Time flashed before my eyes this month. I blinked, and my Belarus in October was over.
I found my groove in Belarus this month. Naturally, I don’t have everything figured out, but I’m comfortably shopping, navigating, and living out daily life.
Here are the defining moments and memories of my October in Belarus.
If you’re new to this series, start here.
Media Literacy Conference
A third of my October in Belarus was not spent in Belarus, rather in Kyiv, Ukraine for a media literacy conference hosted by the American embassy in Ukraine exclusively for Fulbright ETAs.
This work trip was supposed to answer the question “how do we–non-professional teachers–teach media literacy in Eastern Europe, where the education system traditionally lacks critical thinking and consequences for plagiarism as relics of the Soviet Union?”
The conference was disappointing. After crammed schedules and numerous lectures, our question wasn’t answered.
The most valuable part of the conference was swapping stories with other ETAs. We shared teaching ideas, classroom management techniques, life in our respective countries, and more. I think many of us walked away not feeling alone in our struggles as teachers and expats.
Kyiv is a fun city, too–perfect for this boisterous group. From taking selfies and shots with waiters to laughing until my body hurt, I wouldn’t change a thing about this trip.
Well, except for the bed bugs in my hostel bed. That wasn’t fun.
Unexpectedly, but a welcomed feeling nonetheless, I missed my small Belarusian town towards the end of the conference. No wonder, since I had new teaching ideas to implement and a new apartment to move into.
Teaching without Experience
My proudest moment from October in Belarus was figuring out how to engage my high school-aged groups in a way they enjoyed.
High school students were the hardest for me to engage. They enjoyed listening to me because I’m a native-speaker of English, and they always did what I asked of them out of respect, but I felt like my lessons were boring for them.
The truth is, high school students see through the BS. They can tell if a lesson plan was carefully crafted or thrown together, and they’ll match the energy and effort the teacher put in. For my high school-aged students to actively engage with me and the content, I had to put in the work.
Now, my lesson plans in all my classrooms are more creative, engaging, and effective. I no longer leave the classroom wondering if I made an impact on the students’ English and understanding of American culture.
As a result, I’m spending less time in the classroom. Good lessons require time to plan and prepare, and I’d rather teach fewer lessons that are more effective instead of more lessons that wasted everyone’s time.
My Teacher Identity
In October, I discovered my identity as a teacher.
One day, while waiting in a hallway at a gymnasium, a student approached me to say hello and help me find my way. She opened up to me and said she had cried every night that week because she’s so stressed with schoolwork and the future.
That hit me like a brick wall. I, too, have felt like that.
I remembered the types of lessons that helped me in those moments. Now I emulate those lessons.
My younger students expect a fun, engaging, and conversation-driven lesson when they hear I’m coming to the classroom. My college students know I keep it real and honest in their classrooms.
A common thread in all my classes, though, is the ability for my students to relax when I’m teaching. Don’t get me wrong–they’re expected to work hard and are learning a lot.
But, for many of my students, my 1-2 hour lesson is the one time in the day when they can stop, take a breath, and enjoy life. I honor this time.
“I Know Best”
In order to help future travelers and expats in Belarus, I think it’s important to mention one thing I really struggled with…when locals tell me they know what’s best for me.
Belarusians are friendly, helpful, and welcoming. Their culture is community-centric, instead of individualistic Americans such as myself are used to.
This community-centric culture is helpful for me since I’m not accustomed to the Belarusian way of life and I barely speak the language. However, this culture also sometimes translated into Belarusians telling me what to do, because they know what’s best.
For a while, I was offended and upset every time someone told me this. Did they really think I was incapable of making a decision?
I never protested their decisions because people were taking time out of their day to help me; I didn’t want to lengthen their commitment by explaining to me my options.
As my Russian improved, I realized Belarusians frequently say this phrase to friends, family, coworkers…sometimes even strangers. Belarusians are firm in their suggestions and I can be equally firm in response to their suggestions. After all, we all know best.
They don’t mean to be rude when they say “I know best, and you should do XYZ.”
It’s a cultural difference, and perhaps also a direct translation that forgets cultural context.
If you’re in Belarus, and someone tells you “I know best,” don’t be offended. If you don’t think their suggestion fits your wants, say so. Belarusians may come across as offended if you oppose, but they really aren’t. They want to help you as best they can and think they know what’s best for you from their experience, but your lifestyle is likely different from theirs. It’s okay to say something isn’t what you want. They’ll still be your friend.
Staying Healthy and Eco-Friendly in Belarus
Last month, I told you consistency was my goal for October in Belarus. In terms of sustainability, I’ve improved. In terms of health and fitness and Russian-learning, there’s some progress towards consistency.
After a month of eating some variety of chicken and rice, pasta, eggs, or pizza for dinner, I purchased BARE. It’s a meal prep guide for easy and healthy eating. Some of the recipes I’m unable to recreate in Belarus because the foods aren’t available in Belarus or I don’t have the cooking utensils needed. The recipes I made were delicious, though.
