickles. The older give the children lucky money.

3. What do Vietnamese students like to do with their families and friends? Is it true that Vietnamese students care more about their families (than friends)?

Yes, it’s true that Vietnamese people care more about their family. Students like to hang out, travel with their friends, and stay at home and cook with their families.

VNese people like travelling with their family and spend their free time after school wth their friends. It’s true that we care more about our family. Family is always the most important and priority.

That’s true. In their thinking, family is all.

They want to go out, travel with their own families. Especially when there are family reunions, they gather family members and have parties to celebrate. It’s also true that most of the young VNese people care about their families, especially after marriage, young people now have their own family to care about, but they still help and send money to their elderly parents.

Vietnamese students like to have meals or travel with family and like to go shopping or watching movies with friends. It’s true that VN people care more about family. They spend more time with family and share happiness and sadness together.

With family, I like all members sit together chatting after meal. With friends,  I like walking and eating out in a place for students. It’s true that we care about family, because often the majority of the Vietnamese live three generations together and people care for each other, especially the elderly.

I don’t know about other students but I like to have a meal with my family, I want to be with them as much as possible. I have been far from them for 6 years. And I want to travel with my friends, we will have a great time together.

4. What countries are attractive for travelling and for studying abroad?

Vietnamese students really want to travel to Australia, Korea, Finland and America.

For the VNese, Thailand or some Asian countries are the most frequent places for travelling. For studying, they choose America, Singapore, Australia or Canada mostly.

Korea, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, becacuse they have delicious street foods and nice view places.

I think Australia, Canada, America… Because their education system is very developed and modern. There are many famous and beautiful places… There are a lot of lecturers who are so friendly, helpful, well-educated… We can exchange culture and languages with other students because they are from many countries in the world.

I think China is attractive because I also learn Chinese language.

The most attractive country for travelling and study abroad is America.

England, USA, Singapore, Japan.

5. Do Vietnamese students make up English-sounding nicknames for classroom use and for daily life?

Not very many Vietnamese students create their own English-sounding nicknames in class or daily life.

We rarely create English-sounding nicknames. We usually make nicknames by animals’ names or someone’s specific character.

Yes, they do. There are some reasons why students want to give their friends or themselves a nickname. Some people think it’s cool to have a foreign nickname or it simply sounds funny compared to what VNese think about names and such. For example, people call me “Tomorrow” because my last name is “Mai” and it means “the next day” or “tomorrow” in VNese.

VN students don’t create English-sounding nicknames for English class but for daily life most students use the nickname that their family usually call them.

I have a nickname for my English class but I don’t use it for daily life. I think everyone is the same with me.

6. Which is more cool, Japan or Korea?

Korea is cooler!

Korea is more cool for Vietnamese students. They love K-pop.

I think it depends on what culture and language people are interested in. Like, part of the young people love Japanese culture, anime culture, J-pop, etc… They will choose Japan. And the opposite part for Korea if they like Korean fashion and K-pop.

I think Korea Japan is more cooler than Japan Korea.

I think Korea.

Korea 🙂

I think Japan.

7. What are key necessary ingredients for a Vietnamese meal?

The necessary ingredient for a Vietnamese meal is sauce, for example fish sauce, soy sauce.

The important ingredient is fish sauce.

I think this is fish sauce. Because my mom says that most of the dishes taste best with fish sauce.

Fish, rice, and pho.

Rice. Of course.

Rice, vegetables.

8. In Vietnam, what is a polite way to greet someone?

The polite way to greet someone is to shake hands.

Say “Hi” and wave hand.

The polite way is shaking hand and hugging each other.

You wave one of the hands and say “Chao,” “Xin chao,” or “Hey”… Something like that, at the same time.

Shake hands and say hello, or wave hello, call name…

Greeting and a friendly smile 🙂

Say “Hello” and make friends with somebody and smile at someone.

Look at her eyes and smile.

Say “xin chao”

9. What clothing is appropriate in Vietnam?

Vietnamese people can wear any clothes, but not to show a lot of cleavage.

Jeans and shirts or T-shirt, shorts are acceptable.

To the oriental thoughts: men can wear any clothes they want but women should wear full-covered clothing or people will consider you are a naughty or a play girl. But in modern days people are more open-minded and wear Western-style clothing more.

Ao dai, T-shirt and trousers, dress…

Ao dai is the clothing suitable in Vietnam.

Skirt or jeans or T-shirt.

You can wear everything you want but not too short or small.

Jeans, skirt, shorts.

10. Do Vietnamese people travel around Vietnam? What are some popular destinations?

Yes, they travel around Vietnam. The popular places are Hue, Da Nang, Da Lat, Nha Trang, Sapa.

We do travel around VN. Some famous destinations are: Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh, Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An, Nha Trang, etc.

Some people do, some don’t. If they have good financial condition, they will. But still, some people just want to work more and more, and save money for the living purpose, not to enjoy life…

Sapa, Hoi An old town, Nha Trang beach…

Yes, they do. Here are several destinations in Vietnam: Hoi An ancient city, Hue city, Phong Nha-ke Bang cave.

VN people travel around VN very much. There are many beautiful caves in VN that attract tourists to go there.

Vietnamese people travel around Vietnam. The places where Vietnamese always travel are Da Lat, Da Nang, and Son Doong (Quang Binh, DMZ).

Da Lat is the most interesting place for travelling because it has many beautiful views, fresh air and flowers.

Yes, I do. Some popular places are Thien Mu, Dai Noi, Nguyen Dinh Chieu street and so on…

I think that is Danang and Hoi An. There are a mix of modern and traditional. I have never been there.

Yes, they do. They often travel in the summer or spring. Some popular places are Da Lat, Da Nang, Sapa…

***** Final thoughts and comments *****

I would very much like to thank this group of students, who didn’t know what kind of class they were walking into on March 21st, but were all so engaged and responsive and active. I had been nervous imagining what it was going to be like, teaching a class of students I don’t know (and who don’t know me!), in a country I’d never been to before. In the end, it was so much fun – and I hope the information they shared can be useful for anyone who wants to know more about Vietnam. Ms. Phuong, Doan Van Vu, Pham Thi Thuy Linh, Nhat Minh, Lien Thi, Thanh Nhat, Thuy Dung, Hoang Anh Mai Thi, Tien, Linh Thy, Nguyen Phuong Thanh, Vo Thi Van Tham, Hong Diem, Minh Trang, Phuong, Nhu Quynh… Thank you so much – and I’m sorry if I made any mistakes in spelling out your names!!..I did my best 🙂 And I truly hope I’ll see you again.



P.S. Random notes:

  • their handwriting is a beautiful cursive!! Very impressive penmanship.
  • after class a few girls came up to me and wanted to become Facebook friends. Each of them later sent me a private greeting and thank-you message! I was touched and again impressed by their social media manners 😉
  • it was already in Vietnam that I learnt that every word in Vietnamese is one syllable (right?…). So they spell their country as Viet Nam. Hence the abbreviations you might have noticed in their writing – VN and VNese people.
  • maybe I remember how to plan a class that is not a discussion class that follows a similar structure each time. Maybe I remember how to be a little creative and flexible in-action. I was relieved to feel how I felt teaching what I myself chose to, and being comfortable and confident doing so. I think maybe I’ll be OK in my next job.  🙂


Thank you for reading, as ever. I hope this post can be useful in some ways, to some.


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Breaking: English in Japan is pretty useless.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here for 10 months. There are 20+ other blog posts I should have commited to finishing writing about this time, but here’s what’s coming and some background story is likely needed.

One of the courses I have been teaching these 10 months in Clark High School is Culture Course. We have watched videos, took part in an online exchange project with teenagers from South Korea, Russia and Canada, learnt to explain Japanese phenomena to non-Japanese people, read about what constitutes cultural differences in general (the boring part they didn’t really care about all that much). All that has hopefully been coming under the big important umbrella of learning to speak and think of cultures beyond stereotypes. One activity that we all enjoyed was reacting to common generalizations of Japan, its culture and people (the concept was borrowed from an activity I witnessed in Mike Griffin’s class over a year ago). All students without exception were highly responsive and keen on discussing the many common images of the Japanese that are shared in the world. (Sidenote: when compiling that list, I did some research online but also relied on my own friends’ and family’ s ideas, that are probably exactly exemplary stereotypes. In fact, I might have said “My granny/ parents think this and that” n number of times in class… Every time meaning well.)

The part coming below is responses of third-year students to a task in their final test on the course. The task was to give a clear comment on three statements, which happen to be stereotypical ideas about the Japanese. As I was grading the tests, I couldn’t help it but be moved to blog their thoughts, accompanied by my own comments. I wish I could spend more time in class with these students. I wish we could talk about these things, among all others. Instead, I am offering the typed version of the conversations that never happened. Enjoy.



English in Japan is pretty useless. A lot of people, even young people, don’t speak English. Even if they can, they will be too shy to speak when the chance comes.

get along

Student —> Anna

Yes! Yes! Yes! Actually, Japanese study English since they are junior high school students, but many people can’t speak English. Even if we can, we tend to not speak. I think Japanese hate to make mistakes. So they are afraid of making mistakes. We should be confident. We should adapt to globalizing society.

Me: As hard as I might try in my class to help students feel more at ease about making mistakes, I know what you mean. There might be additional, contextually Japanese reasons intensifying the fear but maybe most learners are prone to that sort of reaction? Well, I myself certainly am. One of the many excuses reasons for my profound lack of Japanese speaking after a year living “immersed” in the environment is the fear of being misinterepreted, misunderstood, the fear of using a wrong phrase, sounding too casual, too incoherent. It’s little of a consolation, I know, but it is my way of offering empathy as a fellow language learner.


I agree with this. Many people think so, including me. In my opinion, people think that Japanese English pronunciation is so bad to speak. English is still a “foreign” language for us, because we don’t use it much.

Me: This comment made me cringe on the inside, feeling so sad and yet grateful to this student for spelling it out. Who are those people thinking so, saying so, instilling such thoughts in learners? Is Russian English pronunciation any “better”? When I was in Thailand, I took pains to understand Thai English, but not because it’s “bad” – it is just so different. It offered variations of sounds that my ear was not accustomed to.

I wouldn’t want it for any of my students, Russian or Japanese, or wherever else I might go to teach, to feel ashamed of the way they speak English.


I agree with these statements because I am shy to speak. Also, at first we learn English grammar. It causes us to feel “we have to speak English with correct grammar”. It also causes us to feel nervous and tense when speaking English.

Me: Again, I just want to reassure you that both nervousness and tension while speaking any foreign language is such a natural, human reaction… The way I see it. It is a teacher’s job, to a great part, to make that stressful experience less so. I’m truly sorry we don’t always manage, or explicitly show that we care to manage.


I agree with this stereotype. Japanese people usually start studying English when they are 11 years old. That’s why Japanese people are not good at English and speaking.

