Teach Abroad - Republic of Georgia, Teach Abroad Programs

Sometimes, the True Impact in the Classroom is Cultural Exchange

by Lydia Cardona, Greenheart Travel Teach Abroad Participant in Georgia

Life in Georgia has probably been the most interesting since I last wrote. I’ve seen unbelievable places, both in Georgia and Turkey, and have interacted with truly amazing people. I wish I could write in detail about all of these amazing experiences, but I would never have the time to describe them with the depth they deserve. Instead I’ll tell you a bit more about my daily work—the reason I’m here. I once wrote about the difficulties I’ve had collaborating with my co-teachers and working with the students. Unfortunately, things on that front haven’t changed very much.

I want to preface this by saying that I’m absolutely happy to be here and would make the same decision about being here if given the chance again. But, I must admit that I am frustrated here almost every day. It’s not just the progress of the education system, though undoubtedly it may be faulted for these circumstances. It is the people I see every day that challenge me with a juxtaposition of both love and aggravation. My students and co-teachers are wonderful people and I truly love them, but they require that I wake up with courageous determination to face them. When I walk up to the front of class to teach a lesson, I have to reach deep down to find a thread of bravery. Admittedly, a lot of times I fail. And I become frustrated.

photo by Ken Monette

Communication is usually a major source of this frustration. Sometimes I explain things to the teachers as carefully as I can, but they still do not grasp my whole meaning (or at least choose to disregard it).  It kind of feels like that dream when you are trying to run yet you’re feet won’t move.  This often happens when I’m explaining an activity.  Rather than listen to my directions, the students immediately begin a conversation with the teacher, asking her to explain what I’ve just told them, even though I haven’t finished explain it. Suddenly I am talking over the students and the teacher who are all speaking in Georgian while I make a futile attempt to convey my point. It is no surprise then when they do not understand what they are supposed to do. Often, the teacher herself has not grasped my meaning and conveys it incorrectly to them. So there I am, my mouth is moving, but it’s as if I’m mute. Try as I may to talk over them or get their attention, things constantly get lost in translation.  It’s really defeating when you put so much energy into something and watch it fall apart time after time.

Despite the lows, there are also high points to this experience. When these come along, they outweigh the frustration. They give me the energy and determination to make the most of my remaining time here.  Quite frequently I have classes where I am lucky if 5 students looking at me and not their phones. Secretly, I feel resentful towards those kids that talked over me the entire class and ignored my pleas for silence.  I imagine that they must feel resentment towards me as well. Yet this is perhaps my greatest source of surprise, the thing which has completely changed my perspective about my role here. Whether or not I’ve stared them down in class or scolded them for their behavior, afterwards they all clamor for my attention in the halls. I imagined that the celebrity-like glorification would end a month or so after my arrival here.  Yet I get more smiles and hello’s in one day then I would in a month at home. Some classes actually cheer when I walk into their class. I am constantly given sincere looks of admiration. It’s truly flattering and incredibly encouraging.

As a result of this, I have gone far beyond the point of thinking that my presence here is meant to impact the quality of their English education. Perhaps in some ways it has—but this I can only hope. More than anything I’ve realized that I cannot make this my main objective when I go to work every day, because I usually do not feel very accomplished on this front.  This may sounds cynical, but in my eyes it’s an incredible specter of positivity for me.  Even on those days when everyone talks over me (even the teacher), when no one is listening, when they don’t understand my directions, when I feel like they’ve learned NOTHING at all, I discover I am wrong each time. The yelps of excitement when I walk into a classroom or the long smiles of children saying hello to me in the hallways makes me feel like my presence actually means something to them.

So, even after bad days, I choose to always come to school with a smile on my face and with enough energy to overcome the challenges. Their interaction with a foreigner on a regular basis means something to them. So I want their memory of this interaction to be positive. Surely this will stand out more on their minds than an activity on using the simple past.  In the greater scheme of things, maybe the positive impression left by TLG volunteers could be important in the future as Georgia develops and becomes open to investments and tourists and so on.  I know that cultural exchange is an objective of this program, and I hope that their impression of me and my country is positive to them. Either way, I love these kids and will continue trying to engage optimistically and leave a positive imprint in their minds of our time together, because of all the difficult things they’ve been dealt, they at least deserve that.

Though it’s hard, I’m going to walk through this thing with as much confidence and positivity as I can. There is so much unpredictability to my daily life here. Some of the most meticulously planned lessons have failed, while some that I’ve concocted in little time have had the most success. I think it’s one of those things that when you don’t have it you long for it, and when you do you complain. So, I’m choosing not to complain (did you think that’s what this was?). I’m surrounded by admiration and appreciation and every second of that is worth that 50 more of frustration. Five more weeks here and I’m going to enjoy every second of it with them.

About Greenheart Travel

CCI Greenheart Travel is personally invested in providing cultural immersion programs that change lives, advance careers and create leaders. We achieve this by partnering with organizations and governments overseas that empower their local communities through experiential learning and practical development. We provide others with the same positive travel experiences in which we ourselves engage. Through travel and cultural exchange, we help individuals reach their full potential, leading to a more tolerant, peaceful and environmentally sustainable world.


One thought on “Sometimes, the True Impact in the Classroom is Cultural Exchange

  1. Hey good post Lydia! I totally understand where you are coming from. Solid observations.

    Posted by Sarah | May 29, 2011, 11:53 am

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