I recently arrived for my second semester with TLG. It turns out that last spring I’d written most of a post about things I wished I had brought with me. I thought I’d revisit it and spruce it up for publication. Hopefully it’ll help some of you who are out there who are currently working on filling your suitcases to head on over here to that other “Georgia”.
The problem with a post like this is that everyone is different and will ultimately need a different number of socks/shampoo/school supplies, and a lot of what you’ll end up needing will depend on where you’re placed, which you can’t know before leaving. So, I will try to give you some pointers that will help you pack and will hopefully help you avoid any serious packing regrets. Also, after reading this post, there’s another good post for prospective TLGers from 2011 that you’ll probably find helpful.
– Be aware that receiving packages from outside Georgia is a tricky business. It will likely take several months and could cost you a fair amount in customs duties. So, if there’s anything you will absolutely need during your stay here that you won’t be able to get here, you’d better bring it with you. For me, this meant face wash, lotion, and shampoo. I have really sensitive skin, and there’s only one brand of products that doesn’t cause pretty bad problems, and I happen to know that it’s unavailable outside the US. These things are heavy, so it meant packing fewer of other items, but for me it was worth it. Generally speaking, a lot of western brands of toiletries are available here, and most drug stores seem to have a pretty good selection. If you aren’t that particular, then you won’t have a problem with things like that. If there’s one or two things (not a whole laundry list of items) that you know you’ll need to have and you don’t know if you can find them here, shoot one of us on the blog a message. [Oh, and speaking of toiletries, most prescription medicines are available here, often cheaper than in the states, but if you take “the pill” bring it with you.]
– How much clothes should you bring? I can’t really speak to the shopping situation in most of Georgia, but Tbilisi has a wide range of clothes shops. Clothes that won’t make you look like a Stalin-loving Georgian grandma, however, will be rather expensive. Presumably because of import duties, clothes are more expensive here than in Europe or the states, so if you’re a budget traveler pack whatever you think you’re going to need. This will mean some real strategy. Even if you’re only going to be here one semester, that will mean both cold and warm weather. Also, you’ll need fairly nice clothes for work (girls, think black boots, black slacks/skirts, and tops and sweaters you can layer. Boys, pants that aren’t jeans, shoes that aren’t tennis shoes.) Don’t bring anything that needs to be dry-cleaned. I found some fairly nice looking skirts and pants at J.C. Penny that fit the bill for work but were machine washable.
– Don’t be in denial about how often you’ll be able to shower. Sure, you might get daily showers, but this is so rare that no one I have talked to would admit to it. (There are one or two people who always have suspiciously clean hair every time I see them, but they wisely stay quiet when the rest of us gripe about the situation.) I live in Tbilisi, and I am getting 1-3 showers/week. I say this because I considered bringing dry shampoo and decided against it. I bitterly regret this decision. Baby powder doesn’t really work, and you can’t get dry shampoo here, so I will be spending the majority of my days for the next four months or so with greasy hair. It’s not the end of the world, but if I could do it again, I’d buy the dang dry shampoo. [update: I tried dry shampoo when I was home over the summer and wasn’t impressed. I did, though, grab a couple of bottles of the foam waterless shampoo.]
– Realize that you will will spend a lot of time in unheated buildings. Very few Georgians can afford to heat their entire homes during the winter, esp. in the unusually cold winter we’ve had this year. Knowing this, I sacrificed a fair amount of luggage space for a big, fleece llbean robe. Sure, I could have gotten a robe here, but I wanted to have it right away not a week or so later when I would have been able to go out and find one. I also brought a hot water bottle and slippers. Don’t bring a heating pad – they won’t have an internal electricity converter, and they’ll use a lot of electricity. Your host family is supposed to provide you with a heater, but given the high cost of electricity, we aren’t encouraged to keep them on all night. Also, your school will most likely be poorly heated. Be prepared to teach in a coat, but I found that I needed a couple layers under that – standing in a cold building all day will really make you cold if you aren’t bundled up!
– Are you going to want to cook or bake some recipes from back home? If you’re from a non-metric country, bring some baking cups and spoons. Sure, google will translate the amounts for you, but you almost always end up with a really bizarre and hard to measure amount. Also, if you have a recipe that includes baking soda, bring it with you. The stuff that calls itself baking soda here, (or “сода” as the box is in Russian) is actually baking powder and will not work in recipes that call for baking soda. I once tried to make shape cookies in Russia, and they didn’t raise at all, and they tasted funny. I’ve been assured that the same thing happens here. If you happen to have a friend inside the US embassy, I hear they can get you some from their internal shop, but if you’re one of us normal folks, you’d better just bring it yourself.
– Travelers’ Insurance. Ok, this isn’t really something that you’ll “pack” but I wanted to mention it anyway. I wasn’t clear on the details of the TLG medical insurance before I arrived so when I decided to get supplemental insurance, it was definitely more difficult to do from here than it would have been from home. The reason I got other insurance is that the TLG insurance only covers medical services in Georgia. If you travel to a neighboring country, you won’t be covered, and more importantly, if heaven forbid something serious happens and you don’t want to be treated in Georgia, you won’t be covered.
So, now that I just arrived for a new semester, what did I chose to bring with me, now that I had enough clothes waiting for me in Tbilisi? Well, a fair amount of cooking supplies (baking soda, measuring cups) as well as the necessary spices for pumpkin pie in case I can’t get them here (went to a big supermarket today, and sure enough they had them all). I brought my uncool but warm and comfortable winter boots. I wanted to blend in last semester so I brought black leather boots that I could fit wool socks under. They did not do the trick, and I ceased caring about blending in pretty quickly. If another unusually cold winter hits again this year, my toes will be prepared. On a similar note, I brought a back pack. Last time I figured a big purse would be better for bringing books and supplies to school, but I didn’t think about weekend trips, when I really could have used my good old backpack. Finally, I brought some school supplies with me this time. I stopped by my local teachers’ supply store (most mid-sized cities will have one that is aimed at both home-schoolers and teachers). I got two posters – one illustrating the English alphabet with the proper way to write the letters (penmanship is an issue I noticed last semester), and one that listed commonsense classroom rules. I also got a couple dozen flashy looking pencils with various designs and English phrases, like “student of the month” on them as well as a variety of stickers to be used as rewards for good behavior.
Again, what each of you chooses to bring with you to Georgia will depend on your individual priorities. But hopefully this helps you think of a few things that maybe hadn’t occurred to you. And at the end of the day, don’t panic; there really isn’t much you’ll absolutely need that you won’t be able to get here if it somehow doesn’t make it into your bags. So, good luck with the packing, and see you soon in Georgia!