Me: Russian people usually start studying English when they are 6-8 years old. Many of them still don’t find themselves to be good at speaking English when they grow up, even after 20 years of learning. I’m not sure what it proves.


I don’t think that English in Japan is pretty useless because over 80% companies in Japan use English and in 2020 we’ll hold Olympics in Tokyo. At that time, many foreigners will come to Japan. So English will be considered to be an important skill. I do agree with the second sentence, because I do become shy when I speak English. In Japan people don’t use English in daily life so people tend not to speak English, even if they can.

Me: I am with you and thanks for pointing out that good reason to keep motivation up for learning to speak English. As for the last sentence, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people in most countries around the world don’t use English in daily life! What I am saying is that we’re all in the same boat here, and it’s good, and there shouldn’t be pressure to necessarily speak the language!


I agree with this comment. As I wrote, Japan is an isolated country so we don’t have an opportunity to speak another language, not just English. We will be too shy when we try to speak other language.

Me: It’s a most interesting idea for the background behind that stereotype. I wonder what sort of isolation you have in mind…


I have to say yes to this stereotype. To be honest, Japanese way of teaching English is horrible. They are looking at English as a tool to get a good grade on exam but not as one language. I think this is a reason why Japanese can’t speak English very well. This is one of the reasons why I didn’t go to a normal Japanese school.

Me: Now this is analysing the “problem” on a whole new level! I am constantly left speechless at the amounts of testing that is happening throughout the term, as well as at the worksheets for English classes that I catch sight of in the staff room. All I can do is sigh, and yet you’re saying this is not a “normal” Japanese school..!


I agree with this sentence. Japanese feel shy to speak English in front of other people because they have a little opportunity to talk with other people in English. Moreover, Japanese character is passive so they hesitate to express themselves.

Me: This comment struck a cord with me. Is that so true? Is there something I could do in my class, in those few hours a week we spend together, to unlock the expressive side of that character (that I am certain exists in every teenager at the very least!)..? Or is that being too bold?


I think Japanese people have no interest in foreign countries and if Japanese people spend their life in Japan, they think “I can live if I use only Japanese.” That’s why they don’t try to speak English so much. Even if they can, they try to be same with other Japanese people. Maybe they pretend to be shy.

Me: In my first months here I used to feel the very same way, that Japanese don’t care about travelling abroad. That was an opinion I heard a lot in class, that was the attitude that used to bother me so much. Now that I’ve grown to be more accepting, I think I see more than when I was overly focused on these opinions. As an example, this weekend during a party/informal meeting for the parents in the school, I was approached by a couple of parents. Both Japanese, very polite, their kid not being in the International Course (which is where I primarily teach), they used all English they had at their disposal to ask me…. about tips for arranging a visit to Saint-Petersburg! It turned out they are planning a vacation there, and they would like to visit the Hermitage museum, go to a concert of classical music, enjoy the architecture of the city. Needless to say how happy I was to share my ideas and recommendations with them, as well as finish our conversation by thanking them for their interest in the culture of my country. …On second thought, I wonder how far English is going to get them in Russia (I honestly don’t know). I hope they join a tourist group 😉


I agree with this sentence. First, in Japan people don’t have a lesson in which they can communicate in English. School teaches us how to write perfect grammar. So, a few people can speak English and during speaking are too shy.

Me: There’s nothing I could add here… wait, no, I have a question. Don’t Japanese junior high schools have ALTs? I don’t have experience working as one or working in a school with one, so obviously my knowledge is limited to the stories I’ve heard… but it was my understanding that they were there in school to ideally produce some sort of English-speaking environment, or an impression of such. Just as a sidenote: Russian schools don’t have an equivalent of that position.


I think so, too. These days a lot of foreigners visit Japan, so there are many chances to talk in English, but the way of studying English in Japan really focuses on writing too much <…> Japanese are shy to talk with strangers in English. I think it comes from the historical reason. Once upon a time, Japanese people used to keep distance from foreigners. I think that reason made people these days think they can’t get along with foreigners.

Me: I’d argue that focus on writing is not the cause of trouble in itself. It is the kind of writing that matters. Regarding the final thought, it was thought-provoking to read… Can it be ingrained that deep in the culture to transfer from generation to generation through the subconscious of a whole nation?…


Finally, a ray of light in the grimly painted picture of English language education for the shyest nation of all:

That’s not true. I speak English every day no matter where I am. I partially agree with the idea that Japanese are shy though. It really depends on each person’s personality. If you are good at English, you can go to a good university, so it’s not useless at all.



All of these students have successfully passed the test. Moreover, they sort of nailed it, making me really happy with their language improvement and clever reflections, well-put in what they say is still a foreign language to them. Thank you for inspiring me to face the blank “draft” page on this blog, too (and for effortlessly filling half of this page with your own writing!)


Thank you, reader, for reading. Make what you will out of this post.


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37 days of my new life

It’s a fact tried and true that time can fly past fast. You can only experience once the anxiety, frustration, liberation and thrill of moving into a different country to start a new life of your own from scratch. While I am contemplating whether I’m through with this period or not quite yet, here are the 37 notes I’ve made in these 37 days of my new life. In no particular order they cover my observations, musings, questions, experiences, assumptions and whatnots. Enjoy.



1. I enjoy my walk to work and part of it is through a narrow street along the train tracks. The little street is all bars on top of karaoke places squeezed between restaurants offering Japanese, American, Indian, Turkish, Burmese and other types of food. On Monday it is easy to say where a bar is as there’s vomit next to an entrance on the road.

2. On with the theme of parties, I am amazed at how abruptly the Japanese stop to have fun, be loud, clink glasses and laugh when hanging out. When it happened at the official school welcoming party, I was taken aback – a round of clapping following the Japanese tradition, and we suddenly, very responsibly were done with the fun and gone. What takes Russians literally hours and drags them into the early hours no matter what day next day is, is efficiently a matter of 5 minutes here.

3 The Japanese people are organized and disciplined, there’s a minute-to-minute instruction and guidance for any type of action. Any event is scheduled to the minute.

4. Patterns of social interaction here are amazing to me, in how radically behaviour changes depending on the situation and people involved in it.

5. I love train tracks up there with the view of the roofs. The feeling of space and sky is more tangible in Seoul if I were to compare, but even in Tokyo it is still true and still breathtaking for me.

6. I can’t brush off the feeling that the Japanese are easily thrown off their emotional balance (or easier than me?..). Examples are due here, in later posts.

7. From what I’ve seen so far, these people seem to be great at managing people, with announcements, directions and instructions.

8. It’s been over a month since the school year started and we haven’t yet begun proper classes. It was new and somewhat baffling to me at first, but now I see the point of spending the first month in activities, home rooms, meetings, events, school trips and such. Getting students interact outside their natural little groups, in and between grades seems like a wise thing to do for these teenagers. And, to be honest, for freshly recruited teachers.

9. I still don’t know why on out-of-school-campus events students are not allowed to go to convenience stores or buy water from vending machines.

10. Kids wave to (or almost at) you saying hello and goodbye. That could very well be from the modest distance of 1 meter away from you. By “you” I might actually mean foreign teachers…

11. This must be a silly thing to be excited about and devote a whole point in my culture notes to, but the fact that change at supermarket registers comes out of the machine automatically after the cashier drops your money into a hole was pretty fascinating to me.

12. Thank you for waiting. Please wait for a while. So said the announcement on the train from the airoport to my station last Wednesday, the last evening of the Golden Week. An unexpected problem… Cause: passenger injury. I hadn’t experienced it on my way yet and I didn’t know then that “a while” would take two hours. To my amazement, there was absolutely no, positively zero sighing, swearing or grumbling from my fellow travellers.

13. I must confess there’s no great love for cooking in me, expect for cases when I want to try out an interesting (and simple!) dish or treat my family and friends. Other than that, I never thought of myself as of the cooking type. However, this past month I did manage to learn and enjoy cooking udon soup, yakiudon, chicken curry, fried squid, omuraisu, mentaiko spaghetti and some dish with tofu and Japanese spinach that I don’t know the name of. I’m getting a fresh perspective on my culinary abilities (and thanking friends, Google and absence of my mother in this apartment).=)

14. I have experienced the Silent Classroom.

15. With a few prominent exceptions, the voices of my students when in a class and speaking are so quiet that I find it hard to make out what they are saying even when I’m bending over them or kneeling beside. That adds to my general embarrassment and confusion when adjusting to the Japanese pronunciation of English sounds.

16. Linguistic landscapes being the recent buzz and my personal long-time interest, here are a few of the images I’ve taken around Tokyo.









17. Whether you are at work or in a shop or hanging out, cuteness is never too far. Kawaii is the word that applies (or, more accurately, is applied) to nearly any imaginable thing, person or action. This part of the world is cute.


18. I have long stopped paying special attention to people wearing masks, but I still have an urge to ask my students, when and if the rapport is good, why exactly they would wear them in a language class. I have heard a view that many teenagers stick to their masks as they are embarrassed about their faces.

19. It’s the first time in my whole 9 years in this profession that I actually spend 8 hours a day 5 days a week with colleagues. The learning for me exceeds the teaching so far.

20. At the end of April I had a unique opportunity that my job offers – a full day of training with John Fanselow. I have just finished my third online course with him through iTDi (speak of addiction..), and that face-to-face time was truly special. There’s still a blog post to be put together from the many pages of my hand-written notes… Some day then.

21. I’ll never regret getting emotional on a beach in South Korea on a nice October day in 2014, which led me to writing this post. The beaches in Osaka and Kobe took my breath away in an almost similar way. They reminded me of where my heart wants me to be.

22. The little time spent with friends in Kansai area took my breath away just as much and reminded me that I am not alone, even if I often feel like I am.

23. I whined in my previous post about the language frustrations that brought me down in the first week here in Tokyo. Truth be told, I’m still affected by that undoubtedly exaggerated shock I got in a bank, and it manifests itself in that I resort to the simplest words and phrases I already know again and again. My learning has been sparse and unworthy of mention. I find comfort in making excuses of the first month being the hard adjustment period. Sad as it is, there is truth to the fact that language and culture immersion do not equal language learning. But I already knew that)

24. In November of this year I’ll be presenting for the third time at JALT conference in Shizuoka! This is exciting because JALT is more than just a regular conference for me, it is anything but regular. It is one of the reasons why I am here where I am. 

25. Ueno Zoo is a wonderful zoo and I’ll be visiting it over and over.

26. One Saturday I went grocery shopping in my neighbourhood. As I was on my way home, loaded with 5 heavy bags and leek sticking out happily from one of them, a few elderly Japanese ladies came up to me and asked (in Japanese) what I assumed to be “Where’s the bus stop here?”. I smiled and shrugged my shoulders, they smiled,excused themselves and asked a Japanese lady standing at the traffic lights next to me. The moral of this story is that grocery shopping makes you look like a knowledgeable local, even if you’re so obviously a gaijin as I happen to be.

