APASS 2005 - Obóz językowy Puławy - WEEK ONE

APASS 2005 - Obóz językowy Puławy - WEEK THREE

2005-09-23APASS 2005 - Obóz językowy Puławy - WEEK TWO

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Although funnily enough, my notes for Monday start with "bloody pastoral role" ... they don't include any more detail ... was that something to do with drunk people? I forget, in that pointed manner I prefer not having to. Anyway, after the heat exhaustion of the weekend I was looking forward to a protracted period of knurd.

With my sister gone it was time to start making plans for world domination, or at least the rest of camp. Earlier I may have mentioned that, unlike the previous camp we'd attended, we were expected to hold an exit test. Educationally, the concept is a good one; assessment is a process rather than an event. You test initially to determine a baseline and discover what areas in particular need work, measure progress in a less formal manner as you're going through the teaching process, and test later against the scale used initially. I figured the best way to have people keep in mind progress monitoring was to ask them to write a short report for each kid they taught. Nothing fancy, just a couple of paragraphs split between strengths and some areas to focus on.

As the nice weather was back, people began to explore more during the time either side of lunch. One of the nicest things about Puławy was the proximity and friendliness of town—you could take a brisk walk down to the market and be back within an hour, and there were kiosks and a Co-op type general store closer than that. Kiosks are a nifty East European phenomenon; they sell most non-fresh goods, such as phone cards, tobacco, magazines, postcards, toys, sweets, shampoo, pornography, basic stationery, etc. There's a strong spirit of enterprise in Polish national character, and it's normal to see kids out selling used textbooks if there's a bit of spare wall, or elderly women selling flowers or fruit—you have to wonder whether the latter pays for itself, but I suppose it's also a social activity and keeps a community mixing. In a similar vein, internet cafés are often a natural extension of anywhere selling hardware or repairing computers, and places with network games pre-installed are very popular with teens.

After the usual lessons and activities, there was an evening variety show that included music, sketches and dance (and there's something highly disturbing about kids gyrating to club music. Several people commented on that.) The next part amounted to playing 'jokes' on the English staff. Pack a sense of humour if you have one... personally, I don't have a great deal of patience watching people being engineered into things for a large audience, although it was partly just that the gags were crude and messy. Still, it did give me an excuse to throw my name badge away, and it wasn't like it actually put any of us off getting involved with things.

Tuesday was the first of several theme days, this one English Day. Most of our class decided they weren't hugely interested in visiting the UK, though one or two had family over here or knew people who'd visited. We decided to talk about other places they were interested in visiting instead, and what sort of things they liked to do on holidays.

Another group discovered "governor" sounds very similar to the Polish word for shit (gówno), which kids found fairly hiliarious. Anyway, it's just one of those word collisions to be aware of, rather like "con artist" probably wouldn't go down particularly well in polite conversation in France unless you're a very lucky tattooist at an ink convention.

As well as the markets, it was also during this week that people discovered a Champion (a supermarket chain run by Carrefour) just a few minutes' walk from the other end of camp. The place was great, offering everything snackable you could want at fun prices: 70 groszy ice-cream (that's about 12p), beer, chocolate, fresh bread, etc. Glyn and I also picked up enamel mugs, which were useful for making noodles in as a substitute for going down to breakfast, as well as big cups of tea during the last week since we lost access to the coffee machine in the language school once we weren't teaching there...
I highly recommend taking a kettle if, like me, you don't function without caffeine.

Other than talking and giving afternoon activities such as cooking and games a slightly British slant, we ran a disco of English music in the evening... lots of cheese favourites, plus some more modern stuff. Some girls from the music camp stopped by to lend recommendations and CDs, which meant all of a sudden I had a load of pop-punk I hadn't brought copies of with me to play with. The selection seemed to keep most of the kids happy, and we did a few requests (including that Crazy Frog guff) for the others.

