Greetings again Friends! As I think most of you know by now, I am moving yet again to places unknown in the pursuit of…life I suppose. This time I will be headed for the Republic of Georgia (think Tbilisi, not Atlanta) or in Georgian საქართველო. I will be working as an English teacher in a public school through the Teach and Learn with Georgia program. See this nifty neat-o link http://www.tlg.gov.ge/. Now, I know that teaching abroad is the de rigueur thing to do for a year or two after graduation for my generation, but I have landed on this particular program and destination after a great deal of thought, contemplation and difficult decision making. I knew that I wanted to take some time off after graduating from MSU and to spend it doing something that would be meaningful for both my personal growth and for my future career. The TLG program appealed to me because it is entirely run by the Georgian Government. They decide who they want from the applicants, which gives them a greater degree of choice over their staff, and I will teach in a public school, giving me a chance to see more than a select upper elite (who can afford to send their children for private English lessons) from the nation. I also know that some more on-the-ground experience in the region will be invaluable to me in my future career, wherever that may be. I am going to learn in Georgia, not just to teach. I'm not an expert about the country, the Georgians are. I view myself as not a guide but as a visitor. Their government has invited me in, and I simply hope that I can be an ambassador from my nation to theirs. And now, Georgia.
To help situate ourselves, here it is. Facts gleaned from the CIA show that it has a population just shy of 5 million people, the majority of which are ethnically Georgian and Christian. It has two separatist enclaves, Abkhazia and South Ossetia which are recognized as Georgian territory but which have declared independence and are currently administered (the Georgians say occupied, as does most of the international community) by Russia. I am barred from entering these regions as a part of my contract. I say, okey dokey, no need to anger the Russians or the Georgians.
Something I’ve found is that many people are confused by the Georgia-Russia difference. Georgians are ethnically completely distinct from Russians, being Caucasians (meaning from the Caucasus Mountains, not ‘white’ per se). The oldest hominid fossils outside of Africa were found in Dmanisi Georgia. The first unified Georgian kingdom existed in the 4th century BC. The Georgian Kingdom has its Golden Era during the Middle Ages under the rule of King Tamar (a woman, I might point out, who has had the title of King bestowed on her as a sign of respect). The Georgian language, complete with its own alphabet, was first recorded in the 4th century AD and has changed remarkably little in the hundreds of years since. It is unrelated to Russian, the only living languages related to it are Mingrelian, Svan and Laz (yeah, it’s that obscure).
Georgia was part of the Russian Empire starting in the late 1700s and then the Soviet Union, gaining independence in 1991. It had several internal wars over the separatist regions and most recently a war with Russia in 2008 since then, but Georgia has made great strides towards democracy and economic independence. It has strategic agreements with NATO, is a member of the Council of Europe and participates in Eurovision. It’s largely mountainous, is rated as less corrupt than Italy, Greece or even the Czech Republic and has universal education. It has invested heavily in tourism and infrastructure recently. I’m looking forward to moving there and sharing more about it will all of you!
Sorry this is such a bore of facts but I was just too excited!