An Apology in Advance
Its an incredibly volatile time for me emotionally right now, and I know that this will reflect in my blog today. I am probably going to say some things which are controversial, and which the Ministry may not approve of. But, at the end of the day, this is MY blog. A record of MY experiences in Georgia, and of MY emotions, and I wish to reflect on both the good and bad aspects of my life here and to give a true account of MY life in Georgia. I have never been in trouble for my blog, and I have a lot of time and respect for the Ministry……if I didn’t, I would not be ‘wasting my time’ here right now, nor facing the toughest decision of my life….would I!!!!
The Clock is Ticking…..
I have known for some time that the next few weeks would throw me into emotional turmoil and insecurity, and probably only a couple of people fully grasp the reasons and full implications of this. This is a really difficult time for me, and I know that cold feet and nerves are a natural part of this change in my life. Now, is the time that my friendships will be pushed to the limit and I will see the truth about who really has my best interests at heart and who will help me through the challenges ahead, because now is the time when the deal will be sealed and when I need the support of those around me more than ever.
Georgia or England, that Same Old Saga!
I have the biggest decision of my life to make right now. Do I stay in Georgia or do I go back to the UK? To stay in Georgia, means to move my life here FOREVER, there will be no going back.
Financially, I will never earn enough here to allow me to go back to the UK or to travel around the world, I earn the equivalent of around £100 a month, less than I would get for being on the dole in the UK for sitting on my arse and doing nothing.
It might not sound like a big deal, but this means that I am giving up my family in the UK, as I know that they will not want to come to Georgia to visit me, because they are afraid that it is a third world country, or because they are just too old and frail to travel or to live here, or that they can’t afford to visit. I will never be able to afford the flights to go and see them, and even if I could, it will cost me another £40 in transport just to get to their house, and I need to pay my rent here during the time I would be away.
I am especially going to miss my grandmother and I have felt guilty the whole time I have been here, because I have not been around for her during any of her surgery, and she doesn’t have skype or email, a letter takes about 4 months each way, and to phone is really expensive for both of us. The last time I saw her, we actually said goodbye, because we both knew that the realities of my staying in Georgia would make our relationship difficult because of the distance, and because she believes that she doesn’t have long to live. It is also not so long since we lost my grandfather to cancer, and we both went through a lot during that time, but spent a lot of time together, so it is really difficult to now be so distant and to not be there for her when she needs people around her. I worry about her living on her own, and I know that she does too.
It’s a sad fact that it’s the same for my brother, and because my father lives abroad, he has never met his two little grandchildren, Sophie who is 4, and Alfie who is 5, I have only met them twice, and my grandmother has only met them 3 times. My other grandmother has never even met them, yet they are her great grandchildren. And it is unlikely that I will ever see them again if I am in Georgia.
But, I know that the reality of my going back to the UK now, is not an option emotionally, since I love my life in Georgia and feel settled here on the whole, despite all the frustrations. My heart and my gut are telling me to stay in Georgia, but my head is telling me that I am crazy to stay, and I am giving up a different, more financially and practically stable life, to be here, in this foreign country where I have no security at all, no language, and am therefore reliant on others for even the simplest things.
Teacher Training in London in September
I have a place to start a PGCE in September, its at a top University, is funded, and they will give me a golden handshake of about £5000 for doing nothing, a starting salary of £25,000, and assistance towards accommodation, as well as three months holiday a year, and a pension. I would be able to visit my granny regularly and my niece and nephew, and would be able to travel in my holidays and to undertake my expeditions, and buy a house again. But would I be happy???
The National Health Service (NHS)
If I am in the UK, I will receive free healthcare courtesy of the NHS, and receive a state pension (on top of my teacher’s pension, and the NHS pension I paid into previously) when I am older. My pets would have a good quality of life too, and I could see my friends, and see all the places in Britain that I really miss here. I could eat all my normal foods, and I wouldn’t be stressing so much about my wisdom tooth right now, because it would be covered on the NHS and treatment would be a consistently high standard and delivered in my native language, free of charge.
Wisdom Tooth Drama
My wisdom tooth is really pushing me to my limits right now. I have two of them which need to come out sharpish, and it pulls my difficulties here in Georgia really into focus. Dental care is not covered on my health insurance, and there are many, many dental practices and dentists of different standards and prices. Some will only remove teeth, some will do more advanced procedures. Both of my teeth are impacted, and to have them removed would require surgery and a general anaesthetic if I was in the UK or USA. But I am faced with a minefield of decisions and anxieties in Georgia as to what to do or where to go. First I have to find a decent dentist, and one who speaks English. Many people will make a recommendation, but the difficulty is in knowing why they have made this recommendation. Is it because they are a relative or friend, or is it because they know I am a foreigner and they can try and charge me an extortionate price, are they good by Georgian or by western standards? How do I know what kind of training they had, or if they are actually good? Georgian people have the worst teeth I have ever seen, and it’s the thing that worries me the most about taking the kids from my school to the UK on a school exchange, because the host families will be appalled at how black and rotten many of the children’s teeth are. I would be anxious enough in the UK, but in Georgia, this anxiety is amplified, as I am dependant on others and will be pretty much going through this alone. Then there is the whole thing of having someone cut into my jaw bone to remove the teeth, as I am not hundred per cent confident in the health care here yet.
