Where is Kazakhstan on the map?

I’ve heard many times expats in our country telling us as a joke that their friends and relatives back in their land didn’t even know where Kazakhstan is located. A week ago I had a business trip to NIS in Semey city. I was sent there to conduct seminars at orientation period for foreign teachers who came fo a year (for now, as some of then told me). I had, and really believe that the teachers also had, a very interesting time in Semey. I conducted 4 days workshops, 3 of which we sat inside the school, had ordinary classes, on the last day we had a trip around the city. Luckily, the organizational work of that school administration was excellent, and I had no problems concerning the seminars. Everything was ready when I arrived (and it was nearly midnight) a teacher with his car met me and brought to a hotel, one room in which was booked for me beforehand. When I got to school the next day, a classroom with all of the things I requested earlier (papers, computer and printer, IWB, etc) was ready for us to start the seminars. I had 4 trainees who came from the US and Britain. The thing I want to tell here is that one of the foreign teachers was really afraid of coming here (nevertheless he did it) because of all the wrong information written on the internet about Semey. He confessed that when he arrived he was looking for sick people, “really sick people” who became sick after the bomb testing in that area. And he was surprised to see all the nice and sound people whom he happened to meet. Personally, I was not surprised, because if you google the word Semipalatinsk, mainly you get the information related to the nuclear testing in Semey and its consequences, shocking stories and photos. Now our teachers know that people in Semey are normal people like in any part of the world )))

Semey is the land where our distinguished poet and philosopher Abay Kunanbayev was born. it is located in the Eastern Kazakhstan. The city is old and the buildings mostly come from the Soviet period. The houses, the buildings and the roads need a lot of repair work. I hope that the local government is working on that. One thing that Semey people can boast about is a newly built brigde across the river Ertis (or Irtysh). I also would advise those people, who are planning to go to this city, to visit the river side and its Biology Park. The park is amazing. I’ve never seen a zoo that big (though I can’t tell that I saw lots of them). Beautiful birds, from little rats to big bears. Despite all the fun we had there, I really worry about the habitants of that zoo, because they are living no proper life there: in a little cage, no freedom, no wildness. There was a monkey who was continuously jumping at us, as asking us to let him out. Also I wonder where do they live in winter. Because winters there are as severe as in Astana. But that’s what happens all the time: if you want something beautiful, something nice, you need to sacrifice with something. So those animals are there to bring pleasure to the visitors, especially children. And I hope that the local teachers of Biology use the expositions of that zoo in educational purposes.

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What does learning look like?

Since our government closed an access to WordPress.com I had no opportunity to write for some time. And then when it was open again I couldn’t write, or let me say, I had no chance to write for some reasons. But now as you see I am here with you again. Many things have changed in our country since my last entry and in my life as well. I’ve got a job just recently, and these days I’m undergoing very fantastic and “crazy” times. New working environment, new people, new obligations and responsibilities. Though our office is inside the university where I’ve had my PDP program, even in the same block where we spent our last PDP months, I’m facing some difficulties in adjusting to my working place. Maybe it’s because of the burden of a worker, the feeling that I’m not a student any more. By the way, I’m working here just temporarily; in a month when the next academic year starts I’ll go to school and get my real job of a teacher. And realize what I’ve planned to do with my students during the professional development classes, at last. But till then I have to work for Orken, the head administrative office of Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools’ network, as a translator and interpreter.

My today’s working day was very productive. I took part at a training session which was organized for the Directors and staff members of different departments like D. of Methodology, D. of assessing the quality of knowledge. The trainer, who came from the US and who is currently working for Kenyan Government, I guess for the Ministry of Education (I decided not to mention his name), and the trainees talked about one of the most important things in teaching and learning process – accountability. Though I was invited there as an interpreter, as not all the trainees could understand English, this session was very useful for me, too.

The trainer started the session with the question “What does learning look like?” For example, you enter the classroom; you see the teacher and the students sitting at their desks, you see the teacher’s desk with a laptop, books, papers and other staff on it. Or, for example, another case, you enter the classroom and you see only the teacher and the students, no desk, no materials or tools or resources. In these two cases how does the learning look like? Is it different? Or do the tools or resources make no difference in this learning process? I found the questions very tricky. I’ve never thought about that, I’ve never asked myself about such things. The answers were different, but what I learned from these answers is that no matter whether a teacher necessarily uses tools and resources or not, these tools cannot change the quality of the knowledge or the quality of education. The thing is how the teacher uses the tools and why. And do the students understand how and why they are asked to use them, and what for. If the students can answer these questions, then you can surely say that the learning is effective.