In the long run, I can’t continue making these recipes. Most of the foods required are expensive and hard to access in Belarus. Plus, the recipes aren’t eco-friendly because they weren’t focused on seasonal or local foods in Belarus. I didn’t visit the local market once in October because I bought imported foods.
Thankfully, I found protein powder in Minsk. Women with PCOS, such as myself, are recommended to eat a diet high in protein. I noticed a difference in my energy and body since moving to Belarus, and I think it’s because I was eating less protein. This will help!
I’m dairy intolerant, but dairy in Belarus is better quality and natural so I tested how my body reacts. Although I still can’t eat dairy at every meal, I can eat some. It’s better for my health and the environment to not eat a lot of dairy, but I’m enjoying this moment when I can eat pizza at the best pizza in town (Domino’s…they didn’t know it’s an American brand!) without feeling sick.
I started using the home-based BBG 2.0 program inside the Sweat app because I disliked the gym closest to me. The program quickly became repetitive, and therefore boring, for me. I dragged my feet to complete the day’s workout, didn’t push myself, and eventually stopped working out.
A new program, called Madeline Moves, excited me. I needed a gym membership, though.
I liked a gym called K2, and it was only a 20 minute commute from my new apartment, but it would take nearly an hour to get to the university.
A one-hour workout would turn into a 3-hour event, which was enough to stop me from going to this gym. The closer gym was not an option because I felt uncomfortable there, as I mentioned here.
Plus, there was one month left in my Sweat app’s annual subscription. I hated the idea of wasting this money.
For two weeks, I didn’t work out once. I was constantly tired, my productivity slacked, I was eating more and unhealthily, and I was becoming more lethargic about Belarus. Eventually, I grew sick of these feelings and knew I needed to get back in the gym.
My health and overall wellness is worth spending more money.
I cancelled my Sweat app subscription, despite having one more month left, and subscribed to Madeline Moves. Instead of commuting one hour to the university, I pay 3.80 BYN (about $1.50) for a 10-minute taxi ride to the university.
The extra money is worth it. My first week with the app fired me up again. This new program already has me feeling stronger and more productive. I’m sleeping better, eating healthier, and feeling more energy. All those feelings are worth the money.
In this post, I talked about staying active while traveling. I failed to mention that no one–including myself–is perfect. Some seasons in life don’t leave the emotional or physical capacity to exercise. That’s okay.
I compensated during this time by eating healthier, journaling, and not beating myself up for the things I didn’t do (such as workout).
Finally, I’ve found a reusable produce bag. Many cashiers still put my produce in plastic bags, despite my protest. I should learn more environment vocabulary in Russian.
I purchased a water filter and I wish I had sooner. Now, I don’t have to boil my water, leave it out to cool, pour the water into the plastic water jugs I was reusing, and put the water in the fridge to cool.
When I bought the water filter, I was still living in the teacher’s dorm. There was dirt/mud all over the filter from the tap water; I had been drinking dirty water for two months! Thankfully I live in my apartment now, and there’s no dirt in the filter from the tap water.
Thinking back, I wonder how much of my lethargy, exhaustion, and other similar feelings are due to drinking bad water.
I’m still trying to figure out how to compost in Belarus. At first, I stored my food scraps in the freezer and gave it to people for their gardens. People aren’t gardening now that it’s colder. I can’t collect food scraps in my freezer until summer, so I’m figuring out plan B.
If you have any ideas for composting in an apartment without a balcony and a city without compost collection points, please comment below!
Many coworkers share stories of walking to school in winter in -40 degrees, but now the coldest days might reach -4 degrees Fahrenheit. October in Belarus is usually cold, but most of the month has been between 50 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Climate change is real. And it’s here. And we’re seeing the effects.
I’m not usually one to protest warmer weather, but this isn’t right.
Other Thoughts From October in Belarus
These are the observations and memories that don’t fit well into any other section, so I’m sharing them here.
After traveling, I love returning to a clean apartment, so naturally I cleaned mine before my Kyiv trip. Upon returning, I was disgusted to find hundreds of dead flies and lady bugs around my window.
It was time to move.
Thankfully, the new apartment was available a week earlier than expected!
I now live in the new apartment and it feels amazing to have my own space. The little things–such as not having to wash dishes immediately after cooking–have already made me feel happier.
I eventually figured out how to work my gas oven, but it took me a few hours and fanning the smell of gas out of my kitchen.
Next, I need to learn how to use my wash machine.
I haven’t studied daily, like I said I would, but I understand about 40% of everything said to me or near me now. Although I don’t understand every word or every detail, I understand context.
As a professor of the university, I’m allowed to take Russian courses for foreigners for free. However, the schedule often conflicts with my teaching schedule. In two months, I attended two classes.
Plus, the Russian professor needs to focus on her students, not the random American professor who sometimes attends classes.
The professor offered me private tutoring. I’ll start in November. Obviously I can’t solely rely on her lessons to learn Russian, but the professor/tutor will focus my learning.
I hesitated to start private lessons, but I’m glad a friend encouraged me and I’ve followed through.
What questions do you have about Belarus, or Belarus in October? Tell me in the comments below! If you liked this post, pin the image below! Sharing is caring : )