So I’m leaving Georgia next week, headed back to the U.S., to graduate school, and future dreams and as per the usual, I’m prompted to look back and to take stock of the mistakes I’ve made, where I’ve had success, and what I’ve learned. So future volunteer – I pass this wisdom along to you in the hopes that you’ll take something useful from it.
1) Sometimes when you are with people during training, you can get to be close. Then you promise yourself (and sometimes tell them) you’ll go visit them in their various far flung villages and keep the friendships strong. Yet it’s all too easy to get caught up in the life in your village and area and not make the time. Too some training friends who suffered that fate – you have my regrets. You were important to me and I will remember you fondly. For anybody who comes to Georgia in the future – don’t make that mistake.
2) As a slow mover –and one for whom the Peace Corps worked out well in this regard – I did not travel around the country enough. Georgia is lovely and your time here can be quite limited. Future volunteer, please make the most of your time!
3) Be careful of the school projects you plan with other volunteers. Be practical about size and strict about time schedules. Georgia is so easy going about time that its too easy to say we’ll try next week if everyone can’t make it. Before you know it, nothings done. Future volunteers – keep better focus.
4) I’ve tried to make sure as a teacher to speak as little as possible and get the students to say more. As a result I feel proud of the speaking skills that many of my students have learned. In addition, my students have started passing on some English songs I taught them – to remember days of the week etc- to their younger siblings. Future volunteer – songs are catchy ways to remember things, and sometimes, when you give them a minute, students speak up. Run with it
5) After school teacher’s classes have come to fruition. Now 3 different community members have started inviting me to help them with their English. With regards to after school English classes of any sort, I have followed the advice of my colleague Dr. Peter Roots to success and I hope you do the same. Future volunteer – when teaching English take the “Jesus stance”. “Wherever one or two are gathered in my name I am there”.
6) Despite my faults I have managed to make some really great friends here in my area and I will miss them very much when I leave. You have helped and supported me, laughed and cried with me and just been there. Your “footprint” is written on my heart and I won’t forget it. I met some of you in the oddest ways and I laugh to think back on it. Future volunteer – always talk to strangers, because they may be a great friend in wait.
7) I’ve come to appreciate the art of the Georgian toast and I’d toast their ability to toast if I had a glass. They toast often and frequently, and sometimes at great length. It’s a simple comedic and touching way to appreciate the people around you. Future volunteer -Toasting like there’s no tomorrow is a great way to live your life. Do it.
In the end review, as always I feel that I’ve learned just as much or more than I taught. Though I never expect to feel this way going in, I’m always surprised and afraid at the depth to which I begin to care for the people I’ve met. I’m reminded how, before coming abroad, you know you must say goodbye to the people you love back home for a while, and that makes you sad. But when leaving you realize you must say goodbye to some of the people you’ve come to love here, for perhaps forever, and that can be even harder. I now have another country and family/friends I must visit again someday. Future volunteer – be aware that Georgian hospitality/kindness/and love is a thing to behold. You are stepping into a country beautiful on the outside and in, and I wish it and you great success.