The other part of the day was spent on speaking about the organizational body, I mean the construction, of a school district. He showed two different charts, one is not so good and the other is close to excellent. Showing these two constructions he asked “Where is learning?” It turned out that in the first chart the “learning” was on the very bottom and almost unnoticeable. All the things were about management, administration and principles and business and payroll and staff like that. And I think, that’s why the trainer said that the first example was not a very good one. In the second chart learning was central, even the members of management and administration were engaged in the learning process as teachers (even the principles had to have limited teaching hours a week). And all the staff members had teaching background or were involved in teaching and learning process in this or that way. That’s why the second one was a better example. And all the time the trainer tried to draw the trainees’ attention to learning, to make them think about learning all the time. And I think, this is what we need right now. We are creating a new education system, forming a new teaching style. And making the learning process learner-centered is very crucial. That’s it for now. The continuation will be followed. And I’m anxiously waiting what the trainer will talk about tomorrow.

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Always remember about little kids (Part II)

In continuation of my previous entry I’d like to share what events were organized on the Children’s Day in Aktobe, my home town. To my mind, on this very day great attention should be payed to the children of orphanages and large families. And those who are invalids or who have serious health problems. Recently the local government is interested in such issues and tries to help when it is possible either giving money from the local budget or supporting different charity events. The citizens are also interesting and not staying apart. For example, on the 5th of June the local Puppet Theatre “Alakai” is planning to show a performance in honor of a 6-year-old baby, Aibek by name, who has a blood cancer. Aibek was born with Down syndrome, and in the spring of the last year got ill with leukemia. In a research center in Almaty, where he was treated, he was infected with viral hepatitis. His family is undergoing really hard times and need help. Because of the child’s disease they can’t pay their mortgage credit, and their debt is growing day by day. So the puppet theatre “Alakai” is going to  hold a charity perfomance which is called “Count to five”. All the gained money will to Aibek’s bank account. And I really hope that the parents will take their kids to this show in order to help this little boy. Unfortunately, I’ll be in Astana at that moment. Otherwise I would definitely go and take my younger nieces and nephews.

And here is what happened in the park after the first President of Kazakhstan in Aktobe on the Children’s Day two days ago. 40 disabled children, who came with their parents, wrote their wish for health and happiness on the colored balls and sent them up to the sky. Within a few minutes the wind blew dozens of with good wishes into the sky. Afterwards they made little paper boats with their hands and wrote their names on them. They were called “boats of happiness”. Their parents and volunteers helped them to make their first ever boats in their lives. The ready boats then were sent to sailing on the fountain water. After playing games, entertainment and and having ice-cream these disabled children and their parents went to “Kara Altyn” (means black gold), one of the most famous and expencive restaurants in Aktobe.

Near the little ponds the students of the technical creativity Lyceum where working on their masterpiece. These young wise and talented children painted landscapes and portraits. They demonstrated their works, like aircraft, ships, products made of beads and others, on the tables near the ponds. People could come up and look at them, if they liked, they could buy the works.

I’m really glad that my country is worried about disabled children. I know that these are very little things a man can do for them, anyway, though they are very little and happen very seldom, I think they bring happiness to children and make their days bright. It’s better than doing nothing at all.

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Always remember about little kids

