|He closed a door... where's my window?!
||[Sep. 24th, 2008|10:10 am]
It's Tuesday, and I'm off of work because I got back last night from my first recruiting trip to the sleepy city of Naberezhnye Chelny (roughly translated, it's "Shored Canoes"). When I came back, the internet was installed, so I'm finally able to update and email, yay!
Now, for the story of my weekend. Sadly, it couldn't have gone rougher. First, a description of my job: there is a program called FLEX that sends teenagers from former Soviet countries to the US for a year, and my job with my partner, Yana, is to go to cities around Russia and conduct three rounds with them. The first and second rounds last one day each, and so are done on one weekend. Round 3 is much longer, involving interviews with individual students and so on, so that's done later over a 4, 5 day span. Yana and I get to a city a day before Round 1, which consists of a short 15-minute test of English. Well, Friday we got to Chelny, conducted brief testing with disabled students (we also send physically disabled kids whenever we can), meet with program alumni from Chelny and recruit them to help out on Saturday at Round 1. R1 is usually the most hectic - we have no idea who's going to show up, how many students, because there's just no way to know beforehand. The best you can do is look at previous years' numbers and estimate. Well, we expected around 200, so we brought materials for 300 (they say always prepare for 100 more). Registration for R1 was supposed to start at 9am, so Yana and I showed up at 8.30 to set up. The principal of the school that was hosting us met us at the door, asking where we'd been, cause they'd all been waiting. Yana and I thought, "Uh-oh." Well... turns out that we did an amazing job with PR. We got TWO newspapers to write articles about the FLEX program, announcing the date and time of R1, PLUS the alumni from Chelny made collectively 20 presentations, PLUS we managed to call every single school in Naberezhnye Chelny, the neighboring city of Nizhnekamsk, and the not-so-neighboring city of Bugulma and formally invite their students. So right from 8.30, there were about 300 kids waiting for us. Well, Yana and I went to work - we spent the next 5 hours registering kids and administering the short test. By 2pm we'd tested everybody, and now we had to grade the tests and figure out who passed to Round 2 for Sunday.
Given the volume, that took longer than expected. The rule is - you take 30 percent of your kids to R2, unless significantly less show up, in which case you can take up to 50 percent. Since we had significantly more, it was 30 percent. The end tally was 324 kids, but there were 11 who didn't circle the version of the test they took - to prevent cheating, there are 7, and no two kids near each other are given the same version - and we weren't about to grade 11 tests 7 times, so those kids didn't even get graded, and so automatically didn't pass. After about 1.5 hours of grading, we figured out our cutoffs - out of a possible 22 points, how many points kids from bigger cities (therefore, with stronger English) had to score to pass, and how many points kids from the smaller village schools had to score to pass. We made our list of kids who passed, taking 94 kids in total, hung the list on the door to the school, and headed home.
Well, lots of little, insignificant things happened along the way that made a long, tiring day worse, but I won't go into them, cause they're really of no consequence. The big thing that happened Saturday night, well... that requires a brief explanation of R2.
R2 comprises of 4 parts - the SLEP test, a more detailed test of English, with listening and reading comprehension sections (that's 2), three essay questions they answer in English, and Bio-Data sheets - basically, information about the kids, their parents, and schools, so that we can get in touch with them if they pass to R3. Well, Saturday night, I discovered that we had the wrong tapes: there are 3 versions of the SLEP, each with separate audio, and we needed V4, but had V6. Turns out, our tapes somehow got mixed up with the tapes of another recruiting team, cause they had V4 and needed V6. Well, with about 12 hours before R2 starts, there's no way to get the tapes to us on time, so I texted MAO - that's the Moscow Administrative Office, but with an acronym like that, they get plenty of jokes (Matthew, the guy who runs the entire FLEX program in Eurasia and whom I texted, is referred to as Chairman MAO) - and asked what to do. No answer. Tried calling - still no answer. Got in touch with Denise and Anya, who had our tapes, and Denise, who runs the Moscow hub of FLEX, said we might have to cancel. Finally, I went to sleep, hoping to hear from MAO before 9am tomorrow morning, when R2 was scheduled to start. Success: he texted me at 3am and said we'd just have to do everything we could - essays, B-D sheets, and the reading comp - and for those who passed to R3, reSLEP them with the audio. That seemed good and well, except...
Sunday morning, as I'm gathering materials for R2, I made an even worse discovery - we didn't have the essay questions either. I called Matthew, and miraculously got in touch, waking him up on a Sunday morning at 7.30 when he'd gotten home after 3. "Hey, Dan, did you get my text about reSLEPing?" "Yeah, but..." "Oh, good. Yeah, don't worry, the essays are the most important part, that's what gets graded the most for going to R3, so coupled with the reading comp, it shouldn't be too bad." "Well, about that, Matthew..."
