Reflections on Georgia
Jonathan Hess, 25:
Jonathan Hess Volunteer, First Group, July 2010 Reflections on Georgia Thoroughly frustrated with school and work, I was ready to take drastic action. I signed up for Teach and Learn with Georgia. I was going to be an English teacher. Not in the state of Georgia, although they might be in need of a couple more English teachers, but rather something much more drastic – the Republic of Georgia. When I disembarked from the airplane I was in for a surprise. I didn't know a single word of Georgian, better yet; I didn't even know there was a unique and confusing Georgian alphabet. For an entire year, I lived with an infinitely hospitable host family. We lived, worked, and studied together. Although at first the family felt obliged to ensure my utmost comfort in all matters, I eventually persuaded them to allow me to assist in house hold chores. This was when I was blindsided with the depressing fact that I didn't know jack from squat. My host family was very musical and spent the warm summer evenings circled in the family room making music together. The first night, my host father offered me the guitar. I'd held a guitar about as many times as I held baby Jesus. David encouraged me to play, under the assumption that no human on Earth had never held a guitar before, he thought I was simply embarrassed to play in front of them. Eventually he lamented and I carefully handed the guitar back to him. This was the first time I realized that I was an uncultured couth. While in America, I held a professional job and had many friends in the automotive field, I was dumbstruck that existing entirely outside these relations, I was actually a fairly boring person. I had no musical talent whatsoever – I couldn't dance to save my life – and I didn't know any American songs – I was a disaster in a kitchen - even worse I had no clue what was a traditional American anything. My host family routinely asked me to show them something American. I thought baseball was a purely American sport, but I didn't have a bat. I surely couldn't bake an apple pie. I didn't know any American songs or poems. I really didn't know much at all come to think about it. My lifelong experience as a typical American was a thorough embarrassment when I compared my life to the rich and culturally ingrained nature of my host family. Soon our summer respite came to a close and my work as an English teacher began. The cold realization that my life was nothing more than a hollow existence was truer then than ever. The experience with my host family was magnified one hundred fold when I stood in front of a classroom of excited students eager to learn all about the wondrous United States. Cold chills ran down my back, officially I was billed as being an English teacher and after all , I thought, I could definitely speak English – so what could possibly go wrong? I opened the door to the first class, it was the ninth grade. Standing in front of twenty 15 year - old kids, I looked over at the Georgian host teacher. I expected her to have a plan, to utilize and instruct me like a tool in her well-planned lesson. At first she introduced me to the class and I smiled and was flush with excitement about my sudden new career as an English teacher. I was delighted. Then, the teacher turned to me and said, “Ok Jon, you may begin the lesson now.” I was struck cold – what was it that I was supposed to teach? Where did one begin an English lesson? Wasn't there a determined system to follow, tests to pass out, grades to be collected, a lesson plan to create? After quickly realizing that I had not brought any wondrous teaching methods from America, the teacher resumed her normal lesson. A single student stood up and recited pronouns mechanically, “I am, you are, he is. . .” That lone student, the star of the class, stood up for the entire hour. The rest of the students sat around, entirely bored, dismayed that the wonderful new teacher from the United States knew as much about teaching as he did the guitar. The rest of the school year followed suit, eventually I found a balance with the host teacher and was allowed to carry out my own lesson plans. I was still new to teaching and was determined to give it my best. Many of the volunteers from my group had already fled the country aboard the first flight home. I remained – I was surprised by my ignorance of so many aspects of life and I would never have been satisfied to have returned home having failed to achieve any improvement. I ardently studied the Georgian language although I didn't know how but soon enough I could converse with people about many things. The Georgian people are particularly hospitable and delighted with foreigners who take an interest in their amazingly deep culture. My host family taught me how to talk, they taught me how to sing, taught me how to dance. My host mother Tamriko was particularly delighted in her new found pupil and spent many hours with me divesting her knowledge of life. In addition, I often assisted in cooking , much to her chagrin. Somewhere buried deep in my mind, I knew the reason that I tried to attain the Georgian culture was simply to fill the void of my native culture. This was something real, something tangible, and something honest – being Georgian seemed a simple virtue of life. Even now I reflect on my life as an American and understand the multiple shortcomings of an American culture. Today, when I visit my home high school I must first knock on the door, be buzzed in, then sign an admission paper, and then wear a name tag, and have a definite purpose for being in the school. The students automatically follow the teachers in single file lines up and down the halls – mechanically performing duties as they are presented to them. The students read and the students listen. Then they take a test and they do well or they do