Schools in Albania are locked into their old, traditional methods. They teach right out of a book and its almost impossible to get teachers to vary and, you know, think outside the box. Cue the entrance of you friendly, neighborhood Peace Corps Volunteer.
Granted, sometimes I take my job a little too far. But hey, with big risk comes big reward, right? So this week I decided that what I needed to do was take all my first-year students to the movies. Yes, all 200 of them. Good idea? No, great idea. I’ve never seen students so excited in my life. Now this is where the story takes a spin.
You see, Albanians don’t have the same culture of “movie-going” that Americans do. As a matter of fact, the movie theater in Shkoder is almost always empty. They only show 1 movie a month and they only show it 2 times a week at 7pm and there have to be at least 5 people in the audience, or they won’t show the movie. Does this sound like a society that cherishes movie watching to you?
In order to make this fabulous plan a reality I had to think like an Albanian and forget all of my American instincts. So, I went home and illegally downloaded a copy of the Oscar-Winning “Argo” with English subtitles, put it onto a DVD and hopped on my bike. I went directly to the movie theater and asked if I could show said movie at 3pm on Friday to an audience of 200 students from my school, you know, for a project. The man looked at me like I was crazy. But as soon as I handed him a big plastic bag full of loose change to pay for the tickets, no more questions asked. Only in Albania would the owner of a movie theater readily agree to this strange (and wildly illegal) idea and then give you a discounted price on tickets (just $1 per student).
Needless to say, I was on cloud nine. So on Friday, I gathered all of my 200 first-year students outside the school and resorted right back to my swim coaching ways. Standing in front of this massive group of excited students (who’ve never even dreamed of having a school project that consists of going to the movies), I quickly explained the assignment…to play detective and find fact vs. fiction in the film. I think I shocked the other teachers with my ability to captivate and silence this rowdy crowd…but what can I say, some skills never leave you.
The only real problem with the whole activity was, as I mentioned before, Albanians don’t know how to watch movies. They’ve never been to the movies before so they don’t understand that you need to stay sitting, turn off your cell phone, and stop talking. And good luck to the American teacher who tries not only to teach them English but also movie-going etiquette. What could I do, really? It was just too much excitement too contain. So I just it let go. After all, the day wasn’t about me, it was about them.
I can’t even begin to explain the pure rush of happiness it brings me to see these students happy. It’s the reason I keep coming up with these outlandish and far-fetched and crazy activities even though people tell me “Albanians will never let you do it” or “Albanians won’t appreciate it” or “just stick to the book”. I can’t wait to see what we can do next!
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”