27. For the first time in my life I faced a classroom of 40 teenagers.

28. No public wifi is still depressing to me. A few times I’ve tried, in what I take to be a Russian way, to guess the password to a network at a place, but failed were my attempts.

29. I wish I could get myself a Snoopy credit card.

30. Working from 8.30 to 5 is, as I mentioned above, new and challenging. I know I can and will make it, as so many people around the world in this and other jobs do, but I admit it is hard.

31. One of the exciting things at work I’ve done so far is suggesting writing journals to some of the students. Three girls have already shown interest and handed in their *cute* notebooks with first letters to me! I’m going to spread this initiative around to other groups of students.

32. One of the two special courses that I’ll be teaching at my school is Culture Studies course. Originally designed to focus at the Russian and Japanese cultural phenomena, it now looks more appealing to me to open it up and include any cultures outside Japan. We’ll be looking for partners to do cultural exchange projects on the blog that is yet to be created, so if you teach teenagers and think this experience could be up your/ their alley – please let me know!

33. The other one is the Social Media course centered around privacy and safety issues, so critical in Japan. A short pre-course activity showed to me the startling truth that ALL students feel insecure in social networks (all being 99 out of 100), but all the same use them extensively. I only hope I’ll do a good job and by the end of the year the percentage will be different.

34. Messages that I regularly recieve from my family, friends and former students from back home are heart-warming. Thank you, it means a lot to me especially now.

35. Belorussian restaurant “Minsk” in Roppongi is run by lovely and friendly Belorussian ladies. I’m going to buy frozen (Belo)Russian food there (they promised pelmeni and cabbage rolls aka golubtsy soon!).

36. I like my new life and I’m working on adjusting to what’s new and unusual. I have found myself to be flexble enough.

37. I wish I had the energy back to write more often… It makes me happy to put my thought and heart in this post, finish it now and publish.


Thanks for reading.

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Korea impressions

Last year was unique for me for several reasons, one of which being that it was the first time in my life I stayed, well lived more like,  in a foreign country for more than an ordinary vacation-taker’s 14 days. 5 weeks spent in Korea are certainly worth a lot more than a handful of posts about the classes I visited (those were precious and invaluable in every single way!).


I lived a life and that life did not remind me of a life of a tourist. There was no rushing in the mornings to make it to a breakfast in a hotel. There was no hotel, in fact. I had my pet. There were no excursion buses to hop on/off for cookie-cutter excursions “to get the best of the city”. There was me and the whole of Seoul to explore, at my own pace, at my own time, with my spontaneous choices oftentimes made right there at an exit of a station I’d picked to go to, on the spur of the moment.


There were things I wanted to do – walk up and down the hills, wander around neighbourhoods, take turns left and right without knowing where I’d end up. I stared at people who almost never looked up to meet the eyes of a stranger. I stopped in front of tiny workshops with doors ever open and businesses being done right there on the pavement. I bought several bags of tangerines from an elderly man in the street, because it was a discount but I didn’t quite realize what he was saying to me and actually only needed one of those bags (also never learnt the numbers and counting in Korean). I learnt to pick, taste and like street food. I enjoyed fresh pastry and I hunted for tea only to find that “tea” in a coffeeshop can be anything BUT tea, for what I know tea to be. I struggled with metal chopsticks when eating noodles. I loved, loved my Korean meals.


I learnt so many things about the places and the people that it’d take tens of thousands words to write about them. All the notes you’ll now see below were made in Korea and have now just been elaborated with extra commentary. Somehow it’s all still painfully fresh in the mind. “Painfully” because I took to Korea in a very special way which I’ll only be able to analyze and comprehend fully after a longer while. For the moment, it feels like this experience was grand, different, spicy, probably life-changing, certainly unforgettable. I’m running out of adjectives that would do their job well, so here are the notes and some pictures. Enjoy.

Warning: if you’re based in Korea, you’re likely not going to be taken aback by any of these notes. They were taken by a tourist, even if an observant one with plenty of time on her hands, after all.


***** Notes and opinions about Korea, in no particular order, on all areas at once *****

1. Seoul subway cars have a colour marking on the floor, a wide stripe of the same colour as is the metro line itself. Clearly, such a simple thing to do and so nice for passengers. The cars themselves are also much wider, let alone cleaner, than in Moscow.

2. In the metro, as the train approaches, people do not rush closer to the glass doors preparing to get in. But as soon as the doors open, people at the station and those getting out of the car *imo very rudely* ignore one another and simply push their respective ways in and out. Moreover, if you are inside the car and need to get off at the next station, it’s your problem how you’re going to manage that. People won’t make way for you. It’s not common practice to ask people in front of you if they’re going to get off (like it is in Moscow). Fight your way through to the doors all by yourself, you and your elbows, I’m afraid, you’ll have to. The doors, by the way,  can be quite entertaining. There’s also music announcing the approaching train, and melodies in different cities are different.


3. In many cases public restrooms are not to be found inside cafes or restaurants but for the whole of a building, which could, naturally, house several various places on its floors. You’ll have to ask staff – and hope they will explain it in English.

4. There was something that completely blew my mind, and please don’t make the trite comment that Russians shouldn’t be afraid of cold weather. Girls in Korea in the chilly, sometimes windy weather of the second half of October were not noticed to be wearing tights while strolling around in super mini skirts and shorts. Similar thing was noted in November (!) in Japan. My granny would tell them all off right there in the street when she spotted one.

5. Square shaped leather bags of a rucksack style are popular for both girls and boys. I won’t mention couple clothing, as it was already mentioned here.

6. In your local neighbourhoods, just off the noisy, busy main street, there would be a man in a van. He would be slowly driving around the area in his van full of vegetables. He would have a megaphone. He would offer cabbages, potatoes and what not in a monotonous mullah-like voice, stopping here and there. I’d never seen anything like it, or felt like wishing to buy a sack of carrots in a street.



7. Koreans don’t care (or don’t show they care or notice) you are different. Let’s face it, I am plenty different by my looks. Maybe it is Seoul but in fact I never felt “alien”, or weird, or stared at, let alone treated badly (with a few minor exceptions, which might actually prove the general trend and were more funny than unpleasant)).

8. I spent a lot of time commuting around the city on the subway, so that’s where I made a great deal of my notes, watching people. Koreans on the subway sometimes seemed pretty much like Russians by behavior to me – pushing, not saying sorry for stepping on your feet, or for anything, for that matter. And yet they somehow didn’t leave a strong impression of being rude. They might not have looked or made a recognizable impression of being friendly either… but they did get nice. =) Like once two old ladies invited me to take a seat near them (those reserved for the elderly). It was a sudden and pleasant gesture, even if I refused.

9. As I’ve already mentioned it above, it struck me to see the life of small businesses out there in the street. Tailor shops, car repairs, toy makers, sellers of all possible useful and useless things, old ladies’ eating places – in tiny, not necessarily clean rooms, with doors wide open, these were always tempting me to sneak a look inside. The city life is out. That’s such a different Seoul than that of Gangnam, and the feel it has is warm and welcoming.





10. What feels so unmistakenly mine in Korea is the combination of green mountains, pine trees of their sprawling shape, and Asian architecture forms and colours. The simplicity of wood and stone and gravel wrapped up in the green of those pines blew my mind, no less. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that a few times I actually caught myself holding my breath. The nature aesthetics of Korea brought peace to my mind even when I was not feeling exactly peaceful.




11. Korean girls use lipstick (a lot) and apply it in a special style which is called “gradient lips”.

12. Despite expectations, I didn’t notice Koreans to be emotionally reserved. On the contrary, I saw people (younger ones, to be fair and precise) expressing their feelings affectionately in public.

13. People do not interact with strangers either verbally or with eye contact. It was so unusual for me especially, since I was constantly staring at everything around me, including people. I wonder if that behaviour came across as impolite or embarrassing.

14. Koreans love hats. And cats.


15. It’s fine or a cultural habit (norm?) to brush teeth in public places (restrooms, naturally). I’d never seen anything like it.

16. Sooo many Koreans wear trainers! I realize it’s the trendy thing to do now but I found it almost obsessive. In this way, I can’t help drawing another comparison with young people here in Moscow – so many of them look the same, from season to season, in similar outfits “inspired” by all similar glossy mag pictures. It was far more exciting to watch people in Tokyo =)



That’s about all for now. I wish I could sum it all up in a beautiful paragraph. Is it really possible to piece together these fragments of culture and impressions they made on me? I won’t even start doing that. The bits and pieces of scattered observations are part of my Korea, the first country I got to look at from within and took to pieces so scrupulously.


My time in Korea would’ve been completely different had it not been for the amazing people there who took care of me in so many ways. I owe my discoveries to the time I spent and conversations I had with Josette LeBlanc and her husband, Anne Hendler, Michael Griffin, Michael Chesnut, Nina Iscovitz, Ran Kim, David Harbinson, dozens of students and teachers I had the pleasure and luck to meet. You all made a big, big difference, bigger than you realize for sure. More on that maybe in future posts. Thank you!

And thanks for reading.

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In Mike Griffin’s class.

One of my personal professional goals to achieve during my Korea time was, as you might have read in some posts before, visiting classrooms and processing the experience. I think I started with a lot of zest. As a result, this post came out a very detailed one, took about 5 hours of my time, a lot of concentration, meticulous note-taking of anything I was seeing (and the thoughts those scenes and moments spawned), and then brain effort to structure and write it up in the way it could be readable and telling the points.

Next class I visited was of a very different type and I eventually decided to blog about it in an idle way which would require little analysis on my part but would leave a special feeling of other people being part of this emerging space of a blog. There were voices to be heard, I sensed, and I think that was a good choice on my part to eliminate the thorough scrutiny.

I’m going to go similar way now writing about another class I visited in Korea about a month ago, that meaning I will cut the dissection part. Because it’s too hard and I’m not sure it’s worth it. Besides, I feel like the main interest in that class for you the reader of my blog could be the contents of the class, at least that’s what it was for me.


Welcome to Michael Griffin’s English class at Chung Ang University, Seoul. Fasten your seatbelts, or any other belts, I hope it can be an interesting cultural ride.




I’ll set the scene for you. Imagine a rainy but warm day in Seoul. That was the kind of day. Mike invited me to one of his classes and I was even going to be more than just a guest taking notes. That is exciting, if you ask me, and exactly the type of experience I’d long been thinking of having.

It’s a rough estimate, but it felt like 2 minutes of class passed after I felt a pang of jealousy. I saw Mike being relaxed but obviously confident and in control of the flow of his lesson, joking around while being on track and giving clear instructions. That was, in fact, pretty much the same Mike Griffin you’d see if you attend a presentation of his (and next chance to do so is in Japan in just 5 days). What was the pang about anyway? Well it struck me like it hadn’t in the months before that I miss teaching. I wanted to teach a/my university class and it was while being in that particular room that the feeling got so intense. I was almost aching to interrupt, interfere, comment, play a teacher, or get involved in any other way.