poorly. Then they are given a mark reflecting their performance and then they enter upon another discipline – thereby erasing the prior lesson in preparation for the next. Comparatively, the Georgian students were not always given the material benefit of text books, copy machines, overhead projectors, or any other amenities afforded the American school, yet they could creatively and passionately argue the structure of the English language during class. This point was particularly driven home when I had orchestrated a letter exchange between my home high school and my Georgian school. The Georgian students were derisive in their appraisal of the American students' usage of grammar and punctuation. Were not the American students themselves the master of English? Then finally came the ultimate realization of the American education system – the basic tenets of learning had not yet been entirely explored before being piled upon with numerous other 'progressive' methods, otherwise known as distractions. No amount of PowerPoint slides, videos, laptops , or any other nonsense can compensate for an entirely passive approach to education. John Dewey had warned that listening and reading were both forms of the same passive approach – the student being the expected recipient of the knowledge deposited. Without argument or constructive discourse, students are molded into regurgitation automatons. Also, with a burgeoning movement towards increased safety, educators must wear white silk gloves when delicately handling the egg shell emotions of students. The Georgians had one great benefit to wave over the head of the American students, their reality was absolutely complete. Life did not begin and end upon entrance to the school. The hazards of life were never papered over. Students are initiated into the routine of adult life at an early age. I was impressed at the adroit fashion in which a fifth grader could handle a giant knife while cutting vegetables. The culture and , more importantly, the community followed the students like a tightly wound scarf everywhere they went. They had no fear of school; differences were quickly settled in spontaneous wrestling matches. On one particular excursion, the eighth grade students went on a picnic. Although a drizzle put a damper on the event, a couple of the boys resiliently set about breaking kindling and stoking a fire. The students were allowed at times to take charge and wrest control from the teachers. They had an implicit responsibility to their community to uphold and they were allowed to share in the duties of an adult. They said what they meant and wore their emotions of their sleeves. I was proud of my students’ resolute candor in the face of obstacles – they are a tough and resilient brew unafraid of dirt or sweat. This is the most striking difference between American and Georgian students – Americans have become accustomed to a compartmentalized approach to life – a fatal cultural flaw. There is a series of appearances to uphold for a wide variety of circumstances. When a student enters a classroom, he is expected to remain quiet and purportedly attentive throughout the lesson. At the close of the school day, the student returns home to resume life as a precocious youngster. There is a beginning and an end to the acquisition of knowledge, a predetermined amount of knowledge has been slated to be learned for a day. Conversely, the non-systematic and organic Georgian approach allowed for an infinite amount of time for learning. The day continues uninterrupted between community and school. Culture is the binder that holds the two pieces together. The students are Georgian whether within school or out of school, they never cease being Georgian for a moment. On excursions, the students eagerly inquired about the English words for a variety of things. A particularly clever student was resolute to discover the English equivalent for the word ‘adamiani.’ He motioned to a cow and said in English, 'This is not it'. Then he looked at a fellow student and said, 'This is it.' Eventually I had caught on after a couple more examples; the word the student was looking for was 'human'. Through the process of deduction, he was able to divine the English equivalent. As Sherlock Holmes might say, 'Elementary, my dear Watson.' Learning doesn’t need to start at the entrance of a school, it should always be in play and all chances should be taken to propagate learning, regardless if the extra effort doesn’t translate into a better grade. I urge any interested people who are so fortunate to have an entire year to live the Georgian experience. At first I expected to simply be a passive teacher of English and to receive another line of experience to add to my resume’. Instead, I was surprised to find myself feeling Georgian and actually felt a sincere attachment to the culture. Now, having returned to my family and my friends in the United States, somehow this reality still cannot compare with the life I lived in Georgia and all the amazing people that I met on a daily basis. Be brave enough to challenge the basic assumptions about your life – Be brave enough to volunteer for Teach and Learn with Georgia.
Sibusisiwe Mbilini, 29:
I am grateful and thankful to TLG for giving me the opportunity to learn a new language, learn about Georgian culture and history, taste and enjoy new food and the chance to belong to a loving family and community. The time spent with my ever enthusiastic, friendly and full of smiles students. They made me look forward to each day, from receiving flowers, cards and drawings and warm hugs each day. Their thirst to learn the English language was an adventure. I found a home in Georgia in the small town of Lagodekhi and my time spent here, teaching, will be cherished always. Thank you Teach and Learn with Georgia and Ministry of Education and Sciences.
