Georgia Is…..

Georgia is…..

beautiful: During the month of May, I was determined to travel more around the country. I accomplished this by going to cities like Borjomi, Mestia, Ushguli, and Zugdidi, and from what I’ve seen there are so many reasons why Georgians have such pride in their land. Borjomi is known for the freshwater which flows down from the mountains. The city has numerous natural springs and unique mineral water that is said to have healing qualities! Gorgeous forests and mountains surround this area and the air is so pure and clean…it’s reviving just to breathe it in!

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Borjomi waterfall and statue

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Forests!

Mestia and Ushguli are located in the northern most part of Georgia and Ushguli is home to the cabins/summer homes of many Georgians in my village. Both villages are part of Svaneti, the pride and joy of Georgia, with vast fields and gorgeous mountains. When I told my host family about my journey, they were all envious of my time there. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as pleasant of a trip as I had hoped since it rained the entire time my friend Metieu and I were there. Also, we didn’t consider that visiting before summer was in full swing would mean open shops and restaurants were virtually non-existant. Nonetheless, it was such a beautiful and remote location that I feel privileged to have been able to go.

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Village of Mestia

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Village of Ushguli

Lastly, Zugdidi was a short day trip but I was able to take a tour of the Dadiani Palace, walk around a botanical garden, and relax in city center park which was equipped with a sound system. Lots of beautiful things to see and the city park was a great place to devour a shwarma (a Turkish sandwich with roasted meat, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mayo and ketchup).

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Dadiani Palace

schwarma
Shwarma meat

yummers
The favorite of many TLGers

frustrating: With children who could care less about learning English, a culture that sees women as objects instead of people, and a cheap but unreliable transportation system, it’s easy to get frustrated.
As explained in past blogs, my weeks consist of good and bad days. I prepare each morning by looking over what I’m going to teach for the day and deciding appropriate activities. Even with all this planning, there is never guarantee that children will be attentive or care enough about the lesson. It really does change on a day by day basis! I understand that kids are kids and are far from consistent. However, my years in elementary and middle school are not that far behind and I remember having teachers put the fear of God in me! If I was in trouble or yelled at, I made a change and straightened up. Children don’t seem to hold this concept any more and it’s a struggle to get them to listen, pay attention, and stay quiet!

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The Hope

Classroom Series
The Reality

As for the way women are treated in this country, this is a conversation that could go on forever but I’ll sum it up with what my friend and fellow TLGer told me the other day. My friend is African American and he receives a lot of stares from Georgians because there are simply not many black people in Georgia. We’re sitting in a park in Rustavi and I’m expressing my thoughts on how it feels to be a woman in Georgia. He replies that while he receives a lot of looks, he noticed twice as many people looking at me while we were walking down the street. I was not dressed evocatively, being rude, or doing anything to cause extra attention. It was a struggle when I first arrived receiving too many stares and that seems to be a problem that will never go away.

stares
Look all you want, you don’t bother me!

All I have to say about transportation is that it’s incredibly cheap but there’s a reason for that. We stop constantly at the whim of driver, it’s crowded and hot with summer on its way, and marshrutkas don’t have good suspension systems. It’s been suggested that they should make a marshrutka simulation ride in the States. It will be the bumpiest, most uncomfortable, and vomit-inducing ride of your life!

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The culprit

unexpected: From the travels I’ve had here, I’ve learned to ALWAYs expect the unexpected but there’s something special about that. I came to this country with very little know-how on the culture, the scenery, and it’s people. I’ve been disappointed at times but I’ve also been surprised in so many ways. Isn’t that what traveling is all about? Having your expectations shattered in the best possible way. This way you build relationships with others and you build yourself up to be a better and stronger version of yourself. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger!!! Well except maybe those marshrutkas……

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A Little Change Never Hurt Anyone

A lot of change has been going on in the past few weeks. As the weather warms up, I feel more inclined to adventure around the village with my friends who are eager for me to practice English with them. I am keen on traveling outside of my usual places like Tbilisi and Batumi and am planning trips all over the country! I’m finding a rhythm in school where I walk out of the classroom feeling successful at having helped lead an interesting and engaging lesson. It’s no wonder that each night I fall into bed exhausted from the day! Which, on a different note, I no longer dream about America. Now, all my dreams are set in Georgia! Saqartvelo has sunk in!

Changes are exciting when each week seems similar with the same classes, same places, same plans. The excitement of my host country wears off every now and then and I feel a bit homesick, especially this week. Luckily, I’ve been able to partake in new adventures exploring new locations in and around my village. One particular day stands out in my mind where the wonders of my little village were abundant.

One Fine Day in April: A Schedule

9am
Went to class and worked through such difficulties like past and present tense, present perfect tense, spelling, grammar, pronunciation, and trying to engage three different classes of 15-20 youngsters in order to help them retain all this information. Some classes are successful while others need a bit of work…..

Noon
Finished with classes for the day! Time for some lunch which involves igniting the fire on the propane tank, making my usual meal of scrambled eggs and locally canned vegetables (which is a spicy tomato and green bean mixture), and settling in for a nap. While this sounds cozy, and perhaps unfair to you 9-5ers, take into consideration how much energy it takes to keep 7-13 year-olds interested. Some days, I NEED that afternoon nap.

2:30pm
Headed over to my private student’s house. Her name is Gwanza and she is a shy but intelligent 3rd grader who has very little grasp of the English language. Her neighbor, Nana, comes over and helps translate words into Georgian while I help her go over our lesson from class that day. I also drill the fact that she needs to practice in order to get better. This is a phrase I repeat with many of my students that only the most interested pupils take to heart.

