The Ever Elusive English Club

Posted on March 6, 2012 by

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Upon arrival in Georgia, I had certain expectations for what school would be like. I knew I’d be taking part in classes and I assumed that I would be starting an English club at some point, because that’s what volunteers do. It would be an amazing English club because I had tons of ideas for games and prizes, and the students would love it and be fluent when it ended. Realistic? … ok, maybe not.

When they told us in orientation that every TLG experience is vastly different, I thought they were exaggerating. Well, I’m here to tell you, they were not! I have been in two families, two schools and two regions and my experiences couldn’t have been more different, especially in relation to my role at school and the opportunities I had there.

What I found when I arrived in my first village was a teeny tiny school (60 kids total) with approximately three English speaking students. Every day I would ask, with high hopes, “how are you?” and get 57 blank stares. I was literally the first American (or foreigner even!) anyone had ever met. This village proved to be a challenge to me, because everything I tried to start failed. I had my co-teacher help me ask the older students if anyone wanted to be a part of an English club and the answer was a resounding “no”. I did manage to get a class together for the teachers, but it only lasted two lessons. I guess they learned what they wanted from me, which turned out to be basic formalities and swear words (I didn’t teach them anything that bad, I promise!). After this, I was discouraged and wondered what I was even doing in Georgia.

Despite all of this, I tried my hardest to be involved in small ways, both out of sheer boredom (this is sometimes the essence of village life) and also the desire to contribute somehow. First, I befriended the English speaking students, who were upperclassmen, and this turned out to be very rewarding. We would go on walks, exercise, star gaze, play cards and practice our languages together. Next, I began going to the kids’ gym classes because they literally begged until I relented. It was actually a frightening experience. You’ve never been truly confused until you’ve stood in the middle of ten kids screaming at you in Georgian the rules to a game you’ve never heard of AND can’t seem to figure out to save your life. We played basketball, football/soccer, slash-burti (the only way I can describe it is dodgeball-esque) and “tennis”. “Tennis” involved no nets or rackets, but only a half-inflated volleyball that you hit with your arms. Suspiciously similar to volleyball, but nobody seemed to agree with me on this.

For Halloween, I once again tried to utilize my jaded organizational skills to set up a pumpkin carving party. There was some interest, but when the day came, nobody had brought their pumpkins except for me. Thinking this party was another organizational fail, I sadly went home. The next day, however, I was surprised to see two students with pumpkins! A few more joined in and we had a Halloween party! I showed them how to carve jack-o-lanterns, passed out some Smarties my mom had sent me from America (I had already eaten all the Tootsie Rolls myself) and took some photos.

Pumpkins

Pumpkins

Pumpkins

They really enjoyed it! The next week my co-teacher suggested that I write an article about the experience for the local newspaper, which I did, but I don’t think it ever actually got published (although it could definitely be floating around Terjola somewhere…).

This was my first Georgia experience… kind of frustrating at times, but in the end still rewarding. The semester ended and I moved on to a new village, Gavazi, in Kakheti. When I got here, I was shocked at the differences! First of all, the school was funded by an American bank, and it is ridiculously nice (including real toilets!). It’s much bigger (400 students), and to add to that they’ve had several years of Peace Corps presence, and I can really tell the difference in so many ways. I was overwhelmed by the possibilities at first and though I’m still trying to figure out how exactly to involve myself, some good things have already naturally happened. Students chat with me between classes and I have begun to attend some upper classes, which is a lot of fun. One of my co-teachers and I have set up a weekly time for me to help her study for her teaching certification exams. My director wants me to teach a beginning English class for the teachers. I am also in the process of getting a pen pal system going with my friend’s school in Nashville, TN, so I’m hoping to have success with that as well. There is a lot of possibility here, and I’m excited to see how everything shapes up.

So, I still have yet to start that English club. Maybe in the near future it will happen and maybe other things will fill up my time instead. Either way, I feel very lucky to now be in a situation where I have options. I hope I can be of encouragement to those who are at schools like my first one though, because I know that I’m not the only one who’s been in that boat. It’s frustrating and there’s no way around that. Sometimes, there’s just not much to work with and it’s easy to feel like something has gone wrong. After thinking about it, I eventually started to see myself as a pioneer in my first village (much like TLG in general!) – maybe I was paving the way for the next volunteer, who will be more successful. It’s not the most fun job, but everything needs to be done first by someone. I doubt that the first Peace Corps member who came to Gavazi had a piece-of-cake experience. It took nearly a decade for my village and school to get where they are now in relation to working effectively with temporary foreigners, so it’s not a quick or easy process. I hope that anyone who feels useless or that they haven’t lived up to their own expectations can see what role they are playing in this gigantic but very important project and have some comfort that they are making a difference.

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