Sunday, 10 July 2011

Day before leaving Georgia for Summer

Time for one quick last blog before I leave Georgia for the summer. It’s been a hectic few weeks here in Tbilisi – finishing my English lessons as well as saying my goodbyes to family and friends (both Georgian and fellow English teachers). Many of the these teachers won’t be returning to Georgia in the fall so in some respects it’s the last time I’ll see them.

As far as I’m aware I’m one of the last ones to be leaving Georgia for summer. There are still many teachers currently in Georgia, but the majority of which are staying here for the duration and are teaching in English summer schools.

For those who have left, many have had mixed fortunes with regards to their flights. I think the problems with some of the teachers’ flights home have been at the back of our minds, mine included. We’ve heard some horror stories about cancelled flights, for example when teachers have arrived at the airport only to be told at the check-in desk that their tickets don’t exist.

Anyway, I’m keeping my fingers crossed there’s no hiccups with me and my brother’s flight and we can arrive safely in Scotland later on in the day. Incidentally, our flight leaves tomorrow at 9 in the morning Georgian time, and we should arrive in Aberdeen, Scotland around 4pm local time. Pretty much a whole day of travelling but thankfully we won’t have a ridiculous layover (how does 50 minutes sound?) compared to some of the guys who were heading back to America.

We’ve not long finished packing our bags and I’m hoping we’re not over the 20KG weight restriction. We have gifts for friends and family which could potentially take us over the limit but in any event I’m sure it won’t cause any problems – if we have to pay excess weight it’s not the end of the world. Giorgi has been really excited for the last few months but today in particular he seems to be on a different level of excitement. I’m really happy for him because he says this has always been a dream of his – to visit the UK.

Just now my host-mum and dad are preparing a supra as a going-away event for myself and Giorgi. It will be the last time I eat khinkali and such like until I return in September so I will make the most of it tonight for sure. I love Georgian food a great deal but I’m also looking forward to having a wee break from that and having some British food again (fry-up, anyone?).

Anyway, I have to admit I’m pretty excited about returning home to Scotland and catching up with friends and family. In the mean time, kargad Saqartvelo da gnaxavt sektembershi – goodbye Georgia and see you in September.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

My host-brother and his visit to Scotland

Many of you who know me will know that my host-brother, Giorgi, will be coming back with me to Scotland next week.

Me and my (Scottish) family decided to invite Giorgi to Scotland a few months ago. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, my host-family (although really I no longer regard them as a ‘host’-family; they are my family) have been great to me since I arrived in January. To show our appreciation for this, we wanted to offer him the opportunity to travel back to the country with me and spend two weeks or so getting a feel for the Scottish way of life. Giorgi has never left Georgia before and so this will be a massively exciting experience for him.

Before we could make any real arrangements we had to apply for a VISA first. Because Georgia is not in the European Union this makes it harder for their citizens to come to the UK. We presented a very good application and thankfully (after a few weeks of filling in heaps of forms and collecting vast amounts of appropriate documents to support our application) Giorgi was given the VISA.

Being an only child, Giorgi has never been away from his mum and dad for any great length of time. Naturally, they will be worrying about their child as all parents do, particularly with him being away from them for the first time and in a foreign land, too. We’ve assured them that we will look after Giorgi as we would with any other guest, and they know that he will be able to keep in contact with them (most) days via Skype, or even calling them for a quick ‘check-in’.

Not only will it be a holiday for him but the two weeks should also improve his English a great deal. I don’t speak at full-pace whilst I’m with him here in Georgia (although it should be pointed out I speak faster now than I did back in January), but back at home I’ll be talking to friends and family at full pelt and it’ll be up to him to keep with up conversation! His English is strong enough that I feel this won’t be an issue for him. For two weeks he will be completely immersed in the English language and I’m sure he will thrive on this.

We have a somewhat brief itinerary for his time back in Scotland. The first few days will be spent resting at home, particularly after what will be a long day of travelling from Georgia. I will show him Inverbervie (the local town where I live) and the sights around there. I suspect after a few days of rest we’ll begin visiting family (my two grannies in particular) and then meeting up with friends who I haven’t seen since January. I want to take Giorgi on a night out but as he’s only 17 we might find it difficult to get him in places. I don’t really know how strict clubs in Aberdeen (‘The Granite City’) are these days but we can try anyway.