Christian Holloway, 23:
If you are interested in meeting and developing friendships with people from a unique culture than I would highly recommend teaching in Georgia through the Teach and Learn with Georgia program. Georgia is not a country filled with glamorous cities or must see tourist attractions. There are nice places to visit and historical things to take photographs off but it is devoid of the glam and sparkle of Western Europe. You don’t visit and teach in Georgia to see things; you live and work in Georgia to be with the people. Georgians love visitors. Any TLG volunteer will be eagerly welcomed into the community and will find themselves turning down more invitations for visits, feasts, and drinks than they ever imagined they would receive in a year. Just don’t turn down too many because a Georgian party is always a good time. In the classroom, TLG volunteers will be adored and respected by their students. Students are eager to learn and become friends with English speakers. They want to be liked by volunteers just as much as volunteers want their students to learn English, a dynamic which results in enthusiastic classrooms and hardworking students. Teach and Learn with Georgia reflects the values of Georgian culture. Volunteers have a well-established support system which is can be put into action at any hour of the day. No matter what the problem, whether small or large, TLG will be on hand to support any volunteer. This is not to say that TLG is overbearing; indeed, TLG tends to take a hands off approach to volunteers. They are there when volunteers need them but other than training and a monthly report volunteers are not obligated to communicate with TLG. TLG encourages adaption into Georgian culture and gives volunteers the space to make the most of their time in Georgia. Come to Georgia to participate. Any volunteer who participates in their community, opens themselves to challenges and is willing to learn without judgment will leave loving the people they worked, played, and lived with. Oh, and by the way, the country is absolutely gorgeous. Christian Holloway, 23 years old
Lauren Schuberth, 27:
I have been part of the Teach and Learn with Georgia program since September 2011. I spent my first school year teaching English at Satemo Public School in the village. I had such a wonderful year; I decided to come back for a second year. This year I’ve been teaching in the city of Gori. Teach and Learn with Georgia has been a really incredible experience. It has allowed me to grow not only as a teacher, but also as a person. It has been both challenging and exciting to introduce English and American culture to my students as well as discover Georgia for myself. I would recommend TLG to anyone who has a love for people and a true spirit for adventure. It’s definitely a worthwhile journey. --Lauren Schuberth
Isabelle Noulard is a Canadian who after obtaining her Cambridge CELTA Diploma decided to go on a new journey and participated in the English program of The Republic of Georgia from June 2012 to June 2013. When I first read Teach and Learn with Georgia I was curious to know why the words “teach” and “learn” were set in together. Secondly, I had no clue where The Republic of Georgia was. Finally, the slogan “Make a difference” caught my attention; how could I make a difference? I decided to join the TLG program as a volunteer last June 2012. Since then, I have learned a great deal about the Georgian culture, food, mentality and teaching structure. I could praise their unbeatable hospitality, the breathtaking view of the Caucasus Mountains and the pride of their traditions countless times. But what I wish to mainly express here is the immense joy teaching these children has given me! They are eager to learn, to answer your questions and to please you in any kind of way. My co-teachers have welcomed me into their classroom with open arms and open-minds. I was saddened to see the end of the school year coming as an incredible year, rich of reminiscences, has flown by in an instant. Adaptation and flexibility are key words for a truly effective and positive stay in Georgia. Living with a host family enables you to have direct contact with their mind-set and living conditions. Be prepared to be out of your comfort zone in several aspects and at times be challenged by old-fashioned mentalities. Looking back now at my apprehensions when I first heard about the program, I smile: not only I am proud to have contributed back to the Georgian society by imparting my skills and knowledge, but I also acquired comprehension about a new country, myself and my future aspirations.
The Teach and Learn with Georgia offers a multitude of benefits for ESL teachers. It is a program where you can get as much as you give. My name is Catherine and I have been living in the town of Samtredia in Western Georgian for the school year of 2012-2013. I have been working with local teachers to bring communicative teaching methods into the classroom. For experienced teachers and those wishing to advance their classroom skills, this is an excellent program. You will be able to enhance the language and cultural exchange with students and work with your counterparts to develop the delivery of the fairly new curriculum. The students will warm your heart. They genuinely love having you in the classroom and how you can provide a different approach to improving their English skills. I have a folder of drawings and cards that students have made over the course of the year, and saying goodbye to them at the end of the school year will be very difficult. I have lived with two wonderful host families and have been able to adapt to life fairly quickly. My recommendation would be to dive into learning Georgian as soon as you get here. It wouldn’t be hard to set up lessons with your co-teacher to accelerate your studies. You will eat amazing food, go hiking in the mountains, swim in the Black Sea, and learn how to maneuver the local bazaar like a pro.
