A Month of First Impressions

Posted on February 23, 2012 by

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People are right when they say culture shock kicks in after a month or two. My bright-eyed ‘everything-is-new-and-wonderful’ stage is over, and I’m starting to miss the United States and wonder why on earth I chose to come here to Georgia. And then, as I walk through the hallways at school, I’m accosted (an exaggeration, but sometimes it feels like it!) by ‘Hello!’s and ‘How are you?’s from students of all ages running past, and I remember that they’re the reason.

I have been placed in Gurjaani, a town that’s, population-wise, somewhere between the the size of my university town (8,000) and of my hometown (20,000). Midsized towns seem to be, socially, the same regardless of geographical location. Everyone here knows everyone else—and everyone else’s business—which is familiar to me. My school is in Gurjaani proper, but I live in Zemo Gurjaani (“Village Gurjaani”), which is about 3 kilometers away from the city center. (…I think. I still have no real concept of how far one km is.) It’s about a half-hour walk from my school to my village, and it’ll be quite nice, I think, to walk home when the snow and ice melts. Gurjaani is located in Kakheti, Georgia’s eastern-most region. Kakheti is renowned for its wine, and in fact, is considered the world’s birthplace of wine. In addition to hectares upon hectares of vineyards, farmers here grow peaches, apples, quinces, dates, figs, and all sorts of other subtropical fruits. We have a persimmon (? I think…) tree in our backyard, which still has edible fruit on its branches, even in February!

My host family has accepted me as their eldest daughter, niece, and cousin, for which I couldn’t be more thankful. I have a 14-year-old sister, who’s just like every other 14-year-old I’ve met (“Boysboysboys! Clothesclothesclothes! etc.”). She’s wonderful, and has made me feel right at home. She speaks good English, and is going to be the best Georgian-English translator in the universe by the end of the year. My host deda (mother) and mama (father) are wonderful as well—while they’ve welcomed me into the family and treat me as their daughter, they’ve also let me keep much of the independence I’m accustomed to. We speak a conglomeration of Georgian, English, and Russian (which I studied in university, thankfully) at home—there’s been more than one occasion in which a single sentence involves all three languages. A typical conversation goes something like this:

Host parent says something in Georgian. If this is received with a blank stare from me, they repeat it in Russian. If I still don’t understand, either the English-Georgian dictionary, English-Russian dictionary, or computer comes out—or we do an elaborate game of charades.

Luckily, these situations have been happening less and less as we begin to understand each others’ respective languages. Instead, we’ve started anglicizing Georgian words and kartulizing (the Georgian word for ‘Georgian’ is ‘kartuli’; I claim artistic license) English quite a bit, which can get amusing. See: “chickenebi,” “Vashli laptop” [‘vashli’ = ‘apple,’ and I have a MacBook], etc.

So yes, I’ve gotten homesick more than once, and there have been mornings that took me every ounce of willpower to get out of bed and face my new Georgian life. I don’t doubt there will be more of those in the coming months. However, I have chosen to remain optimistic. Perhaps it won’t be easy, but I have a feeling this year is going to be worth it, both for me and, I hope, for everyone I encounter.

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