After this we will show Giorgi sights of interest around Scotland, I’m not sure where exactly we’ll head to yet but I think Edinburgh Castle is a given. One of my American friends asked me where I would take visitors to Scotland and Edinburgh Castle was my first pick. Nevertheless, we should have enough time to see most of the highlights in Scotland. My sister has suggested we go to Blair Drummond Safari Park (yes, Scotland has a safari park) and I think that could be a lot of fun, too.

I’ve told Giorgi to tell us if there’s anything he wants to do whilst in Scotland. I found this somewhat amusing, but one of the things he’s desperate to do is take a ride on a....double-decker bus..! They apparently don’t have these in Georgia. It certainly won’t be a problem to get on one in Scotland and I think it’ll be rather humorous for me to see his joy and excitement sitting at the front on top of the bus!

Our flights are scheduled for the 11th of July so at the time of writing this is only 8 days away. I’m sure to keep blogging over the summer and I have no doubt in my mind I’ll have some great tales to tell before returning to Georgia in September.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Updates on a busy month

It’s been well over a month since I last blogged. During my time in Georgia I’ve always had an abundance of free time, but this past month I’ve had very little, if any. It’s been an enjoyable month, though, despite being very busy. It’s now less than a month to my flight home (although the date has not been confirmed as of yet), and I’m looking forward to re-charging my batteries back in Scotland.

I’ll summarise some of the things I’ve been up to recently (in no particular order).

Meeting the British Ambassador – I met the British Ambassador to Georgia in Prospero’s, a coffee shop/bookshop which caters towards English-speaking expats in Georgia. I initially did not realise who she was, offering to move my bag from the chair next to me to allow her and her friends to sit together. Noticing her English accent, I explained that I was from Scotland and was teaching English in Tbilisi. At that point she asked me if my name was David Wallace. Naturally, this took me by surprise. How did she know who I was?? She told me she was the British Ambassador and had recently read my blog. I joked that I didn’t think anybody read my blog, let alone the British Ambassador! She was of course very nice and it was a nice experience to talk to her. She bought me a cup of tea which was a nice touch. I have her business card now and I joked that if I’m ever looking for a job in the Embassy she’ll be the first person I contact..!

End of school – It’s now official, I have completed one school term of teaching English in Georgia. It feels like a mini-accomplishment and I’m very satisfied with my efforts since my arrival in January. The last few weeks at school have been very quiet; most of the textbooks were completed leaving students with little to do, although in my classes I always encourage discussions about...anything. I’ve said goodbye to the students for the summer and almost everyone seems happy that I’m returning in September. I also said goodbye to the teachers as well as my school director, who I’ve only actually seen a number of times since I started working at the school. I’m looking forward to seeing all the students and teachers again in September and I’m sure it’ll be a quick summer.

Prep School for Leaders – I’ve recently been working at a summer school in Mukhiani, not too far from my house in Gldani. I am teaching two groups, one at upper intermediate level and the other at advanced level of English. It’s a four week course and today marks the end of the third week. I teach them every weeknight –the first group from 5.30pm-7.30pm and the second group from 7.30pm-9.30pm. For each group I use different textbooks but both of which are very good and I would advise any ESL teachers to have a look at them. The first is Clockwise published by Oxford University Press, and the second is Total English published by Pearson-Longman. Unlike the textbooks used in local schools which are written by Georgians and have evidently never been proofread by a native English speaker, the books I’m using in my classes are exemplary with no mistakes and a wide range of activities to do. In each of my groups there are around 5/6 students. Unlike at my local school in Gldani I am teaching 100% independently and I have to say I have really enjoyed the experience. This feels much more like authentic English language teaching because in this environment every student attending wants to improve their English, unlike at school where only small percentage of the class wants to learn. The age of my groups are mixed (ranging from as young as 14 to middle-aged), but in ability they are all at the same level which is of course vital to their overall learning experience. I have to admit it will be slightly sad to finish teaching there but there may be a possibility of working there again later on in the year.