A super original situation
Julia Pons, 24:
“A super original situation” Is what Valeri leaned over and said to Joe and I as we sat at a table built for the seven dwarfs, in a room just as small. What it lacked in height, the table made up for in breadth. It was over flowing with plates of food; the traditional food that is found at a Supra- greens, khatchapuri, boiled chicken and beef (yes, that’s the heart.), eggplant with walnut sauce, beef stew, bread, cheese, potatoes, fruit, various flavors of fizzy drinks, homemade wine, and of course, two varieties of chacha (one for the men, and one for the women). In this situation, I was quite glad to be a female, albeit the feminine chacha was simply fermented, syrupy cherry juice. And a super original situation it was. Joe and I found ourselves in the midst of a family reunion of sorts, during a weekend trip to a little city called Sighnaghi (high atop a mountain, nestled in the heart of the wine making region of Georgia). We were enjoying a stay at Nato’s Guesthouse and what a character Nato turned out to be. A bubbly personality, mixed with all the qualities of a gracious host, yet direct and to the point. We were given a time and a place- 4 o’clock in the living room. And then there was the wine. Never turn down free wine, right? As it turns out, we weren’t the only guests…Nato’s entire family was in town! Needless to say, we felt a bit like intruders at the get go (imagine, for example, two Polish people joining your family for Thanksgiving dinner), but as soon as everyone sat to eat and the toasts started flowing (literally), we felt like a part of the family. That’s exactly what Georgian hospitality is- making you feel like a member of the family. Everyone was eager to share their stories (in broken English and developing Georgian), inquire about our lives, and thank us for taking the time to visit their city. It was absolutely unbelievable. I couldn’t help but think how strange it would be to invite two complete strangers to a large family gathering in the United States, and how upon returning home, I will do my best to be just as open and welcoming if/when the situation arises. Not that many Polish people are wandering around Scarborough, Maine during the third week of November…but you get the idea. Four hours later our feast had finished, complete with folk music performed by a sister-duo (10 and 12 years old), harmonizing with each other and strumming away on the guitar. We didn’t know all of the words, but no matter- Valeri (the father of the girls) was our voice coach and helped us to keep the base line as the aunts and mothers took the soprano roles. If only my brother and sister had been there, it would’ve been a proper festival for the ears! Being around such warm hearted people, while enjoying food, and of course music, made me feel like I had teleported home. So as you can see, the year is going well. This family and every other we have encountered have opened their homes to us, included us in their toasts and thoughts, and did everything humanly possible to make us comfortable. Georgians, as a people, are accustomed to making everyone feel welcomed, and would like nothing more than to share their rich culture and history with the rest of the world. In my opinion, TLG is, not only, beneficial for the schools and the students it's beneficial for Georgia as a culture and nation.
Sanchez Johnson, 39:
If one wants to make and see immediate impact in a community, family or person TLG is the program to achieve that goal. They are forward thinking and progressive in their ideas and objectives for the future of Georgian Education. They take care of our needs such as health, safety and academic support so we don’t have to and can focus on the reason we are here—the kids. I am very pleased with my experience here in Georgia. The country is stunningly beautiful and the people are abundantly hospitable. Being a part of the TLG program offers an opportunity to truly become immersed in the culture as much as you allow yourself to. It offers a cultural experience that cannot be obtained by simply being a tourist to the country. I highly recommend participation in the TLG program. It will change your life, as well as change the lives of others.
David Stys, 19:
How could this not be an awesome experience? Living in a culture so different than the one that you’re country probably has is really cool. You’ll really start to learn about this culture once you get sent to live with a host family. My host family and I live in a small village and the host father makes his living by cutting down trees in the forest and then hauling them back with his cows (he’s taken me along before). When he’s gone, the host mother prepares delicious meals (you’ll learn all about traditional Georgian foods as well). Working in the school is really great. The kids are super cool overall. Of course, the classes with the more motivated students are better, and you’ll really look forward to teaching those classes. The Georgian people are very warm. I’ve made tons of Georgian friends often times by just sitting next to them on the marshutka (mini-bus). I think TLG is right for you if you have a sense of adventure, want to see something and learn something new.
Matthew Pizza, 24:
I came to Georgia eighteen months ago. It was my first time in another country. I'd never even been to Canada, despite it being close to my home state of Minnesota. So I'd no idea what to expect when I arrived. I was immediately impressed with the professionalism of TLG. When I came off the airplane TLG was waiting for me with a sign at the terminal. The orientation coordinators made me feel comfortable about being in Georgia, and gradually I felt better and better about my decision to join TLG. When I arrived at my host family I was warmly greeted with a feast, complete with dozens of plates of foods I'd never seen before and lots of Georgian wine. Although it took me a while to adapt to the cultural differences and learn enough of the Georgian language to travel around the country on my own, I enjoyed the process and I didn't experience “culture shock”—at least with emphasis on the word shock. It was more of a gradual integration. As expected, there were difficulties. But the difficulties only made the celebratory occasions all the more enjoyable. I stayed at my original village for four semesters. I made many friends within the school and village. Georgian hospitality proved itself time and time again. I'd recommend joining TLG to anyone who wishes to teach English abroad. The staff at TLG always respond quickly to requests, questions, and concerns from the volunteers. I never felt lost in Georgia, even though I've been living in a region isolated from other volunteers. The pupils and teachers at my school and my host family never stopped treating me as a welcome guest. Georgia is a small country. My state is more than twice as large. But the beauty and rich culture are unparalleled. There are endless places to visit, things to see, activities to enjoy. I've seen all the sights of Tbilisi, Mtskheta, Gori, Kutaisi, and Kazbegi, and I eagerly look forward to exploring Svaneti, Borjomi, Kakheti, and Batumi. The last eighteen months have meant more to me than any other period in my life. It's been a great opportunity for me, and it'll be a great opportunity for anyone else who wants to see firsthand what I've seen.