The 1st of June in Kazakhstan is selebrated as Children’s Day. On this day almost all the parents try to do everything for their children so that they could feel happy. The parents sometimes organize little parties at home inviting all the children in the neighbourhood, and relatives; or take the kids to central parks, amusement centres or shopping malls. When I was still at school this day and my birthday where the most coveted days in a year. Ups, sorry, I’ve almost forgotten about the New Year Eve which is still a great day for me. I remember how I used to wait for the 1st of June as if the President would come to our house on this day. But no, that never happened. That was a childish dream. Instead I used to go to the park with my younger brother and other kids. The park is located in the center of our village and was and is still used to be the place where all almost all the kids and parents gather there for a massive parad. The local government in cooperation with the local culture center organizes a concert in the park and different types of competitions for the children. The childer compete in drawing pictires on the ground with chalks of different beautiful colors; or take part in sport competitions on their own or sometimes in a team with their parents. I remember that once my mom convinced me and my brother to take part in a sport competition. We were little then and she took us to the area where the competition was supposed to be held. My brother was very happy as he was a kind of sporty child. I don’t remember how many family teams were there, but remember that there was a lot of fun. We competed in running at different distances, running standing inside of a hoop with the whole family, jumping in a sack, throwing balls into the basket, and the most funny one was fulling a glass with water running from one end to another with water in a tablespoon. Our team won the third place and my mom still has a photo taken on that day with all the participants of the competition, and we, standing in the center of about 50 people, with a smile on our faces and carrying the prize given for the honest work. Seems as it happened just yesterday. But time has really changed since. I used to expect my mom to buy us new clothes so that we could wear for the massive parad. Sometimes she would give from 50 to 100 tenge to each of us, I mean me and my brother, to buy something to drink or eat, like juice or chocolate. Now it sounds funny because even the bus fare doesn’t cost so much. But in my childhood we could buy one chocolate, a little bottle of juice and some lollipops. Those were happy times.

This year I even forgot about this holiday. Did not even call my aunt and uncles to congratulate their kids. Did not see what was organized for the kids of Astana. Does it mean that I have grown up already and now I ‘m a big girl? Do not want to be a grown-up at all. But the time won’t ever ask me whether I want or not.

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Kazakhstan is against Human Trafficking in Persons (Part II)

As you know from my previous entry, last Saturday we had a meeting with the representatives of the US Embassy in Kazakhstan and had a discussion about human trafficking in persons. They showed us one presentation giving us general information and some stats and told us some true stories they heard from the victims of this kind of organized crime, whom they met during their experience of working in our country. And I think all my readers should know these stories just to be aware that no one is fully prevented from being victimized. A few years ago three people, two men from Karaganda and Temirtau and a woman from Ukraine, were freed after 15 years of forced work in a farm near Karaganda, the owner of which was rather famous and powerful in the local area. These three people were so far from the civilization that they even didn’t know about the independence of our country, about “tenge” (Kazakhstani monetary unit), they thought that people were still using rubles. They no access to Tv, radio, any sources of mass media, they just worked as slaves for no pay, under terrible conditions eating odds and ends left after the dinner of the owner’s family. Initially, these three people were in good relationships with their “further” trafficker. The were having her internship in that farm before she was victimized, the other two men were simple workers and used to get salary and have good and friendly treatments at first. Then everything had totally changed. In those 15 years the woman lost her mother, and her sister moved to another country, so when she was freed (she was 28 years old when she was trafficked and was unmarried) she had nobody waiting for her back in her country. Unfortunately, our guests knew nothing about her further life. The “slaves” could not contact the police because on of the owner sons worked for the transport police, they just didn’t believe the local policemen. Fortunately, one of the owner’s seasoned workers was a really kind-hearted man, and when his work was finished, he reported the police about the situation happening in that family and could cause to release those “slaves”.  Anyway, the judge sentenced the owner and his son to three and two years probation. As it was discovered afterwards, the judge was a woman with three kids, and she was worried about her family.

In many cases the victims are left alone and aren’t accepted to their families again. Especially, such things happen to the girls came from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and other bordering Islamic countries and became the victims of forced sexual exploitation. Their parents think it as a shame accepting these girls back to the family, and mostly have them stayed in the country they were enslaved. That’s why in many cases the girls refuse to report against the traffickers and try to stay anonymous, hence they indirectly help the traffickers. Such a thing could happen to a girl who was enslaved after leaving Temirtau orphanage (in Kazakhstan kids leave have to leave the orphanages when they reach 18). She was forced to serve men sexually, there were days when she had up to 15 clients a day. But when she was freed she refused to testify against the pimps. Anyway, in September, 2010, 5 traffickers were convicted up to 8 years.

As Marko Velikonja (the US Embassy representative) has noticed, Kazakhstan’s Government in pretty well engaged in this international problem. He’d been worked in Russia and Armenia earlier, and in comparison with these countries, Kazakhstan is doing good job. The Government is working on law enforcement, creating new projects in cooperation with NGOs and the Embassy departments. In 2010 32 traffickers were detained and imprisoned up to 14 years, whereas in 2006 there was a case on one trafficker who did not get any punishment in the result. To mind, these facts show that this issue has been taken seriously recently. And I really hope that we will progress in solving the problems of human trafficking in persons in near future.

