So Georgia is a pretty interesting place so far. We haven’t seen too much of it, because we’ve been in the hotel most of the time doing various cultural and language training sessions, but last night we got out and hiked to the top of the fortress in Tbilisi which was very fun (unfortunately, I didn’t bring a camera–next time!). I’ve just about mastered the alphabet, though I can’t really read it well yet, and I know a few basic phrases that together with gestures and pantomimes will help me to get around. Very few people speak English; that’s what we’re here as part of the TLG program to change.
There are 33 other teachers in my group, and they’re all pretty awesome. Most are from the US, though there are a handful from Australia and New Zealand, which is fun. Most of us are the same age and in the same life position: young, single, fresh out of college, fairly well educated, free of major life responsibilities and looking for an adventure. For that reason, I think we’ve been able to bond fairly quickly, which is encouraging. I don’t know how often I’ll see most of these people once I’ve been placed, but I’ve been making friends and getting along fairly well.
So far, the people running the TLG program seem really on the ball. This is only the program’s second year, but it’s a major initiative from the government and has really started to have an impact. It’s humbling, actually, to see how much the Georgians are investing in us; the program might not pay as well as JET or EPIK (TEFL programs in Japan and Korea), but for a developing country like Georgia, it’s quite a lot. The country has been through a lot of tremendous difficulties, but they are pushing forward for a brighter and more prosperous future and I hope that I can make a difference and be a part of that.
In case you’re wondering whether I feel safe, don’t worry; everything in Tbilisi is fine. Yes, there has been a lot of saber-rattling with Iran, but that hasn’t directly affected Georgia other than the attempted attack on the Israeli diplomats (which could have happened anywhere). If the Western powers do undertake a major military operation in the area, Russia could become antagonistic, but I think Obama has made it clear that the US is going to stick with sanctions, at least for the foreseeable future. Personally, I think a military strike is unlikely. Slightly more disconcerting are the Russian anti-terrorist operations in Chechnya/Dagestan, but that seems to be an internal Russian affair, so don’t worry: I’m safe.
As far as the local culture goes, I think there will be some challenges but I should be able to get along quite well. It seems that the people have a strong sense of community, emphasize people and relationships over rules and regulations, are honest and outgoing, very passionate, and very friendly toward Americans.
The biggest challenge will probably be the alcohol; Georgians are very proud of their wine, and men are expected to be heavy drinkers (REALLY heavy drinkers–like, even the Australians are nervous about it). Hopefully, I’ll be able to communicate that I don’t drink because it’s forbidden in my religion, and they’ll respect that.
In general, the orientation has been preparing us for the worst (Turkish toilets, difficulties with co-teachers, host parents trying to marry us off), so a lot of us are nervous, but we’re also very excited. This is definitely an adventure! And three or four months from now, I think most of us will look back and laugh at how nervous and scared we were.
Honestly, I’m not scared at all. If not for the study abroad trip to Jordan, I probably would be, but so far the experience has been quite similar (though I’m sure it will be quite different). I’ll just keep my eyes open, be a gracious guest, work hard, and experience as much as I can of this beautiful and wonderful country.