Death from Appendicitis
In my last host family, the father died of an appendicitis, because no one thought that his three days of illness might be serious. Eventually they decided to operate, before he spent ten days with septicaemia and died at the age of 36. Do I want to put myself at risk here? I am a coward at the best of times, and I have had bad reactions to anaesthetics in the past, with my blood pressure plummeting, so am I prepared to undergo such treatment here? I won’t receive any help from the Ministry in this, I will be on my own, and it terrifies me. I have had two sicknesses here due to the living conditions I was in, and both times were not nice, and I felt alone and frustrated, and I am starting to think that I should not have come back to Georgia in January.
Bringing Three Pets on an Aeroplane to Georgia
In a week’s time, I will be bringing my pets here, which will be amazing after being apart from them for the past 9 months, but is also a terrifying responsibility and I feel really guilty. My cat is elderly, and for them to fly will be incredibly stressful, and I really hope they make it here alive. Then there is the paperwork and cost on the Georgian side, and the knowledge that they can easily put my animals back on the plane and send them back if the documents are not correct. Rabies is a problem in Georgia, and my dog is a vulnerable breed to dog attacks, so I will be putting them at risk of lots of new illnesses and dangerous situations. They won’t have the same freedom here that they are used to, and people are not a pet friendly mentality on the whole. Once they are here, I will never be able to take them to the UK, at least not without 6months of quarantine and a lot of money and stress. They can travel to the UK from many other countries, but not from Georgia. Hence, once they are here, that is it, I am here for good, and there is no going back.
Can I Make that Commitment?
It’s a huge commitment and a really big decision, with massive implications. It means that I will die and be buried in Georgia, if I were to get married, it would have to be in Georgia, if I have children, it would be in Georgia, so they would go to Georgian schools. I will grow old here, and be ill here, and have my best and my worst times here. But, I will never be Georgian, I will never have blood relatives here, and I will always remain a foreigner. If I have a problem, I will always be on my own at the end of the day. If there is war here, I will have to stay and to support myself. For those of you who don’t understand why this is an important consideration, you should watch a film that has just been released, it is called ‘5 days of August’ and is about the war that took place here, just a couple of years ago. Its immense to think that my little host brother and the kids at my school all have memories of this, and it kind of puts their behaviour into perspective at times, as I can’t even start to imagine what their lives were like just a couple of years ago. Things are on the up, and times have changed, but the war is still relatively recent, and things could still realistically flare up at any time.
No Security or Job Prospects
Once the Ministry project finishes, I will lose my job and my health insurance, and I have no Georgian qualifications, and I will not receive a pension here, or be contributing to my pension in the UK. I am at a certain time in my life, where such things need to be taken into consideration, and where plans for the future need to be made before it is too late.
I have no qualms about doing it, but I think it is wise to reconsider every option right now. I have been thinking about life here for some time, and I came to the decision that I would be gutted to leave Georgia, and that I therefore have little choice but to stay. I was comfortable with this decision, and have been looking into obtaining Georgian citizenship, and at the prospect of adopting a child in about 5 years time when I will be in my 40s. It is something I have always wanted to do, but I wanted to be in a position where I was secure first.
Too Many Little Irritations and Frustrations Make a Girl Mad
So, I guess that is why this week is so infuriating for me, because I am about to sign my contract, and to take my flights to Latvia to get my pets, and have been waiting on the Ministry and all the little bits of information, in order to make a final decision and to make preparations for the rest of my life.
Sometimes, it feels like the Ministry thinks this is all a bit of a joke. That as a foreigner, I am rich, and can do anything I want, and at the drop of the hat, and its so annoying when they mess you around, don’t understand why you are being pissy with them, and don’t communicate important information. They work so hard and 95% of the time they do an amazing job and its like they are really starting to get how the western expectations of professionalism are. Then they go and stuff it up, at the eleventh hour, and give you attitude for it, as if its your fault and that you will be in breach of a contract that you haven’t even decided to signed. Now is the time, when they should be working double hard to make sure you are happy and comfortable with things, because now is the time that the deal should be finalised. It is not a time to start throwing a spanner in the works. You just start to develop a good rapport with them and then they go back to being all Georgian and spontaneous, and last minute, and not communicating anything.
I Need Anger Management I Guess?
