by Kimberly Berls
Last night I asked the hotel clerk to wake me up at 7:30 a.m. I wasn’t sure if he understood since as soon as I said “Wake-up call” and he asked “What room?” and immediately started dialing. I did a little gesture like “sleeping,” with the telephone ringing and he got it.
So this morning I get a knock at 7:30 a.m. and when I opened the door he goes “I wake you up! 7:30!” with this huge smile on his face. I laughed and was like “Yes, perfect, thanks!” He had such a sense of accomplishment on his face. Ah, Georgia.
The Ministry of Education in the Republic of Georgia did a lot of research on this program development and how they could increase openness, English skills, and general awareness of democracy, etc. and sent someone around the country visiting schools. What they found was that the schools and communities that were different, more open, had above average English skills, and were “bi-cultural” were two schools where there were Peace Corps volunteers.
After researching other programs, the government threw in full swing the “Teach and Learn with Georgia” program. EVERYONE knows about this program here… it was even subject of a skit in the equivalent of “Saturday Night Live” (in Georgia, haha).
The schools are great. I went to two today. The kids are very orderly. They have libraries and the English teachers were VERY enthusiastic to have someone come help. Then I met a host family, and the son smiled and said:
“Are you going to live with me and my family?!”
I was sad I had to say “no,” but told him I’d send him another American to live with his family.
I think the most important thing to consider is that this is a volunteer opportunity, it’s not a rich country like Korea, and that it will be a true cultural experience. The Ministry of Education is really dedicated to exposing their youngsters to American / Western values and culture. The effects of Soviet rule are still manifesting themselves today, and Georgia is trying to get back in the economic game now that its political situation has stabilized.
As far as safety goes, I feel, really really safe here. People are so warm and genuinely excited to have guests. Not everyone speaks English, but signs are in English so far as I have seen. It will really help if volunteers are interested in learning at least some Georgian, but it is also taught a little during teacher orientation when they arrive. Since it’s one of the oldest (and most interesting!) languages in the world, it’d be a good idea to have some sort of book or dictionary.
I’m more excited about this program now than ever before.