Which I only had to wait for. The plan for the class was the students (4 Korean ladies) doing the task assigned by Mike for one hour, and then the next hour would be divided into 15-minute “interview” sections, the interviewers being both Mike and me. This was in itself a new and unusual class format for me, and now that I’ve tested it and seen it in action, I’ll certainly try it out with some students in Russia, as soon as I get a chance.


So the four students split into two groups of two. There was “a Korean” and “a non-Korean” in each pair. The non-Korean Koreans were to read the questions, the questions that non-Koreans might wish to ask Koreans about their culture. The Korean Koreans, in their turn, were to give their Korean replies and explanations and provide any necessary comments on any further interrogation by pesky non-Korean Koreans.

Some of the questions from Mike were the following:

? Why do so many Koreans wear masks?
? Why are there so many Kims and Parks and Lees in Korea?
? Why do Koreans like Samsung and want to work for it?
? Why do Koreans hate Japan?
? Why do Koreans use metal chopsticks?


There were all in all 24 questions, all of them equally interesting or some even more. As you might imagine, I stopped taking notes of the things I could observe about the lesson very soon, for the simple reason of getting too curious about what the students had to say explaining their culture! By that time I’d been in Korea for three weeks and collected a fair amount of questions like that myself, so I couldn’t wait till the interview part of the class.


And while I learnt a lot in that interview part of the class and satisfied some part of my curiosity, I’m led to believe the students had a chance to learn from me, too. One of the best examples of the kind of cultural learning that happened that day and happened both ways was talking about the image of Russia. In that hour I heard 3 things which the students  shared with me as their instant associations with my country: (1) Moscow is a dangerous place to go to as there are skinheads who roam about the streets attacking, hitting and killing foreigners; (2) Russian food is greasy; (3) What do you think about Putin? … I don’t believe I need to go into much detail here about how passionate I was dealing with (1) since it’s just not true *anymore?*, and it was shocking news to me that such information travels around. Russian food is certainly different from Korean and it’s common knowledge that tastes differ. I’d heard taxi drivers here in Seoul blurt out “Putin?” first thing after they found out I was actually a Russian, not an American.


Among all other things we talked about it might be interesting for English language teachers in Russia to read that I heard this line: “My Russian groupmates struggle with their English”. I realize that it’s just one student sharing her personal opinion and it doesn’t lead us into making this unpleasant conclusion about the state of English language education in Russia, its standards and the levels students get finishing school.. There’s one thing that is certain as it’s a fact: Russian students don’t have to take an obligatory English exam as they finish school education, unlike Korean kids. For the latter English is mandatory for entering any university whatever major they choose, and English scores are in a way crucial (yes, they are a big deal). As I explained what the situation for Russian school children is like, my Korean interviewee said “I think your system is better” (stress related + not all students really need English in the future). Whichever system is better, her Russian groupmates struggle with their English.


I’ll share with you my questions about Korea and things Korean I’d been noticing in my time here. I got responses to some of these but still wonder about others. In any case, it’s useful to have them here as a memory of what I had in my mind in October 2014, and it’d be more than great to have some of your replies in the comments to this post.

  • Is it bad manners to tip?
  • Is it bad manners to not finish your meal/ leave food on your plate, if you don’t like it (some parts of pork, for example)?
  • What about dairy products and Koreans?
  • Has anyone here ever tried a dish called “kuksi”?
  • Why do Koreans invent English names for themselves and introduce themselves to me as Suzie, Robert or Jenny?? (note: I got an excellent answer to this question from one student but I’d like to read what your perspectives are as well, teachers who are based in SK)
  • Why are people in the metro or in the street never saying sorry after pushing you, stepping on your feet?
  • Why are people not looking at other people in the street? Or is it just for me?
  • How are people from Seoul different from Koreans from other places?
  • Where does Japan stand in the list of tourism preferences for Koreans? How’s the general *hostile* attitude reflected in daily life – do Koreans use Japanese products? Do Koreans have Japanese friends?
  • Why are you asked to scribble whatever on a special thing if you’re paying with your card? It’s not even supposed to be a signature. Apparently, there are no security reasons involved as there would be with PIN-codes, what then?
  • Names for dishes! That’s just amazing to me. In order to feed myself in a restaurant I need to know the name of a dish (and what that dish is, of course). It’s not as easy as it is to order a steak or pasta marinara, you know.
  • What’s one thing a Korean would never eat?
  • How about going to places, such a coffee shops, alone? It seemed to me it’s not quite typical/ natural for Koreans to hang out on their own.
  • Is there no Korean version of Google?


It was a very informative class for me, and even insightful in certain ways. Cultural gaps were filled, for me and maybe for those students as well. In the end I did feel I was a good part of the lesson, and I thank Mike for organizing the time in the way that allowed for that! Thanks a lot, Mike! =)



Random analysis points that I couldn’t resist:


1)  I enjoyed Mike’s teaching style: very smooth and natural, with interesting and timely commenting and language work. The whole first part of the lesson revolved around one and only task, and that felt right and “light”. There was no hurry to proceed to some next stages and that opened up space for fruiful work on the task there was to be done.

2) I personally learnt a new word (peoplewatch (v)).

3) Several times Mike referred to Korean in his comments on the use of some phrases in English. I’m sure making connection with L1 is useful for students at any level of language proficiency. That is my humble assurance.

4) Here is a post to read to learn something more or less up-to-date about Russia (Moscow?).

5) I asked one student to share 3 important things my students in Russia should know about Korea. Here are her replies:

– Korean parents have high expectations of their children. They want them to study hard and get best scores.

– Wifi connection is excellent in Korea.

– Delivery service is just as excellent in Korea. Your order will arrive at your door within 10-15 mins from your call.

6) I paid special attention to Mike’s phrazing of “non-Koreans” instead of “foreigners”. I’m determined to stick to “non-Russians” from now on, whenever that comes in handy.



This post is the forth (! already) in the #livebloggingparty series. This time Mike himself and I got together and blogged. We also ate this kimchi pizza. I hope you enjoy his post that you’ll find here. And with this post the blogging party moves on to another country! Expect to be continued soon-ish.

Big thanks to Josette, Anne and Mike for agreeing to go through this with me. I’m going to leave Korea with exceptional memories.


Thanks for reading!

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Impressions we/ you/ they make

I’ll do my best now to write a non-whiney blog post. Essentially, I’m NOT annoyed much by instances of the behaviour I’ll lay out in this post. I most often try to keep an objective distanced view, make notes, and subsequent *logical* conclusions. And these conclusions is exactly what matters and drove me to be writing this.

This post is also nothing spectacular or new. It’s about impressions we/ you/ they make when communicating with others online. I’ll mostly be referring to emails here.


I’m wondering just how much it is a “Russian thing” to seem (be?), sound, and come across as rude while emailing in English. I’m less and less sure that simply teaching the formal/ informal letter templates, useful phrases and email layouts ultimately helps actually writing better letters. By “better letters” I mean those which (a) carry a message across; (b) don’t hurt/ humuliate/ shock the person on the receiving side. 

So, a few instances that brought me to think that I should be teaching more than just typical expressions, structure and style of common letter types.

1)  The other day I heard amusing and slightly disturbing comments related to writing complaint letters. Namely, threats were considered a norm, in addition to quite typical clipped and sharp half-sentences. Yes, the problem is real and does not come from an exciting case-study scenario. Thus, I now realize, emotions are truly involved and making a difference to the process of writing the letter in question. Is this a common practice? How emotional do you get when/if you find yourself in a similar situation? Do you then follow the rules we teach? Just wondering.


2) A few months ago there was a vastly comical but also to a large extent pretty sad correspondence thread in my mailbox. Both sides of it are/were connected with English language teaching or at least with the English language (which is L2 for both sides, by the way). The correspondence was around a professional issue, which is exactly what made it look particularly tragic for me. I couldn’t help raising my eyebrows in bewilderment when I saw Dear Anna!!!!!! The last sentence in the letter invited me to be even more excited about the whole thing, as the amount of exclamation marks tripled, I think. Well, in fairness, the main chunk of that letter conveyed the message and was mainly to the point. I smiled and was reasonably excited.


3) The same professional issue had to face more online communication but with a different person. The striking, and frankly speaking, somewhat offending thing about this particular thread was the tone (demanding? aggressive? offhand?) and failure to meet the communication target in the first place. I didn’t lose much as a result of this and had to offer my own very polite but unambiguously (as for the reason for it) clipped response. It was very much about the impression my conversation partner made.


4) Finally, this point is also about impressions and conclusions. It is less ethical than previous three, though, as it features some copied and pasted lines of real communication which took place.

The story setting: I was looking for an apartment to rent. The country is NOT Russia (which makes me want to dwell more on the culture impact and how far it extends, and also to be more condescending towards us rude and direct Russians). Here are the extracts of three responses I received. My initial messages included general info about myself, my upcoming visit and some specific questions about the apartments.

Response #1

I uploaded other pictures that you can refer. <…> To make your reservation, you should click “Book it!” button. You can also visit here before you make a reservation completed. To do so, just email me.

(Note: I did ask about extra photos. I did mention, too, that I’m not in that country now or in the following several weeks.)

Response #2

My apt is open for you.

(Note: ok.)

Response #3

Hello Anna

Thanks for your message. 
Big welcome to …. (omitted for secrecy and suspence building purpose, to be revealed soon))

Of course, this studio is available for you.

Yes, I have met some nice guests here. Usually they were working in that table.

If you need more information or help, tell me 🙂


– … (name)


Task: out of these three, choose the person I responded to. 


So, to me it all boils down to the impression, even if that sounds harsh. I mean to say, those other apartments could be really great, and I understand that the contact people do not necessarily feel extremely comfortable talking in Engilsh. Also, I’m a language teacher and I’m really understanding. I seriously don’t mind any of those replies, I could deal with that outrageous (to me) correspondence with the Russian ELT people without venting too much.

What matters in the end is that I will rent that other flat.



Tell me please if I’m being the worst of an English teacher with these observations jumping out at me as biting my eyes. Where do these issues come from? Should I feel bad about being picky?

Convince me, if you will, that a person, of whatever culture and background, will by all means continue writing grammatically, lexically, stylistically correct letters after you’ve taught them a lesson on it… Throw stones at me but I think it’s about how people think and what they accept as a norm in communicating in their mother tongue.


I hope I didn’t sound too arrogant or unprofessional. I’d like to talk more about this.

Thank you. 

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A Guide That Will Teach You How You Must Live (in Russia)

I’ve been doing travel tips for visitors to Russia with students in my course for 2 years, and it was just last week that I felt satisfied with how it went. As my annoying habit goes, I feel like analysing why. There is, I suppose, a mix of external factors, my general easy-going happy feeling these days, and attitude to class this term.