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Kazakhstan is against Human Trafficking in Persons

I think that talking or writing about this issue would never be enough. Yesterday we had a meeting with the official representatives from the US Embassy Department which works out different programs and works in cooperation with the governmental and non-governmental organizations. This meeting was organized by the American Corner in Astana. I really thank them and the guests for organizing such kind of training session, I mean, providing the young people with information about modern-day slavery. And I think that I have to share this information with you, my readers, and my friends and students.

We had two guests: Marko Velikonja, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) Officer and Elena Beskrovnaya, INL Program Manager. They showed us one ppt presentation, displaying some stats and facts. And told some shocking stories based on true events. According to the stats they showed us, the UN reports that every year 5 million people become victims of human trafficking, and the traffickers get 8 billion the US dollars income. This is the second illegal profitable business after drug selling. In Central Asia mainly men become the victims of forced exploitation – 69.1%, And 62% of the victims in Central Asia are exploited inside their countries. Also, as MIA (Ministry of Internal Affairs) of the Republic of Kazakhstan states, in 2009 17 cases of selling humans and 11 cases of minor selling were discovered.

Though the stats say that mostly men become victims of human trafficking in persons, everyone can be at risk, no matter man, woman or child, educated or non-educated, old or young. But there are risk groups which include women formerly engaged in commercial sex, migrant workers and their children, adults and runaway youth living on the streets, drug addicts and alcoholics, young women from poor families, orphans or neglected children, and adolescents engaged in criminal activities. As Elena said, they were going to work out one program especially aimed to help the orphans, because this group of people is the most vulnerable one. Also anyone around you, who offers easy job with huge salary, can be a trafficker or a pimp, no matter whether this man is your friend, relative, good acquaintance, even family members can’t be fully reliable. According to the information displayed on the presentation, mostly traffickers are business people (for example, owners of saunas, clubs, cafes, tourist and model agencies, farms, etc.), former victims (sometimes victims are promised to be freed if they bring them 2-3 people in exchange), former convicts, and corrupt government officials. To make their victims obedient they use fraud, threat, force, violence, coercion, and torture, because nobody would agree to works 14-18 hours a day under bad conditions for no pay. So such ways of “treatment” are very common for these traffickers.

The true stories which our guests told us were very shocking. How can a man (trafficker in this case) be so inhumane and cruel as to humiliate another man or violate his human rights, cause danger to his life or even kill? In the story called “Murder in Dubai” there is said that a young Uzbek woman was brought to Dubai promising her to find a job of waitress, but making her do forced sexual services instead. And when two girls, who were also enslaved there, tried to run away, the pimps killed them in front of that Uzbek woman so that she could never dare to even think about escape. But she could escape, anyway. And I hope, now she is safe and returned to her family.

to be continued…

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How some people get driver’s licenses in KZ

Recently I’ve learned not to be surprised to everything I find unusual, odd or unreal. As my grandmother says: “The more you live, the more you see”, which means that the life is full of surprises, and you learn more and more as you get older, day by day. (I like to listen to my grandma’s stories, but today’s entry is not about this. I’ll share her stories with my readers later.) As I’ve written earlier I’m learning to drive and when you are engaged in a particular field of activities, you hear many different stories, jokes or rumors related to this field. And I’m gradually getting used to to listen to my instructor telling jokes or real stories happened to his students. And I like them. But once I didn’t really like what he said about one of his current students who were finishing their course and were going to take exams. As far as I understood, one girl from his group thanked him in the end of her last driving lesson and said that wouldn’t show up at the exams as her license was ready, and there was no need to be present at the exams. It means that she had someone in Governmental Auto-transport Inspection, who had power to get such important documents. And my instructor jokingly added: “If you had such “uncle”, you wouldn’t spend your time to come here (usually it takes me almost 60 minutes to get to the autodrome where I have lessons) and take exams!” That didn’t sound funny for me at all.