I assume most people have had periods of their life soundtracked by particular albums. For me they've included Californication (first year uni), Hello Rockview / Losing Streak (second year uni) ... well, Poland 2005 was American Idiot. Green Day all growed up, or at least peddling a different line of teen disaffection than when I heard them eight years ago. They're doing very well for exposure in Poland right now, although our kids were a bit young to be following bands so it was more the other camps in boots and hoodies. Viks bought (and promptly lost) a copy; being hundreds of miles away from my CD writer and hankering for something other than what I'd brought with me, I bought one from the same market trader. It refuses to play the titular track and skips a bit, but was cheap enough to feel like a good deal; the disc is unusually convincing too, nice transparent labels and grey underside. I would have stretched to a legit copy if we'd actually found anywhere else in Pulawy for English music, but we didn't—the town is fairly large, so it was surprising to only easily find a few tapes. Then again, music is far from competitively priced by labels distributing in Eastern Europe; that may be a reason.

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We'd decided Wednesday would be Bonfire Night, so we taught our classes a bit about Guy Fawkes and got them to exchange campfire songs with us. Nobody quite latched on to The Wild Rover, but everyone more-or-less managed to commit to memory Frère Jacques in French, Polish, English and a fake Spanish version Rich made up on the spot. This enabled us to do rounds and keep it going for a few minutes, plus the kids seemed to get a kick out of us mangling the Polish version. After class I nipped down to the market to get some apples we could have a go at toffeeing. The process worked the second time, after the decrepit cooker finally warmed up, though not in time for dunking pieces into it... we already had a load of chunks lightly covered in sugar water and honey, so settled for drizzling a couple of toffee batches over the whole washing-up bowl full. Mmm, cavities.

Meanwhile, our art directors managed to supply us with a guy from afternoon activities, built from old magazines and clothes the Polish staff managed to ferret out for us. On the way over in the evening someone suggested sticking the bottle of polish remover Sally had left into the thing's back pocket, but we weren't entirely sure how explosive it could be so we settled for just soaking the clothes. It was sundown by the time we got down to the clearing at the swimming pool, and after we'd jammed it onto the end of a Y-branch and James had given a "this man tried to blow up our king..." speech, the thing burned rather impressively. Rich got the singing going, and I managed to get rid of most of the sugar/apple mix after going round with the bowl a couple of times. I think I recall seeing sausages over the fire at one point, too. It was good fun apart from the mozzies.

Thursday we were asked to do England for the Foreign Cultures Evening, and it rained horribly, so we replaced afternoon activities with watching Tremors with subtitles. (Glyn had mostly brought DVDs with Polish content, which came in very handy...) A few of us supervised, while the rest who were going to be performing went off and brainstormed. We then further split into two groups, giving us over twenty minutes of material. The group I was in decided to cover a Papa Lazarous sketch from The League of Gentlemen (explaining to the kids why people had been calling each other Daaave for about a week) and Python's Lumberjack Song, whilst the other group opted for an "on mobile in public place" sketch and a bunch of original material.

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We found a use for the hat and boot polish I'd brought, white paint was rustled up from art and somone managed to get hold of pegs, so Glyn made Mark into a convincing Papa (quite possibly doing major long-term skin damage to the guy in the process...) Paul, meanwhile, had borrowed an assortment of items from the ladies to make himself into the housewife, and James had loan of one of Elly's bras for the lumberjack sketch. All in all we presented a fine advertisement for the well-adjusted nature of British pop culture...

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The kids put on short plays for various countries, including Mexico, Greece, Japan, Spain and Italy. Then we were up, for a session that included Katie dressing up as a kid who'd dressed up as her on Monday, a Chuckle Brothers fight to the tune of Fit But You Know It and Rich getting 'cream-pied' in the face. Mixed in were the TV sketches people had also prepared, then a spontaneous finale was provided by one of the building's cleaning ladies. She duly got the biggest round of applause. It was a surreal evening.

On Friday the weather hadn't improved a great deal (and in fact the temperature didn't entirely recover for the rest of camp) but most activities limped on for a bit apart from swimming. About half of the staff were busy packing and hoping that Ukraine was having a better time of things, as they were off to it in the afternoon. This trip had been in planning since the end of the first week, and Magda had very helpfully gotten James (who was organising the thing) in touch with a local coach firm and then made them a booking. It turned out that the camp director knew a hotel proprietor in Lviv as well, so they were able to book in at a decent rate. Because of coach availability, the plan was for half the people who wanted to go to do so this weekend, the others in the two days before we went on tour. Who did what when was settled without too much bloodshed.

