Alana Felton from Pennsylvania came to Belarus to teach English at the university. In her blog, she shares her impressions of life in Vitebsk, local habits and her curious and caring students.
As the teacher who works with inquiring minds, she is usually asked a lot of questions about the U.S. Some of them are so baffling and hilarious Alana can’t help but share them with her subscribers.
Aren’t you cold?
Belarusians often worry about getting cold and, in turn, getting sick. The neck and head must always be covered, bundled, and wrapped to keep out menacing cold air.
I’m almost daily asked: “Aren’t you cold? Where is/are your hat/gloves/scarf/warm boots?”. I am always dressed warmly according to my own body temperature and assure the questioning party that I am indeed quite comfortable, but this rarely comforts them.
Are you hungry?
Friends, colleagues, and even students worry about my diet here in Belarus on a regular basis. I have a rather non-traditional eating schedule and do not always want to eat at normal meal times.
I began to realize that people here think that I either do not eat at all or that I avoid eating with them because I do not like the food here. Both of these assumptions are very wrong.
I love the food here and do, in fact, eat plenty. I was a bit surprised by the “mothering” coming from those around me but have found that it is how my new community shows that they care.
Do you want tea?
Belarusian drink much, much more tea than the average American. After nearly every class, conversation, lunch, *insert event/activity/occurrence here,* I am offered hot tea with some sort of sweet treat.
Initially, I accepted each offer but after finding myself making an absurd number trips to the squat-toilet restrooms I decided to start politely declining.
How many countries have you visited?
Many Belarusians I have talked to seem quite surprised to hear that I have only been to three foreign countries – Dominican Republic, Russia, and Belarus.
There seems to be an assumption here that most Americans are seasoned world travelers. Of course, many Americans are, but many are also not.
They are often surprised to hear that many of my friends and family do not own a passport.
Do you celebrate Halloween?
Most people seem rather disappointed by my answer to this question: “No.” I am not a fan of Halloween mostly because I am too lazy to bother to find a costume. I also hate that crunchy, tight feeling of face-paint and usually just end up feeling sick on Halloween from consuming too much sugar.
Anyway, when I try to explain to my students that I used to celebrate Halloween by trick-or-treating but stopped in middle school they all seem so surprised. They have an idea that most Americans under the age of 30 are avid Halloween celebrators. Again, I think that American movies support this idea.
Do you like it here in Belarus? Really?
This question is usually asked with some anxiety and doubt. I am always surprised that many of my students, colleagues, and acquaintances here assume that I do not like it. In fact, I really like Belarus and I deeply appreciate the people I have met here.
In Belarus, I have encountered some of the most beautiful examples of true friendship and been welcomed more warmly than anywhere else I have ever been. Sure, I miss home sometimes. I miss my family, dogs, and cats. I miss familiar foods and the freedom of driving my car.
I miss hearing English on the streets and understanding everything I read and see. But, I also love the adventure of not understanding everything and having to take the time to think about, research, and absorb new information, words, and ideas.
To learn more about Alana’s journey and experience in Belarus, visit her blog.