I should say that the above given example is not the worst case. At least that girl attended the lessons and learned how do drive. But there are so many other cases when, for example, a 18-years  (in Kazakhstan a man can get a license from this age) old boy or girl gets a driving license as birthday present from the friends of their father or uncle, or whoever. Or they can buy the license without visiting even a single theoretical or practical lesson. So I wonder how these adolescents are going to drive in the streets full of danger and unpredictable situations.Quite recently I’ve shared the table with one of the NU students at the dinner time and we talked about driving. And she said that her parents were already preparing a driver’s license for her and she would have it when she were back to her city. But, fortunately, she was quite aware about the consequences and promised herself that she would never sit to drive a car without having some practical lessons with a professional. Still, I can’t understand their parents, does it mean that they don’t think about the safety of their children? Also it means that in such cases bribery takes place. All the things are done with the help of money and through reliable sources. Do such things take place in other countries also? I just wonder. I think that the system works in the same way everywhere.

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May 25 – Goodbye, School!

In Kazakhstan May 25 is a very important day for school teachers, pupils and their parents. The students feel happy for the beginning of the longest holiday in a year, the time when they can finally spend time outside playing or doing whatever they want, or travel. The teachers may relax for some time, though they continue working without students (one of the teachers at Nazarbayev Intellectual School said that her husband couldn’t understand why the teachers should work when there was not a single student at school) doing some paper works and attending meetings. Especially, this day’s very important  for those who are finishing the 11th grade and finishing school. I’d also say that this day can be heartbreaking one for them, because after this day they step into a totally new life which is called student life. Some students may leave their father’s house and move to another city (like me , for example) and visit their family at break time during the academic year. Or some may continue leaving at home if there are good universities in their city.

I finished school in 2006, but I still remember the 25 of May of that year quite well, the day when we said goodbye to everyone at school and to the school itself. As a rule, on this day we have a great celebration, we call it “линейка” which means ruler or line in translation, because all the pupils gather in the yard in front of the building and stand  in groups facing each other and forming a huge triangle. The lines are usually drawn beforehand with the words of welcome or congrats in the center. When we were graduating there was written: “Graduate 2006, good luck!” on the ground. We organized a little festival decorating the front of the building and the gates with balls and ribbons of different color and shape, wore school uniforms, the girls put white bows on their hair, sang several songs about school, gave presents to our teachers.  And one of the graduates had to express words of gratitude in front of the whole audience, and that graduate was me. I prepared a long speech adding a little poem of my own, but when it was the time to speak I suddenly got nervous and lost my voice. I took the microphone and started to speak, I didn’t control my words and thoughts, I still can’t remember what I said at that very moment. The audience became unusually quiet and every single person seemed to listen to me. I looked at my teachers, and suddenly I realized that in a couple of months I would leave all of them: the school which was my second house for 11 years (I used to spend about 8-9 hours a day at school and my mom used to make a joke advising me ask the headmaster to find one room for me and allow me to move there) and the teachers who taught me everything I had at that time. And I started to cry. Fortunately, one of the presenters quickly came up to me and took the microphone, helping me to get out of that  funny and stupid situation. My classmates were shocked, they didn’t know how sensitive I was, because used to see me being an active, confident and organized person. When I returned to my place I saw everyone was crying around me, including the students of other junior grades. I will never forget that moment.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t take part in today’s celebration which took place at school where I had my practice. I had my driving lessons in the morning and when I came to school, it was too late. Most of the students and their parents were leaving already, the teachers went to their classrooms. But still it was great to see the beautiful students with shining happy eyes and holding flowers in their hands and smiling to each other. Usually I see them hurrying to somewhere or something with serious and unhappy faces. But this day I could feel some kind of festive atmosphere. I visited my advisor, now former, and congratulated her with the end of another academic year in her life. I just wonder, how is my school celebrating this grand day?

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The first ever act of terrorism took place in Kazakhstan

The citizens who consider themselves to live in one of the safest countries in the world are in doubt now. Kazakhstan has just recently experienced the first ever act of terrorism on its land. This happened in my home city, Aktobe (my village locates near this city), on the 17th of May at 9.30 a.m. This event shocked everybody: the citizens, the Government, the local government and the local police and other law institutions. I was told this news a day after by a friend of mine. She was so worried about this event. Then I searched for official news in the internet. Here is what I found on the website of the local newspaper. (translated from Russian)

May, 17, 9.30 a.m. A young man entered the building of the Department of National Security Committee (NSC). There were three people in the hall: two military workers and a visitor. At this very moment the young man activated an explosive device (which was probably worn on his body) and died at once. According to the experts, though the handmade explosive had been packed with bolts and other metal things for a more striking effect, it’s power was weak to cover the whole hall. Three people, who were near the kamikaze, were injured.