Anyway, the “analysis” comes at the end of the post. Enjoy the The Guide now, written by my students. Or, rather, the guideS, as you should probably know that Moscow is not what Russia is. So we had two groups of students writing up lists of tips either about their native Moscow, or notes based on their knowledge of life in their native small towns of Russia (or cities other than Moscow).

tipsmediumPhoto of my student’s paper, with reference to Dr. Strangelove

In Moscow

Subway is better than trams, buses, etc. but it is most crowded. Don’t use private taxis! Be careful while crossing the road, drivers are not very polite (if we compare us with Europe). Use bicycles, many bike lanes are made now. There are usually a lot of traffic jams. Some buses which have an index number may have shortened their route, so be careful. In the centre of a platform of metro stations there’s a red and blue post marked INFO with a metro map on it.

You should stand up if you see a pensioner standing and looking where to sit. People seem to be very unfriendly and angry because they do not smile, but our people are actually very hospitable and outgoing if you need help or advice. Russians become very very friendly after some minutes of conversation. Be ready to understand irony and sarcasm. Giving gifts and presents is traditional, it means that people show their emotions. Talk about the beauty of Russia if you want to break the ice in conversation. Russians like to complain and to criticize something (but not themselves).
Russian art, literature and classical music are nice to be talked about.

You can find food of any cuisine in Moscow. Be sure to try the taste of Russian honey and caviar. Russian people like to eat soup. Don’t drink water from the tap. It should be boiled before drinking.

What to visit?
Visit Vorobyevy Gory (and make a choice what to visit looking at the city from the observation deck on the hill). Don’t visit the outskirts. 1/3 of the city is green – go to the parks!

Language and communication
If you speak English (slowly) people will understand. Learn Cyrillic alphabet before you come.

Schedule and times
There is no fixed timetable in the underground but in the rush hour trains come every 50 seconds.  You cannot buy alcohol after 10 pm.

Have passport with you (in the city)!!! You need to ‘register’ in Moscow! Police are allowed to stop anyone in the street and ask for documents. There are a lot of different nationalities, you shall be acquainted with these cultures.

Prices are high. There are a lot of malls. Check the receipt and change on the spot.

High prices. Be careful if you live near a football stadium, it might be dangerous in time of a match. Our electricity standard is 220V, 50Hz.

Hot dogs
Avoid stray dogs!!! People don’t clean after their dogs – be careful!

Don’t wear very expensive shoes in the winter (chemicals in the streets). Weather is totally unpredictable. Summer in Moscow is very stuffy.

Do not drink alcohol or smoke in the streets, it is illegal. There’s free wifi in most cafes in Moscow.

Have a pleasant stay in Moscow!


Out of Moscow (in a small town of Russia)

Try to communicate with people using simple and basic phrases because people in small towns don’t know English well. Talk to young people. Try to learn and understand Russian phrases and greetings (da, nyet, dobri vecher, privet). You can have an eye contact in conversation but remember: touch contact is preferable only with close friends in an informal atmosphere.

You should avoid shopping in underground crossings, there are poor quality goods there. You should look at the date of manufacture of a product.

Food and drinks
You can knock spoon when you mix sugar (in your cup). Stick to restaurants or cafes that you know (for example, McDonalds or KFC). You should try specific dairy products, like kefir or ryazhenka. There’s a stereotype about Russian love for vodka. Many people in Russia can’t stand it. Drinking age is 18 y.o. for beer and 21 y.o. for spirits.

Be prepared to extremely noisy subway, buses and trolley-buses. In many Russian towns you have to pay fare to a bus driver. Try to stay close to the bus doors at rush hours. Otherwise, you should push your way to the exit.

Technology and communication

Some Russians like to show off their gadgets. Russians have many outdated things. Many Russians use headphones or earphones. In most towns you have access to 3G Internet.

Mentality/ culture

Keep in mind that Russians are people of extremities. Russians are straight-forward, direct and speak openly. So they like to comment on what they see and discuss people’s behaviour. Some Russians like to teach you what you must do and how you should live. Tolerance… almost no tolerance. Everything looks better outside than inside. Hot discussions are a normal thing. Dark tones prevail in clothing. Avoid contact with people wearing sport suits. You can see wild animals in towns (for example, bears and wolves in Nizhnevartovsk).

Police in Russia aren’t police in your country. Avoid contact with them. If you lose your gadget, put up with it. You will never find it. It’s better to have an insurance. There might be no toilet paper in public toilets.



One big reason for me thinking it’s gone better this time than at previous times is the introduction of categories, for which I thank this post. We’d read and discussed these tips written by Korean students first, and I believe the style they are presented in, as well as the type of information, got their reflection in what my students came up with. Another thing is stereotypes. Every year I have to remind students to keep away from promoting a bear, matreshka, vodka, valenki and ushanka kind of image. This culture trolling is ultimately their first choice, always. Somehow this year we managed to mostly avoid it, well at least in writing and the follow-up discussion. Of course, the jokes in the process of working on the tips were in abundance.

Talking about culture you live in and being neutral about it is very difficult. Still, I think maybe this year the overall picture is more realistic and complete than before. Also, it’s always been a flawed idea from me to ask them write only 10 tips. This is, on reflection, my final big reason.


*** A personal note on a small town in Russia ***

Yesterday I went to Ryazan, a small town with a very long rich history 200km from Moscow. I spent half the day walking around seeing the sights and also paying attention to every little detail around me (about place and people). My guide was a most kind, open and naive girl I’ve seen in a long time, or ever, here. Or it’s just as likely that I never gave it a thought or a close look. I might write more about the day some time later because it was a whirlwind of emotions and a week’s worth of impressions (although I believe a lot and quite enough has already been written about the dramatic disparity I’m just now redefining for myself). I’ve seen Russia and I’ve talked to a Russian. It’s all very vague for me now, but in a very simplified version my personal note is about being impressed and uplifted. And I’ve been impressed enough to get back to the roots and pick a collection of Yesenin’s poems as my reading choice, for today or more.

Feel free to use these tips in your class or life, and have a pleasant stay in Russia.


P.S. And just if you think you have some information to add, whatever it is, or you want to contradict, or argue, please do so in a comment. I’d be very happy to see this as start of such a discussion. Thank you.

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“What does it feel like to be…” The Ultimate Comment Mashup #2.

“What does it feel like to be British?”

I asked a year ago in my Posterous blog and received the following comments. I’m now securing their safety here in this post.

Read, discuss with your students (like I’ve been doing), enjoy the insider views.


In the first place I feel like George Mikes: you can be British but you can never be an English! Perhaps your question isn’t directed at people like me who aren’t British by birth, but yes, I am British, and, what’s more, a British passport is the only one I have!
So, what does it feel to be British? In my case, well, I feel more like a global citizen rather then British, to be honest. Right now, I feel more at home in Las Palmas than anywhere else, but put me in London, and in no time, it feels like home, too. Strangely enough, I feel more British when in Britain; here, I just feel…well…foreign!
So, how else do I feel? I don’t really know. Do I have any so-called British habits? I have tea in the morning and I rarely have it again during the day. I almost never have English breakfast nor Sunday roast here. Language and music wise, I feel more British than anything else, but I’m talking about 60s and 70s music and not what comes out today. I follow more Spanish sports than British and I’d sooner cheer Nadal and Alonso than Hamilton or Button. So, I guess I’m not so loyal now.
I’m probably an atypical British, but I’d like to hear from other British who have been abroad for a long time. Are they like me? Do they adapt to the local environment? Chiew


For me, Britishness can be a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, it gives me a sense of history and culture stretching back well over 2000 years, and further back if you count pre-Romans. This richness in the environment around me is fascinating, and I’m constantly discovering new parts of my culture and country. As a country with a lot of immigrants, Britishness is also being challenged (in a good way) and our culture is becoming much more receptive to other races and cultures, up to a point. Having the passport I have has also given me an extraordinary amount of opportunities, for which I am very grateful.
On the other hand, being British abroad can be very embarrassing, because the reputation of Brits as alcoholics and/or hooligans seems to be spreading rapidly. It has already spoiled some places, although hopefully not beyond repair. Many Brits also seems to have the ‘insular’ mentality that takes it’s name from living on an island. Despite having a diverse culture at home, many Brits still think everyone should speak English and adapt everything they do to the Brits around them, whether at home or abroad. For me, this can make me feel embarrassed about being British at times.
Having said that, I will always tell people my nationality without shame, although I may end up apologising for some of my compatriots! Sandy Millin
I’ve been thinking about this more since I wrote my initial post, and what came to me is this:
The only British people may well be politically correct English people. People from other parts of the British Isles will probably tell you that they are, for example, Scottish, before they are British. Other parts of the British Isles seem to have much stronger regional identities than those of us from England. For example, Scottish flags greet you at the border, as do large ‘Welcome to Wales/Croeso y Cymru’ signs on entering Wales, while the English signs are small and don’t seem to feature any national symbols (at least, not that I remember). his lack of a strong unifying identity is something that I’ve often thought about. Sandy Millin


The first thing that popped into my head was sense of humour and self-deprecation. I have been living in France for about 6 years and this aspect always stands out to me. 
But as the first response mentioned I do feel more of a world citizen than British. Maybe that is to do with my background – Sri-Lankan Tamil family, born in Ghana, grew up in Wales, married to a French! I wonder what our soon to arrive baby will feel like when he gets asked a question about culture and nationality?
Cheers. Mura


My personal top 10 of British-feeling things would be:
1. Humour – it’s in every conversation, whether silly, sarcastic, satirical or surreal. Wordplay is a national sport and we’ve produced some truly amazing comedy series (imho). One of the few things that makes me really proud to be British.
2. Reservedness – we’re an excessively private people. We don’t like people standing too close, making too much noise, asking personal questions or coming to our house unannounced. I can see why others often think we’re cold!
3. Embarrassment – we’re chronically embarrassed by everything, from talking about sex / our emotions to unfamiliar social situations. Until we’ve had a few beers – then it’s a different story altogether. It’s why the British drink so much 🙂
4. Supporting the underdog – as soon as someone becomes successful, we try to knock them down (especially if we think they’re not modest enough about their success). We always support the little-known team, the person who’s come from a poor background, etc…until they too become successful, and the cycle starts again…
5. Tea – tea solves EVERYTHING. I’m a pretty bad Brit because I take mine black – the commonest way is with milk and sugar (also known as ‘builder’s tea’).
6. Multiculturalism – this is the double-edged sword that Sandy mentioned above! – our cities, especially London, are amazing because of the diversity of people in them. But a big part of the reason for that was probably colonialism, which is something most British feel still feel uncomfortable about (see no 3 above).
7. Eccentricity – we’re not comformists. We collect weird stuff, celebrate weird stuff and wear weird stuff. It means we produce interesting artists, musicians etc though, and I love that.
8. Freedom – having lived in other parts of the world, I now value how free I actually am when I’m at home. I can marry (or not) whoever I like, I can live where I want, say what I want in public, practice any religion or none…these are all things to be thankful for.
9. Passive aggression – linked to no 2, maybe, we hate direct conflict and hardly ever say what we really mean. Debates in the House of Commons are a brilliant example of this!
10. Pessimism – we just can’t achieve the perkiness of our American cousins. We think every new project is doomed to fail and we love to have our pessimistic predictions proven correct (‘Typical!’ is a particularly British refrain).

