I attended the TLG two-year anniversary ceremony on Friday, June 8. Prime Minister Gilauri and Minister Shashkin shared words of encouragement and gratitude. TLG volunteers from each region told how they’ve made differences in their schools and communities, and likewise how their schools and communities have made a difference to them. Because I’m nearing the end of my year contract, their words pulled at my emotions and made me all rheumy-eyed. But I couldn’t help noticing that something essential was left our of the dialogue, and it’s something that’s been on my mind recently. It is how we, as TLG volunteers, have made a difference to one another.
I’m looking back at photos of my ten months in Georgia. My photos are of students and host family, of new places and things. But hundreds of my photos include other TLG volunteers–people who were strangers just a while ago, but who have impacted my TLG experience in ways I could not have predicted.
Most TLG volunteers arrived in Tbilisi in the middle of the night. We were beleaguered by hours of travel and crappy airplane sleep, wide-eyed and blinking like newborns at the peculiar environment around us. Most of us did not know anybody in Georgia nor had we been to this part of the world before. As we collected our luggage, our eyes flicked at one another as if to say, “What was to become of this unusual route we’d all chosen, and how were these strangers going to shape it?”
The old adage goes, “It takes all types.” With TLG, that is certainly true. TLG volunteers come from most corners of the globe. Some of us are young, others a bit wiser. We all have different reasons for coming to Georgia. In fact, it’s usually a conversation starter with a new TLG acquaintance:
“What brought you to Georgia?” we ask.
“To have a new experience, to make a career change, to get lost, to get found, to do something meaningful, to get away from ________, to look for _______, to travel, to teach, to learn,” we answer.
Our program afforded us the opportunity to meet people we might never encounter in our natural habitats. Our diversity afforded us the opportunity to exchange insight and advice. Our situation made us share our experiences, liters of wine, fears, frustrations, joys, and friendship. We encouraged one another, we learned from one another, we annoyed one another. We became travel companions and mentors as we navigated this new and strange place together. Through encounters both positive and otherwise, the people I have met in TLG have smashed stereotypes and stretched my definition of friendship.
These days, instead of asking, “What brought you to Georgia?” we ask, “Well, what’s next?” As for the former, the responses to the latter question are equally as diverse. I take comfort in this. Everywhere we go we take our memories with us. So while I may be going home to the USA, I’ll still be traveling to new places with the people I met in TLG.
Thank you, TLG volunteers. You surely have made a difference.