3:30pm
Sauntered over to the neighbor of my student, and my very good friend, Elizabeth. Having a strong grasp of the English language, it is easy speaking with her and her kind and gentle spirit make her a wonderful person to spend time with. She has a surprise on this day, a NEW PUPPY! I’m delighted and spend a solid half an hour holding, petting, and playing with this puppy.

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Isn’t he the cutest???

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I had my turn to play with him

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And so did Elizabeth

4pm
Set out on a walk toward the “channel” as they call it, which is the small river not too far outside of the village. We were accompanied by my friend, Nana who I met in my Georgian dance rehearsals. We walk for half an hour and come to a gently flowing stream with frogs bounding into the water left and right. It’s a beautiful sight and we look for a good place to cross to the other side.
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5pm
Found a bridge larger and safer than our alternative option of a pipe that crosses the river. We cross to the other side right before a herd of sheep hustle across this concrete slab to find greener pastures. All at once, we see some fisherman casting their nets to catch as many fish as they can in this small reservoir. Their fishing process is fascinating and I watch them speak in Georgian about which fish to keep and which to throw back.

5:30pm
Tried to suppress my glee when I was asked if I would like to ride the horse of one of the fisherman. I immediately accepted and took the horse for a spin. I mounted the tall steed, held on the rope that served as reigns, and was led around in a circle among the grass and twigs. Twice, the horse stopped because it preferred to eat grass rather than take me back to where Nana, Elizabeth, and the fisherman were sitting. So, twice I was guided back by the fisherman and twice I was very thankful.

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6:30pm
Thanked the fishermen and headed back to the village. We talked the whole way back and discussed the things we had seen from the river with the lively frogs, to the determined fishermen, to the exciting, although short, horse ride that Nana and I were able to experience.

7pm
We stopped for a moment at one of my student’s houses, Salome. Elizabeth was interested in seeing their cat because she loves all animals big and small. When we entered the gate to Salome’s house, the dog who had been with us on our adventure terrified her cat and succeeded in running it up a tree. I’ve seen cats stuck in trees on tv but never in real life.

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How in the world did it get up so high??

7:15pm
Said our goodbyes and headed home. I picked up my things at Elizabeth’s house and smiled all the way on my 8 minute walk home.

I loved my unique day in Lemshveniera. It was a break from the ordinary and I reveled in the beauty of the local nature, the fun that a new puppy always provides, and the time with good friends. It’s always nice to have a day out of the ordinary! So, I challenge you to go somewhere new and explore something in your home. You’ll never know what you’ll find and you may be pleasantly surprised!

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Absent and Absorbed

I apologize for my nearly three week absence from the blogosphere. I should be stating my excuses, but as recent slang states, “Sorry, I’m not sorry”. I’ve been out seeing, doing, and experiencing life and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you! There’s been a whirlwind of activity from mid-semester training to Easter break and now I’m settling back in Lemshveniera. As the weather warms up and I shed my layers, I look around and see things blooming and blossoming all around me. The brown of the village has been eliminated by the green patches of grass poking out of the ground, the leaves bursting from the trees, and white cherry blossoms that can be found in gardens all around Lemshveniera. It’s a beautiful sight and gives me lots of motivation and happiness.

Speaking of happiness, I’ve had a splendid past few weeks and while I’ll be giving more details in the near future, here’s a brief catch-up of what has been going on in my live since April 7th.

1. Training: All volunteers (about 25-30 in total) with TLG met in the south of Tbilisi to discuss strategies and mechanisms that would help us improve our teaching methods for the second part of the semester. It was an interesting few days where questions were answered, relaxing took place, and were able to meet other volunteers, some who had been in Georgia for almost a year and others who had been here three years! It was great hearing their stories and getting to know them. We finished our training with a ceremony where we all received certificates to commemorate our 10 hour training session with TLG.

2. Traveling: Post-training, the Spring 2014 volunteers headed to David Gareja, a monastery carved out of the hills in southern Georgia, which is not to far from where I live! In fact, our driver got lost and one of my students had to help direct us to the right location. It was a beautiful day for a hike and we climbed all the way to the top of some giant hills where we could see the Azerbaijan border. There were also some caves we discovered that had frescoes that were, no doubt, hundreds of years old. After a long hike, I had the bus driver stop momentarily at my house where I picked up fresh baked cookies to share with my tired comrades. It was a lovely experience with incredible views!

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3. Traveling Part 2: Easter break was spent in my first extended study abroad location, Malta. I must devote another post to this trip because it was absolutely spectacular seeing friends, reliving old memories, and celebrating Easter with beautiful services in the University Chapel of Dar Manwel Magri and enjoying figolla, the Easter treat of Malta (more popular than chocolate eggs!)

Now that I’m back in Georgia, I’m excited about what the next two months have in store. I’ve had time to relax and refocus on my plans for school. I’m looking forward to continuing my drama/English clubs and bringing new and exciting ideas to the classroom. I’m also excited about traveling to more mountainous regions of Georgia that were previously too cold to visit. Please stay tuned for future updates while I absorb myself in Georgian culture 🙂

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Checkpoint

There was this racing arcade game that I used to see every time I went to a Pizza Hut or other “family style” fast food joint when I was younger.
racing game
Classic 90’s technology.

