Tamara is known to nearly all TLG Volunteers as the fearless undaunted leader of Orientation Training—the first seven days of each volunteer’s experience in Georgia. With a degree in History and Social/Cultural Anthropology, Tamara has been working for TLG since August 2010 when she began as a contractor before joining the team full-time in September 2010. She’s also the winner of Georgian Survivor!
What were you doing prior to working for TLG?
Well, I taught history for two years at School #1 in Tbilisi.
Really? What kind of history?
Georgian history for fifth and sixth graders, and world history. But it was simplified. They studied things like ancient Greece and Egypt, the Sumerians, and so on. (Pause) Is it interesting to talk about when I taught ballroom dance classes?
I was a ballroom dance instructor for two years–at the same time that I was teaching history, in fact. It was so funny! I also danced in a second dance company where I participated in dance competitions and one of my fifth grade students was attending the same dance school! Then I worked at Human Capital, a private organization where I organized different types of trainings: customer service trainings, sales trainings, team building trainings, business communication trainings, and so on. I was also a team leader for three years in a government-organized summer camp called “Patriot.” This was just a temporary summer job, you know? While I was working during academic semesters.
And how did you get involved with TLG?
(Laughs) Okay, so you know we have friends all over Georgia and my friend was involved with TLG and when they needed to expand the TLG team, because we start bringing more volunteers, she started looking for reliable and experienced people to join TLG program. And that’s how she found me. And after scanning my CV they called me for an interview and I was interviewed and it seems that the liked me!
When you’re not leading training, what do you do?
That’s what volunteers are asking me all the time: “What do you do? Are you taking a break? Are you going for vacation?”
No! I wish I could, but we get, you know, one or two days off after the training, but then we go back to headquarters at the Ministry of Education and Science and work with other TLG members on other projects. And, plus, we need to plan our next training, so of course it takes up days of our time.
From a volunteers’ perspective, what do you think is the best thing about TLG?
Okay, so one of the best things is that people are coming from different countries and they have the chance to learn about Georgia and share our heritage. Plus it’s a really good chance, from a language perspective, for people who want to partici—I personally, you know, (laughs) really improved my English because I work in TLG. I improved my language and when I get the compliment that I don’t speak very bad English I say, “It’s because of TLG, you know?” But what I want to say is that volunteers are doing such an amazing and important job. They are having such an impact on their co-teachers’ and students’ lives. Someday maybe their students will be motivated to travel abroad and change their lives. Volunteers have to remember that they can really help students to fulfill their potential. No one knows about what the students in the villages can be capable of because this potential has been unexplored, but now the Volunteers are providing motivation and they have to remember that. You might be one of the first people who really believed in these kids!
How have you seen the volunteers’ training change over time and how do you imagine it will continue to change?
Volunteers’ training has definitely changed. It has changed its shape and its content. It is way more adapted to volunteers’ needs because a lot of it is now based on previous volunteers’ experiences. It’s not as tiring as it was before. It’s still—volunteers will always complain because it’s a week long, they have jetlag and are terribly tired and it’s still this overwhelming amount of information. But still, the timing of the training and the content of the training have really changed and are really important. It’s applicable to everyone, no matter what experience of background they have. And also the trainers are much more prepared now and really knowledgeable and understand what volunteers need to know. It’s really important.
Okay, you know I have to ask about Survivor.
Oh yeah. Of course! Yeah sure! I’m happy to talk about it.
So what was the craziest thing you did and how did it feel to win?
I will start with the last part. It felt amazing to become the winner. Not even the winner, but just becoming a finalist of the show felt really great because I knew I did everything I could; I never gave up. I always moved forward (laughs). But also I won because I won 80% of people’s votes. Georgians, those who watched the show, voted for me and that’s how I won. It was slightly different than American survivor. This feeling that people liked me from the show was also great. They watched and they thought that I deserved to become the winner.
That must’ve been great!
Mhmm. And, most difficult thing I did? Probably the most difficult thing was being with people there that I didn’t—that I was not getting along well. Or people who had these tricky thoughts in their heads and who were always thinking about how to kick you out. Voting against people and making the decision who we must send home was also really difficult. But eating bugs and doing some crazy jumping and swimming and hanging and remembering or memorizing something, all those competitions that we did were good. They were challenging–they required a high level of concentration and you had push yourself to your limits–but they were good.
What is your fondest TLG related memory?
Hmm (pause), probably when I first started working and we there were only a few of us and we had to deal with all the volunteers: I call it “The Adventure in Kutaisi.” This was the funniest, maybe, but fondest? The Certificate Ceremony [in June 2012], because we really expressed our appreciation and volunteers saw that they really meant a lot to us and they had done a lot for Georgia and for the kids. They understood that everything they did was important for us: for Georgians and for Georgia. Now, let me also say that I don’t have any one favorite group. What I always say to each group is true: They are the best group until the next group. They all are nice, you can say!
What is your favorite animal and why?
(Laughs) Favorite animal?? I think I won’t upset volunteers if I say that dog is my favorite animal because I see that volunteers are very fond of dogs and they really—
Is that your favorite though?
No, but if I say that it’s not my favorite then I will lose the majority of volunteers. They love dogs and pets. (Pause) (Whispering) I don’t really like animals. (Laughs) But well, probably, some more wild animals. Not cute ones, but probably big cats like panthers, lions, tigers (Pause). And I like elephants as well (laughs). Because I really remember this one cartoon about Dumbo the elephant. No, I like animals. (Laughs)
You have a legendary ability to remember volunteers. I’m going to list several volunteers and ask you what you can remember about them.
Well okay! Come on!
Timothy Merkel. [Ed.- Tamara had no prior knowledge that she would be asked about these volunteers and when initially asked pantomimed strangling me.]
Oh, Timothy Merkel! The guy who speaks perfect Georgian now. He studied in University and made some Georgian friends, which is how he heard about Georgia. And his friends were sisters, as I remember. When he came to Georgia he didn’t live with them, but he was visiting them and his friend’s mother was taking care of him and was worried about where we would place him. And he was placed in Guria, initially.
James Gerhart was placed in Adjara. He loved to be there. He paneled twice, as I remember, for our new volunteers. He was really motivated. We even have a picture of him helping a first grader write on the board.
Oh Erin! She was one of those volunteers who had the luxury to be trained in Sheraton Metekhi Palace. She was from group number 7 and she was an active volunteer who was really excited to be in Georgia because her uncle was already volunteering in Georgia. So that’s how she decided to come to Georgia. She was really funny, had a good sense of humor.
Lynne? Lynne Burgess?
Yeah, Lynne. She was from group 29. That was the group when, if I’m correct, when [Former Deputy Program Manager] Deborah attended the training to evaluate it and see how it was going. Lynne’s from the United Kingdom. She was very nice, plus I remember that her group was very nice—every one of them: Brittany, Ricky, and so on, and they were like good friends with each other.
Okay I’ve got one more for you. Myles Nuzzi.
Me? No I’m Raughley.
Maybe Myles is your different name? Let’s see. We don’t have Myles Nuzzi.
That’s right! He’s my brother. Okay, one last question. What is your favorite style of khatchapuri.
My favorite style of khatchapuri? None.
I’m not a big fan of khatchapuri. But if someone will still again or persistently asks me about khatchapuri, then the one that my grandmother used to cook—call it “Bebiuri.” It was the most delicious.