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.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Easter break in Trabzon, Turkey

I spent Easter break in Trabzon, Turkey, a coastal town less than 100 miles away from the Georgia/Turkey border. Despite only being there for a few days, there were many enjoyable aspects of the trip. Here are some of the things Turkey 2011 will be remembered for!

Overnight train from Tbilisi to Batumi

This was the first part of the journey for me. Interestingly, the decision to join my friend, Travis, in travelling to Turkey was only made around four hours before the train left at 11pm on the Thursday evening. As a consequence, I had very little time to prepare for heading away. With the help of my host family, I was able to get to the train station with enough time to buy a ticket and board the train. Travis had bought his ticket earlier in the day and so it was very unlikely I would have been next to him on the train. This proved to be the case. My ticket was for third class (the classes range from first to fourth) and it only cost me 15 Lari – which is about £5 or so. In the third class carriages there are a number of bunk beds, the bottom of which double up as seats for the first part of the journey, and it is an open-planned carriage without any doors separating each set of bunks. I really liked the layout as it was a much more open atmosphere, with many people speaking to each other from their bunks. I met two American TLG teachers in my part of the carriage, Sarah and Meg, so we were drinking buddies for the night. Beside my bunk there was a local Georgian family, and so I used my (somewhat basic) understanding of the Georgian language to ask them questions and tell them a bit about myself. The train journey lasted around eight hours, and we arrived at around seven in the morning. I had managed to sleep in the latter part of the journey, but was still rather groggy in the morning. Overall the train journey was a lot of fun and I’d happily take the journey again to visit friends in Western Georgia.


Batumi is a lovely coastal city beside the Black Sea. It’s the second biggest city in Georgia behind the capital Tbilisi. Batumi is very much a seaside resort with plenty of attractions for tourists. They have a fantastic port there which reminds me of Aberdeen back in Scotland. I can imagine Batumi being an awesome place to visit in the summer. As it happens, the weather we got when we arrived in Batumi was largely disappointing being dull and overcast. On returning from Trabzon on the Sunday evening however, myself and Travis got to sample the tranquil atmosphere at the port of Batumi. We met up with our friend, Julia, who lives in Batumi, and together we took a small picnic – champagne included - to the beach near the port where we watched the sun set on the horizon. The weather was perfect for the evening, quite mild with no wind, and it a lovely way to see out the weekend.

I don’t want to detract from what I’ve said about Batumi, but if there are any problems with the city it is the roads. About 80% of the roads have major problems with potholes the size of craters. It’s a big let down to an otherwise beautiful city. From what we could make out there was being work done to some of the roads, but this will be a costly and timely project for the government and it could be many years before the majority roads are up to scratch. You can’t help but feel this will hamper the tourism here, but if they can tackle the main roads, in and around the main part of the city, particularly near the port, then this will protect the industry for years to come.

Crossing the Georgia/Turkey border

From Batumi we took a marshutka (minibus) to Trabzon. The Georgia/Turkey crossing is only around forty minutes from Batumi, and we had to buy our visas before entering Turkey. This cost $20 and the visas are valid for around three months. This process took some time as it wasn’t particularly clear where we had to purchase. We were concerned our marshutka would leave without us – you can never rule these things out in Georgia – but thankfully it was still going through the vehicle checks when we were through the passport checks. It was much easier coming back to Georgia from Turkey as we only had to show our passports at the control point. Some of the security officers started speaking to me because they saw on my passport that I was from Scotland, and they told me how they loved whiskey and that our cultures are very similar. Being from Scotland in a foreign country tends to be quite useful and I’ve found the local people are much more willing to help me after I tell them I am from Scotland and not in fact America as they originally assume.

Sumela Monastery

We visited the Sumela Monastery not too far from Trabzon, which lies about 1200 metres above sea level. It’s a Greek Orthodox monastery which sits at the bottom of a steep cliff facing the Altindere valley. It’s said to be around 1600 years old. The monastery itself is built on rocks which can be reached by a path through the forest, and this is the route we took to get there. Inside the monastery are frescoes that date back to the 18th century and feature many biblical scenes including Christ and the Virgin Mary. After doing some research on the internet I read that only last August the Turkish government gave permission to hold an Orthodox Mass there for the first time since 1923.

