Fort Mill Times

FMHS teacher works in Russia this week

Angela Niccum
Angela Niccum

Sometimes, it's the little things that matter most.

"One of the main reasons I chose this family to stay with is they have toilet paper," Fort Mill High teacher Angela Niccum said, discussing the Russian family that is hosting her this week during a 10-day exchange program.

"At public restrooms in Russia you have to buy it by the square."

Niccum flew to Russia Friday, March 7, as part of a teacher exchange program run by the American Council for International Education. She learned about the program last year from an exchange student in one of her classes. That student nominated Niccum for the program, and she was eventually chosen as one of eight teachers participating this year.

Four are English teachers and the rest are math and science teachers. All will head to a separate region of the country.

Niccum headed to Washington, D.C., last Tuesday for a final meeting before catching a flight Friday to Moscow. From there, she headed southeast two hours to Ufa, Russia. Her ultimate destination was Salava. She is staying with a Russian English teacher named Guliya Shaykhutdinova, her husband and their two children.

"Some teachers are going to Siberia, so this isn't so bad," Niccum said. "The family I'm staying with e-mailed me and said to bring warm clothes. I had to go out and buy a real coat."

Niccum has a full itinerary. During her stay, she will teach lessons in English as a second language, focusing on the American cultural side of the language - slang and informal usage will be among the major focuses of her lessons. She will also meet with teachers and administrators of all grade levels and will even speak to university students.

Russian children begin taking English classes in second grade, Niccum said. But they are being taught by Russian teachers who usually don't have a great understanding of American society and culture.

"I've been trying to get my students to help," Niccum said. "I've asked them, 'What would you want them to know about us?' and they've been a big help getting music and writing samples."

Niccum has never been to Russia. She doesn't speak the language - even a little - and never had any interest in going there before the exchange opportunity presented itself. But her husband encouraged her to pursue it, and she saw it as an opportunity to grow and help her students grow, too.

"I wanted to go to expose some of my students that would never have the chance to see Russia on their own," Niccum said. "I wanted to bring a piece of another country back to the classroom."

Some of her students asked Niccum to bring back some souvenirs. Specifically, "the furry Russian hats," she said.

She's also hoping to pick up some teaching tricks and ideas from her Russian hosts that she can bring back to her colleagues in Fort Mill.

Niccum will begin her return trip Monday, March 17.