Rebecca Rudolph, 24:
Rebecca Rudolph – Age 24 My experience in Georgia has been nothing but an adventure. The people I’ve encountered have been nothing but welcoming and helpful in all situations. Overall, coming to Georgia has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The idea of living with a host family made me nervous at first, but within about two weeks they became a part of my actual family. My host family made my transition to living and teaching in Georgia relatively easy. They helped me figure out how to use marshrutkas and communicate with people. They tried to teach me traditional Georgian dance, but we generally just laughed at my total lack of coordination. For me, working with a co-teacher has worked out really well. Being able to easily break up lessons into different portions keeps the kids from losing interest in the class, and definitely helps keeps the kids from getting distracted. The teachers at my schools really helped me adjust to Georgia; they work with me on my Georgian, and explain some of the cultural differences I’ve encountered. The students that I have worked with are excited to have a native speaker in the classroom with them. At first they were a little nervous to speak to me, but once I demonstrated my Georgian speaking skills (which are not all that good) they realize that it is okay to make mistakes while speaking. Overall going to school every day is really enjoyable, and that is largely due to the students. Coming to Georgia has been my first time being abroad. I’m incredibly happy that I chose to come to Georgia. The food is amazing and the people are friendly. In my experience, Georgian people will stop whatever they are doing to help another person. I’ve gotten lost more times than I can count, and every time I have been helped by someone that had originally just been walking down the street minding their own business. The TLG staff is phenomenal. Anytime I’ve had a problem, TLG has been there to help me. They’ve helped me through being sick, lost, and confused. I can’t imagine doing something like this and not having the support that TLG has provided for me.
Liis Livin, 26:
Perfectly Aligned The reason why I became a volunteer is simple – I wanted to inspire change. When I arrived to Georgia it immediately felt like home. I remember the first minutes at the airport. I felt an incredible lightness. It was like the Universe was telling me it’s exactly the place I should be at this very moment. All you need is love Before coming to Georgia I had no particular experiences working with children. I had never taught English. Standing in front of the classroom and singing A-B-C was as new to me as it was for my students. But no matter how terrified I might have felt inside, I always kept reminding myself the best advice I have ever received – when in doubt, just love your way out of it. And so I did. Children are not interested in the teacher’s perfect pronunciation of every single word. It does not matter to them if the teacher makes a grammar mistake (or a few) or cannot give the perfect definition to that ultra-complicated term. What matters to them is the place where the teacher is coming from. It needs to be a place of enjoyment. How to you make a child fall in love with a subject? By being the best possible example and simply loving everything about it yourself. Like an actor, a great teacher loves not only acting but everything surrounding it – the rehearsals, the stage, the cast and the crew, and above all the audience. At times I was not quite sure how to do it. How to inhale stress and chaos and exhale love? Well there’s a lot of truth in that old saying: practice makes perfect! In general, a Georgian child is one of the biggest lovebugs I have ever encountered in my life. After a while, I just got comfortable with the natural state of being and found out that kindness and love truly are the universal tools of communication. No assumptions During the first week of training the volunteers get a complete set of images attached to their heads and hearts about the life they will lead during the upcoming months (or even years). Many of those images serve as an irreplaceable survival kit one can pull out whenever he/she feels the need to. But the truth is, no matter how detailed the preparation, one can never be completely prepared for what’s to come. Don’t get me wrong. That’s the magic of it! The hardest part about building a life in a foreign environment was the effort I had to put into maneuvering away from making assumptions. And let me tell, especially at first when I had minimal clue what was going on around me, assumptions were like a plague lurking in every corner. Assuming what others are doing or thinking is a big source of problems and misunderstandings. It makes us take things personally and creates stress and uneasiness. Either due to fear, and/or language barriers, volunteers are often handicapped when it comes to asking questions and getting clear answers. So, we just assume what people are talking about. We assume why they are acting the way they are. And thus we might create entire stories (often to torture ourselves) that have no actual truth in them. The only way to abstain from falling into the trap of assumptions and consequently self-loathing and confusion, is to be aware. The key is to communicate clearly and to be brave. During my stay in Georgia I learned how to find my voice (and limbs!) and ask for what I want. The more answers I got, the easier it became to fully adjust, lead a happy life and make foreign things my own. Let go I came to Georgia to make a difference. And when I look at my students’ faces, see their development and feel their passion for trying to be better every single day, I know me being here has shifted things. The biggest trick to being able to realize my ultimate goal, has not so much been about following through with every single plan in detail, as it has been about simply letting go. Sounds so weird, I know. I am not particularly good at letting go. My society has thought me to fight until the end, not to deviate from the grand plan even if during the