Other things which didn’t quite make the list: talking about the weather (we really do!); fairness; bizarre double standards regarding animals (OK to kill and eat but not to harm in any other way…) Laura Phelps


It means feeling like an island but always longing for the land beyond the horizon
It means craving sunshine but knowing one’s spiritual home is a rainy sky
It feels like early dark and Gothic civic architecture covered in soot 
It feels like a land crowded with football towns and lost canals
It means reaching for the salt as soon as food is served

Luke Meddings


This is really interesting question Ann, although I’m not sure you realise just how political it is, especially at the moment!
As an English person, I consider myself both English and British. However, that is because I consider nationality to be a large part down to geography. Simply, I was born and lived most of my life in England, which is part of Britain. That’s the land mass where I was born and I can’t claim to be anything else. Some people might claim to be only English, but I would dispute that based on my opinion that they don’t have a choice. They were born there, and that’s it.
This might sound obvious, but there are people in Scotland (and Wales to a lesser extent) who wouldn’t consider themselves British because they see Britain as a political entity. Of course, I can’t deny that, it is by definition a “United Kingdom” of nations under one government. However, I don’t feel that this kind of excessive patriotism is particular useful.
I understand why people want to define themselves culturally in relation to the place where they were born, it’s a useful way of creating a shared identity. My problem is when patriotism slips over into jingoism (from “my country is great” into “my country is better than yours”). This, for me, is dangerous and lies behind so many pointless conflicts around the world.
I should point out that I’m not classifying all patriotism in these terms. Personally, I don’t get much out of it, but if other people want to be that way, it doesn’t bother me.
So the point of this is (yes, there is one 🙂 ) is that as an English person I’m proud of our culture and the things we have given the world courtesy of Charles Darwin, William Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, the Beatles, Tim Berners Lee & Emmeline Pankhurst and so on, but I don’t feel I can take any credit for that and I’m aware that most countries and cultures can also point to their own equivalents of equal stature.
So do feel I British? Yes, but it doesn’t mean much to me, but then neither does being English. The more I travel and live abroad, the less useful it becomes as I see it as fairly restrictive group of stereotypes, some true, some not, that don’t really serve me any purpose.
I hope this ramble answers your question. Now I’m off to have a cup of tea. James Taylor


Hi Anna,
Coming from Scotland I would say that my attitude towards Britishness is a rather distant one. Even though I no longer live there, I don’t think that changes all that much. My experience is that many Scots feel something similar. I can’t myself remember the last time hearing a Scot say “I’m British” unless they were publically expected to do so. I think we shouldn’t generalise but at least some of the English community feel more comfortable with their Britishness. 
Yes, connections run deep after the last 300 years together and we do seem to drink a lot of tea. But Burns did write that Scotland was a “parcel of rogues” and some down South find us up North well a bit ‘savage’. Perhaps it’s closer to the truth to say that we share many values but the UK is a patchwork of very different identities. Is that a good or bad thing? Who’s to say. So, I’ll just bloody-mindedly and Scottishly end with the Irish poet W.B. Yeats who wrote “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”. Roy Bicknell


Many thanks to the wonderful Brits who took the time to leave a comment and, well, educate me and my students in the sense of giving very genuine explanations to their feelings of belonging or non-belonging. One won’t read that in culture studies course books. I’m grateful.


If you think you have something to say to the question I posed – please do!

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“What does it feel like to be…” The Ultimate Comment Mashup #1.

A year ago I was working on the country studies course book which is now successfully published at my department and can be found on some library shelves. It’s quite probable that nobody is going to teach with it except for me and a couple of my colleagues, yet this experience was invaluable to me.

First of all, I got a taste of materials writing and I loved it. Secondly, I “tested” the power of crowdsourcing… and was overwhelmed by the results! In my two posts, “What does it feel like to be American” and “What does it feel like to be British” I challenged my PLN by asking them, British and American natives, to share their views on this. The flow of comments, Facebook shares and retweets that followed was breathtaking! Through this immediate connection and genuine open-hearted response I learnt a lot about the mentality of these two cultures. This little research  (?) triggered a snowball of exciting ideas and activities which I introduced to my students a year ago. I am going to work on bringing more out of them this coming month, so I’ll actually turn to you for assistance again very soon. =)

In the meantime, I simply cannot put up with the fact that with the official death of Posterous I’m going to lose all those precious replies for good…So I’m reposting them here in this post. For my own sake, for the sake of my students, for anybody who’d pop over here and find it exciting. Here we go.


Hi Ann,
I’ll plunge in first, and feel free to shoot me an email with any further questions/ideas/thoughts.
To be American, in these modern days, to me, means to be an individualist. To have positive relations with many friends, but to be most concerned with what is your current project, or your current relationship. While we have community, our ties are less so than other countries I’ve visited. This is visible both in our social customs as it is in our governmental policy.
To be American, for me, also means to be confused at times about a pop culture that exports itself all over the world, sometimes through its art, sometimes through its business, and sometimes through its national acts of agression. Yep, I said it and no I’m not proud of it, though nor do I identify with it that much as I see myself as a global citizen these days more than an American.
I haven’t lived in the states for more than a year or two in the past decade, and I might be a little out-of-touch with what’s going on there now, however, the more I travel and the farther I go away, the more I realize that we can talk about particularities here and there, but really when it boils down to it, we’re all pretty much the same, at least to me, in these modern times. 😉
Oh… and we like hamburgers too. 😉 Brad Patterson

To be an American is to stick out like a sore thumb, some may say this is individualism at its height. I see it in a different light-selfishness. For most, being an American means being a monolingual English speaker with little knowledge of our history. Values and beliefs vary much throughout the country some are godless, most are god-fearing and some are apathetic or agnostic. Some politically motivated, others financially driven yet all of us have a unique quality that makes us American….Here is my answer… we are independent thinkers longing to belong to a group…any group. Our greatness though comes from being in one group….A pool of people from every other place on Earth. We have small spats of violence within our borders but we all live together as one tribe. Here in the US, the only place on Earth where there is no ethnic cleansing and we are moving further and further away from our racist imperialist past. My 5 y.o daughter says to be American means to be happy, and my naturalized US citizen of a spouse says being American means being free to do whatever she wants…Which leads me to ponder why does she restrict my ability to eat a burger whenever I want? My short answer is that most of us walk around…We are passed tolerance. In the modern era we are all about accepting and respecting every individual….this is my humble view.@eslconsult


After living in Germany and for a stint in Greece and traveling to 22 countries, I have really thought about this question. It feels strange in a way because I feel as if we have the most freedom in the world and so many opportunities to accomplish great things but we rarely take hold of those opportunities. I think we are so blessed to be born in a place where we do have the ability to accomplish so much despite our economic situations in the US.
What does it mean to be American? It means to appreciate our ability and freedom to choose our paths and take hold of these opportunities to make a real impact in our world. Esther Lyre

Being American means being free to think and create. It means being proud of the red, white, and blue, and everything that is and was sacrificed to have earned those freedoms. A bit of arrogance and keeping up with the Jones’ (pardon the idiom) is a piece of our culture, but it is not what being American is all about. Melissa Emler


What does it feel like to be an American? Hated by most Nations and we don’t care that we are hated. We laugh about it, because Americans invented Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft and nearly most of the social media. PLN would not exist! Not all, but many of your PLN colleagues are hypocrites and haters too! You wanted honesty, there you go; take it or leave it. Ken Samac

(I”ll start with a quick story if I might)
It was spring 1999 and I was one of many Americans studying abroad in Spain. A bunch of my fellow American classmates and I went to a small town on the beach in Portugal for the weekend. I was the last of my friends to go to bed and I found myself partying with a group of Portuguese students. In the midst of the revelry one of them asked me where I was from. I said “America” as was my common practice at the time. He nodded and said that he knew America. Brazil, Mexico, Argentina. Yes, America. He didn’t seem to know the America that I was talking about. At some point I think I said something about Coca-Cola, McDonalds and General Motors (to my shame) in order to jog his memory. We continued talking and in a mix of English, Spanish and Portuguese it became clear to me that he was putting me on. It was an interesting and memorable experience for me. To that point in my life I had never had the experience of someone (pretending or not) say that they had never heard of my country. In some ways I think that part of being American is that no matter where you go someone has heard of your country. For better or worse there are already built in perceptions of what it is to be American. Land of the free. Land of guns. Hollywood. Drugs. Democracy. Friendly people. Conservative zealots without passports. Sports enthusiasts. Manicured lawns. Race issues. It seems that people across the world have an image of what Americans are like. To me, being an American is often about dealing with these stereotypes whether they are true for me or not. Mike Griffin


 I’m sorry, I’m a little late in responding. To me, being an American is an awesome responsibility. Without question America has been blessed, economically, technologically, culturally and spiritually. Americans today are in a difficult position. Due to an ever-shrinking planet, we must find a way to maintain our independent spirit and innovation while cooperating with many other global players. I have found through my own exposure to other cultures, that what generally sets Americans apart from other people is a sense of optimism about the future. Kevin @toeflzone

What does it feel like to be an American? What a difficult question! I can tell you what it feels like to be an American for me. I should preface this with some background information, as America is so diverse that how I feel about it is very different from other people’s views. Obviously, I am a white female. I grew up in an affluent area on the east coast. I am educated (currently working on my graduate studies), and I am employed. I am a wife, mother, and teacher. What does America feel like for me?
Competitive. I feel an intense need to compete, and I believe it is, at least in part, cultural. America is very competitive. We place a strong value on innovation and success. Part of the reason we have such disparity between our rich and poor is our ideology that people should “pull themselves up by their boot straps,” meaning, make your own success. Take care of yourself. Be strong, be creative, be the best. Never show your weakness and always win.
Curious. I am genuinely interested in other cultures. I love to read novels about various cultures, and I love participating in global collaboration. America, though we have such diversity, is somewhat isolated. Consider that in Europe, one can visit ten countries in the time it takes one to cross from our east to west coast. And each country has it’s own history, culture, and language. Yes, we have many immigrants, but America has traditionally asked them to lose their ethnic identity and become part of the “great melting pot.” I believe that has changed significantly in recent years, but that is the America I grew up in.
Compassionate. Americans want to save the world. We are generous and compassionate. The problem is, we don’t always realize that not everyone wants to be saved, nor do we always know how to do it the right way. Often, though well intentioned, we make a big mess of things. Not all countries are interested in capitalism or equal rights. We should learn a little from our neighbors to the north and stay neutral.
Proud. Americans are very proud, often ethnocentric. In my youth, I thought our way was the only way. It took me a long time to appreciate the fact that other cultures, though different, are equally good. I love my country, but I also see the value in a rich variety of cultures. I see that there is much for our young country to learn. We need to step back a bit and reflect on our overbearing presence in the world and embrace the variety of lessons offered to us by others around the globe.
These are the dominant things that come to mind when asked what it feels like to be an American. If you would like, I can ask each of my students to answer this blog post as well. They could give you an idea of what it feels like to be a teenager in America. @danielle6849


Below are the comments left by Danielle’s high school students. Unedited.