It makes me so angry, when they do this! I spend my life fighting their corner and giving them the benefit of the doubt, and being patient, or making allowances because this is Georgia and not Britain. When they are on the ball, they do the most amazing job, far better than in Britain, but when they do a bad job, they really screw up, try to save face by telling you what they think you want to here, and not answering questions or communicating. They don’t seem to appreciate that it is already a difficult time for volunteers. That we are at the end of our time here, have adapted to everything here, and that we now have to re-adapt and say our goodbyes in order to try and fit back into our own cultures. We are leaving everything we have come to know in Georgia, our new friends, and host families, and are worried about whether we will have a job when we go back to our own country. How its going to be a massive reverse culture shock to go back. And we know full well, that no one will say goodbye to us at the airport, we have to make our own way there, and for most people, they don’t know their flight details until the last minute so can’t make arrangements to be collected the other end, which means they are also getting pressure from home.
Like Being on a Drift Dive and Grasping for Rocks to Hang on to.
When you arrive in Georgia, you are so nurtured in orientation week, and then you are thrown out there into the village or wherever and left to fend for yourself for six months or so. At the end of the contract, there is no thank you, no send off, nothing. You are just chewed up and spat out, and treated badly. Its such a shame, after all the effort that they put in to making our time here good, and its sad that for many volunteers, these happy memories and experiences become tainted with frustrations and bad feeling, and that their last memory of Georgia is a negative one. Especially after putting themselves through so much during their time here. It looks bad on Georgia, and the project, and is not good advertising in my opinion. It shouldn’t be this way, and that is why I get so angry about it, and because its fixable, and doesn’t need to be this way.
Very Angry Week
I am really angry this week, and I feel very frustrated with the Ministry. Its like, we have all worked so hard and taken so many steps forward, and then they go and ruin it all with just one trivial thing. I am going to talk about it in my blog today, because I know that so many volunteers are really angry about it, and I don’t want future volunteers to be put off joining the programme because of it. I am sticking my neck on the block here, because I love this project and the rest of the work the Ministry does, and because I want to present future volunteers with the TLG project that I know and love, rather than the hyped up marketing version.
New Marketing Campaign
This week, the Ministry released a new advert aimed at recruiting volunteers to teach in Georgia. The timing was awful, with people struggling with host families, saying goodbye to them, waiting for flight details to return to their native countries for good, being told that they had to take on extra teaching posts if they stayed for summer, and waiting on new contracts. It’s the end of term, and people are already sad to be saying goodbye to the kids at school, and reflecting on their time with the programme. They are already unsettled because of so much change in their lives. So, imagine how angry we were to see the release of this new video:
As a piece of film work, and as a piece of marketing there is nothing wrong with it, and the idea behind it is a good one, and it is nice to see investment in recruitment of volunteers. Its also well intentioned, but is sadly reflective of a typical Georgian problem, that they like to overdo the positives, and make promises that they can’t keep. They sell dreams, because they want their guests to feel as happy and comfortable here as possible. This is not just the case in Georgia, and is common in a number of countries, including India. In India, you never ask someone ‘is this the way to…..’, because they will always nod and give you the answer that they think you want to hear, even if it means you end up turning left when you should have turned right. They want to save face, and don’t want to see you upset. In Georgia, the western business concept of ‘under promise and overachieve’ does not exist, and then people wonder why westerners become so irate and frustrated with them.
The Biggest Insult
To be honest, the video feels like such an insult, on many different levels, and is a wasted opportunity, which undermines everything that volunteers are striving for. And I think it will actually put potential volunteers off applying for posts here, and is bad for the project and its good reputation.
Why does it annoy me so much? Firstly, the school shown is not representative of schools in Georgia, not even in Tbilisi, and by contrast to this school, my school is a death trap. My school is freezing in the winter, boiling in the summer, and you can see daylight through the holes in our crumbling brick walls. Our marble steps have long since worn away, and are hazardous to walk on, our wooden floors are jagged and stick up, and I am constantly tripping over them. Our whole school has a bad smell, mostly from the odour that seeps from our decrepit toilets, we don’t have light or electricity in most of the rooms, and we can’t write on most of the blackboards. We have new windows and radiators which were put in recently, but they are not very effective. We have no bookshelves or books in our classrooms, and most of our chairs are broken.
To be fair, the Minister of Education has promised to overhaul my school during the summer break, and it would be fantastic to start the new term in a school as nice as the one in the video. We have also been promised new English text books, and the first graders are going to be given a computer each, so I think the video is reflective of future Georgian schools and the goals of the Ministry in relation to schools.