When we arrived around midday there were heaps of tourists. It’s obviously a very popular tourist destination. To begin with, we all got soaked because of the heavy rain, but this later stopped and didn’t end up causing many problems aside from being just a little wet. I think this damp weather actually enhanced the atmosphere.

The scenery around the monastery is breathtaking. Because of the high altitude at times the clouds make it difficult for you to see anything on the horizon. When the clouds briefly pass, it presents you with an awesome view of the mountains and forest down below. At the bottom of the mountain there is a gift shop and this is the area where your transport picks you up. It’s a long descent down the mountain but very enjoyable also too. Much easier going down than up! Without the right footwear it makes things very difficult, I saw a number of men in suits and smart black shoes, so either their trip to the monastery was very spontaneous or they lacked the forethought to wear something a little more suitable. I’d have to say I’m glad we visited the monastery and some of the views were a joy to behold.

Turkish shave

I had been looking forward to getting a real Turkish shave for some time. In Aberdeen, the city where I am from in Scotland, there is only one place where you can get a Turkish shave. They are somewhat overpriced and obviously not as authentic as the real thing in Turkey. On our last day in Trabzon, myself and Travis got one of these traditional Turkish shaves. The man who did it was a true professional, taking his time and being very precise and delicate with his shaving. With a knife as sharp as he used you’d expect him to be careful, but you could tell he took his job very seriously and enjoyed being a true perfectionist. It is probably the closest shave I’ll ever have. In true Home Alone fashion (we all remember that scene), he splashed aftershave all over my face after he had finished the shave, and I did my best not to have the same reaction as Kevin had in the film. It was a sharp stinging pain which thankfully soon went away. The whole shave only cost me 5 Lira which was significantly cheaper, and as a result much better value, than the shaves you can get back home. If I ever return to Turkey I’ll make sure I head back for another.


I didn’t realise how popular tea is in Turkey. There are numerous small cafes scattered around the city centre of Trabzon. Not only that, but these cafes seem to give a tea delivery service too. There were frequently waiters running around the local shops with trays of tea, delivering to local shop assistants as well as customers. As quickly as you’d see someone with a full tray of tea, you’d see another returning back to the café with a collection of empty cups. It seems they drink tea in a different way compared to the West. In Turkey, people drink tea very quickly. If you ask for tea, you will have tea in your hand within two minutes. I think the local people pride themselves on an express service and it seems to work very well for them. The cups are much smaller than in the West, without handles too, and they almost look like big shot glasses. I don’t drink tea back home, nor in Georgia, but I have to say I liked the tea we had in Turkey. It was nice after a meal to have just a small glass of tea which would complement the meal perfectly.

Language barrier

This probably caused us the most problems in Trabzon. For me personally, as I had only decided a few hours before the train that I’d be coming to Turkey, I had no opportunity to study the fundamentals of the Turkish language in advance. I couldn’t even say ‘hello’, ‘please’ or ‘thank you’. It’s interesting how frustrating this was for me. After having lived in Georgia since January, it’s only when I went to a different country – a country where I don’t speak their language – that I realised just how much Georgian I actually knew. I am able hold a conversation with a stranger in Georgia, both asking questions and answering questions. But in Turkey, this wasn’t the case. To say thank you, I ended up just doing a somewhat over-the-top bow. It sounds stupid, but without knowledge of the word ‘thank you’ in Turkish, I just had to gesture a thank you instead. Upon arriving back in Georgia I breathed a sigh of relief with the knowledge that I’d be able to communicate with the local people once again.


After spending hundreds of pounds on kebabs in Scotland after a drunken night out over the past six or seven years it was nice to finally try the real thing in Turkey. I have to say they didn’t disappoint. The menus had much more choice and offered a wide range of dishes, but for me it was all about having the doner kebab. They are quite notorious in the UK, perhaps because it’s our culture to have them at 3am in the morning when we are far too drunk to fully comprehend what we’re eating. The doner kebabs I had in Turkey were far nicer than any of the ones I have had before back home.

Braveheart (In Turkish)

This will stay in my memory for some time I’m sure. After coming home on the Saturday evening after having a few drinks out, we were searching through the channels to find something to watch before crashing out. After finding nothing interesting to watch we came across Braveheart, dubbed in Turkish, and so what could be a better way of falling asleep than watching that?!

