At the last evening meeting of our teacher training session, with little fanfare our placements were announced. After hearing our placements, everyone was milling around chatting and getting phone numbers. We were all mostly trying to meet and greet with everyone we’d talked to in the week to see if they were living by us, and try to meet anyone we hadn’t met who might be doing the same. Seventy-five people are quite a few to get to know in five busy days.
This milling around progressed to a party atmosphere for some, and they headed out to celebrate the news. Others started packing up their suitcases, disheveled from a week spent in the hotel. After I finished sorting out my suitcase properly, I went downstairs to borrow some boiling water for the Easy Mac that was my dinner. Since the bartenders were so kind about the borrowed water I bought a glass of wine to have with my meal. This wine progressed into chatting and before you knew it, it was 4:00 am and we were eating butter pasta with ketchup and extolling its virtues. I had the good sense to get some sleep soon after, but woke up late and groggy.
The next day was the day of reckoning. This was the day we would meet our host families, and our areas. This was the day we would REALLY find out what we had signed up for. Morning turned out to be a lot of hurry up and wait, but my two roommates and I managed to get our room packed and checked out in plenty of time. We then all proceeded to mill around as people came straggling in to the main hall one or two at a time. Things were supposed to begin at noon, but as things always do, they started late. No worries. At 1pm, Tamara, the coordinator, started reading off the list of names of volunteers and the people they were supposed to meet. We all clapped and smiled at each introduction, and then were one by one, led out the door, into real Georgia. My host family wasn’t at the intro session, but instead it was the lady from the local educational resource center. Since there were three of us in the area about 3 hours away, the town had rented a minibus to pick us all up, and we were to meet our families at the much more local resource center. I took this to be a good indication, since if nothing else, I was working with practical people.
The ride over was quiet, with a lot of time spent just staring out the windows of the bus trying to soak up the landscape. It was at this point that I felt sort of sorry for the folks stationed in Tbilisi. Sure they would have more conveniences. However, it will be much longer before they see the wider area of Georgia around them. We passed through a lot of plains, some hilly mountains that crossed the middle of the country, and then back again into the plains. The bus ended up stopping in front of a charming looking old style school, with high ceilings, cream colored walls and blue window panes. The grass is really actually greener here than in some areas. How fun right?
After the two other host families came to pick up my region-buddies, we got back on the bus and went a little up the road and around the corner and stopped in front of a slightly rusted looking green gate. A pleasant-faced old couple was there to wave and greet us, and no one would allow me to touch my bags. They showed me to my room, which is accessible from the outside AND from the main hallway (bonus for my independence). I was charmed immediately because it’s a room all decorated in old school quaint fashion, complete with a spring (yet double) bed, one wardrobe, a chest, a tiny table, checkered table cloth and a lamp. It’s a little bit me already without me even having been here. It’s odd how comforting that is. In the rest of the house there are many of the comforts of home, including a full sized oven, a washing machine and a TV. The family was really pleasant, and later the son and grandson arrived and we chatted late into the night before I went to bed.
Now I grant you there are a number of things different from home too. The bathroom, the lack of central heating, the language barrier – by chatting I don’t mean at all what you’d expect of that word from two native English speakers- etc. The school is definitely not a U.S. school and the police actually stopped us while driving around.
Nonetheless at the outset I’d have to say, I couldn’t have asked for more. I’m so relieved and pleased! I can foresee a few challenges ahead in the host family in terms of expectations for English education and visas. However, that was nothing like what I was worried about. I suppose it is mostly true about anticipation or imagination causing most of our troubles.
I’ve been at school for three days now too, just observing and chiming in where I can. Even the school is encouraging and impressive. They seemed determined to improve and they have two very decent English teachers here already. About 65% of the students have books, and the school comes equipped with a computer lab, printer and a photocopier. Many of the students come equipped with some solid knowledge already, and for most, they also have a desire to improve.
Anyway I suppose it all remains to be seen, but if I’m any judge of adventures, I think this might go at least a bit more smoothly than my first adventure in volunteering in Tanzania. I’m older and wiser and the school is also equipped with a lot better educational foundations than public schools there. Not as well as Korean private schools, but from my time teaching in the U.S., Korea, and Tanzania, I can tell you no one is as well equipped as Korean schools. Instead the Georgian Educational System is an unusual mix of Tanzanian and Korean educational systems. It ends up looking like a much less, well-equipped version of U.S. schools. There’s good material to work with here, and practical goals which can be accomplished. It means in the end, I might be able to make the impact here I couldn’t make volunteering elsewhere. Redemption is sweet in whatever forms it comes.