In my previous school, it was the same issue, but there was no electricity in school, and none of our children had even seen a computer, and even the English teachers barely spoke English, let alone the students. This video annoys me, because it is underselling what we do have in our schools, and there is a real missed opportunity here. The most important thing in these schools is the people…the children, the staff. They are the things you should be selling, not the material ones, which are not representative of the majority of schools in Georgia. Georgian kids are really cool, and funny, and energetic, and they are the reason that people want to come to Georgia, and to teach here. Apart from the fact that this school is in Tbilisi, and the programme makes a big point about telling volunteers they are unlikely to be placed in Tbilisi, as the biggest need is in the villages. I know volunteers who have been asked to remove their school pictures from facebook because schools don’t want people to see how bad their school looks, and even in the UK, you would rarely find such a fantastic looking school.
Many volunteers also feel that the video is unrepresentative of volunteers here. All of the people featured in the video are American, yet there are volunteers here from South Africa, Norway, Estonia, Britain, Australia, Ireland, Trinidad, and so on. Why only show American volunteers, unless you only want to recruit American volunteers?? And why show people in the video as if they are volunteers, when they are not actually teaching, but are working in the Ministry? And for another, all the volunteers in the video look clean and shiny, with nice clothes and haircuts, and have certainly never spent any time in an average host family, or out in a village. They have had access to more than just bread in their diet, have access to electricity, to water, to showers, irons, and I very much doubt that any of them has ever spent their evening marking school work by candle light. It’s a big kick in the teeth to a lot of volunteers, who have worked incredibly hard in the villages and under tough conditions, or have come from other countries, because its as if they are undervalued by the Ministry, and that only people in the city are valued. And why only show a non standard school, non standard teachers, and non standard students?? Are you ashamed of them?
I am glad that I never saw this video when I was applying to Georgia, because it would have instantly put me off applying. If the schools and standards in Georgia are as amazing as is portrayed here, then why do you need me, and why are you paying only a stipend and not a salary equivalent to that in Korea or wherever? This school is of higher standard than in the UK, so why should I come to Georgia to offer my services? What is exciting about these kids, and why do they have more opportunities than even the kids in my own country, maybe I should give my time to British kids instead? And if, I had seen this video before arriving, I would be mighty pissed off to then be placed in an average Georgian school!
It is such a discredit to everything I believe in and love about Georgia, and shook me up enough this week, that I thought about not moving my life here, because there are too many little issues this week, and uncertainties, and heartaches. I would love to make a video about the real selling point of teaching and learning in Georgia, and all the really cool things here, and I want to post a video from youtube, that I believe is more representative of the project and of schools, and why I am about to move my entire life here forever.
My Advice to Potential Volunteers
Don’t take any notice of this Ministry video, and don’t be put off applying to Georgia or the TLG project. It is unlikely that you will be placed in Tbilisi, and times will be difficult, and the diet will be monotonous, so bring treats and vitamins with you, and expect the worst, then you won’t be disappointed. However, you will be meeting some of the warmest and most energetic people in the world, and the experience and freedom here will change you in some way forever. At times, the Ministry will annoy you to the point where you will feel like strangling them in the most ridiculous way possible. They will make you wait until the last minute for your flight details to come to Georgia, and will drop things on you at the last minute. Its part of the culture here, and you need to try hard to go with the flow and not to get frustrated by it. You are no longer on your time, but on Georgian Maybe Time (GMT) and the sooner you stop listening to promises and checking your watch, the easier life will be for you. You will get incredibly frustrated, but try and ride it out, and use the support of the other volunteers, because its likely that whatever you are feeling, they will also be feeling, and the sooner you can joke about it together, the better it will be all round. You will not be placed in the perfect family or perfect school, and you will have kids and teachers at both extremes of laziness and genius like craziness. Work with what you have got, ignore the negatives and try and create change by focusing on the positives and rewarding positive behaviour. You will have freedom in the classroom and the opportunities are all there for the taking, but you have to work super hard on them, and on your own. No one will offer you help, even if they wish to. You have to make your own luck, but what you sow, you will eventually reap, it will just take a while.
In general, the Ministry are a really, really nice bunch of people, who work ridiculously hard, and will try their best to go the extra mile to make your stay in Georgia a positive one. They are changing, and are also learning about the differences between our two cultures and cultural expectations. You won’t find such nice colleagues every day in your own country, or such genuine people. But, they are also only human, and they will make slip ups from time to time, and you will feel really pissed off with them ,especially when they don’t get you, its all part of the learning process. Always keep an open mind, and don’t believe everything you hear, no matter who tells you, or what their rank is.
Teaching and living in Georgia is an amazing experience, and I would recommend the TLG programme to anyone, no matter what your background or interest, as there is something here for everyone, and the chance to be a part of change in a country which is establishing itself anew. I do have days when I am angry and frustrated, and this will reflect in my blog, but don’t be put off, and don’t miss out on the chance to be a part of something so amazing. It’s a leap of faith, but the rewards are priceless…..