School trips – I was kindly invited on school trips by two classes in my school, an 8th grade class that I teach and a 9th grade class which I haven’t taught but may well do next term. With the 9th grade class we went to the Davit Gareji monastery outside of Tbilisi. I went there with some friends in March when it was covered in snow, but coming back in June the snow has completely vanished and it was interesting to see the place in a different light. With my 8th grade class we went to Gori and visited the Stalin museum. Despite the tour being in Georgian many of the students did their bit to translate for me and I picked up a lot of the information through the visual aspects of the museum. After this, we went to the Uplistsikhe caves; a popular tourist destination. At the top of the cave town there is a small but unique church and it was fascinating to see. Each trip ended in a forest where we had a traditional Georgian supra (feast, if you didn’t already know). I’ve seen massive supras in many different houses but in the forest its even bigger, so much food and drink like you wouldn’t believe. We played games with the students and everyone was happily entertained all day. Most of us were understandably tired in the evening but both days were very enjoyable and I had great fun spending time with the students and teachers.

12th grade prom – I was also invited to one of the 12th grade proms to celebrate the students finishing school for the last time. We went to a fancy restaurant in Tbilisi and of course had the traditional supra. The girls looked beautiful in their lovely dresses and the guys looked very smart in their suits. Being there reminded me of being back at school and made me feel slightly old (yes, I realise I am only 23, but still...). We drank, ate and danced the night away. It turns out these places stay open literally all night, I was later told that most of the students stayed there until around 6 in the morning. I went home at 1am because I got a lift home with one of my co-teachers. I was asked to stay but felt it was best to head home, particularly as I had school the next day. It was a lovely evening and I’m sure the students will never forget the night. Oh, and whilst I was saying a toast, I accidently called the teachers “good onions”, and not “good people” as I intended to say. Anyone who knows a bit of Georgian will appreciate the subtle difference between halxi and xaxvi, particularly after a few glasses of wine!

Rugby tournament – There was a rugby tournament here in Tbilisi which lasted around 2 weeks. This tournament was effectively an under 20’s tournament featuring nations such as Russia, Canada, USA, Japan and Samoa. Despite being under 20’s the guys were actually massive, easily the size of their peers, some even bigger. The quality of rugby was pretty good although their kicking left a lot to be desired. The atmosphere at the ground was great. Tickets were only 5 lari for the day (which consisted of three games, one after the other) and beer was only 2 lari. Hot dogs were also available and they were pretty damn good. By the end of the day everyone was pretty boozy and led to a cheery and vociferous atmosphere. Georgia always played the last game of the day and it was great to cheer them on. At the end of the day there were some t.v reporters doing interviews and yours truly (several beers later it has to be said) said a few words about the day. I even concluded with “Me miyvars sakartvelo” (I love Georgia), spoken in Georgian. Some of my students told me the next day they saw me on tv but I never got a chance to see myself in my 30 seconds of fame. Maybe next time...

Volleyball tournament – I took part in a Gldani four-team volleyball tournament at one of the nearby schools. This was a lot of fun. My team consisted of some of the younger teachers and some of the (much, much) older teachers. We unsurprisingly came last losing both of our games. We had only one training session before this mini-competition and all of the other teams had clearly played together before (they even had their own team strips – we weren’t even colour-coded). The language barrier also didn’t help us at times... Nevertheless, it was really fun and there were lots of vocal students in attendance to create a nice atmosphere. We were all awarded laminated certificates at the end of the tournament as a memento of taking part, and I’m looking forward to participating in more school tournaments in September.

Departing friends – We’re at the point in the year where there’s an exodus of teachers heading home, most of whom will not be returning for the next semester in September. This is my chance to say to them it’s been really great to meet them all in Georgia and I wish them all the luck in their respective futures. It’s also been quite an emotional time deleting all their numbers from my mobile phone!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Departing Friends, Host-Family and Future Plans

It’s only five weeks or so until the summer holidays. It’s amazing to think I’ve been working at the school for almost sixteen weeks now. 

For many of the TLG teachers in Georgia the end of school will mark an end to their adventure here. Most of the teachers from my orientation group will be heading home at the beginning of July, around the six month mark. Only a handful or so that I’m aware of will be staying until the end of the year or longer. It will be interesting to see what effect this will have on my experiences for the rest of the year. I already have some very good friends here who are staying until Christmas and this is great news. On the other hand however – and I admit this is to be expected – some of my close friends are heading home in July and will not be returning. I will definitely miss these people, there is no doubt about that, but it’s good that we live in the age of Facebook and Skype to stay in touch. Interestingly, my 2007 edition of Microsoft Word recognises ‘Skype’ as a word but not ‘Facebook’. Make of it what you will!

