My name is Lydia and I just graduated from the University of Georgia three weeks ago. Three days from now, I will be leaving for Georgia—the country—to teach English for six months. For those who do not know me, I will introduce myself and explain how I got here. In college, I studied International Affairs with the hopes of someday working in the field of International Development (whatever that means). Since I was 15, I have been determined to join the Peace Corps after college. It so clearly fit into my plans of working with the less fortunate and saving the world. This was still my plan six months ago.
I even applied and got a nomination for Central/South America. I felt very confident that everything I had been looking forward to for six years was going to materialize—I was even on track to graduate early. Even those who think they can plan life to the very last detail cannot escape chance, or God, as I like to think of it. At around the same time I was fretting about my Peace Corps medical evaluation, I received a job offer at a top tier consulting firm in the DC area. The uncertainty of living in South America with my severe (even fatal) insect allergy was a major concern and the opportunity to work at a company like this was something I could not immediately pass up.
Flash-forward two months and still resolute on not postponing this longtime dream (at least in the six months before starting my job), I discovered the Teach and Learn with Georgia program through Greenheart Travel’s posting on Idealist.org. I applied in November and found out December 23, while visiting family in Puerto Rico, that I would be leaving January 14.
It’s interesting how much you can learn about yourself when you have to confine six months of your life into a single suitcase. Clothes have surprisingly not been an issue; utility has definitely overcome my sense of style, although after 30 minutes of thorough analysis, I will manage to live with only six scarves. What’s surprising to me is the amount of money I have spent on personal products that I feel I cannot live without. Hair products, makeup (six months supply), creams, and an arsenal of medications to alleviate any symptom from indigestion to muscle pain are only a fraction of these items that seem to take up half my suitcase. These are apparently things I may not find readily over there, but I can’t help but wonder about my vanity and about the people I will be living with. What use would they have for the two tubs of nighttime facial crème that’s taking up eight inches of space? I think maybe if I was going to some jungle village in South America my personal standards would be very different. But at least from what I’ve learned about Georgia, people take pride and care in their appearance and they will certainly have great expectations from me, a “wealthy” American.
I’m grateful that I at least have a general idea of what’s ahead. I have been fortunate to have the guidance of many friends and even friends of friends who have been to/ are from Georgia. I have been pumped up about the food and hospitality but warned about Turkish toilets and Georgian men. Greenheart Travel has fortunately given us many resources as well which have been truly helpful. Despite all of this, my mind has been most preoccupied about leaving home and my family.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled a good bit in college; I even lived two months with a host family in France last summer. Every time I’ve gone abroad, I’ve had no lamentation about leaving home—but I’ve also always come back afterward. It’s really hit me that when I leave now, I’m really leaving home. School’s out for good and when I come back from Georgia, I will leave immediately for DC to start my new job.
I’m finally an “adult”. As scary and sad as this is to me, I feel really grateful that my “childhood” has lasted this long. My mom was already married and with an infant at my age. In many other countries, my life would have been much tougher at a very early age, simply because I am girl. It’s been a really good run. This past week, I had a chance meeting with a lawyer who travels to Georgia often to teach law students. His pep talk really got me thinking once again about why I am doing this, or rather who I am doing this for. Nana, my new Georgian friend, explained that Georgia, as a former Soviet Republic, is in a very fragile transitional stage, and those who suffer most are the helpless and vulnerable—the children. I really hope that my teaching them English will serve as an important tool in their lives, even if it’s only for a few months.
Of all the tools I need to survive there, I’ve learned that flexibility (and apparently determination) will be my best resource. Dealing with Georgian bureaucracy apparently takes a certain kind of patience and adaptability—I haven’t even left yet and I’ve already encountered this. Obstacle one—In less than one day, be sure to print, sign, and fax the teaching contract (never mind that I was in Puerto Rico, in a cave of all places, where fax machines tend to not be accessible at every corner). CHECK. Obstacle two: Catch a flight from Orlando, a mere 7 hour drive from Atlanta, despite the major winter storm that has made travel virtually impossible these past two days. Still working on that one. I think that God has played His hand in all of this from the beginning, so I’m hoping things will work out. Wish me luck.