Teach & Learn with Georgia



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BLOGS ABOUT TEACHING ENGLISH IN GEORGIA



Dive into a bucket o' blogs here.

The authors are current or past teachers in Georgia, mostly with TLG, but some with the Peace Corps. 

Here's the official guide to TLG and the official TLG blog.

I'm not in Georgia anymore, but if you're interested in reading about it, my Georgian experience starts more or less here. I landed in Georgia on July 15, 2011, and left on June 22, 2012. I was in Group 21.



THE PACKING LIST


Luggage

The baggage policies change frequently and without much warning. Assume the following:

  1. Check one bag free, up to 50 pounds 
  2. An additional bag, up to 50 pounds, will cost $70 USD 
  3. Carry on a personal bag (i.e., purse, laptop bag) plus one piece of "carry-on" size luggage. 

Look at the online baggage policies for the airlines in your flight itinerary. Read the fine print.  Print them out and bring them with you to the airport. Send an email to the company for clarification, if necessary. 



checked these two bags:


eBags Mother Lode TLS Mini 21"
eBags Weekender eTech Convertible














NOTE: When I went to Georgia in July 2011, I was able to check both of the above bags free. When I returned to Georgia from winter break January 2012, the rules had changed, and I was charged $70 for the second bag. 


I carried on these two bags:


eBags Downloader Laptop Backpack















NOTE: If I wanted to save the fee for the second checked bag, I'd put the shoulder bag into my backpack or other luggage, and then carried on the green, wheeled bag pictured above, along with the backpack. 

Clothes

Pack clothes that:
  • Will see you through a hot summer, cool autumn, and cold winter; and
  • That you can efficiently hand wash and hang dry yourself. 

Notes: Some host families have washing machines; some don't. Virtually no one has a dryer. Sending your laundry out to be done is cost-prohibitive in Georgia. It isn't even an option in the rural areas. Think carefully about how long it takes jeans to hang dry after handwashing.


To manage the luggage space that clothing consumes, consider these guidelines:
  • Monochromatic base. For maximum mix & match capability, stick with a primary color base. If you want to blend in, choose black.  Note: I was sick of black clothes by winter 2011. When I returned to Georgia from my winter vacation, I brought more colorful clothing back with me. YMMV.
  • Multi-purpose clothes. Several of my selections worked for casual street wear, pajamas, or exercise, giving me flexibility in response to laundry constraints and weather.   
  • Layer-friendly clothes. Do not underestimate how cold you will feel in Georgia when winter hits. Homes, businesses, schools, restaurants - virtually none are heated centrally. Remember that cotton is not good for retaining warmth. I recommend three sets of long underwear, one to wear to bed, one to wear under your clothes during the day, and a third that's in the laundry awaiting a wash. Take a warm hat (that you will be comfortable wearing to bed as well as outdoors), gloves, scarf.  Also, take extra socks: when the cold comes, you'll wear them to bed.  
Note: It's not that Georgia is colder than where you might live. The difference is that there's no place for you to go to warm up, so the chill is chronic. 

When packing, it worked for me to pack all of my cold-weather items into one suitcase so that I didn't have to open it til the fall. (I arrived in July.)

If you've got the space, consider packing a sleeping bag for assured warmth in the winter.

Shoes

The broad weather range, rain/snow, and uneven walking surfaces make shoes a challenge. I brought:

Chaco sandals. They are perfect for the uneven pavement and unpaved surfaces. With the toe thong and side and heel straps, my foot remained firmly seated in the shoe, preventing many a twist or slip. Because they're completely washable, it didn't matter if I went through mud or puddles.

Wolverine boots. Waterproof high-tops with killer treads. I am so glad I wore these heavy clodhoppers on the plane over. When November arrived, the cold weather and rain came. In January came snow and ice. Flooded streets that I had to negotiate over uneven terrain. Great for hiking, too.  And warm.

