You know you consider Tbilisi home when:
- After two months, you finally get around to unpacking your suitcase.
- Walking into oncoming traffic has become second nature.
- The insanely steep metro escalators no longer cause you dizziness.
- You can comfortably argue prices with a Georgian taxi driver.
- Climbing into a overly crowded marshutka no longer intimidates you.
- You can give your friends directions to your flat.
- You realize you are craving khachapuri for breakfast.
- You have joined a gym… due to said khachapuri.
As you can probably guess, I have come to call Tbilisi home. This city is so exciting, energetic, intense, dirty, and yet beautiful at the same time. Tbilisi is like vodka on the rocks. It’s rough at first, but after a few sips it tastes so smooth. There is always something to do here, and despite the bitter cold that we have been having, people are still outside, meeting up for drinks, having dinner, and enjoying each other’s company.
Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes I have my off days. I’ve tried explaining Tbilisi to a friend of mine back home, and I will use the same example here. Tbilisi has a certain rhythm to it and some mornings I can wake up and find that rhythm, but other mornings I just can’t keep the beat and my whole day is off because of it. On those days I really have to work at it.
This city isn’t for everyone, for one thing you have to loooooovvvvveeee people, because Tbilisi is one crowded place, and Georgians are notorious for being very affectionate (lots of cheek kissing!). I’ve always put a high value on personal space, or at least I did. But now, after being attacked with hugs and kisses from my little third graders every day, I’m not sure I could go back to having a personal bubble. I have grown so accustomed to my host family’s small kitchen table and our warm conversations while we surround the heater, and just… well, always being close.
One of the most pleasant surprises I have had so far during my experience is noticing how incredibly close my students are. My school is rather small, and my students have all grown up together over the past several years. Most have been classmates since they were in the first or second grade and they treat each other with so much sweetness and respect that I am often blown away. There is so much loyalty and friendship in my school that it has become contagious and I find myself wanting to come early and stay late just so I can be surrounded by that kind of feeling.
However, not all teachers have been fortunate enough to have a great experience like mine. Some schools are too large for such comradery and I have heard many complaints from teachers who feel overwhelmed by the number of students their classes. I always give the same advice to my friends who are struggling with this, and that is that chaos is natural. Embrace the chaos, don’t fight it, just go with it. Your students are going to sense if you have any discomfort or frustration upon entering the classroom so I always make a point of leaving any bad feelings at the door. My teaching methods may be a bit different from the normal teaching pattern, but it works. Embracing the chaos for me means feeling out the energy of each classroom. Some days your students are going to be too hyper for a book lesson and on those days I often get the class up out of their chairs and actively learning. Other days, my students are tired and I have to change my lesson from one that required energy to one that is more relaxed and easy going. I have found that teaching in Georgia is more about creativity than planning.
For example: I had a third grader that I was almost positive had a learning disability. He just couldn’t keep up with the rest of the children. The next week I decided to try a singing and dancing exercise with my kids. I was totally shocked when this little boy was speaking perfect English and understanding the meaning of the words too! I realized then that he had no learning disability at all. He just needed a different approach to learning English. I am telling you this because as an ESL teacher you will encounter this problem constantly. Remember to try new methods of learning in the classroom and study your students and find out what works best for them.
On another note, I had the pleasure of sitting in on my school’s dance class. If you get the chance to teach English in Georgia, please take the extra time out of your work day to watch your students dance. It was absolutely incredible. I was in awe at these tiny children, most of them fourth graders, doing extremely difficult and intricate foot work. It was truly impressive. Not only is Georgian traditional dance beautiful, unique, and a joy to witness, but the fact that ALL children are taught this traditional dance in school made me so happy. Being a dancer myself, I can tell you that the choreography is not easy and it takes a lot of strength and endurance to do this dance. Watch it! You won’t be able to stop talking about it!