Welcome to the Georgia family! I only hope you will come to love it as much as I do. I arrived in Georgia January 30th and now am home on vacation before returning for a second semester in September. You are probably trying to learn as much as your can via blogs, online discussion boards, and talking to other volunteers, so the following tips are suggestions you might not get from other sources. This is only my account, and as you will hear over and over, each person’s experience in Georgia is completely different, it’s the truth!
1. Orientation week: These are long (12+) hour days of language classes and cultural training. Take care of yourself and don’t feel you have to go see Tbilisi just because you’re there. Remember, you’ll be in Georgia for several months, you don’t need to see it all in the first week.
2. Other TLGers: The people you meet in orientation week will likely become your closest friends, make as many bonds as you can, exchange numbers, add each other on Facebook while you still have free WiFi. When you get to your placement, it will be likely a great culture shock, and you will need to talk to your new friends because they understand better than anyone what you’re going through.
3. Your Phone: Put a lot of money on your Geocell phone while you can. Yes, calls to other TLGers are free, but there is a 16 tetri a day charge just to have the account open and texts are 6 tetri a piece. If you text a lot like I do, it’s best to buy them in bulk, 100 text for 2.50 Lari. From your phone dial *131# send, you’ll get a menu in Georgian, hit Answer, 1, send, you’ll get another Georgian menu, Answer, 1, send. To check how many texts you have left, dial *131# send, answer, 4, send. Also, if you have a smart phone, many people use them in Georgia instead of or in addition to their TLG phone, by replacing the SIM card. I didn’t do this myself, but for those who always love to be connected, you can have internet on your phone.
4. Phone numbers: Learn yours!! Enter your friends’ phone numbers starting with country code and area code, you have to start with +995 577 XXX XXX otherwise their name will not appear next to text messages.
5. Staying in Touch: Of course Skype is great, but also you can call to the USA for free on Google voice through a computer to any number – a great way to talk to people back home. They also have cheap rates to other countries.
6. Home Placements: When you get to your placement, expect to be fed enormous amounts of food many times. I thought I was having a supra when I discovered it was just a light snack and the real supra would be a few hours later. Whenever I say I was considered a champion eater back home, they laugh because I could never eat as much as they want me to in Georgia. Still, try to eat something when offered, if you don’t eat anything, they might be hurt.
7. Issues at Home: Some placements are wonderful, some are quite rough. At first if you are not happy, talk to your friends, try to stick it out and see if it gets better. If it’s not getting better and you really feel uncomfortable, I can tell you from personal experience TLG will act fast on requests to move. Don’t feel like you have to suffer, you deserve some amount of comfort, even in a developing country.
8. Making Local Contacts: Your family and co-teachers will be the best source of information on all things local. Get their phone numbers as well! Georgians will always go out of their way to help with anything at all, and when they can speak English and translate for you, they become your favorite person in the world.
9. Fitting in/Standing Out: this is ultimately up to you to decide how to present yourself in Georgia. Remember you are representing not only your country, but the Georgian Ministry of Education who chose you to come to Georgia as well. You will hear in orientation that Georgian culture emphasizes the group over the individual, there is a “Georgian” way to act that you will pick up on over time. What makes it difficult at first is that you may not even know what you’re doing is offensive, and they may not tell you, so always always ask questions. Don’t worry, they will still love you because you are a guest, but it will be a process to learn the ins and out of Georgian culture.
10. Other Expats: Not all expats in Georgia are there through TLG, and not all TLGers are recruited through Greenheart. There is a great Facebook group called Georgian Wanderers of all expats living in Georgia. It is a closed group so you may request to join it or if you add me as a friend, I can add you to the group.
Enjoy this time! See you in Sakartvelo!