course of the fight things lose their meaning or importance. Here in Georgia, I have become the master of knowing when to let go. Sometimes the countercurrent is stronger than anticipated and trying to swim upstream just waists energy and scatters focus. In reality, sometimes things just don’t work out; the circumstances are not in your favor no matter how much you want them to be. Staying attached to that failed idea or plan keeps us from doing other amazing things. Those many things we as volunteers have come here to do. While volunteering in Georgia, I learned to treat everything as a learning experience without judgment. Things that did not contribute to the greater cause just fell away. I let them go. I let go of many perceptions, assumptions and fixations. I even let go of some people. But I never let go my passion and reasons for being here. I choose to let go to be a better person and role model, to do a better job, to reflect peace and kindness. Because that’s what’s needed to inspire change – to leave judgments aside, to be open to life’s lessons, to trust thyself and always strive to be better person. Once more with a feeling More than a year ago, when I was planning on coming to Georgia, I could quite clearly visualize everything I wanted to give to my future students and community. All the things I wanted to do and all the ideas I needed to share. The thing I thought less about was what my students and community will give me, how they will change me. Now, during my ninth month in Georgia, I could not be prouder of my local community and host-family. They took in a running-obsessed vegan blonde girl with tattoos from Estonia and treated her like one of their own. Together we learned to accept and care about each other. I am theirs as much as they are mine. My community taught me to share both myself and everything I own and thus to lead a more selfless life. I think of my co-teachers as my Georgian guardian angels. Their otherworldly kindness and attention has given me the strongest sense of home and belonging. Working with them taught me to trust my instincts and trust the stage. In the classroom we functioned as two bodies with a shared mind and understanding. It is certainly one of the greatest feelings I have ever experienced. The biggest lesson I have learned during my life as a volunteer, is the lesson of gratitude. I learned a lot about being grateful for all the little things. And here my students were my best teachers! Witnessing their surprise when I pulled out a CD they could listen to; or their smile when they received a sticker or a star on the wall; or their awe when I let them touch my blonde hair ever so softly; or their sincere “Madloba, Liisi mas!” when I wrote “Kargi gogo/bitchi khar!” in their notebooks… That puts absolutely everything in the right perspective. My students taught me to see wonders everywhere! And to be grateful not only for a warm room but also for the mountains, the sun, the grapes and the smell of freshly baked bread hovering over the streets. Without a doubt, my students are the greatest people I have ever had the honor to get to know! When I look at them now, I can already see the future teachers, politicians, historians, writers, performers… I can see them going into the world with open hearts and open eyes. I am leaving the future of Georgia into good hands and with that vision I can return back home in peace. Post scriptum To you, my future successor: take care of my loud, crazy, smart, full of love and light students! Make them feel as special as they are. Teach them well! Be strict when you have to but also be fun. Dance, sing and play with them! Get to know them. Take interest in their hopes and dreams and fears. And love them; love them with all your heart. *** To conclude: Where ever you go, go with love. Whatever you do, do it with love. Don’t judge and assume, just flow with an open mind and soul. Accept the present moment as it is and embrace the gift of personal growth. Change all the things you can; let go of the things you can’t. And may Georgia teach you about the power of recognizing the difference between can and can’t. Written by Liis Livin, 26 TLG Volunteer at Kareli #1 Public School, Georgia
I arrived to Georgia in August 2012. I was excited, anxious, and ready to teach. At the time, I had no idea what a challenging and rewarding experience I would gather from teaching in Georgia. After our weeklong orientation, I was sent off to my new home in the Tsikhisperdi village of Guria, near Ozurgeti. My host family was excitedly awaiting my arrival and I was just as eager to meet them. They were warm, welcoming, and full of laughter. My host mother was gentle and loving. Everyday she would cook me delicious new Georgian traditional dishes and taught me how to hand wash my laundry. My host brother was the man of the house and took care of me like I was another member of his family. For the first month I lived with them, he would accompany me to the city when I needed to go and helped introduce me to the villagers when my knowledge of Kartuli was very basic. My host sister and I are only a few years apart in age and she studied English at school, which made it easier for us to communicate. She was intelligent, kind, and full of energy. We became very close friends. She even invited me to be in her wedding party. My host niece was in my third grade class at school. During the first week I was living there, she was very timid around me, but we soon became inseparable. She followed me around as if she was the shadow on my back and we would hold hands on our walk to school every morning. She was motivated to learn English and I was very proud to see the progress she made while I was living with her family. Living with a host family was a rewarding and challenging experience. It was difficult when we could not communicate with each other, but living with them helped me learn Kartuli much quicker than if I was living by myself. They introduced me to Georgian culture and showed me what Georgian hospitality was all about. I have never met more welcoming people than the people I have met in Georgia.