Flat "dress" shoes. I brought shoes that I could wear with a dress or trousers. Can't emphasize enough the treachery of the pavements. Select a shoe that has a sole thick enough to protect you from painful stones or broken pavement pieces while you're walking. Ignore this information at your peril. 


Electronics

  • Laptop + power/charge cords + remote mouse
  • MP3 player + cables
  • Mini-speaker for laptop, MP3 player, and voice recorder
  • Voice recorder + cable
  • USB plug-in to charge MP3 player and mini-speaker
  • Adapters
  • Surge protector
  • AA and AAA batteries
  • Flash drives
  • System repair disc
  • Wrist watch (has alarm feature)
  • Cameras + their paraphernalia (bring at least one extra camera battery and a second SD card)
  •  A number of TLGers bring external hard drives with vast quantities of movies and TV shows on them. These are of HUGE comfort if you are placed in a remote area or with a non-English speaking family. 
  • Some TLGers bring their electronic book readers and are very glad they did.

I didn't bring my own cell phone, as the Georgian government provides one.


Physical care/comfort items

  • Shampoo/conditioner
  • Anti-perspirant
  • Razors
  • Toothbrushes/toothpaste
  • Cosmetics - if you have a favorite brand, i.e. Revlon or Cover Girl, bring it; may not be available in Georgia
  • Two wash cloths
  • Grooming tools
  • Prescription or reading glasses - bring at least one backup pair
  • Sunglasses - two pairs
  • Compact mirror
  • Combs 
  • Sanitary wipes for your nether regions; you never know when access to water will be an issue
  • Flashlights (your TLG-provided cell phone will also have a flashlight feature)
  • Single-serve Crystal Light packets
  • Thermos for hot drinks for marshrutka rides, hikes, school, etc.
  • Unbreakable travel mug

Notes: There're plenty of health and beauty aids to buy in Georgia. They're arguably more expensive there, though, and there's no guarantee you'll get your favored brand, if that's important to you. 


ILLNESS


You will get sick in Georgia. 

Doesn't matter how healthy-as-a-horse you are back home. Doesn't matter how young you are, how old you are or how fit you are. You will get sick. Often.

The serial illnesses seem to be tied most directly to the schools. Thus, if you arrive in the summer, you may find yourself in a little honeymoon period. Once school starts, the illnesses run rampant. A fresh round begins after Christmas break. 


Respiratory illnesses, coughs, sore throats, fever, headache, diarrhea, earache. Flu. Food poisoning. Constipation. Ruptured eardrum. Vaginal infection. "Pink eye."

You may get bitten by a dog, which will necessitate rabies shots. (I can immediately count four TLGers who've had this experience.)

Snow and ice aren't removed from the pavements. Tiles used on the sidewalks are slicker than a skating rink. (One TLGer I know was still recovering from a knee injury after falling on the ice six months before.)

If you're an "I don't like to take medicine" person, fine, but know that you will be suffering for weeks on end by going commando. Over time, the serial illnesses can really get you down, so choose your stoic battles carefully.   

Although it's pretty easy to get antibiotics in Georgia, it's more difficult to find the pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Bring with you from home:
  • Imodium + constipation aids
  • Ibuprofen + aspirin + acetominaphen
  • Pseudoephredine (the real stuff that you have to sign for) 
  • Bandaids 
  • Cough drops - you can get them here, but only behind the counter at the pharmacy, and they'll cost you big. Dole out your stash carefully to host family members; my experience was they were viewed like candy and disappeared quickly.l
  • Pain reliever for sore throat, e.g. spray
  • Mosquito repellent


Mental care/comfort items

  • Books (best option: Bring an electronic book reader)
  • Inspirational podcasts that I keep on my voice recorder

TEACHING MATERIALS TO BRING


Even if your Georgian school has a printer, photocopier, and a computer (and they are connected), budget constraints may make it almost impossible for you to do handouts. For example, each of the classes I teach has about 30 students. Multiply that by however many unique classrooms you do, and that cost adds up for the school. If you're in a rural school with fewer than 10 students in a class, this may not be an issue.