Brothel Bar

Yes, we unwittingly managed to find ourselves in a brother bar one evening. How we didn’t see the clues beforehand I’ll never know. It was only after taking my second sip of beer did the penny drop; the dim lighting, the big security guys, ladies sitting by themselves at tables with a drink and cigarette in hand. Looking back it was quite comical, and for obvious reasons we didn’t stay for a second pint. Oh, and the place was really overpriced. We were even charged an arm and a leg for the ‘complimentary’ bowl of nuts.

Burger King

This gets a mention simply because there are absolutely no Burger Kings in Georgia and so it was nice to get a Whopper for the first time in ages. That being said, the burger was horrendously undercooked, as were the chips…

Overall, I had a really good time in Turkey. It was nice to visit the country for the first and I was really impressed by the culture there. If I come back to Turkey in the future I’ll probably head to Istanbul to see some of the famous sites of interest there. I have to say there seems to be a big difference between Georgia and Turkey. Travis told me that Turkey has the 15th largest economy in the world and it is evident from my time in Trabzon that the local people are much wealthier than the people of Georgia. It just felt more Western in Trabzon. I find it difficult to put into words how exactly the two countries are different from one another aside from this wealth comparison. Perhaps the differences are subtle, but enough that I am able to identify the fact that such differences to exist. Incidentally, I actually came back from Turkey with pneumonia, but perhaps that’s a story for my next blog…

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Georgia 1 Croatia 0 – A Night to Remember

On Saturday I went to the Georgia versus Croatia Euro 2012 qualifying match. What a night it turned out to be!

Match background

Ranked a lowly 72nd in the FIFA world rankings, Georgia were massive underdogs going into the match against a very good Croatia side, currently sitting at a highly commendable 8th in the same rankings.
Interestingly, this was the first time the two countries had faced each other at senior international football. Further yet, and perhaps less surprisingly, teams representing the two nations have never met in UEFA club competition (I found these stats on the UEFA website).

As for their qualifying table (Group F), Croatia were sitting top of the table with three wins and a draw out of four (10 points). Greece occupied second place with two wins and two draws from their four games (8 points). Georgia, despite also remaining undefeated, only had the one win from their four games, with three draws (6 points). Without a doubt Georgia needed to take something from the Croatia game to have any realistic prospects of qualification, whether it be automatic or through the dreaded playoffs. Israel, Latvia and Malta made up the rest of the group, but with Latvia and Malta both having lost two games already are off the pace and it would take a miracle for them to occupy a qualification spot at the end of the campaign. Israel are still in the mix, and they play Georgia in Israel on Tuesday evening which could a vital match for both nations.

En Route to the Stadium

I went to the match with my host-brother and some of my good TLG friends. Me and my brother left our home in Gldani (a district of Tbilisi) and made our way for the metro. Unsurprisingly, the metro was very busy with excited fans also making their way to the game. The somewhat crammed metro ride didn’t take too long before we all piled off at the nearby stop. Outside the metro there was a huge gathering of fans, some of whom were no doubt waiting for friends coming from other parts of the metro.

The stadium is only a five minute walk from the metro and it’s no problem to get to. We waited near the metro for some of our (Georgian) friends to arrive. When they did, we walked to the ground. Initially, we could not see the stadium from the metro, but we could make out the nice glow of the floodlights which made it easier for us to navigate there. It’s a great feeling walking to the stadium alongside all of the other fans in anticipation for the night’s match. The local Georgians were in high spirit and sang plenty of songs en route. Many carried Georgia flags, had their faces painted and had various drums with them. Some had even filled empty plastic bottles with stones to make a sort of rattle, although I would have been highly surprised if they got into the stadium with that.

Arrival at the Stadium

We arrived at the stadium about fifteen minutes to kick off. Unlike most football stadiums in the UK there are no turnstiles. Instead, each access point to the stadium are blocked by about a dozen police officers, who are in charge of checking each fan’s ticket before letting them into the concourse. There was no queuing system so you had to push your way to the front if you wanted to avoid waiting. Once you made it past this blockade you were inside the stadium’s concourse. You could then walk around the perimeter of the stadium to find the stand your seats were allocated for. As it so happened, our tickets were for the East stand which was right next to the access point we had come in at.