  • To be an Americans means nothing to me. I just live here and I am here in this world alone. American is not helping me do anything in life, I have to do it myself. (Rahkeya Mack)
  • What it feels like to be a teenager in America? Well to me i feel as if its hard because in order to have a stable life you have to go through a very long process. Starting with Education, than from there its like everyone is trying to compete with each other for positions in a job and when you get the position theres always someone who’s trying to take your place. What I can say is very good about America is that there is a lot of opportunities and you can be whatever you want as long as you put your mind into it and work hard to be successful. We love to see people with talent and theres many programs and associates that can help people with talent get to where they need to be. Whether their good at sports, singing, dancing or ,playing an instrument etc.
    Another good thing would be theres a lot of rights that us Americans have, which isn’t based on whether your poor, rich, black or white. Which other countries I see discriminate on rich and poor and even race. We all have equal rights here in America. Such as freedom of speech, right to bear arms ( which is the right to carry a legal weapon for protection), the right to remain silence and many others.
    One thing I don’t like about America is how they treat people with criminal records or just any kind of records period. It’s like once they have this record it follows them for life and people don’t want to hire them, knowing that they may have a family to take care of and living without a job in America is very hard, because theres nothing free specially today in this economy everyone trying to save & earn instead of giving.
    This is how I feel as a teenager living in America. (Kwesie)
  • To be a American is hard because there is so many different cultures. Also nobody is the same but everyone is equal. Everyone chooses there own paths in life from being successful to just being average. America is like all cultures put into one country. The mixing pot of the world there are product from all over the world. From different foods to clothes and music. Many people come to America to be free and to have a better life for them and there family. If there is so many positive things in America it is blind to the people that lived here all there lives. They do not see what it is like to live anywhere else in the world. (kb)
  • ” There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is right in America”. I think that means the good in America outways the bad. But i think freedom means alot but we dont appreciate it because we dont know anything different so we take it for granted . I feel like if we didnt have the freedom & rights we have now or someone took them away from us we would be lost completly. Another one is Education, i feel like americans take that for granted too, especially our generations teenagers because education just isnt important to most of us & we would rather be doing something else that consumes our time.  I think the culture in America is so diverse .Theres so many different cultures here. Theres no one really here alike if you think about it . & The music is so different here, you can tell what music people listen to buy the way the dress & act most of the time. Music has such a impact on us. (anneliese)
  • Being an American to me means being able to be yourself. You can do anything in this country. People have started from nothing and ended up millionaires. I can’t think of another country that has the “American dream”. But it also feels bad sometimes being an American. things that you had no hand in, that you’re getting judged by. Everyone around the world thinks we’re all a bunch of fast food eating idiots, where only some of us are. If I go to any country around the world and tell them I’m American, then I’m going to be harassed with questions about food, or I’m going to get a lot of hatred towards me. People act like we shouldn’t care about what other countries think, those people are idiots. (Ray)
  • Being an American.This is how i feel. I feel patriotism, being able to have rights that allow me to do so many different things, i feel compassionate for every other American whose following in my footsteps to become the better of the best. I also feel very well educated, that if i were given a task. Lastly i feel pride, a feeling of deep pleasure and satisfaction derived from my own achievements that i have made throughout my childhood, but I’m sure every American can have a different perspective of the country they live in.
    I am grateful to be in a country with so many open opportunities. I feel granted that I’ve been able to live my life free of many of the worries that people face everyday such as illness, job loss, or even loosing their house. I feel i am responsible for my two foot prints on the world.
    But I’m sure others in other countries have similar feelings of pride, patriotism, and responsibility and how they feel they should have equal opportunity like everybody else. I hope my future is just as bright as my past was. In conclusion i also agree that knowing I’m American and was born in this country is usually an amazing feeling. (Nina Scardetto)
  • What does it feel like to be an American? Many people have their different views and characteristics that identifies what it means to be an American. To be an American you have to be proud of your country. When you hear the national anthem you stand up, face the flag, if you know the words say them, and as respect you take off your hat. In America we have our Bill of Rights, laws and the Constitution. As a country we follow those laws and rights and those who don’t get punished. Like any other country, America has their flaws but tend to have better problem solving skills. To be an American for me means that I value my rights and accept the consequences if I were to break the law. I also appreciate the school system and that there are trade schools. Lastly, I like the right to pick my career. (Tierra)
  • What I feel it means to be an american is pride we are a very vain country feeling that we need to help everyone before we help ourselves. We decide for ourselves whether or not someone needs help and if they want it or not we but in sometimes we help but sometimes we make the situation worse. Even though our country is in a economic recession and still there we are focusing on the middle east instead of our home.
    Corruption is also a problem here the reason we can’t get out of the recession is because our people our so greedy. To our people there is nothing more important then getting the most money possible the easiest and fastest way the banks loaning is the perfect example they gave people loans for houses they could never afford to buy even with the loan and it caused the housing market to fall apart and many people lost their home. This also caused the stock to fall again putting us close to a new economic depression but into a recession.
    Unemployment is also a problem here many people have no job. No way support their family these are all of the dark things america is facing at the moment but there are many good things coming. (Patrick M)
  • I believe that I take being an American for granted. I have a warm bed, food in my stomach, and parents who care about me. I wake up every morning and take for granted the running water I have. I always have food in my house. And I have plenty of clothes. So every once and a while I have to stop and be thankful for my life and my freedom.
    Being an American means that we have rights. We have the right to speak freely, vote, and practice whatever religion we want to. Other countries have never had those freedom. Most Americans don’t even know how fortunate we really are. But America is far from perfect.
    There is still poverty in this country, and people are homeless and Hungry. Rich people are at the top of the food chain and poor people are at the bottom. Lower income places don’t have good education and crime is very popular. Then there is unemployment, so many people in this country don’t have jobs. The Government says that they are trying to fix the problems but a lot of problems seem like they will never change.
    I am greatful to be an American. I’m greatful for my freedom, my rights, and other things that i take for granted everyday. There are a lot of things that this country has to offer. No country is perfect but i’m glad I was born here. And i’m proud to call myself an American. (Nicole G)
  • To me America is something different to me then most. Most Americans would only speak of our good sides and not the bad. I’m not one of those. Forgive me, if I offend anyone, but I speak my mind. America is tail spinning into a crisis it might not come out of, undamaged. Where there is great freedom here there is also great corruption that wants to suppres that freedom. Where the rights exist, some through their greed wish to abolish these rights. The political structure is cracking, the econic circle has broken, and the social ladder distorded.
    I’ll start off with the corruption, while Russia might have managed to escape the global econimc crisis, America hasn’t. The banking industry, who threiv off of this type of time. Has sought bail-out after bail-out from Washington. Inspite the fact that whe their representives arrived in private jets and Limozine. They got several trillion dollars, which most is just collection dust. The politicans will do just about anything in their power to stay in office.
    The rights that have been secured since the founding of this nation as stated in the Bill of Rights, while they serpass the rights of many other nations, and under threat. Unlike in China or Taiwan, we can speak out against the goverment and not be killed, the CIA and FBI will just moniter you as a “Possible threat.” Our right to bear arms, have been resritced due to anti-gun laws being rushed through. Activists have kept these mostly intact.
    As I said greed is a major player here. The rich have all the money while the midle class and the poor lose it. Our econics cricle has broken. There are few jobs left here in industry, most has been sent to China for lower pay, and no qeustions asked. The taxes increase, on the midle and poor and the rich get tax cuts. Also many simple hide their money in offshore banks to afovid taxes. Also with the basics of loans and interest here, many have loans people can simply never repay.
    Our Freedom, the most redeming trait of this nation. We are free to do as we please, just don’t break the laws. Most countries lack this, but we are losing it. With traitorous actions like the Paitriot Act, SOPA, PIPA, NDAA of 2012, which severly supress our freedoms as ganented by the US Constituion and Bill of Rights. While the world sees us as free, we are losing our freedoms. As someone said “A velvet glove covering an iron fist.” Mostly people don’t even know of these actions that are clearly treason. Created in secret and kept that way until the vote in the Senate, no questions, the President braking all his promises. Our goverment is broken, America is not as great as you may have thought. (AK)
  • Its feels good to be an American teenager. Though many others look at us and stereo type us in many ways. Americans have a great education. We like to work hard and be better then everyone else. But doesn’t everyone want the best ? In many other countries kids don’t have the same freedom or education as Americans. Americans have many ways to succeed in life. You can go back to school at all ages. Even with our health care we have many ways to stay healthy. We also have freedom of speech which a lot of other countries don’t have. Some countries kids cant even look adults in the eyes. (Bryan)
  • In my opinion what it feels like to be an American is that as Americans we need to be brave. The reason why America is so brave is because we have a lot of things that have happened in America is that we have wars and fighting for America. America has done so much of everything and that we need to have volunteering, education, and music. Volunteering is the most important thing in America because we need to have volunteers doing things for America like Firefighting, EMT, and Police Officers. Without volunteers nothing would get done. Education would be harder if we didnt have schools because schools are very important because we have to have a strong education and not a crappy one because everyone needs to learn something and we need to be strong (courtney)
  • In america, we have one of the best educations. We have many children who go above and beyond to further their education in attempt to gain a reasonable career. The education in america is one to be proud of. I learn so many things everyday from the teachers here in New jersey. Like mrs Hartman said, the compassion of every teacher to help us gain an education is phenomenal.
    In america, we have freedom. Many countries do not have the freedom that we have. I feel that a lot of us take that for granted.Our freedom is something to be proud of. Although, we cannot do anything we feel, our country does give us a lot of leighway such as be able to peacefully protest, and to make many decisions as a democracy. One of our best freedoms is freedom of religion. I myself am Jewish. I believe something other than the average american. I appreciate the fat that I can practice my religion in peace.
    In america, we have freedom of creativity. We can express our fashion sense or personality in any way that fits us. It makes every one of us unique. we have the right to express ourselves and show everyone who we are without being harmed. Many countries do not have the right to wear what they want or anything at all I feel that we should appreciate the many freedoms we have including one as little as this.
    In america, I am proud. I am proud to say that i live in america. I feel that just as Mrs.Hartman said, appreciating cultures and how they do things. Many of us do not appreciate the freedom and rights that we have. We should be proud and appreciative of the things we do have and think of those who do not get those same rights. Many people in others countries do not have the freedoms that we do.
    These are my reasons for loving America. And living her makes me feel so proud and appreciative of the things that i do have and make me have respect for those who struggle everyday to gain those rights themselves. (Brittany B)
  • Being an American means being free, educated, strong, and equal. It is a great honor to be called an American. Here, we have the freedom of speech, religion, the right to bare arms, and to be whoever you want to be. Yes there are a lot of laws and rules and regulations but over all we are a pretty individual country. We don’t have arranged marriages, we don’t have slavery, we don’t have to work at the age if five. I know all of these things seem ridiculous but some other countries have to encounter these harsh and unfair issues. There are so many things that other countries are not aloud to do and so many things that they are FORCED to do. Here, we always have a choice.
    Over all, America has some really educated people. We may not be the smartest people but we are intelligent. America does everything in its power to insure that everyone has the opportunity to have a good education. Whether its college, a trade school, a tech school, or a GED, a majority of American have some type of education. Im not going to lie, a lot of people don’t graduate from there high school, even more people choose not to expand their education after high school. That, however, is 100% their choice. America gave them the first push, if they continue on the path that is up to them.
    When you here America you think of strength. Many people say we are strong because of the Army. I agree that our Army is a main factor in America’s strength but the overall reason is because as a people we come together and form a strong nation. We, the Americans, are the reason why America is seen as a strong country. We have been through a lot. More than a lot. We have come encounter with wars, natural disasters, depressions, recessions, riots, and so much more. At any given time we could have given up. But no, we stood strong and stuck together so that we could overcome all of the obstacles put in our way. Separated we fail, but together we prevail.
    Equality is the best part of being an American. Especially for someone like me. A female who is African American and Native American. I am in the minority all around. If we didn’t have equality i would have no rights. I am not going to lie, it took a lot if fights and time to form a equal America. But in the end all the fighting, waiting, and time payed off. Now women have the same rights as men. African Americans and every other minority have the same rights as Caucasians. There are still people who believe that some people are still beneath them but you can’t change everyone.
    Overall, America is a great place to live. Being granted the right to be called an American is also a great opportunity. There are still many flaws but no one and nothing is perfect. Anywhere you go will have flaws. I am just proud to be an American. (Raiya J)
  • I will not lie but it feels good to be an American. To me its the land of Freedom. The fact that us as Americans can fail and get back up and do it again without anybody talking down on us. I love that we can all be classified as equal school wise. I know in other countries kids do not have the same education as we do.
    I feel that we have fresh food prepared everyday. For me to be an American means a lot because we all have the same rights no matter what class,race,age,gender. For example if i want a job oppertunity at this big CEO company and someone much older is going for the same job choice. Me and the person have to same EQUAL chance of getting that job. I know some countries would have took the older person because that person is older and i know that some other places would have pick me because im younger.
    Which will bring me to my next point that America is an competitive place to live. If you want a job choice like in my 1st example you have to show the owner/person who is hiring you that you deserve that spot only because there is a lot of people fighting for that same spot. That might be a down fall but it just shows that America does not just give out any job to any random person.
    If you were to just come to our country you will find out that our country is so divided up into a lot of things. Like our cultures and music. The way we dress would shock a lot of people by surprise just because we dress so differently. Sagging pants,Holes in pants,the shoes we wear,Hairstyles. That type of culture down here is normal because were accustom to it. Food is really different down here too.
    We have a lot of rights that make our country different from other countries. Freedom of speech we can talk and say what ever we want to and i know some countries if someone tells you something you cannot say nothing back but down here in our country we can say something back. (Alberto W)
  • America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. Yes it feels good to be an American because I could be living in a communist country controlled by a dictator, but America still has many challenges to over come. The quote,”there is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is right in America” is an understatement. We have many problems in our country and we do have programs to fix them, but not enough is being done to fix them. In the year 2012 America is dealing with rising proverty rates, high unemployment, debt, job requirements are rising, it’s a buyers and employers market, the cost of a college education is increasing, enormous inflation.
    But despite all of the problems America has it is one of the best places to live on earth. Yes, there is still lots of prejudice and a lot of barriers have been broken but The United States as a whole has a long way to go. Even though our systems designed to help people don’t do enough at least we have systems involved to help people. Because in communist and undevoleped countries there is no welfare or unemployent, or disability. In those countries if your poor your poor, if you are unable to work to bad, if you are unemployed well that’s just to dam bad because it’s like that and that’s the way it is
    To be honest I am very scared about the future and the direction of America. But a great man once said ,” we have nothing to fear but fear itself”. Although in our country it is very difficult to make a living and advance in social status at least you can. (Josh M)
  • Being an american to me is the freedom to be able to express what you feel without being punished afterwards. This country gives the opportunity for nationalities worldwide to come together as one and begin to build a new life. I get to vote for who I want to be my president at the legal age. Some countries people don’t have a say so as to whom they want to be elected. I am heard whether anyone wants to hear it or not. Being an american brings freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom to present various cultures to others around you. America practices the rights of the law. The judicial system makes sure that justice is served and gives fair trials rather than taking a citizens word as other countries do. Compared to other countries we have an amazing amount of privacy. Our space is not invaded without the proper actions taking place ahead of time. We have tons of brave soldiers that fight for our country and have a ton of pride for what they do. Being an American means standing up for your rights. It means standing up for what you believe in and making sure in as many ways as you can to take action in expressing yourself as an individual even as a whole on behalf of your surroundings. Being an American paves the way for many opportunities to come your way. You grow up with public schooling being able to have the freedom to educate yourself. You grow up with the rights of being able to read billions of documented texts and are able to embrace various amounts of knowledge. Being an american means having pride in who you are. I love being an American. (Tiphani)
  • Well being an American means many things. Like for example it means that you have more opportunities, freedom, and a better education and rights. For example i was born in south America Chile until i was 4 years old. When i was 4, my family decided to move to the U.S. to find a better future. My dad came 6 months before us to get settled in. Then we can by plane and i cant remember a lot since i was so young. I do remember how everything outside the window looked so tiny and beautiful. When we arrived to the U.S, everything looked and felt different. Like when i left Chile, it was winter time and when i got the U.S. it was summer. As months went by, things changed. Their were many laws and right here that in Chile u wouldn’t even hear about. Everything was different but way better than it was in South America.
    After i lived here for a year, a tragedy happened in New York. Four planes were taken over by terrorist. Many people died on this day since they crashed them into the towers and the pentagon. Many things happened after that but not as crazy. Living here is harder but yet easier than living in Chile. So we left everything in South America, Chile and my parents had a lot of bravery to start from scratch.
    Living in America takes bravery, honor, and responsibility. Many people thinks it easy to just live here but its not. Its hard because it involves hard work. Like you need to find jobs and be able to support yourself. Other things to think about is how are you going to live here without responsibilities. You need to keep America clean so that it becomes a better environment to live in. It is a true honor to live in America because we have a lot of freedom. In other places, you cant speak your mind because you could get in trouble. So Living in America, gives you a better and more efficient life style. (Alma)
  • To be an American has its privileges and its consequences and these are my reasons how i feel about living in America. I feel that Living in America has a purpose because we all need an education to accomplish our goals and dreams when we are much older. There is always a reason for living somewhere and when living in America its to become successful in life. We all have rights and freedom and thats what makes us choose our dreams and the goals that we would like to accomplish when we are older. America has a large variety of culture and fashion that makes us living in America very unique and original. Our country is very diverse and I feel like everyone comes to America to start a new life and maybe get an education. The united states gives the opportunity to help other from different countries to come and have a fresh start. I am proud to be living in America and to have the chance to make something good of myself and become successful as i can be. (Vans)
  • In my opinion, its a pleasure to be an American. I feel America has an advantage over so many countries in many ways. Many countries don’t have good education, good food and water supply, and some don’t have a stable government like America. Even though America has problem’s, we strive to come together as one to solve the problem we may face.
    One of the most important things about living in America is you have Great responsibility. You have to work to be able to maintain some type of property and be able to afford everyday life needs. Also, having a career in some type of field of work. And in order to achieve that goal, you have to attend school such as, High School, or College.
    Second, by living in America, most American show great Bravery and Determination. America has faced many problem’s such as Wars, Debt, recession, pollution, but as a country, we are trying to overcome most of the problem’s. Also, we are mostly caring for other countries in the world. If a Disaster had occurred somewhere, America would be one of the First to try and help that country in any way as possible. Such as earthquake in Haiti, tsunami in Japan.   (Jose)
 Wow, looks like this post is going to be #1 in the mashup series. It’s an impressive bulk of culture insights first-hand, isn’t it?..
If you are British or American and have something to say on it – please do! It’ll be much appreciated.
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British, American and the follow-up.