My brother would pay the fifty cents to sit in the fake racecar seat and I would stand beside him with wide-eyed fascination. The concept of the game was simple, you chose your car, it’s color, the location and difficulty of the track and try to finish the race in record time. Once the bikini-clad girl waved the flag, you were off to maneuver around twisting roads and obstacles like camels in Egypt or double-decker busses in the UK. You had to reach the checkpoints, which were spread out in increments throughout the track, before the time ran out. If you didn’t reach them in time, your race would end and you were left with a flashing screen asking if you’d like to try again. Therefore, reaching each checkpoint ensured your continuation of the game.

I’m at my own checkpoint as my time in Georgia is almost halfway over. On Wednesday, TLG volunteers from this and last semester are meeting in Tbilisi to have a mid-semester training session. We will go over the teaching strategies we’ve learned, questions we still have, and ideas that we can exchange with one another. It’s also a good time to do some personal reflecting to see where I was, how far I’ve come, and where I’m going for the last two months.

The Four Biggest Changes I’ve Seen Since Arriving in Georgia
1. Adjustments in Teaching
My goal in being an English teacher was to learn how to effectively educate six different groups of students every week. Over time, I’ve discovered the characteristics of each grade like which activities work best depending on the time of day and the size of the class. For example, I’ve realized that starting the lesson with a song for first graders gets them riled up, leading to behavior issues throughout the 35 minutes. Instead, we do extended repetition with slight adjustments like adding some actions to the words their learning or saying words in a softer or louder voice.
My TLG roomie, Mariah, has a blog (shameless plug: newplacesandspaces.wordpress.com) and she recently described the thoughts that go through her head when teaching her kids. I understand where she’s coming from with each quote. She asks the question, “Am I a teacher yet?” and I think all TLGers have been admitted into the world of teaching through our frustrations and our successes. I look forward to the progress (small or sizable) that I get to see from my students within the next two months.
2. Village Life
The first thought I had upon arriving in Lemshveniera was, “Well, this place is awfully brown”. Since my arrival was at the end of winter, it was obvious that spring had not made itself known yet. Over time, the many forms of nature have yielded a beautiful result in this dry countryside. I’ve seen the tree in my backyard blossom with heavenly-smelling white flowers and hold to the branches even through harsh March winds. I’ve seen new sprouts of grass poke their way through the dirt even after it’s been gobbled by the cows and pigs that roam the street. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the sunsets on walks back from dance class, where the clouds are tucked behind the two towering smokestacks in the next town over and the sky is painted with shades of pink, orange, yellow, and blue. I feel more at home here and wonder what’s coming in terms of weather, hopefully more warm and sunny days are in store!
3. Traveling Style
“How am I going to travel alone when the marshrutka system is so confusing and my host family accompanies me everywhere I go?” This is what I thought after the first attempts of traveling on the weekends. I knew it would take time to feel comfortable traveling around Georgia, and fortunately I’ve reached that point. Weekend adventures occur after I take a taxi out of Lemshveniera and then a marshrutka into Tbilisi. I still have friendly and determined villagers who insist on accompanying me to my destination to ensure my safe arrival but, most of the time, I successfully get myself from point A to point B.
Another discovery I’ve made is that I much prefer traveling in groups than by myself. I was looking forward to doing solo traveling during my time in Georgia, and I still enjoy having my own traveling experiences. However, being the extrovert that I am, I enjoy chatting and listening to other people share their stories and anecdotes. It makes the time go much faster, even though reading on my kindle or listening to music serves the same purpose. I do enjoy taking the time to be silent and just watching the world speed by while I’m on a train or sitting on a marshrutka. Time to take a mental break is much appreciated and I look forward to having that time while I make the journey to Malta over my spring break next week!
4. Personal Growth
I’ve seen so much growth in myself since I’ve been here but there are two qualities in particular that stand out. First, I’ve learned to relax yet be prepared.
For example, I always carry Kleenex or napkins and hand sanitizer. Therefore, if the need for a bathroom occurs, I’m never stuck in a bad situation because I’ve got the essentials tucked away in my pockets. By preparing back-up activities for my lessons, I’m never without something to do in case my students aren’t up to my lesson plan or my co-teacher isn’t there. It’s not worth worrying and panicking about if things don’t go as planned (which I’ve had happen many times) but by having a back-up plan and keeping calm, things can go better than expected.
Second, I’ve become far more assertive and confident. Teaching 20 or more Georgian children takes patience and encouragement but firm action as well. The children are more attentive to a decisive leader. If you don’t have their attention, you’ve lost your whole class. I’ve learned (and am still learning) to be decisive and firm while still showing care and support.

It’s always great to look back and see how far you’ve come but what’s important is that you look ahead to see what’s coming. Remember, you’re always able to choose your surroundings, who you’re with, and what you’re doing. Although the road may be winding and there are numerous obstacles, just keep your wits about you and you’ll make it to that checkpoint in time. I know I’m proud of the success and the failures I’ve had so far. I can’t wait to see what the finish line will hold!

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Ojakhi Means Family

As a way to recognize the exceptional work that host families do, AFS, an international program exchange company for students, has dedicated the month of March to celebrating host families. I have been wanting to devote a post to my host family for some time and now, to support Host Family Appreciation month (on the very last day of March of course) and for many other reasons, I can write about my own hosts! For starters, have you considered what it’s like to host an international student? Allowing a stranger to come into your home, eat your food, and use up your hot water and electricity? Having another person to look after and step around while you carry on with your own daily routine? It’s not easy. Of course, it’s not simple for the student who’s adjusting to a new culture, a new language (in many cases), and a new living situation that may drastically differ from home. However a struggle it may be, it’s one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences in international communication and can lead to life-long friendships! I’ve been lucky to be placed with kind and loving people and I would like you to get to know them a bit better!