Based on my experience, here's what I recommend for school supplies:
  • One or two 3-ring binders + sheet protectors for teaching materials and the handouts you'll receive in TLG orientation
  • Flash cards - as many sets as you can afford. Consider one set for each co-teacher to own herself. My co-teachers use the flashcards I brought almost every day.  
  • Sticky for walls 
  • Tape
  • Stapler/staples
  • Chalk
  • A red pen and a black pen for each of your co-teachers and yourself
  • Hard-copy originals of lesson plans, activity ideas, games, etc. that you print and bring with you. Put these in one of your binders. There's no guarantee you'll have access to a printer and you may not have reliable access to your laptop right when you need it. 
  • A couple of notebooks
  • Scissors
  • Stickers (as many as you can afford; the co-teachers love them)
  • English dictionary (English to English), high school level
  • One or two 8 1/2" x 11" whiteboards + whiteboard markers
  • Book or printouts of children's songs and short poems


Notes: 
  1. It's likely you'll be teaching elementary school children, first through sixth grade.  If you teach in a city, you may have six unique classes with 30 kids each. That's about 180 kids. So if you've got stuff like prizes or other doodads (i.e. stickers) in mind for kids, remember that.
  2. Assume that all of your co-teachers share a (if any) CD player. 
  3. You will probably move from classroom to classroom; there will not be a classroom where the kids come to you, that you can decorate as you wish. 
  4. You may teach in classrooms with no electrical outlets. 



GIFTS TO BRING TO YOUR HOST FAMILY

If you arrive in the summer, be prepared to have one host family during that time, and a different host family when school starts.

What not to bring:
  • Don't bring wine. Georgians are confident their wine is superior to all others, so you'll just be wasting your money. 
  • Possible ditto for honey. 
  • There's plenty of chocolate and candy in Georgia, including American stand-bys such as M&Ms, Snickers, etc. If you want to bring candy, bring something unique or local. 
  • Don't get all caught up in the Georgian alcohol mythology and think you need to bring some expensive, hard liquor for the man of the house. If that's something you also enjoy, fine. Not all Georgians drink. 
  • Weigh the collateral cost of gifts that require batteries or electric power. Batteries are expensive in Georgia. So is electricity. 
  • Don't bring gifts that are more expensive than will be comfortable for families to receive.
What you might bring: 
  • Georgians value homemade products, such as jams, sauces, salsas, canned vegetables, preserved meat. But like wine and honey, what you bring will inevitably be compared with what they proudly produce.
  • Spices such as cinnamon and pepper
  • Tea, especially herbal or medicinal formulations. Georgia produces its own tea, so tea itself  isn't so special. But Georgians value herbal remedies and tea is a favored healing item.
  • Georgians are mad for barbecued meat, especially pork. You might bring some barbecue sauce or dry rubs for them to try. Also consider beef jerky and pork rinds. 
  • If you do choose to bring alcohol, be mindful of the woman of the house: Georgian women tend to drink liqueurs or brandy. 
  • Georgians eat a lot of cheese, and it's good cheese, but there isn't much variety. A cheese made in your region might make a nice gift. Or one that is uncommon in Georgia, such as blue cheese.
  • Recyclable shopping bags that can be tucked into purses and backpacks 
  • Fans (manual, hand-held) - pretty ones that women unfold to fan themselves or those old-fashioned political or business advertisement fans that are made of cardboard or super-thin wood
  • Slippers

PERSONAL BOUNDARIES

One of the best pieces of advice I got out of TLG orientation was the recommendation that we each establish our personal boundaries and stick by them, regardless of cultural pressures to bend them.

TLG is a cultural exchange program; it is not a Georgian indoctrination program. Being culturally respectful does NOT require you to be coerced into drinking, eating, or (in the case of women volunteers) refraining from talking to men alone.

