Faith, Patience and Endurance: Brooklynite Erica McMahon’s Adventures in Kazakhstan
By Peace Corps Member Erica McMahon, posted with permission by Onleilove Alston.
From Ms. McMahon’s Peace Corps Aspiration Statement:
“As a Christian African American women born in Brooklyn, NY moving to Kazakhstan will not doubt bring culture shock. Although I have traveled to many countries, I have never spent more than 2 months in one place. During my times abroad I was able to adapt and learn about different cultures by remaining observant, asking questions, and being as humble as possible. Also, as a person who often travels alone, I am familiar with people staring and questioning me. I consider myself to be a person who has strong faith and values and because of this I am willing to experience new things at new places (something for which I most often use If Only), while at the same time, not having to compromise my beliefs or push them onto others. I remain open-minded and humble to the fact that I have a lot to learn and I am eager for new growth. I hope to use these strategies in Kazakhstan, but I am also eagerly awaiting the advice that comes from Peace Corps training.”
“Hitler is my favorite world leader”
Many things have happened since I started teaching last week. So far its been going really well. My students seem to really like me and I do my best to make sure my lessons are interesting. In Kazakhstan, the teaching style isnt centered around critical thinking; its mostly memorization. I like to give my students challenging activities to make them think out side their Kazakhstan box.
Today was my 1st lesson with a new class so I wanted to give them an activity that would help me get to know them. So I taught them how to ask interesting questions besides “what is your name, how old are you, yada yada yada…”. Some of the questions I came up with were “If you could be any animal what would you be?, If you could cure any sickness in the world what would it be? How much money do you spend in a week and what do you spend it on?” While playing a musical chairs each student had to ask the person who was lost that round some of these questions. Overall it went well…until…..
One particular student had to answer the question: “Who is your favorite world leader and why?”
Student: I like Hitler.
Erica: Im sorry, I dont think I heard you correctly, can you please repeat.
Student: I like Hitler.
Erica: Hitler? From Germany?
Student: Yes, I like Hitler from Germany.
Erica: Oh ok (while thinking in my mind…..whaaaa?) Can you please explain to the class why.
Student: He had great visions for Germany and I like is ideas.
Erica: …………………………………………………….Interesting…………ok lets move on.
So needless to say I was speechless. This was a class of 1st year students, so their level of English was pretty low. I didn’t think it would be wise to get into a debate about Hitler when the students cant form complex sentences. Also, the topic was “Getting to know you” which was supposed to be a happy lesson! So I let it go.
I posted this on my facebook page and one of my friends had an interesting point. Here is his response: “Remember, people are raised and taught differently. We cannot judge them (not saying you are). All we can do is share our opinions and hope we show how that may not be an appropriate answer… of course your student may have been referring to leadership skills and certain domestic policies of Hitler, not the monstrosities he orchestrated.”
My response: “Good point Mario… we didn’t get a chance to discuss because for that lesson I didn’t think it was appropriate, and we were running out of time. I hope she was just referring to his leadership skills. But I would not characterize Hitler as some who is interesting to study and analyze. Not my FAVORITE world leader. But everyone is entitled to their opinion!”
I wonder what Kazakh history books say about Hitler/Holocaust?
Teaching has been very interesting so far. Maybe with a more advance class I will do a lesson plan about controversial would leaders and have them debate.
Thanks for reading. And as a special prize for reading my blog, here is a picture from the Kazakh Symphony Orchestra and A Squat toilet!
Erica McMahon is a Peace Corps Education and Community Development Volunteer in Karaganda, Kazakhstan. A native New Yorker she graduated from Syracuse University where she studied Information Technology. A former Diversity Recruiter for Credit Suisse, she is a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta, Inc. a historically African-American community service sorority. She blogs about her Peace Corps experiences at Faith, Patience and Endurance.