My orientation to Georgia took place 5 months ago at the Bazaleti Hotel in Tbilisi. The 108 other new volunteers and I stepped off of a 36 hour travel day at the tender hour of 4 a.m. and after patchy sleep schedules, blood tests, and our first purchases with lari and visuals of the Georgian alphabet we were given several days worth of information to prepare us for the coming semester/s.
I remember feeling both excited and horrified by the various tips, warnings, and anecdotes we were given in methodology classes and intercultural training. I remember stumbling over the word “mastsavlebeli” and reverting to first grade penmanship classes as I attempted qartuli script. But now, looking back, I see that though TLG covered a lot of the basics, it was impossible for me to really know what my experiences outside of orientation would be like. Here are a few of my incorrect guesses.
Living in a village
Expectation: I will walk to school in 3 feet of snow, freezing through my multiple layers of clothing. I will never have electricity and my internet will be too slow to Skype with my family. I will never get used to my squatty toilet, which sits 50 yards from my back door. I will wash my clothes in a bucket, eat khachapuri every day, and shower every 10.
Reality: While the standard of living in a village is vastly different from that at home, I think I was anticipating the worst case scenario. My family has an indoor, western toilet, a washing machine, and a water heater. Yes, my electricity frequently goes out and my shoes are always caked with mud from the constant rainfall, but here in Guria it has only snowed once, and it was while I was on vacation! That is not to say that other TLGvs haven’t experienced the outdoor Turkish toilet and the bucket laundry, but the point is that no two village experiences are exactly the same.
Expectation: My students will be rowdy, undisciplined, and distracting. I will be largely ignored and most of my planned activities will either fail in practice or send the students into chaos. My co-teachers will sit back and file their nails while I am expected to lead the class.
Reality: My largest class has 7 students, 6 of which are perfectly respectful and engaged. The other student is constantly reminded by my co-teacher to stop distracting the class. I am not alone in the lesson and in fact usually have to assert myself into my co-teachers plans so that I don’t end up sitting by the pechi and occasionally correcting pronunciation.
Expectation: I will be suffocated by my host family, who will constantly come into my room and ask me extremely personal questions.
Reality: I spend a lot of time with my host family because they are amazing. When I do need privacy, like when I am writing a blog, they do not come into my room and only knock and interrupt if there is a meal to be eaten. They do, however, ask me extremely personal questions about my dating life, salary, and family at home, though the tone is that of genuine interest and not nosiness.
I could go on and on, honestly, because my anxiety at orientation led me to ponder the darkest timeline for my stay in Georgia. I am not exempt from struggles or discomfort, but most of my issues have less to do with my host country and more to do with my homesickness. It is important to do your research and to absorb all the information you can, but do not let fear keep you from Georgia, or any other endeavors you may be considering!