The issues that stir up the most trouble for both volunteers and families are:
  • Alcohol consumption (too much or too little)
  • Food consumption (too much pushed or too little provided)
  • Sexual harassment
  • For young women in rural areas, interaction with men outside the host family and other restrictions on their freedoms
  • Blurry boundaries about using volunteers' things

The above are the issues you'll read about before you go. And they are real issues. On the other hand, you won't read stories from volunteers about how these issues DIDN'T happen to them. So to put things into perspective: I haven't had a problem with any of the above issues except, for a short time, the food consumption issue (too much being pushed onto me). 

Notes: Some fellow TLGers will use the respect-the-culture argument to pressure their colleagues into drinking more than they want. So the boundary thing isn't just between volunteers and Georgians.

Problem prevention 

Host families. Don't romanticize the host family's experience of your presence. In other words, if you are in an uncomfortable placement, give it your best shot (which includes getting help from your TLG rep), but if it doesn't work, then get out (to a different host family). Don't spend six months of your life in abject misery for fear of hurting the family's feelings, beating yourself up for not sucking it up, or telling yourself other TLGers have it worse. Sometimes placements aren't a good fit, just like any relationship, professional or personal. Host families join the program for many different reasons, some healthy, some not.

If you decide not to do something to fix your host family placement (such as calling TLG for assistance or speaking up on your own to the family), then no fair bitching about the family to everyone else but TLG or the family.

Drinking. You are not a drinker? If you're a woman, establishing your boundaries will probably be manageable. If you're a man, it might be more difficult, depending on the community and with whom you are placed. Be clear to the TLG staff during orientation that you are not a drinker and that you want to be placed in a situation where the host family will respect this.

Constraints on women. Some young women volunteers get kicked out of their host family homes if they talk too much to unrelated men. For some of these volunteers, that's just part of their Georgian adventure, and they roll with it, moving on to the next (hopefully more liberal) family that TLG finds for them. If you're a woman who would find it difficult to shake this off, let TLG know during orientation that you need a placement that will respect your independence.      

Racism. Yes, it does exist in Georgia, just like any other country. Go here for a post on the subject.

Invasive questions. Know that Georgians will ask foreigners questions they wouldn't ask each other, because they are rude questions in Georgian culture. (Well, they will ask each other such questions, but they still consider them rude.) So don't feel obligated to answer all questions just because they're asked. "How old are you?" is an example of this. "Why aren't you married?" is another example.

Difficulty standing up for yourself. You may have a long and painful time in Georgia if you are unable to protect your personal boundaries and manage your own experience there. Georgians respect strength and assertiveness (not rudeness or aggression). You don't have to be loud, obnoxious or eloquent to stand up for yourself - you can do so quietly through word or action (or inaction).


Saying no in Georgia

  1. Decide your boundaries on each of the above issues. 
  2. Get your story ready.  It doesn't have to be The Truth. It just has to work for you.  ("I'm allergic to that." "It's against my religion." "I don't want to gain weight." "I'm already in a relationship.""Sorry, I can't afford to replace this if it breaks.")
  3. Keep it short. Keep it polite. No more than 10 words. Do not try to get the person to "understand." That's a waste of your time and it may only lead to unintended insult on your part. 
  4. Repeat your statement as needed. Walk away as needed. 
  5. Avoid getting into a parent-child dynamic where you become the obstinate child. Be a polite and firm adult. You are not responsible for how someone else responds to your polite refusal.

If you find the problem persists, contact your TLG resource person and ask her to talk to the coercive person on your behalf. Do not feel squeamish for one nano-second in doing this.

Continues to be a problem? Get moved to a new family.



4 comments:

  1. Wow, great post. As a volunteer headed over in a couple of weeks, I really appreciate how you address handling boundary issues. Thanks!

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  2. Thanks! Georgia was a rewarding experience for me and I hope you find it so, too!

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  3. Just got accepted and am in the process of getting my background check and medical forms in. I'll definitely save this so I can come back to it whenever need be. Thanks!

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    1. Congratulations! I hope you have just as grand adventure there as I did. I always laugh when I look back on it, even at the more challenging times.

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