We encountered our first problem of the evening and it was a considerable one at that. We walked up the stairs and approached the last police ticket-check we needed to pass through which would take us into the seating area and give us our eagerly-anticipated view of the inside of the stadium. Inexplicably, my brother had somehow managed to lose his ticket at some point between the first ticket-check outside the stadium to this final ticket-check before taking our seats. Consequently, the police refused to let him in without a ticket. How he managed to lose his ticket in about a two minute walk I will never know, but things like this do seem happen in life so it was best not to dwell on it. We told the friends we were with just to take their seats and we would have a stab in the dark of trying to find the ticket on the ground somewhere. As you can imagine, this was all in vain and it was nowhere to be found.

I could tell my brother was massively disappointed and most probably felt a combination of embarrassment and stupidity as well as other negative emotions. He said he would go home but I persuaded him to stay and told him to speak to some of the police officers; it was worth a shot. Thankfully, after a great deal of pleading, one of the police officers let us through and we got our first glimpse of inside the stadium.

Inside the Stadium

The game was already underway, and the whole stadium looked utterly mesmerising, particularly as it was full to capacity. The atmosphere was electric and the pitch was in great condition too, perfect for a night’s football. Unfortunately, we were actually a tier up from our friends. We didn’t really have any other alternative considering we were very lucky to be let into the tier without both our tickets in the first place. As the match was a sell-out, we had nowhere to sit. Instead, we stood in the stairwell bisecting two areas of seating. In fact, there were lots of other Georgians standing with us, either the organisers oversold tickets or the police officer who let us through let everyone else without tickets through too! In any event, it gave us a perfect view of the game, very similar to the TV view of football matches. From where we were we could see our friends sitting (where we should have been) at the front row of the bottom tier very close to one of the corner flags.

As I said in the previous paragraph, the atmosphere was electric. This could have been a World Cup Final for all I’d have known; the place was absolutely buzzing. There were several Mexican Waves, the first time I’ve seen that at any sporting event in years. There were also several chants throughout the match, some included “Saqartvelo!! Saqartvelo!!” (Georgia!! Georgia!!) and “gooalllliieee!!” (goooaaallll!!), which they chanted throughout the match whilst it was 0-0. The Georgians were very much in high spirits and it was interesting to watch their reactions as the match went on.

The Match

The match itself was very interesting to watch. In the first half, Georgia looked very slow and sluggish, and I felt Croatia were much crisper on the ball. Georgia couldn’t really create any real chances, and kept losing possession with stray passes and also failing to win any 50/50s. They opted for a fairly defensive 4-5-1 formation leaving eventual-goalscorer Kobiashvili stranded up top by himself. He chased everything, but as many Scottish football fans will know (i.e. anyone who has ever seen Kenny Miller playing the same role for his country), without decent support from the midfielders it’s very difficult to put the defense under any significant pressure. Having said this, Croatia could not create any meaningful chances themselves, despite having quality attacking players such as Luka Modrić, Niko Kranjčar, Nikola Kalinić, Mladen Petrić and Darijo Srna. They all looked very classy on the ball, particularly Modrić who always looked lively, but they could not create anything in the final third. It was no surprise then that the first half ended 0-0. I fully expected Bilic (the Croatia coach) to lambast his players at the break which would see the team perform much better in the second half, but this wasn’t the case.

On a side note, Kakha Kaladze, the Georgian captain, was as ever a rock at the back. The team won’t be the same when he eventually retires. He brings so much more aside from his defensive attributes. He’s a leader and has a great footballing psychology, similar to the presence Ryan Giggs has in the Manchester United team. Hopefully, Kaladze can lead his country to qualification. Already 33 years old, he has a few more years left in him, and so would be great to see him finally lead out his country at a major tournament. Time will tell…

Anyway, the second half started much the same as the first half ended. At times it was a bit sloppy with too much of the game being played in the middle of the park. Croatia still looked the better team, but still failed when it came to putting the ball into the back of the net. The game started to stretch around the 65-70 minute mark. Georgia suddenly became much more confident and created some decent chances, despite none of them registering as a shot on target. I genuinely felt this game would end in a stale-mate. I even said to my host-brother with about five minutes left on the clock, “This is definitely going to end 0-0”. I possibly said this in the vain hope something extraordinary would happen. And indeed this proved to be the case. In the dying stages of the game, substitute Martsvaladze remained onside to cut the ball back (in true Pro Evolution Soccer or FIFA fashion) for striker Levan Kobiashvili who coolly applied the finish to beat the Croatian keeper from ten yards.