I have to admit that over the last few months I seen less of friends friends than I did at the beginning of our Georgian adventure. One of the reasons for this is the various health problems I’ve had – pneumonia, temperatures and stomach problems, for example – which for a time kept me in the confines of my house. Very frustrating I assure you. One of the consequences of being at home more often, and this ties in with why I haven’t seen friends as much in recent times, is because my relationship with my family has become much stronger. I am really happy that I enjoy living with them and at times I feel I have as much comfort and security as I do at home in Scotland. I would have to say I am genuinely grateful for my current situation and feel very fortunate to have such a warm and loving host-family.

I know many TLG’ers who have had issues with their respective host-families. With a programme as big as this it’s always going to be inevitable. I feel so fortunate because, quite frankly, I wouldn’t change a thing about my experiences so far here in Georgia. Granted, I’d rather not have the occasional health issue, but in my eyes this is only a minor inconvenience given just how happy and content I am here. My host-family have told me plenty of times that we are a family for life and I will always be welcome back in the future. In fact, they have also expressed their desire for me to stay in the country for good and even marry a local Georgian girl! I tend to have a ‘never say never’ mentality so I certainly won’t rule it out...


Over the past few weeks I have started to think about what I will do next year. As far as working abroad is concerned, it is something which needs plenty of thought. I think it’s important for me to begin this thought process now to give myself time to assess all of the potential avenues for the year ahead.

I have considered the possibility of teaching in South Korea next year, enough so that I have even posted my CV/resume on a few of the ESL websites. The lure of money is certainly enticing. South Korean schools, both private and public, pay around the highest wages in the world for ESL teachers (English as a Secondary Language), only second to Dubai as far as I’m aware. Having had plenty of responses from various schools around the country so far it would be perfectly feasible for me to teach there next year, or even sooner if I was to choose to do so. However, I am of course contracted to the TLG programme until December of this year, and I have absolutely no desire to cut short my time here.

Aside from looking into the possibility of teaching in South Korea, I have also been considering staying in Georgia into 2012. The reasons for this? Feeling happy and content here are certainly big factors. I’ve yet to have any significant problems living in this country and I don’t envisage this changing over the coming months. Furthermore, I feel I am picking up the language quite well. I’m almost mastered their alphabet (33 letters as standard) and I can pronounce almost all of them. Reading is much more manageable than it was a few months ago, albeit it’s still a slow process. I am currently trying to learn some grammar too. Since coming back from Turkey I have realised just how much Georgian I know, because as I alluded to in a previous blog, I knew next to no Turkish when I was there. Coming back to Georgia it was so refreshing being able to speak to people, even if it was just the basics.

If I was to stay in Georgia in 2012 I could easily continue with the TLG programme. I’d certainly consider this, although I’d ideally be looking for something on the side. Private tutoring, perhaps. I’d likely be living in my own place and I can’t say I’d be able to survive on the TLG income alone. I am going to keep my eyes on some of the Georgian jobs websites over the coming months to see if there are any opportunities in the city. I’d love to work for the British Embassy or British Council, but to be truthful I’m not sure how qualified I am. I’ll just be patient in the mean time and continue to browse relevant websites to see if there are any potential opportunities for me.

To surmise what I’ve said in the above paragraphs, I only really see myself being in Georgia or South Korea next year. Of course, I could always end up in a different country, but in all probability I will be in either Georgia or South Korea. My long-term ambition is to become a teacher in the UK, whether it’s teaching in a primary or secondary school (that’s elementary and high school respectively, for our American friends), but I don’t feel I am ready for that just yet. I want to make the most of being young and I feel travelling the world – and teaching English along the way – is the best way to do this for me.

I am very excited about my future prospects. Wherever I will be I know I will always be appreciative of coming to Georgia because it has given me an experience unlike any other. Leaving Scotland was a brave move for me because I had never been away from my friends and family for any great length of time. But retrospect is a fine thing and looking back it was probably the best decisions I have ever made.