I was PLN-sourcing to find answers (or rather to gather authentic response) on the essence of Americanness and Britishness a couple of posts before, and not only did I recieve comprehensive commentaries from you lovely friends here on the blog, but also incredible resources on the topics related keep coming my way through your tweets, FB posts, and other ways. I”ve been favouriting them and marking and bookmarking but it’s clear I should publish these in a separate space open 24/7 and for everybody to use – I believe some of these may come in handy and spark lots of ideas and conversation.



Vicki Hollett’s blog “Learning to speak ‘merican” is in itself an inexhaustible source of views on Americanness (there is not such a word, right?…hm)


Measuring the U.S. Melting Pot is an interactive US map showing distribution of nationalities across the country county by county. Astounding to learn that Germans seems to occupy like most of the US=)


Two infographics illustrating American Dream: Catching Up with the American Dream and Not Your Parents’ American Dream (the changing face of it). Expect me soon to come up with some activities on these. 


America For Beginners is the blog I”ve recently found a link to in my mailbox. Its main idea is to bring American culture closer to new immigrants, and what’s intriguing – the blogger is a Russian girl Anna who’s currently a resident of Boston. Unusual stuff. 




“Make Bradford British” – a very timely TV show on Channel 4 (not to be broadcast here anyway). Check the home page for the main idea of the project, and the Union Jack composed of characteristics of Britishness tweeted under the hashtag #MakesYouBritish (flag updates every 30 sec).


An interesting article on BBC News page from Mark Easton “Define Britishness? It’s like painting wind.”


“What does it mean to be British” podcast. More debates.


A whole lot of various activities on UK Culture for learners of English from LearnEnglish brought by British Council. The vitals of contemporary culture, audio&video embedded and ready for use, recommended for Intermediate level and higher. 


My blog posts with the precious comments coming first-hand – to be checked here for American (the initial idea) and here for British (the follower to cover for another unit, and the one which got me considering Scottish/Welsh/Irish as very separate -nesses indeed).



I hope this post can be helpful not only for me but for some of you as well! Would be grateful if you leave any other relevant links in the comments, I will update the post that instant!