The Celebration

The whole stadium went absolutely nuts. The feeling was euphoric. It all happened so fast, but I remember hugging my brother and some of the Georgians who were stood beside us. It didn’t really matter; we were all there supporting the Georgian team and we were all united. I can’t recall how long exactly we were jumping up and down for but it felt like forever. I had my camera in my hand as the goal went in and had to try my best, in between the jumping and the hugging and the cheering, not to drop it as it surely would have been a goner upon impact.

On one of the big screens in the stadium it read ‘goal’ in Georgian (I’m not sure on the actual Latin spelling of the word – but my guess is ‘goalie’…). It was also an amazing sight to see ‘Georgia 1, Croatia 0, 90 (minutes)’ on the other big screen. Somehow, somehow, Georgia had managed to pull off a massive upset and cemented their place as serious contenders for the qualifying spots in the table.

Despite this last minute goal, there were still a few minutes of injury time to be played. The celebrations were put on pause momentarily as Croatia suddenly started to push forward and put the Georgian defense under great pressure. They forced two corners right at the death – I was a little surprised that the Croatian keeper didn’t go up for the second one at least – and our hearts were in our mouths. Thankfully, the defense managed to clear the danger. A few seconds later, the referee blew his whistle to end the game; Georgia were victorious!

The celebrations resumed the second the referee had blown his whistle, a massive cheer around the stadium followed by hugs all round. The national anthem was then sung by every Georgian in the ground which was awesome. After this Queen’s ‘We are the Champions’ song echoed round the stadium as the fans started filtering their out of the stadium.

On the way back to the metro all the fans were singing, chanting and partying. There was a carnival atmosphere in the city. The metro was heaving and there were long queues, but no-one minded because of the fantastic result. Eventually, at around 1am, my brother and I arrived home. It was one of the best evenings I’ve had here in Georgia and I am very much looking forward to going to some of their other home qualifying games later this year.


Despite the victory of the group leaders, Georgia remained 3rd in the table because Greece also secured a last minute victory over Malta. The top three teams are separated by only two points, so it is all very much to play for. On Tuesday evening, Georgia play away to Israel, and if they win this game they will go top of the table. A win for Israel would take them back into contention, and it would mean the top four teams are separated by just two points. Qualification may not be out of the question just yet, but I can’t honestly see Georgia topping the group. Consistency is the key although I don’t think the squad is strong enough for this to be achieved. I am going to predict Croatia topping the group and *fingers crossed* Georgia coming in a close second.

Aftermath - UPDATE

I am writing this on Wednesday evening, two days after finishing the first edit of the blog.

Last night, Georgia suffered a massively disappointing 1-0 defeat to Israel, meaning Group F is wide open once again. Interestingly, this was Ketsbaia’s first defeat as Georgian coach since taking over in November 2009. They had been undefeated for ten games, which is almost as big an achievement as beating the Croats on Saturday evening was.

After their 1-0 victory, Israel have actually leapfrogged Georgia into 3rd position, with both teams having played a game more than Croatia and Greece who occupy the top two positions in the table. Georgia have it all to do now, especially since they still have to play the Croats away from home in June, but I believe they can still qualify. It is vital they beat Latvia and Malta in September as well as Greece in October. In fact, the game against Greece is at home and is also the last qualifying match. I will definitely be at that match, and it’ll be a fascinating evening if, for example, their qualification to the Euro 2012 finals rests in their hands. Of course, only time will tell, and I remain hopeful. One thing is for sure, it’d be an absolute miracle if both Georgia and Scotland qualified for the finals!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Family and the Internet

Today is the 69th day I have been in Georgia. Or, in other words, the 69th day since I last saw my family. It’s been one hell of an adventure thus far and an experience like none other. It really feels like I have been here much longer and I’m desperately looking forward to what the rest of the year has in store for me.

I’ve thought about my family and friends back home very often during my time in Georgia. Not a day goes by without me thinking about what they’re up to and how things are going for them in Scotland. Before I left in January to come to Georgia, I was curious to see how I would react to being away from my friends and family, the latter particularly so since this is easily the longest time I have ever spent away from them in my entire life. I envisaged ‘culture shock’ setting in sometime around the one to two month mark. Already in my third month of being away, I don’t see this being a problem in the near future, and I have to say the internet has played a significant role in this.

I don’t want to talk at length at the pros and cons of the internet; everyone young and old knows this. Instead, I’d like to talk about how the internet has helped my experience of being away from home - away from friends and family - in a new and in many ways unique culture.