Kenneth W. Monette, 58:
Teaching English in the public schools in the Republic of Georgia was both challenging and rewarding for me. I was warmly welcomed by all the students, my Georgian co-teachers and the staff at each public school in which I taught. The Georgian students were enthusiastic not only to learn English, but also interested to learn about me, the city I came from (New York City), and America in general. I taught students in grades one through twelve and all of them were bright, polite, energetic, fun and always eager to learn English, and treated me with great warmth and respect. I of course shared with them everything about American culture that I could, and they in turn shared everything about Georgia with me, insisting I partake in their traditional dance, delicious food and wine, love of family, and all aspects of their rich history and culture. Teaching English in Georgia was truly an unforgettable experience of a lifetime and I would strongly recommend it to anyone! Kenneth W. Monette, Age, 58
Crystle-Day Villanueva, 27:
I sought more adventure in my life and wanted to also find a way to give back to others. I signed up with Teach and Learn with Georgia and embarked on a journey to the great unknown. Though Georgia may be a small country, it has so much to offer: from the stunning Caucasus Mountains, to the lush forests and mineral water springs in Borjomi, the authentic breathtaking former cave communities of Vardzia, and the bright lights of the beach side of Batumi and city life of Tbilisi! As a travel destination, it is a hidden Gem of diversity. Georgia is literally known around the world for the people's heartwarming hospitality. Living in a village with a host family was a challenge that gratifyingly humbled me. Coming from California (USA) I am so accustomed to focusing on what I DON'T have in life. My year in Georgia opened my eyes and taught me to focus on what I DO have in life. Teaching in a village school also has its challenges. Often due to lack of supplies which we may normally be accustomed to in the western world. Yet, it's the amazing children that make it all worthwhile. You will never work with children as loving as the local children of Georgia. Children who constantly want to learn just because you're here. Children who constantly volunteer to do board work (even if they have no idea what they are doing)-just for the chance to interact with you one on one. Children who are simply motivated to learn English just to be able to greet you in the morning and say farewell to you by the end of the day. If you're looking for a challenge and a program unlike any other, I highly recommend Teach and Learn with Georgia. It's an experience you will never forget.
Life in Samegrelo
Graham Coulby, 26:
Life in Samegrelo Every volunteer in Georgia has their reason for being here and every volunteer’s story is so different yet follows a very similar theme; they all wanted something different, they all wanted a change in life and they all wanted to make a difference in somebody else’s life. When you first arrive in Georgia you have no idea of the effect this country can have on you and exactly what parts of it will affect you. I have so many memories in this country and so many of those memories make me stop and think “How did I end up here?” A bigger question for me is how I managed to stay here after the start I had. I wrote a short story, just over a year ago, describing my time here at the start. The following is an excerpt of that story. 2131 miles Tired, Scared, lonely, and with a lump in my throat, I left my parents, standing very proudly, at the airport, and proceeded to security. For seven hours I was filled with worry, fear, excitement and anticipation; a strong mix of very conflicting emotions. I arrived in Tbilisi airport, with no idea of who I was meeting and with no idea where; I just followed the crowd and hoped for the best. I think, to my luck, the woman assigned to find me was given the job of hunting out confused looking westerners standing clueless at the airport ….and I can only commend her for doing her job well. She took me to a hotel in the middle of nowhere, where I was to spend a week and half being trained for life in Georgia. Three times a day me and another fifty-three westerners sat in the same dinner hall, at the same times, eating the same food …that only got drier as the day progressed. Stir-crazy and feeling home-sick, I was at breaking point and, by the final day, I was tired of the building, the city and everyone that was around me. However, we then all had two hours to spend with each other before being carted off to the families; who we had yet to meet, but who would be hosting us for the term of our contract. The Auction Slowly, but surely, the host families started pouring through the hotel doors and the teachers, who had previously grown so tired of each other, begun to band together once more. The room was split into three; teacher’s on the left, our employers in the middle, and the host families/representatives on the right. Once everyone had arrived, “the auction” was under way. One by one the name of a teacher would be read out, followed by that of a host. The two would meet up in the middle shake hands and exchange a kiss on the cheek; before wandering into the unknown. My name was fairly close to the bottom and with every name that was called out, the anticipation grew. You could see everyone was eyeing each other up, trying to predict who they would be leaving with and, more often than not, failing. There were about ten teachers left when I heard my name pierce through the air, like a needle through cloth, and with it a shiver of anxiety ran swiftly down my spine ………and my journey finally began. Isolation in a Crowded Space I met the father of my host family and as was expected of us, shook hands, exchanged a kiss and wandered out into the blistering, late-summer sun. I noticed, in the distance, one of my friends getting into a brand new SUV; to aid his ten hour journey with comfort, and could not help feeling a little jealous as the two of us climbed into a Lada taxi. We made our way to the bus station and climbed aboard our transport. Then, in true Georgian spirit ……….waited for an hour, whilst the driver had his lunch, before setting off into the unknown. There was little room for movement and the heat of bodies being pressed so close together, meant that comfort was not an option. My host father knew no English and I only knew about ten words of Georgian so conversation was limited to the exchange of cigarettes. I was surrounded by people, but had not a soul to talk to. There was a smell of dust from the roads, rising up into the temperamental steel can, which the locals call a ‘marshutka’. The sun’s ray beamed through the window, highlighting the fumes that caused the stale smell of smoke, which lingered in the air, due to hours of cigarette consumption. The marshutka journey, through dangerous mountain passes, poorly lit roads and dirt-tracks, lasted a total of ten hours, which, due to crazy drivers throughout, was one of the scariest experiences of my life; especially after the sun had set. Where am I? At about ten-thirty, the marshutka came grinding to a halt in the gravely paths of the village. I looked out of the window …..Nothing! I was literally in the middle of nowhere, tired and confused; watching the marshutka drive off into the distance. We then got into a car, which pulled up next to us a minute or two later, and drove to a house about two minutes away. This is where I met very beautiful young woman; whom I would come to grow very close to…. “Hello, How are you?” she said very excitedly. How pleased I was to hear the words of my own tongue. I replied rather giddily and we drove off into the darkness. We may have been driving for about quarter of an hour, through bumpy dirt paths and gravelled roads, when we came to the bridge! My hometown prides itself on its many bridges; all fantastic feats of engineering. So nothing could prepare me for what I was about to witness. The car climbed onto this homemade bridge ….fashioned together out of sheets of rusty, scrap metal; bent and contoured, creaking and rattling as we drove over it. I honestly feared for my life as we crossed, for all I could see was the light from the headlights; illuminating the road ahead. Then, about five minutes later, I arrived at my new home; greeted with open arms and love, from a generous, yet somewhat nervous family. I was directed into a room where a banquet, fit for a king, lay across a gigantic table and a seat at the head of the table had been laid for me. It was very pleasant and we talked much …….until my co-teacher had to leave and I was left as the only English speaker in the room. Here I got my first taste of how hard life was going to be. Different Tongues The next four weeks were probably the most challenging time of life, to date. Once I had orientated myself in the village of Lesichine/Otchumuri everybody wanted to talk to me; and I didn’t understand anything. How was I going to survive here? How can I communicate in an emergency? Obviously the answer was, at least to say, simple ……….Learn the language! Throughout the month of October, I struggled with every little thing, punching word after word into the translator on my phone, hoping the villagers would understand. More often than not, of course, they didn’t! However, I remained in high spirits because after all, I was in paradise; living on a farm, in the middle of nowhere; with a night so clear you could see the milky-way as clear as the moon itself. Everyday my co-teacher would call me up and say a total of five words; hello, how are you? And bye, then would hang up, due to self-consciousness about speaking with a native-English speaker. However, I can honestly say I looked forward to nothing more! All was scary and hard for about four weeks until, one day, I got angry at one of my students and subconsciously disciplined him in Georgian ….a shock to both my co-teacher and I, but also the confidence boost that I needed to break down the language barrier. Although this may seem like quite a negative story at times, I assure you it was not a negative experience..... It was a real one. After these events my Georgian grew stronger and my experiences greater. I fell in love with the country, the culture, the traditions, the wine and more importantly my wife. I got married in November of last year and was fully accepted into the village as a Georgian..... A strange feeling I must add. I have had so many good times and seen so many good things, I feel truly blessed by this experience. There is an old legend about Georgia, which says that when God was dividing the land between different ethnic groups, the Georgians were too busy eating and drinking to attend. When eventually they remembered to come and claim their land, god asked them where they were and the Georgians said they had been drinking wine to celebrate God's existence. God was pleased with this answer and so he gave them a little piece of heaven to live in on earth. Georgia is rich and vibrant and has a cultural and traditional understanding of what makes the world right. Love for one and other and the collective nurturing of children to ensure tomorrow’s world is greater. I will end with a description of what, in my opinion, is the greatest georgian tradition. Easter! If you are lucky to be in a Georgian village during the Easter celebrations you will see love in every man, woman and child and unity amongst all. Not knowing the traditions I was woken up on Easter morning by my host brother holding two red eggs; one for me and one for him. We hit them against each other and the owner of egg that doesn’t break is the winner. The redness of the eggs is to signify the blood of christ falling on the stones below the cross, to cleanse the sins of man. The meaning of the eggs breaking is life defeating death, and will be met with the phrase „?????? ?????? (qrisTe aghsdga)? meaning Christ has risen, to which you must reply „?????????? (TcheshmariTad)? meaning truly. I failed at every attempt I made to say these words, but if you get a chance to join you must as nothing makes Georgian’s happier than hearing people try to learn their language. The most special part of the day was the remembrance of the dead. During this remembrance people would walked around the graveyard visiting the graves of the ancestors of family and friends and would give a toast to the dead by raising a glass of wine, breaking bread, speaking warm words before pouring the wine in a cross form on top of the grave. Whether you are a religious person or not, the traditions you will witness on an Orthodox Easter will be forever etched into your soul. I have many memories and many stories from this country, from my own Georgian wedding to funerals of those closest and I will cherish each one, in my own way, for the rest of my days on this earth. However, spend a month in this country and you will see why I can’t put my words into some kind of order. I have simply described some events that have happened to me. One hundred people can have the same experience and each have a different story. The only way to understand this country is to experience it and the only true way to experience it is through the comfort and warmth offered to you in a Georgian village....... more than likely over a glass of wine. Graham Coulby, 26 Volunteer English Teacher Teach and Learn with Georgia