First, introductions are in order:

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Meet Gulnara: A strong, confident, and witty woman in her upper 50’s, Gulnara is an incredible example of hard-work and dedication. She works three jobs (maybe more that I don’t know about) being a teacher, a veterinarian, and an amateur salesman of Turkish goods. She’s got a great sense of humor! She loves to tease me and my host sister and has so much love for her family both living and deceased. Being the sole provider for the house because she divorced many years ago, she is a power house of a woman who I believe could accomplish anything she sets her mind to.

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Meet Nino: This is one intelligent 17 year-old! Funny, hardworking, and has a sense of humor like her mother. She struggled only a bit with English when I arrived but now we are able to have nearly full-length conversations! She studies hard in school, particularly in physics and chemistry (not that these are her favorite subjects) but she has dedication that is almost unmatched by her peers. She also has a strong love for family and friends and enjoys spending time with her cousins in Tbilisi or chatting with friends when walking to school. She’s not a frilly girl and likes stories with darker subjects like Dracula. She is a wonderful friend and translator and I cherish the time we have to get to know one another.

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Meet Nora/Bebia: I don’t know much about my bebia but I do know she loves her family and she loves our cows! We have a small barn back behind the house and she tends to the cows and calfs under any condition. In the cold, rain, wind, and snow, she’s out there tending to their needs. During her free time, she enjoys Turkish soap operas and taking naps. She’s the first person I see in the morning and we always say hello to each other. Her dedication and hard-work has, without a doubt, been the inspiration for her daughter and granddaughter.

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Meet Mari: Mari is not part of my immediate family but she’s such an integral part of my life that I have to mention her. She is the neice of Gulnara, grandchild to Nora, and cousin to Nino and she makes frequent visits to our home. During my first week in Georgia, she was my playmate each night as I taught her games like Go Fish and Blackjack while she taught me Georgian card games like Pig and Joker. Being the youngest in the group of adults who are always at our house, she’s always looking for a playmate. I’m usually a willing participant but there are times where I’m a bit to tired to entertain her. So, she entertains me with singing and dancing routines that she makes up on the spot. Her favorite songs include the Scooby Do theme song and other tunes she picks up from the American cartoons or the songs that I teach her with her second grade class. Mari is like a little sister to me and I enjoy her creativity, enthusiasm, and pizzaz for life.

Here are just a few introductions to my family tree. If I explained everyone in the Chelidze clan it would take paragraphs upon paragraphs as each house on my block has inhabitants that are related to my host family. For sake of time, I chose the four women that mean the most to me. To conclude my family theme, I wanted to give a few reasons as to why I feel blessed in my placement.

5 Reasons Why I Wouldn’t Change My Host Family For the World:

1. Humor
When Gulnara tries to join me in my exercise endeavors or Nino explains a Georgian joke to me, I’m in stiches. This family knows how to laugh and make others feel comfortable. My favorite moment recently was when Gulnara, Nino, and I are standing around the kitchen. Gulnara gives me a hug and says that I am her “thin daughter” and walks over to Nino and squeezes her tight saying that she is her “fat daughter” with a huge smile on her face. I protest by saying that Nino is not fat but Nino just gives a shrug and we all laugh. None of us fear cracking jokes at the other’s expense and we’ve grown closer for it.
2. Respect
I was told in orientation that there might the chance that our host families wouldn’t respect our space. They could come into room unannounced to clean or expect us to watch soap operas with them for hours on end. I’ve always tried to be respectful of the way the house is run and I’ve received respect in return. No one comes into my room unannounced. Although, there has been a time or two when my floor has been mopped when I wasn’t there, but I was told immediately when I came home, no harm done. We respect one another and try our best to live together harmoniously.
3. Inclusion
Being guest in their home, Georgian families may not let you do any household chores, so I was told. This notion bothered me because if I was taking up space in their home, I would earn my keep. It took a bit of time and convincing but I participate in household chores like doing laundry, putting away dishes, and chopping wood (the last one is what I’m most proud of). They’re always grateful when I help and it give me a sense of pride that I can keep the house running smoothly.
4. Food
I have a past post on the foods that I love in Georgia, but I love the array of foods I receive in my home. I have vegetable soup all that time that reminds me of home, apples that are small but delicious, and fresh baked bread that makes me indescribably happy. Isn’t there a quote somewhere that food is the way to a person’s heart? By having a variety of options other than potatoes, my host family has been prepared, baked, and served their way into my heart.
5. Love
I was accepted easily into this family but what makes it truly special is the love that I feel in times of adversity. I’ve been receiving updates from my mother about my grandmother’s failing health. I knew that she would decline quickly during my time in Georgia and made sure to visit her before I left the country. Each day she gets weaker and I’m waiting to hear the news of her departure from this world. While I feel sad, I want more than anything to commemorate her life in a special way while I’m here in Georgia. It’s traditional to have a supra to commemorate the lives of those who have passed and I have asked to have a supra in my grandmother’s honor. They understood and accepted right away, asking me what food I would like present at the table. I know it’s simple and perhaps they would not have said no, but allowing me have this supra means so much to me and shows me that I am truly family while I am staying here.

I’m not just someone who takes up water or space, I am a part of a wonderful and loving family. And family in Georgia, as well as the US, is the most important thing of all.