I’ve learned to appreciate the internet more now I am more 2000 miles away from home. The instant forms of communication (in particular Skype and Facebook) have enabled me to keep in touch with loved ones back home. I Skype my family about once a week, and I think it’s great we live in this day and age where things like this are possible. Even going back ten or fifteen years this would have been unheard of. Sometimes it’s crazy to think how far technology has come in recent years.

I really enjoy my Skype chats with my Mum and Dad. We don’t talk for hours, but long enough to share new stories and catch up with things at home, as well as finding out how the rest of the family are doing. To be honest, as much as I talk about the internet helping my experience of being away from home for the first time, I think my Mum and Dad are more grateful for it, as they can keep in touch with their son thousands of miles away to see how he is doing. Perhaps webcams have also enhanced this experience as my parents will be able to see for themselves how I’m doing. Funnily enough, a few weeks ago on Skype my Mum was concerned because she thought I looked down. “No, Mum” I said. “I’m just hungover...”.

Aside from Skype, it’s nice to be able to send short emails to each other whenever we have an opportunity. I’ll sometimes send a quick email to my parents just to give them an update of how I’m doing. In return I’ll often get a new picture of the cat causing mischief around the house. Sounds soppy, I admit, but its things like this that make you smile and can really cheer you up if you’re happening to have a bad day.

Obviously, I miss my family a lot. I think about them every day. But I think the internet has helped a great deal because we can still have the same level of communication, albeit without physically being in the same room as each other. I also think the internet has lessened the chance of me becoming homesick. The likelihood of being homesick would be significantly increased if I did not have access to the internet here; if I was unable to talk to my family for long periods or if I couldn’t find out how they were doing for example. The internet has certainly bridged these gaps and I know if there’s ever a problem, either on my end or their end, we will be able to talk – face to face – on the internet. It’s soothing to know they are only a click away, and here I make my case that the internet has made my experience here in Georgia all the more enjoyable. If I know my family are well and are happy, this gives me the strength and confidence to continue enjoying myself in this magnificent country.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

School - Part 2

I’m writing this blog entry about two/three weeks after I posted the first part on school. I have almost completed my 5th week at the school. It feels like much has changed since I last posted, but I’m not really sure how. Perhaps I have learned more about myself in a teaching capacity and now have a clearer idea of what teaching in a Georgian school actually entails.

In the previous blog about school I wrote about the school building and described some of its features, inside and out. This part will discuss what life is like at school; the teachers; the students; teaching styles; after-school lessons as well as a few random comments here and there.

I am well aware that the TLG (‘Teach and Learn with Georgia’ – i.e. my employers) read these blogs, so I will be careful with my choice of words. I am a big supporter of the programme and would not like to say anything which could potentially be misconstrued and consequently cause problems for either myself or the programme. Common sense prevails so obviously I will not name any students or teachers in this blog and I will certainly not discuss confidential issues. Instead, I will concentrate on the wider challenges I have faced whilst teaching at the school.


I teach around 23 lessons a week. Over the week, that’s about four to five lessons a day. I start teaching at 9am most mornings, and I am always finished by 2.15pm. I like the schedule and it gives me plenty of time in the afternoon to meet friends in the city centre or just head back to the house to rest.

I work mainly with three teachers, but occasionally have the odd class with one or two others. All the teachers I have worked with as well as others I have met during my time at the school are very friendly, just like the other Georgians I have met in the country. For many of the teachers it is the first time they have met a native English speaker and I think it is exciting and interesting for them to meet someone new. Aside from the English teachers most of them don’t speak English, although I get by with my basic knowledge of the Georgian language. Greetings and every day conversation – “Hey how are you?” etc is sufficient and I enjoy the interaction. I am actively trying to improve my vocabulary and will always try to use new words and phrases when possible.

The teaching styles I have seen vary. Two of the teachers I work with, who are certainly in the latter half of their careers, go straight to the textbook every lesson. EFL teachers (English as a Foreign Language, for those who are not familiar with the acronym) are always encouraged to avoid relying on textbooks because many books, particularly ones used in countries like Georgia, have mistakes and are often very uninteresting for students to learn from. This is not a fault of the teachers because they have always taught this way. Yes, English is still learned by the students, but perhaps not as effectively as it would be if they did not rely so much on the books.

