Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas e-mail

I finally got around to sending my Christmas e-mail yesterday (part of the whole ethical Christmas drive) and thought that my readers might like to see it too.

Dear Everyone

Back in November I had the most brilliant idea. e-mail Christmas cards. So here we are. You are the lucky recipient of one of my e-Christmas cards. There are a number of reasons why this is a brilliant idea which I shall now share with you. One, in this age where you are more likely to get a friend request from someone on facebook than their phone number and recent graduates will insist on keep moving around the country/world instead of marrying and settling down, keeping a record of all your postal addresses is near impossible. e-mail addresses however I do have and if not certainly facebook. Two, it’s good for the environment. Less Christmas cards being needlessly produced and thrown away. Even if you recycle yours, well that still uses energy doesn’t it? If you feel that I’m cheating you out of the pretty picture you get on real cards fear not you will find one in the attachments. Three, it’s cheap and I am quite poor. Four, my favourite of the cards that my family receive at Christmas are always those ones where the sender includes a letter detailing their life over the past year and bragging about their kids’, and occasionally pets’, achievements. I have no kids to brag about but an e-mail is the perfect medium to update you all about my past year.

January 2009, I was working with the lovely ladies of Pre-Bookings at Center Parcs. I couldn’t have wished for a funnier or friendlier to team to see me through those endless hours without natural light in that office, thanks ladies. I left Center Parcs in February to relax a little and prepare for my travels. This involved visiting all the super people at Essex University and the wonderful Amy in Oxford (I hadn’t been to Oxford before, nice city, looks a lot like Cambridge), panicking about how to fit six months worth of outfits into one suitcase and having a very long conversation with a young man in Millets about various backpacks and suitcases. Oh, and buying loads of water purification stuff that I didn’t need.

Once March 19th rolled around and I found myself boarding a train to Stratford upon Avon dragging my now very heavy Millets suitcase behind me. I’ll try not to say too much about Global Xchange as I wrote daily about my experiences in my diary which I then transferred to my blog; edited of course. If you are interested or extremely bored you can read it here just skip past all the baking and amateur sewing projects that I have been writing about lately.

Here is a brief summary for those of you that weren’t there and can’t be bothered to trawl through my entire blog. After our initial training at Stratford upon Avon where we met the whole team for the first time we travelled down to Harlow and Bishops Stortford by coach. In Harlow my Kazakhstani counterpart Gulnara and I lived with Ilma, a woman originally from the Caribbean. I’m still missing her cooking! The highlights of the UK phase for me were my volunteer placement at Catch 22 and stewarding at the Bishops Stortford Music Festival for one of our Community Action Days (although I wasn’t too keen on litter clearing duty). At Catch 22 my work counterpart Olga and I worked on their Entry to Employment course as teaching assistants. Entry to Employment is an educational course designed to provide the young people that take it with basic numeracy and literacy qualifications and then help them to move on into further education, training or employment. Obviously some of the learners were challenging at times but I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed working there. There was never a day when I didn’t want to go in, except maybe the one where I had been sick at my manager’s house the day before, long story. I relished the opportunity to teach some of my own short lessons, even when I turned around and found the whole class were missing! I even begun to think about teaching as a career move although that didn’t work out too well as you shall see later. I felt that I got to know some of the learners quite well and felt pretty invested in their futures. So many great characters that I won’t forget in a hurry.

The UK phase came to an end in early June and our whole team boarded a plane bound for Kazakhstan. We spent a few days sightseeing and training in the former capital Almaty before we headed south on an overnight train for the city of Shymkent which would be our home for the next three months. In Shymkent Gulnara and I lived in an apartment with a Russian woman named Nassima. She couldn’t speak any English and my Russian is very basic at best but we managed to get along most of the time. My volunteer placement in Shymkent was a treatment centre for children with HIV and their families where I and my work counterpart Nina launched a playgroup. We met a lot of challenges, from lacking basic materials to obstructive nursing staff, but we managed to overcome most of them and by the end the children seemed so much more confident in themselves and happy to be around us, though that also made them naughtier! So much of the good work we did there was down to the efforts of Nina. I am so grateful to her. My contribution was limited due to the language barrier and the fact that I’m pretty useless with small children but I hope I helped a bit even if just by collecting loads of plastic bottles! One of the most disappointing things about the second phase was being told by our supervisor when we left that the hospital didn’t have the staff to carry on our sessions. We left all the materials we had managed to gather and only hope that the parents or other volunteers will soon put them back to good use. The highlight of Kazakhstan for me was just exploring Shymkent and the surrounding area either alone or with others in the team. It feel like such an achievement the first time I took a bus alone or understood the price of something in the bazaar then managed to haggle and actually buy it. On September 4th we said an emotional goodbye to our friends and flew back to the UK, though not before being delayed at Almaty airport for 13 hours!

Back in the UK I reunited with friends and family and faced the inevitable ‘So, what was Kazakhstan like?’ question. The best answer anyone got was ‘Yer, it’s okay.’ I’ve found it incredibly hard to sum up the entire experience and a whole country, of which I only saw a fraction, in the answer to one question. Thankfully I have found that those people who are genuinely interested have then asked more specific questions such as ‘what kind of houses to they have?’, ‘How developed is it?’ etc. I also found myself facing the daunting graduate job hunt. Inspired by my placement at Catch 22 I had applied to the Teach First programme, where I would get a job teaching in a ‘challenging school’ for two years, and got through to an assessment centre held a couple of weeks after I returned. I dedicated myself to preparing for the interview and the sample lesson, reading their website effectively cover to cover and every lesson plan I could find for teaching human rights yet I found out a couple of days later that I had been unsuccessful. I waited over a month for my feedback which when I got it really wasn’t that bad. I guess the other candidates were just impossibly brilliant. I suppose that is what you get when over half the people you are up against are Oxbridge alumni.

So here I am in December 2009. I am working part time at my step dads letting agency (so I have enough cash to cover my frequent jaunts back to Essex University) and applying for every job that catches my eye. As my step dad said last night, if you throw enough mud at the wall some of it will stick. For the time being at least I am actually quite enjoying all the free time and the slower pace of life here, when I’m not trying to master verbal and numerical reasoning that is. Though don’t expect that to be the same story if I am still here next year!

Merry Christmas to all of you

Love Catherine x

OMG 1 mintue to Christmas! Still need to finish mum's present!

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