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Brief Update

Dear followers,

My internet has been deemed temporarily out of use as the school’s modem is out of money. I have offered to contribute in paying for the modem but the language barrier makes this a difficult message to be communicated. I will be sending a longer and more detailed update within the next week but I thought I would send you a few Georgian colloquialisms that I’ve learned from my host sister.

“This movie is in throat”
When you have seen something over and over again and you know it by heart, you say that this subject/item is in your throat. This can be anything from a movie or book to a person, anything that you’ve experienced continuously until you’re tired and bored of it. In my case, I am tired and bored of the windy weather here in Lemshveniera, this weather is in my throat!

“You are eating my brain”
Contrary to connotations with zombies, you use this phrase when talking to or describing someone who talks too much. If you’re ever feeling fed up with a chatty Cathy, this might be an effective (albeit unsubtle) way to get them to zip their lip!

“Kai gogo khar: Good girl you are!”
I’ve heard this phrase often, especially when I was new in Lemshveniera. It means precisely what it looks like, “You are a good girl”. This can be used with women of all ages from little girls to older women. It’s just a way that Georgians show that they accept you and that they like you. The same could be said with boys by changing “gogo” to “bitchi’ but I’ve more often heard the phrase used with women.

I’ll be sure to share more catchphrases in the future. For now, I’ve decided to start studying and preparing for the GRE. I’m hoping that I can get to the point where this test material will be in my throat!

Nakvamdis!

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The Adventure of Teaching or How to Be an Explorer in Life and in the Classroom

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve avoided talking about my school for so long only because I wanted to have a solid grasp for how things are done at school and where I would fit in. I’m happy to say that my co-teachers are wonderful and give me full creative rights to teach how I like.  My schedule is organized, as you can see, with two to four classes each morning beginning at 9am. Even though I feel more confident about what I’m doing, I constantly learn something new about how to instruct my Georgian kids. No matter the notes I’ve made from the day before, the next day may be completely different given the whim of my co-teachers, the mood of the students, or the resources available. It’s days like these when I feel like I should just throw my plans out the window and just hang on for the ride.

Speaking of rides, I was able to do a lot of traveling on many modes of transportation this past weekend with my fellow volunteers. We did a trip half-way across the country to Batumi, a vacation destination that’s straight west from Lemshveniera located on the Black Sea. The trip was memorable in so many ways and I was able to apply the lessons learned from that trip to my journey in school. Both adventures (in teaching and going to Batumi) were given a set of expectations but what any adventurer should know is that you should always expect the unexpected. Here’s a list of lessons learned from traveling that I find relate to school as well.

 

  1. Plan Ahead

    Each day, I spend time planning lessons for my classes to review old or introduce new material through games, songs, and activities. It helps me tremendously to go off of a schedule or list of organized activities so I’m not floundering around trying to figure out what to do. The same goes for traveling in that planning is key. By just traveling to get anywhere, you ensure a truly unexpected experience but I like to know where my general destination is.

    Our Batumi trip had a general plan of when we were leaving (last Friday night), how we were getting there (by train), and what was on the agenda (exploring the city of Batumi). By planning, you know where you are and what you’re trying to accomplish which is true about life as well.

  2. Be Prepared to Have Plans Dashed….

    Plans are wonderful (in my humble opinion) but sometimes those plans are worthless. In situations like this at school, I have to adapt as best as I can to make the most out of those 45 minutes. This has included having 3rd graders run around a freezing classroom as their own room is filled with smoke from the stove that provides heat, speeding through new material I did not know we’d be learning that day so I can provide a fun activity, or teaching a song to a bunch of rowdy 1st graders because they will not stay quiet enough to learn new material. These are learning experiences that make teaching an adventure each day.

    Traveling to Batumi was similar as our plans were dashed…due to our own faults. My fellow volunteers, Mariah and Brittany, and I were settling in at the train station when another volunteer, Ryan, arrived to hang out before we left. We convinced Ryan to come with us and we decided that there was enough time to accompany him to his hostel and run some errands before our train left. An hour would be enough time, right? It was only when we rushed back to the station to see our train pulling away that we realized our mistake. We adapted and ended up taking a taxi for 6 hours across the country of Georgia from midnight to 6:30 in the morning. It was an uncomfortable cab ride to say the least but we had a chance to bond and laugh/complain over our situation…which leads me to my next point.

  3. Revel in the Small Victories

    Teaching is no easy task and I have more respect for the teachers I know in my life than ever before. Trying to teach classroom of students whose literacy levels are all over the place is incredibly difficult. What do you do when only half of the students understand the material and the other half have no idea what’s going on or, worse yet, they just don’t care. I struggle with this every day. However, when you can make that light bulb go off for a student struggling to grasp the concept of must & must not…you feel such a wave of accomplishment for your student which is hard to contain. On many occasions, I tend to scream positive comments like, “YES” or “THAT’S RIGHT” when a student answers a question correctly.

    The struggles of traveling lead to some great accomplishments or moments to enjoy. Landing in my hostel bed after a 6 hour cab ride was a pretty great feeling. When I was enjoying breakfast by the sea while chatting with volunteers I hadn’t seen in over a month, that was a victory in my book. I know traveling is about the journey but with the sun on my face and a jelly croissant in my hand, I thought the destination was pretty damn spectacular.

