Orientation for our teach program in Georgia is over and I think it was not until now that I truly understood the value of this program. When I applied to this program, I think I really did it for myself—to have this crazy experience and feel like I am making an impact. But after hearing the program coordinator speak and after meeting my family, I think I am starting to see that this is something far beyond me.
Right before we received our assignments, the program coordinator explained to us a little bit more about this project. Georgia is an immensely beautiful and diverse country with a very long history and much culture. Claiming one of fourteen alphabets in the world certainly illustrates this characteristic. We have been learning Georgian and it is a complex language, particularly for English speakers who aren’t accustomed to pronouncing 6 consonants together without vowels in between (they make these harsh sounds sound like they are all pronounced in one syllable!). Despite its value and beauty, only about four million people in the world speak this language. For a developing country like Georgia, it is imperative for its people to learn to communicate with the outside world. This program speaks very much to the reality of globalization even in a small and largely rural country like Georgia. Everyone wants to learn English—it is the key to success for most.
When all of the volunteers met in the hotel lobby Sunday, we finally came face to face with our futures. I had been told the night before that I would be placed in Tbilisi, which I suspect is due largely to my severe insect allergies, so I knew that my host family was among those waiting in the lobby (unlike most others far in the west who had a long bus ride ahead before meeting theirs). Before our matches were announced, a young woman and man began asking around for me among the volunteers (apparently they were given our info ahead of time).
A young couple, who were in fact siblings, found me and introduced themselves. I would be living with the young woman, her husband and her child. On the car ride to her apartment, as she was interrogating me about my life, she told me she was so excited that I was finally here that she could not hide it. She is a Master’s student who just finished with her degree in International Relations (ironic eh?) and is in the process of preparing to defend her thesis in February. She explained to me how eager she is to learn English because it would ensure her a job. “In Georgia, you must either know Microsoft or English—preferably both”, she explained. Everyone wants to learn English. If you speak the language, then you are ensured a good job in the city.
After talking to her and her family, it really hit me that teaching English to Georgian children is much more than just an adventure and fun volunteer opportunity. It is a tool as important as technology or infrastructure can be to a society. I really hope that I can have a real impact not only on the children I teach but with the people I interact with daily. I feel a new weight and responsibility in my role here. Though my time here is short, I feel like I have the potential to make a big difference, even if only in Alina’s life.
Today was actually my first day at school. It was very intense, but more on that later. For now I just want to leave you all with the assurance that I’m doing great and that I’m very happy to be here. Other than that, I really have no idea what to expect for the next couple of months…and I think I prefer it this way.