9.50 a.m. All the streets and crossroads near the building of the NSC Department were closed, all the movements were stopped. Only the members of the security agencies and emergency services were allowed to come close to the building. The students of School #11, which is located near the building, were recommended not to go outside and to be very attentive. The residents walking nearby were told to go beyond the perimeter covered by the policemen. To the questions of curious citizens the policemen replied that they were doing training exercises, and there was nothing to worry about.

 “The terrorist” was in his 25, was married a couple years ago. His friends and relatives were shocked, because the man was well-bred, sociable and friendly. Nobody could expect from to commit suicide, especially in a such way. After his marriage he went to religion (Islamic) and sometimes believers were gathered in his house. But according to the words of his family members, there was nothing unusual in his behavior.

The personal information about him says that he studied at School # 21. It is the school were we had our practice while studying at Aktobe State Pedagogical Institute back in Aktobe. This is a trilingual school-gymnasium, and the students who study there are believed to be talented and smart, usually winners of local and regional Olympiads in different school subjects. In 2001 he was a winner of song contest “Zhas Kanat” (which means “young talents”), one of the most famous musical contest in Kazakhstan where the producers seek for new talents and future stars. He played dombyra (Kazakh national musical instrument).

The next day the streets were still closed, the policemen checked Identification Documents of almost every pedestrian and car driver. The citizens were in fear. Also there rumors that the “terrorists” were planning to blow up another building were usually many people gather, like shopping malls or amusement centers. Though the OSCE members evaluated this accident in Aktobe as an act of terrorism, the General Prosecutor of Kazakhstan reported that the bombing made by the young man was an action of “evading responsibility for crimes committed in an organized criminal group”.

Looking through several articles in different newspapers, I found out that different journalists have different opinions about the accident. Still I hope that this was not an act of terrorism, though the official evidences say vice verse. Some people, especially old ones, are still afraid of walking in the streets of the part of the city where the accident took place. Some citizens blame the religious groups in what happened, because recently s many teenagers and adolescents became believers and started to wear long black costumes and became alienated from the society. Their behaviors make the common people alerted. I do not blame anyone, because everyone can choose the way of leading his life, but I can’t understand this young man who killed himself in sake of vague objectives, leaving his three children and his young wife.

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A funny thing happened

While studying at PDP program (which was completed in mid March) we wrote one research paper. We had it as an assignment. Our teacher gave us a lot of time to get ready with its final draft. (Even some of us submitted the work a day or two before the Ceremony of Completion was held. ) Everyone could choose whatever topic he/she would like to write about. As all of us are teachers of English as a foreign language, the topics were about some problems in teaching grammar, reading and listening, the importance of the use of IT technologies. I decided to write about teaching critical thinking in schools of Kazakhstan. On the first week of March we gave presentations on our chosen topics before the audience of 15-20 ex-pats. Even now I remember the feelings (fear of public speaking, fear of making mistakes, fear of forgetting the content) I had before I gave my presentation. Fortunately, or unfortunately, nobody in the audience had a question to me about my topic when I finished my speech. Frankly speaking, I felt upset a little bit. When I got the evaluation papers where the listeners made their notes about the presentation, I understood the reason of them putting no questions. They found the topic very tough.

I’m touching upon this event, because a few hours ago searching for something in my cell phone I came upon a 15-minutes video clip. A video of my presentation, a friend of mine took it. I really forgot about that. Watching myself I found my speech very funny. The funniest thing was when I said: “I’m a teacher of K. (actually she is my teacher)” instead of “I’m a student of K”. I remember that when I said this sentence, one of the listeners, who sat in front of me, looked at me with a surprise in her eyes and misunderstanding. Now I understand why she had a such face (laughing). I thought I said “a student”… I would never forget this accident. This video clip totally made my day! I forgot about my tiredness, about the cold weather which makes me no pleasure at all. Hope, summer will bring hot days.

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