  4. Keep Calm and Carry On

    This is a lesson I’m still practicing at school and I’m sure I will not have mastered by the time I leave. When students are chatty or just don’t care about anything in school, it’s hard to keep calm. Especially when you’ve lost count of how many times you’ve said to be quiet and listen and it makes no difference anyway. Losing your cool doesn’t accomplish anything other than showing your students that they got to you. Over time, I hope I can find this balance of carrying on that’s productive in order to do my job and be respected as well.

    It’s all about knowing what you can and cannot change and keeping calm when there’s really nothing you can do. For example, once we had crossed the Georgian boarder into Turkey so my volunteer friends could get a new passport stamp and enjoy a delicious Turkish lunch, we had to maneuver our way back through the hoards of Georgians getting back into the country. With crowds of people and no consideration for personal space, it was a very uncomfortable hassle that took an awful lot of time. There was nothing to but keep calm and carry on before we were in Georgia once again.

  5. Have Fun

    This is a lesson that’s true in teaching, traveling, or doing anything worthwhile. If you’re not having fun, what’s the point? Yes, teaching and traveling are stressful endeavors but there is so much entertainment that comes from both. I have so much fun being able to teach songs and games, especially when I can see the smiles on children’s faces. Traveling is also a source of joy when I have the right companions and a beautiful setting like the sun going down over the Black Sea or a moonlight night while chugging past the Georgian country-side on a sleeper train back to Lemshveniera (we didn’t miss that second train back home!!) Be happy where you are and make the best of it! In this way, you can be an explorer wherever you are.

I'm stealing this

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Inspiration and Communication Mishaps

The past few days have been a push and pull of difficult and recuperating events. Friday, I felt defeated from the chaos in all my classrooms as kids talked non-stop or refused to pay attention which led to my loss of patience. I went to Tbilisi over the weekend to relax with my fellow volunteers and by Monday, I was determined that things would be better….only to be ignored and disrespected once again. I thought, “What’s the point when they don’t even care?? Why am I doing this when every night I’m dreaming of home?” I went looking for some inspiration and found it in the stories of other travelers. Friends of mine in Africa, Asia, and the U.S. are on their own paths of personal discovery. They had messages of being positive, accepting the things you miss while discovering the new, and embracing the cultural differences even when it’s not like home. From the thoughts of my friends and my determination to make a difference in myself and others around me, I’ll take these bad days as a lesson, make some changes, and move on in a positive way.

In the spirit of moving forward, I’m providing a short list of important language and communication lessons I’ve learned in Georgia. Enjoy these communication mishaps 🙂
1. Bowl vs. ball?
First day. My inaugural hours at my new home were spent having an introductory lunch, unpacking my things in my room, and waiting for dinner “time” to be announced. I say “time” because I learned that there was no set time for anything other than school or work, so dinnertime was anytime you were hungry. I was looking for some vegetables to eat because as much as I love bread, I needed a little variety for my health. They did not have vegetables so I decided on something else that required a bowl. I asked, “Where are the bowls?” Blank stares. “A bowl?” I cupped my hands to signify it’s shape but I still received looks of confusion. After saying it slower and over pronouncing each syllable, my host sister shook her head and whipped out her phone. I thought this was an issue far too small to get anyone else involved so I tried one more time, “Bowl?!” My host sister replied, “Ball??” and I let out a hearty laugh. “No, not ball, BOWL”. Suddenly, it clicked and we all smiled. Yes, a bowl, not a ball, a bowl. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

2. Chemi deda vs. Deda chemi
We were warned in orientation to stay away from the phrase, “your mother” in Georgian as it is the equivalent of the “f” word. Since the word your is “sheni” in Georgian, I thought I was safe to say my rather than your which is “chemi” so when describing my mother and what she does, I could say “chemi deda” (my mother), right?
Wrong.
I had spent the first few days using this phrase with my host family, my co-teachers, my students. Any words I knew in Georgian I tried to incorporate into conversation. One night, in a conversation aided by a Georgian-English dictionary, my host sister tells me that “chemi deda” is equivalent to the f-bomb. I looked at her in shock and said that she had to be kidding. I had used this phrase with everyone (and I had been so curious as to why the students laughed whenever I said this in class). I was livid and horribly embarrassed but I learned an important lesson in word choices that day.

3. Norway Comes for a Visit
One night, I’m sitting in my kitchen doing some lesson planning when my host sister gets up and says she’ll be back. She returns a few minutes later saying there’s someone to see me. Bewildered, I ask her who and she responds it’s someone from Belgium. I search my mind thinking of who I might know that’s come to visit me or what someone from Belgium would want. I step outside and there’s a small party of Georgians standing with a tall and blonde-haired European in a winter coat. I say hello and ask what I can do to help him. I learn that he’s from Norway and his name is Urich. His brother studies in Tbilisi and knows someone from this village so they were staying the night before going back to Norway the next day. We chat a bit about ourselves and the culture of Georgia. It’s getting darker and I’m wondering if they want to come inside so I attempt an invite by asking my host sister if they want to come inside or if there’s something particular they want to do. There’s no answer and we’re all still standing outside. I tried a few more times to see if they wanted to come inside but still no answer. Finally, I awkwardly shuffle away and say that if they want to come in, they can. They still stay outside. I stepped inside the house with my host sister and laughed over the scenario. Lesson learned? Always expect to be surprised in Georgia.

