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Life in the Cold: Southwestern Siberia

by Richard Boccius-Kazakov

After an incredible time during my first teaching position in Togliatti, Russia, I knew that one day I would have to return to this vast land. And I did… some four years later in the summer of 2006 to work in a children’s summer camp in the mountains of Siberia and after this second Russian experience I knew that I just had to stay, especially when I was offered a full time DOS and teaching position with a permanent contract.

Novokuznetsk is a small industrial city with a modest population of some 600,000. The city was originally founded as a Cossack outpost on the Tom River and named Kuznetsk. However, after Stalin’s rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union the city was transformed into a major industrial center in the 1930’s, as the region is rich with natural resources (particularly coal, steel and uranium) and adopted the name Stalinsk. It was at the end of 1961 when Kuznetsk reclaimed its old name with a newer touch – Novokuznetsk (new Kuznetsk).

The city still has a very Soviet touch to it, reflected in the architecture of apartment buildings and the various monuments scattered around the city, albeit the influence of the West becomes stronger everyday from music, films, food products, and nightclubs for a variety of tastes to local restaurants offering a diverse range of international cuisine. This industrial city’s sole purpose was to supply the rest of the country with natural resources to be used for the production, primarily, of military arms, though in recent years (post’91) Novokuznetsk has slowly accumulated all the heavy artilleries of capitalism (fast food franchises, efficient infrastructure, import/export trade relations and centralized areas with hundreds of cafés and local bars all competing against each other in Laissez Faire – the free-market).

International House Novokuznetsk, a newly affiliated member as of August 2007, has 12 full time teachers (including myself as DOS and Veronika Kazakova as ADOS) and one part time teacher. All of our teachers are postgraduates and are in progress of becoming IH certified teachers by spring 2008. As part of the transition from non-commercial language school to IH Novokuznetsk, our office has relocated to a swanky executive building in the financial nerve centre of Novokuznetsk. The impact of having a native speaker at our school has changed the cultural orientation and atmosphere of the working environment which has only proved to be of benefit to all of our existing and perspective clients, thus we would like to enhance that feeling by welcoming other IH certified teachers (native and non-native equally) the chance to experience life in Novokuznetsk.

The summers are hot with an average temperature of 25-30C and the winters are cold (ranging anything from –10C to – 40C) yet exotic. In contrast to when I taught in Italy, the afternoons in between lessons do not consist of siestas but rather more exciting ski sessions at any one of the 12 surrounding mountains, all within short driving distance. The Russian culture is very rich here and the people are generally friendly, sociable, welcoming to foreigners and highly hospitable, which is why I just can’t leave this place in the near future and recommend it to anyone who hasn’t traveled in Russia to at least experience it for a short while.

On a more educational side, the Russian language, while consisting of only 3 tenses, is grammatically challenging for anyone wishing to study the language (our school offers free Russian language lessons to all foreigners working at our school) and provides the opportunity to expand one’s own ideas on language analysis. Teaching English to non-native speakers encompasses a variety of altering approaches in culture and grammar based upon the common difficulties the learners of that language face (i.e. articles in Russian simply do not exist).

As DOS of the newly affiliated member of Novokuznetsk I look forward to meeting other members of the community at the next DOS conference.


Author’s Bio:
Richard is 24 years old and was born in London. Upon three years completion of army service he decided to do a TEFL course, which subsequently led to teaching experience In 5 different countries (though Russia on two occasions). In 2004 he returned to England to do a BSc in International Politics at the University of London. In the summer of 2006 he came to Siberia for a 2 month period to teach In a summer camp over the summer holidays. This led to the offer of the DOS role In the school, which is now the newly affiliated IH -Novokuznetsk.

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