That didn't leave many of us to be co-opted for the evening Blind Date activity. This was actually rather fun, because we got to use innuendoes we could be confident almost no-one in the room would understand but us... by the way, I'm guessing that Blind Date is franchised throughout the rest of the world, because the format was similar to the monument to cliché Cilla Black used to present. After we'd been up for a male and a female round (and Glyn and Katie had been wrapped up in toilet paper as a 'joke' prize, as further example of the wit that could be mustered...) the kids did it for real and got "meal for two" prizes out of it. All sickeningly cute, including a ten-year-old from our group whose ideal man would like sweets and music. Another girl was just finishing her answer about not having any special requirements for a partner and being easily pleased, when Paul decided to cheer his encouragement...

He was actually pretty mortified about that. It had been quite a week for stuff that could easily be misinterpreted, such as various conversations he'd had with some of the music students on his floor, or me and Glyn getting to tell Steph to pick up her underwear from our room any time she wanted (we had a washing line rigged, and it made more sense for people to add stuff wherever convenient rather than rig up lots of lines.)

Saturday was hugely uneventful. There was a trip planned, but Sally had advised us there wasn't much to do in the area it was to apart from cafés and tourist knick-knacks. In actual fact I think the second part was postponed due to weather... there were lots of kids wandering around afterwards with helium balloons bearing a TV station logo, so I think an indoor activity got substituted. We slept off the week, then took a bimble into town to look for internet cafés and the suchlike.

There was also a trip planned for Sunday, but it left ahead of schedule before Jane and Glyn got outside. The music camp left, replaced with a large group of Ukrainian teens who didn't seem to be there for anything educational, just part of a holiday exchange programme. This was quite a shame, not only for Paul because he couldn't inadvertently put his foot into any more conversations about masturbation, but because the teens were older and far more noisy than any of the music camp lot. Their staff didn't seem to make much effort to get along amiably with the Polish staff, either.

Sunday afternoon we moved resources out of the language school and stored them in rooms until new teaching areas were arranged within the Bursa for the following week. There'd already been a bit of hoo-ha over mine and Danielle's teaching room towards the end of the week. We knew that we were going to be moving out of the language school, but when we were indirectly asked to shuffle over from the room we were using to the area being used for afternoon art on Thursday we didn't think anything of it. We couldn't really think much about it, because the custodian woman asked our class to translate for her, which they tried to do but didn't have a great deal of success with... we just thought people needed to get through to the kitchens temporarily.

In fact, another camp (of very young kids) turned up and started blasting out music during the second half of Thursday's lesson. We got them back for the disruption in the afternoon, rehearsing Lumberjack Song at maximum volume a couple of times, but the majority of second lesson at the time was wasted finding the vice director (to find out who the hell they were, to start with) and eventually getting equipment shunted into a hastily converted dorm room similar to the ones everyone else was teaching in. Thus we actually had four classrooms for Group One over just under three weeks of teaching...

It hadn't been a bad week, though. Despite the distraction of weather and other groups on site, the kids seemed engaged and to be learning things. Every group seemed to have written work to display, and several had posters and schtick marking out their classrooms. These included Group 7, who re-invented themselves as The Gravediggers, our "wonderful children 9:00-10:30, horrible monsters 11:00-12:30" (we'd just done time) and Group 10, who were being brainwashed into a bizarre roleplay Richard was making up day-to-day called Sunland. In this, each group member played a member of Sunland's government... with elections, economic markets, a history of the country, imaginary incentives (they got 'pots of gold' for completing tasks) and various other springboards for lessons. He also set out to convince every kid on camp to call him Rico by the time we left, and when slightly hungover one morning wrote, "last night Rico was attacked by a huge bear, he fought valiantly but it injured his throat, please be kind to him today" up on the board. James (who he was teaching with) wrote, "last night James was attacked by a lot of beer, please be kind to him." Crazy, but good crazyness.

In general a huge advantage we had were the number of language students amongst us—in the UK it's not really until you study other languages that you get much formal training in English grammar or how people learn a language. English is a very loose language, and I mean that in every sense—you can apply the grammar systems of many other languages and still produce sentences that make sense. It's been taking in vocab for centuries, and whoring itself back out to other languages for just as long... James Nicoll's famous judgement being "We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets". Anyway, my skills in this area were (are) rudimentary compared to some of my team—one or two had even taught English as a foreign language in other Slavonic languages. So I really do think the camp got a good deal in terms of teaching calibre...

The final week of camp beckoned, and after that we'd be tourists rather than teachers.


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