4. Firm vs. Company
My host brother is home from school one weekend and we’re having a broken English conversation in the kitchen. I’m explaining to him that I have to go to Tbilisi to get my phone fixed, it’s got a broken SIM card. He asks me a question in Georgian and quickly looks something up in the dictionary. I stand there until he points to the word, “firm” and asks, “What firm is phone?”. I give him a blank stare and say, “Firm? What do you mean?”. He says firm a few more times and says Samsung, Nokia, Verizon are all firms. I laugh and said, “No, no, firm is what a mattress is!” Suddenly I ask, “Company? What kind of company is the phone?”. “Yes, firm”, he says. I reply that my phone is a Nokia and laughed. Now I know that a firm means company/brand in Georgia…and so do you!

5. Gamicheret vs. Gaucheredit
Both words mean “stop” in Georgian but just like in English, context is everything. When I’m in class and there’s a student causing trouble, I’ve been saying “gamicheret” to tell them to stop. I’ve heard this on busses when passengers want to get off and I thought it could be used in both contexts. Unfortunately, saying “gamicheret” does not have the desired effect in the classroom. I asked my co-teacher why this was an issue and she said the better term is “gaucheredit” when a student is misbehaving. I’ve been saying the wrong word for a month and she decides to correct me now?? I asked if she could please inform me in the future of any other words I mispronounce or use incorrectly. So now I know the difference between stopping a bus and bad behavior.

miscommunication

Miscommunication happens! At least there are moments to learn from and laugh about so that the future will be better and brighter!

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Food, Glorious Georgian Food

Happy Mother’s Day, Readers! I am writing this blog on a national holiday so I’m spending the day at home enjoying the nearly 70 degree weather we’re having! It’s perfect for doing some exercising and working off the massive amounts of Georgian food I’ve been fed this past weekend….which is going to take some hard work. I say this because Georgia is a glutton’s paradise. There is always more food that necessary and all of it’s contents are loaded with sugar, salt, oil, or fat. This is not the place to go if you want to lose any weight. On the bright side, Georgia is home to amazing cooks who know their stuff. Here are six Georgian foods (listed from my least to favorite dishes) that demonstrate Georgia’s unique and interesting flavors.

1. Georgian Pizzageorgian pizza
Georgia bares many similarities to Italy through it’s love of wine, carbohydrates, and family. I assumed that I would taste similar dishes that graced the tables of the Mediterranean. I wasn’t wrong but I wasn’t right either. There is such a thing as Georgian pizza but it’s unlike any pizza I’ve had before. The dough and cheese are prepared the same way, but the pie has a base of ketchup rather than tomato sauce. As you could probably imagine, ketchup has a more salty and lacking flavor than tomatoes and oregano. A few other toppings are similar to pizzas back home like red/green peppers and mushrooms but once the mayonnaise is squeezed onto the pie and cilantro is sprinkled on top, I’m confused. The result is a pizza pie loaded with salt and fat with a taste that is filling but not wholly satisfactory. Personally, I prefer my cheese pizza from home.

2.Churchkhelachurchkhela
My Georgian phrasebook and dictionary describe this as, “walnuts strewn onto a string dipped in a thickened white grape juice and dried into the shape of a sausage”. I would describe it as an enlarged brown fruit snack that is wrapped around hidden walnuts and resembles the shape of a turd…I know that’s a bit crass, but I swear it’s true. How it looks does not resemble how it tastes. It’s a semi-sweet candy that doesn’t have an overwhelming flavor. I neither like or dislike it but it’s unique and extremely popular. While walking down the streets of Tbilisi during orientation, I saw numerous vendors making the snack. Chrchkhela was best described when I visited my native Georgian friend, who helped coach me in the language before my arrival. Her father described it as the “Georgian Snickers”, in reference of it’s popularity but not necessarily it’s taste. Needless to say, it’s definitely something you have to try when you’re in the country.
3. MtsvadiGeorgian barbeque
This is Georgian barbeque or grilled meat. The meat can be cooked in the smoke of a grill or in a pan on the stove.  Small cubes of unfrozen pig meat are grilled/cooked with onions and seasoning and served on it’s own dish. I was served stove-top mtsvadi and it was delicious all by itself. Sometimes it’s paired with sauces or seasonings like lobios (beans cooked with onions and other seasonings) and served over rice. I’ve had this a few times with my host family and I quite enjoy it. Since the meat is served in bite-sized chunks, I think this is an easier dish to handle than some of the meat that’s served back in the States. Of course, I have yet to attend a giant supra (Georgian feast) so I have yet to see what “average” meat portion sizes look like.
4. Khachapurikhachapuri
This dish comes in a variety of shapes and sizes but from what I’ve been served, it is a round piece of bread with cheese baked inside like a quesadilla. The bread is soft and slightly powdered with flour and comes out of the oven piping hot with white salty cheese filling the center of the bread. It’s a very common and delicious addition to any meal in Georgia. Almost every time I eat it, I’m reminded of my college friends who were obsessed with the cheese bread that was served at an on-campus café/burger joint. You’ve never had real cheese bread until you’ve been to Georgia, my friend!
5. Murabamuraba
This is one of my favorite Georgian foods which is not really specific to Georgia. The citizens of Georgia take the fruit that they harvest and make a variety of whole fruit jams, which I think is common for many countries. Some jams are recognizable like raspberry, apple, and fig jam but some fruits I’ve never encountered such as white plum and medlar. They’re all very sweet and loaded with sugar. I often top some raspberry jam on Georgian bread for breakfast or slather a bit on a piece of khachapuri to even out the saltiness of the cheese. At the table of my native Georgian friend, there were three different types of muraba at the table! I tried each and they were delicious!
6. Plinebiplinebi!
Oh plinebi 🙂 This my most favorite Georgian dish because it is just like pancakes, greasy delicious pancakes. Both are made similarly but the amount of oil used to make plinebi probably places them in the donut category. How plinebi is made includes mixing a bowl of homemade batter, which I would assume includes the usual flour, milk, and egg mixture, and pouring portions of the batter in a pan greased to perfection on the stove and flipping them when they are golden brown. I also top this dish with muraba which pairs perfectly with this greasy treat.

