Today we are pleased to announce and unveil a new series called TLG Staff Spotlight! Every Monday we will be publishing an interview with a member of the TLG Staff. Who is that lady who buys your plane tickets? How did your RR get so good at English? Who reads your monthly reports? What’s the deal with the new Program Manager? Over the course of the next several months we’ll answer all of these questions, and more!
In our first TLG Staff Spotlight, we’re happy to introduce the new TLG Program Manager, Nata Javakhishvili! Armed with a Bachelor’s and Master’s in International Relations from Tbilisi State University, Nata spent several years overseas taking courses in the US and the UK and getting her second Master’s from University College of London in International Public Policy with a focus on Public Administration. She worked at the Ministry of Internal Affairs for five years and joined the TLG Team in July 2012.
Hello Nata, can you tell me how you got involved with TLG?
Well, I became involved with TLG when there was a change of political leadership at the Ministry of Education and Science. Mr. Shashkin left for the Ministry of Defense and brought the former Program Manager Maia Siprashvili-Lee with him as one of his Deputy Ministers. The new Minister of Education and Science asked me to be the Manager of TLG and of the Department of International Relations and Programs.
Okay, and how do you like your new job so far?
Oh, I really like it. (pause) Even though there are (laughs) some issues from time to time, most of the time it’s very enjoyable. First of all, I really like the TLG Team, which is very good. But more importantly, I also like the goal of the project because I think that what the volunteers are doing is very important. Not only in terms of educating and teaching English—we also have Italian teachers and we are going to have 10 Chinese volunteers this year—but I also think it is important for cultural interaction. Georgian society was kind of closed for 70 years when we were part of Soviet Union and cultural interaction was not a part of our culture, so we don’t know much about other people, which sometimes creates stigmas or misperceptions of how other people live and a lack of awareness that they are like us and there is no difference between humans here or there.
I think it’s very important because people who go abroad frequently are better acquainted with other cultures. But for those who live in rural areas, it’s very important to talk to those who were strangers just a few years ago.
We need to be more socialized and more integrated with other cultures. We had very good ties, historically, with other countries in the region because we were part of Silk Road and we had a great deal of interaction that we lost when we became part of the Soviet Union. So, now we are reopening to other cultures and I think it’s very important that TLG gives an opportunity for such interaction.
How does your job as TLG Program Manager match your expectations?
Well, I’ve had a lot of experience working as a program manager so in some ways it’s not very different from what I was doing. That said, it’s specifically different in that we are working in several let’s say, fields: education, which is quite specific, and we help resolve any daily issues of volunteers. It’s more complex, I would say, but the approach is not very different from what I used to do. I used to work as a program manager with the OSCE and I was the national coordinator for the EU Monitoring Mission.
That was the hardest job in my life (laughs) because I became the coordinator right when the war was finished.
We—the police and the EUMM—had entered the previously occupied territories and there were lots of issues going on there. For some time it was very tense, and I think that job was quite a bit more difficult because we could face human loss or some very drastic issues every day—for the first six months it was just a nightmare for everybody.
Oh, I can’t imagine!
But yeah, now the situation’s a lot better.
Oh good. Going back to TLG—what do you think has been TLG’s reception among the general population.
One of my colleagues—the deputy head of the administration here—had a TLG volunteer in their family. Although though they don’t have, let’s say, a “young” family, her father—I think he’s around 70—decided that he wanted to learn English and they requested a TLG volunteer in their family (laughs). They all were crying when the guy was leaving Georgia. So, I think that most people have positive feelings. There are some minor issues, I would say, but I think that is normal because there is no such thing as life without issues (laughs). TLG gives a lot of good things to both volunteers and families.
Okay, great! And what can we expect from TLG in the upcoming year?
At the moment we have a few regions which are not adequately covered. For example, Samtskhe-Javakheti is kind of partly covered. So, we will be broadening our scope and will be present in more regions, especially where the ethnic minorities live. I think it’s important to cover as many ethnic minority schools as possible because, first of all, we want them to be better integrated into Georgian society, and, second of all, they need to have the same opportunities for development and education as other people. Foreign languages—and especially English—is a very good tool for professional development because, besides being a language of communication, English also gives you access to many resources which would not be accessible—not in Georgia anyway (laughs). We have very few books translated in Georgia. There’s not even enough material in Russian at the moment. I read different journals very frequently because I teach at the university and I update my curriculum from time to time. So I use a lot of web-based resources and web libraries and I see that most literature is in English and that even good scientists, maybe Russian scientists, write in English as well. For them it’s a way of interacting with other members of their scientific circles. There is no way to be developed and a good professional without English because you need to have access to web resources and it’s not possible if you don’t know English.
You mentioned you teach at the University?
What do you teach, and are you teaching now?
Ah, yes I’m teaching now. I have taught for three years. I teach at the Caucasus University School of Governance. I also used to teach at the School of Humanities but I cannot do both schools now because I am too busy (laughing). But I still teach Research Methods for Social and Political Sciences at the School of Governance and I teach both undergraduate and graduate students.
Wow. How do you like teaching?
Oh I really love it! (Laughs). I really love it. I teach research methods because I think that it’s not very popular yet in Georgia because many people do not realize the importance of knowing research methods. They need to know statistics and research methods just to write a normal essay. I think it’s crucial that we change our approach to literature, to diplomacy, or to whatever else by working on data sources or other sources of information which are so important to any modern education system at the moment. But I think that Georgian Universities are improving.
Okay, good. If you were a fruit, what fruit would you be and why?
(Laughs) I don’t know! I never thought of myself as being a fruit! I would like to be an avocado. I think it’s pretty much because it’s… (pause) It’s full of vitamins and I like the taste of it! (laughs)
(Laughs) Okay, and last question, what is your favorite style of khatchapuri?
Ah, I think adjaruli. Maybe it’s because we don’t have it that frequently, because other types of khatchapuri are more, let’s say, easily accessible.
Okay, well thank you very much for sitting down with me today!
Oh no problem! It was a pleasure!