Let me tell you guys - Matthew is a hell of a guy and boss. He got out of bed, went to the office, and emailed me the questions, while Yana went ahead and filled out the B-D sheets with the kids (however, as the American, only I can administer the SLEP test, so that's all she could do until she got the essays). I expected to be right behind her, but I discovered that the front desk didn't have access to the internet, just to it's own email account, so when Matthew sent me the essay questions to my wisc.edu account, I couldn't open it. Matthew and I consulted, and decided to send it to the hotel account. The problem is, our testing materials are very confidential, and I'd have to delete the questions from the inbox, as well as the deleted folder, to erase any materials that would be beyond our control.
Well, an hour and a half later, still no email. I had no idea what was taking so long, so Matthew and I decided just to fax the questions (should have done that earlier, but we weren't thinking). Finally, 2 hours behind schedule, I get to the school with the essay questions, and we begin R2. In Yana's classroom, there were 16 desks, in mine there were 14 (important later). We were practically stumbling over ourselves to catch up - the kids who were supposed to start at 9 started at 11; the essay and reading comp each take 45 minutes, and the next group was coming at 12; Yana accidentally let her first group go before they took the SLEP reading comp; then, later in the day, she also forgot to give one group the B-D sheets; at the end of the day, we realized that because I'd never moved one desk into my classroom to give it 15 places instead of 14, at 6pm, when we wanted to go home (I had skipped breakfast that day, and lunch, and lunch the day before, so I was starving and exhausted), we had to stay another 1.5 hours to test two more girls. We did, then finally went home.
Don't ask me why, but both Yana and I blamed the whole day on me. We both felt it was my fault for not packing the essay q's, and my fault for mixing up the tapes. At the end of the day, Yana was crying tears of rage and about ready to kill me, while I was apologizing profusely for screwing up so badly, especially for not putting the desk in the classroom at the beginning of the day. In my defense, though, I was a little preoccupied with the 50 kids waiting impatiently downstairs to be tested, and just wanted to get it over with ASAP. Monday I woke up and, skipping breakfast again, immediately began sorting out all the Bio-Data sheets, SLEP answer sheets, and essays, alphabetizing them and seeing who was missing what. It was then that I realized that the day wasn't as bad, from the point of view of the overall FLEX program, as previously assessed. Yes, it was long and painful and stressful and tear-inducing, but almost everybody filled out everything they were supposed to - SLEP reading, B-D sheets, and essays. I say "almost everybody" because there was a group of 16 students Yana let go before they took the SLEP (her fault) and, in the middle of the day, when we switched classrooms, she didn't have them fill out the B-D sheets (also her fault). So I felt a hell of a lot better about myself and how I handled the situation - I'd managed to procure more essay questions, had administered everyone I could the SLEP, secured the confidentiality of the essay questions (the email Matthew had sent with the essay q's came just as I was checking out, so I just deleted it), and through all the chaos, no confidential materials - SLEP booklets, essay q's, filled-out B-D sheets, answer keys, pre-test versions or answer cards from the kids - were lost or misplaced. The two materials we hadn't packed were OUR responsibility, as a team, so she was just as at fault for that as I was. And, in fact, Yana had made mistakes that were worse than mine, resulting in one group not SLEPing, and the other not filling out B-D sheets.
However, I didn't gloat. I didn't throw it in her face. I realized that the weekend was stressful enough as it was, and doing something like that would just aggravate the entire situation. Besides, since we were going to reSLEP at R3 anyway, the SLEP reading comp didn't mean a whole lot, and we have at least home phones for the kids who didn't fill out the B-D sheets, so we can do that with them over the phone. Nothing irreversibly bad, in hindsight. So, in the interest of getting back to Moscow in as serene a state as possible, I kept my mouth shut... until the airport, when Yana began accusing me about the tapes all over again, saying it was my fault they were mixed up because I'd started gathering materials on Wednesday before the trip, and only finished on Thursday, so next time I should do it all at once. I finally just snapped; I apologized for all the mix-ups, but said that she should lay off, since nothing was lost, our jobs weren't in subsequent jeopardy, and the weekend was now over and there was nothing we could do about it, then stormed off. I think after that, Yana realized she had been a bit harsh, and after a plane ride where we sat apart and I cooled off, in Moscow we were at least on speaking terms again.
And that's it. I dropped off the materials at the office, where I saw Matthew, and we had a laugh about how horrible the weekend was. I came home, saw Nastya, had home-made sushi for dinner, several cups of tea, then just went to bed. Now I'm up, writing this entry. With the internet finally installed, I have upwards of 80 podcasts I need to catch up on. And since I have the day off today, I'll be doing that most of the time, I think. That, and just spending some QT with the GF.
Thank you all for reading such an exhausting entry. If you can believe it, there were several details that, in the interest of succinctness, I skipped over that would have made the story funnier and conveyed an even bigger sense of, "What else could go wrong?", including calling cards that didn't work, slow sales girls, slow taxi drivers, and a mean old battle-axe of a night lady at the school. Anyway, hope you enjoyed, if you got this far. I miss you all, and I hope to hear from you soon! Peace!