That’s just a brief introduction to some of the delicious food I’ve been lucky enough to try in this incredible country. I’m glad when I can go for walks and attend my Georgian dance classes so I can work off all that oil, salt, and sugar! Join me next time when Chef Hannah attempts to make some of these Georgian delicacies….Bon Appetit or as the Georgians say…Chamay (Eat)!

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You Can Dance If You Want To

Everything is still settling down here in Lemshveniera. You never think about how much you use the English language until you don’t have it. I’m still learning about my expectations at home and at school. I was told right at the beginning which hours I was teaching and the grades of each of my classes. Other than that, I’ve had to figure out what to do after school, where I can get internet, how I can get in a good amount of exercise to work off all the Georgian bread that I am being fed. It’s been a calculated learning process. Luckily, I fulfilled one expectation today that I have been looking forward to since I heard about the TLG Program. I was able to participate in a Georgian Folk Dance class!!!! It’s a unique, beautiful, and impressive art form that dates back several centuries ago. I had no idea of what to expect other than a pretty intense workout. For those of you interested in the performing arts, here’s a step-by-step guide of how you go about participating in your very own Georgian dance class.

Step 1: Have the Proper Attire and Footwear
Black is all the rage in Georgia and in the dance studio. Make sure you break out your darkest clothes, black trousers and black tops. Be sure to wear layers as the studio will be dreadfully cold. Also, Georgian dance requires shoes that are similar to ballet slippers. If you don’t have them, Keds or Converse sneakers will do but it’s best if you can borrow them from your host family (or host sister in my case).

Step 2: Have the Right Tutors/Helpers
Remember, the dance teacher won’t speak a word of English so it helps to have students in upper grades show you the ropes. They will meet you at the entrance of the school, accompany you to the dance class, and help explain the exercises and dances. They will be very excited to help you.

Step 3: Arrive at Class
When you walk in the classroom, don’t assume that students will be nonchalant about your entrance. They will all be lining the walls, dressed in black, and staring at you. It can be daunting when you don’t know what to expect and you have 20 pairs of eyeballs looking back at you but the children stare at you all the time anyways and if you expect to have some fun, you will!

Step 4: Warm-ups
You will spend the first forty-five minutes of class doing a series of warm-ups. First, begin with a nice cardio jog around the room doing high knees and butt kickers. Next, practice jumping, leaping, and spinning across the floor, extra credit goes to the bendy children who jump very high or stretch their legs out very long on each bound. Finally, and the best part of warm-ups, is the floor exercises that stretch your back, legs, and muscles you didn’t even know you had. For accuracy, your teacher will aid each student in their stretch by pushing them into the proper position. This technique is used to get your arms and legs to the right position so that you bend and stretch correctly. Try not to panic when you see the students being “properly” stretched before you. When it is your turn, breathe deeply and try not to let your pain get the best of you as you receive the stretching of a lifetime. You will feel ALL of the muscles in your back crack. This is normal.

Step 5: The Dance!
Prepare to be blown away as your students are transformed into graceful, leaping, prancing superstars that bring the tradition of Georgian music and dance to life! Watch the fluid movements of the girls and the swift and powerful gestures of the boys. It is an incredible opportunity to see this art form. Enjoy it 🙂

Step 6: Your Turn!
Pay attention as your students teach you bits and pieces of the dances you have just watched. Take the compliment when they call you “clever” and praise your feeble attempts at this difficult endeavor. Next, join in as you and your students dance a basic Turkish step. Join hands with the person next to you as you do a simple step, step, step, pointy toe to the right, pointy toe to the left, step, step, and step. Repeat step as you swing your arms forward, hands still clasped with the person next to you. This may not be part of the regular class, but it’s very fun!

Step 7: Show Off!
Your teacher will lead you in a dance circle where each student has their moment in the spotlight. Yes, this includes you. Again, appreciate the talent of these youngsters, who are between grades 4th and 10th, as they bust a move. When it’s your turn, feel free to show off your own style of dance. Suggestions: try a simple grapevine, a graceful jump and twirl, or a PG version of a dance move you learned in college.

Step 8: No Words…..
Watch your dance teacher bust a move. Try to contemplate how such a small man can jump so high and spin incredibly fast. Try not to feel insignificant in your dancing abilities. You will probably fail at this previous suggestion.

Step 9: Didi Madloba! Thank You Very Much!
Thank your teacher and students profusely and show your appreciation through positive feedback and smiles. Stumble your way through an English/Georgian conversation about when you will return to dance class.

Step 10: Nakvamdis! Goodbye!
Have your students accompany you home while they ask you numerous questions about your likes and dislikes. Arrive at home and pray that you won’t be too sore tomorrow.

I hope you enjoyed my step-by-step guide to a Georgian dance class! It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to go back! I’m thankful for my students who helped explain everything that was going on and for letting me attempt such a unique and fascinating art form!
Next, I am spending this weekend in Tbilisi with a few members of my host family. It’s my host sister and host aunt’s birthday tomorrow! Perhaps we’ll have a little dance party in celebration! If so, I’m prepared with some new Georgian dance moves 🙂

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