During the first few weeks of teaching at the school it was mainly a chance for the students to ask questions about their new teacher. The students seemed interested in finding out about my hobbies and what Scotland is like. Many asked for comparisons between the two countries and whether I liked Georgia. As with any new experience it was daunting to begin with, but I soon felt very comfortable in front of the classes and I have to say it felt very natural being there. The main topics of conversation included music, sport, whether I am married or not (Georgians get married much earlier than your average couple in the UK), and…religion.

Religion is one of those topics you need to be very careful with when discussing with people from another culture. I discussed Christianity in the UK and explained that, compared to Georgia, there are far less people who are religious (I read a few months ago that almost 84% of Georgians are Christian Orthodox). I know a lot of teachers have avoided the topic of religion in their classes and I have no problem with that, but if a student is genuinely interested then I feel obliged to provide them with an answer. I explained that despite being christened at birth, I do not believe in religion. They asked whether I celebrate Christmas if I am not religious. I explained that I do, but for me and my family Christmas represents a time for us all to get together and celebrate being a family. There were no problems with us discussing religion in the classes because the students were engaged and I think they found the topic insightful and interesting. I don’t think discussing religion needs to a problem so long as it’s done in a mature manner and there is respect for each individual’s views/beliefs. As an English teacher, I’m just happy for the students to be discussing topics in English!

The ages I teach vary from about 7/8 years old (3rd grade) to 17/18 years old (12th grade). I enjoy teaching all ages and wouldn’t say I prefer one grade to another. The little ones are full of beans and are very keen to learn English. Their knowledge of English is remarkable and has far exceeded the expectations I had prior to teaching. Teaching English to children at a young definitely has its advantages and I think they will significantly benefit from this in the long run. At the moment, the majority of students in the 3rd to 5th grade are at similar levels. They love to sing songs and always have smiles on their faces which is nice and makes the teaching very worthwhile.

It is a slightly different story for the higher grades, which I will discuss now. There are two main points I’d like to make regarding the students in the higher grades. Firstly, and most importantly, many students that I teach have an excellent understanding of the English language. Whether it’s reading, writing, listening or speaking, they are very impressive and there are many individuals who are practically fluent in English. This is a fantastic achievement for them considering the majority of them have never spoken to a native English speaker before. Without going off on a tangent, I think telecommunications has a lot to do with this. Particularly through the internet, students now have exposure to media such as music and films from all over the world, and I think this has helped improve their English. Some of the students I have spoken to at school have said this is exactly the case, which is great as far as I’m concerned.

Onto the second point. Whilst many of the students in 10th/11th/12th grades have excelled and have a very good understanding of the English language, too many others have stalled somewhere along the way, and are now at the point where they are not interested in class because they do not understand the material. This is disappointing and frustrating because these classes have a distinct divide, which perhaps most evident when you’re standing in front of the class. You have students sitting at the front of the class who bring their books each lesson and actively want to improve their English, and those at the back of the class who don’t take books with them and just speak in Georgian. Maybe all English language classes are like this, I really don’t know, but it certainly presents me with difficult challenges, particularly when trying to get everyone involved in the lesson. In fact, there is also a third group within each class, and this consists of students who do not care about learning English and do not tend to make much of an effort in class, but have excellent reading skills and can pronounce words perfectly. This is possibly one of the most frustrating aspects for me because these students clearly have the ability, but for whatever reason they are just not motivated to use it. Despite this however, I do my best to involve all students in the lessons and always try to encourage everyone to participate.

Just today I spoke with the school Director (Principle or Rector depending on the school you went to) about having after-school English lessons for students who want to learn and improve their English. This will be open to students from the 10th to 12th grades. I must first gauge the number of students who would want to attend these lessons and over the course of the week I shall speak to the classes concerned. I believe there will be enough students to fill at least one classroom, and if there’s more demand than I initially anticipate, then I will see about holding these lessons over two days instead of one so everyone gets to attend. I guess one of the main advantages of these after-school lessons is that the students are not held back or distracted by the students who do not care for learning English. It would also be much more informal, and I’d encourage students to bring up any problems or issues they have whether it’s grammar, pronunciations, definitions or any other aspect of the English language. Time will tell how these plans pan out, but I believe I can make it work and have the resources and support at school to make it happen. Perhaps this will feature in one of my future blogs.

Before I wrap up this blog entry on school, it’s important to discuss one more thing. Despite what I have written about many of the students who do not care about English and do not make an effort in class, I have yet to meet one bad person. Every student I have met, whether it’s in class or when I’m walking around the school, are polite, well-mannered and very respectful. It certainly makes the whole teaching experience less intimidating. At the start and at the end of class, every male student shakes your hand and say “hello” or “goodbye” as appropriate. If you see students around the school or when moving from class to class, almost everyone you recognize says hello and there are many students I’ve had good conversations with despite having never taught them in class. It certainly comes down to the whole Georgian mentality of being just really nice people and I think it’s absolutely fantastic. Collectively and individually Georgians are just great people and at school this is certainly no different.

This has easily been my longest blog entry thus far, so if you’ve stuck with me from start to finish then thanks very much. Over the coming weeks and months I hope to have more detailed blog entries on topics such as food, drink, driving (not combined with drink, obviously), the Georgian people, weather, and one on Tbilisi also. 

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

School - Part 1

I think this blog entry will be split into two parts as there is a lot to talk about. Part one will discuss the school building, both outside and inside. In part two, I will talk about the teachers, students and general teaching experience.

It’s difficult where to start with the school. I’ll start with location. The school is only about a three minute walk from my home. I think most of the children in Gldani (the area of Tbilisi where we live) go to this school, although I think there is another one nearby somewhere. My host-mum is a music teacher there, and my brother used to be a student, so they told me what it was like before I went there on my first day.

Schools in Georgia do not go by names such as ‘Mackie Academy’ (the school I went to) or ‘Banff Academy’. In Georgia, all schools go by numbers, and so I go to school 173. Not sure why they wouldn’t want to have their own unique name but this is Georgia after all and the government may have their reasons.

The school itself is massive. It turns out it was actually two separate schools next to each other, before the government decided to merge the two together and have one great big school. As a result it has way over 2000 students and makes it the second biggest school in Tbilisi (and I would reckon this means in Georgia, too).

The school is majorly run-down compared to Western standards and is massively in need of re-development. Graffiti covers a lot of the building on the outside and it just looks like it’s crumbling down. Inside follows the same pattern. It’s absolutely freezing inside and must certainly lack central heating. The flooring throughout the school is wooden and it creaks as you walk from A to B. The staircases are made from concrete but with years of wear and tear it’s actually pretty dangerous and you have to be careful during periods not to trip on the dodgy surface.

The quality of the classrooms varies from each part of the school. In some classrooms, you’re lucky if a light works and sometimes the heaters don’t work. Even when they do, the heat they give off is minimal. Other classrooms are better, but the desks and chairs vary from one classroom to the next. Some would resemble desks and chairs used by our parents when they were at school. In other classrooms they are much more modern - it really just depends.

I really need to point out at this juncture that I am not criticising the school, not for a moment. It may look like I have written a lot of negative comments about the school, but the truth is my observations are just matter of fact. The school is what it is. It’s an old school and because Georgia is still in many regards a developing country, it is clear the government has not had the money to fund such large-scale redevelopments, which is probably the case not just for schools in Tbilisi, but Georgia too.

Next, I should mention the school’s toilets. Yes, the school, along with pretty much every other school in Georgia, has Turkish toilets. For those who are unaware of this concept, please Google/Wikipedia/YouTube it. Unlike almost all Western toilets, these Turkish toilets do not have somewhere to ‘sit’. Instead of ‘sitting’, the main verb you’ll be doing is ‘squatting’. There is a place to put your feet and beside this is a whole in the ground. Yup, that’s right. If you checked the net for images you’ll probably have a good idea of what I’m talking about.

I guess I have two comments on these Turkish toilets. Firstly, this is the norm here. I know the idea of these toilets make most Westerners shudder, but this is the way it’s always been at these schools, for both teachers and students alike. Secondly, I cannot understand why the government have not replaced these toilets with Western ones, and I can only guess this is due to financial restraints. For a country which is striving to become a more Western society (the fact they’re employing thousands of English teachers from around the world to teach in schools, for example), I’m surprised they haven’t started with the one of the major indicators of a country’s development; sanitation. The Turkish toilets in school look dirty and smell horrific, especially later on in the afternoon. This is all part of the experience, I guess, and it will take time to get used to.

I think that’s the fundamentals of the school building covered, and in part two I’ll discuss teachers, students and the overall teaching experience (thus far).

Orientation Week: Hotel, Security and Lessons

Due to the business of my schedule I am actually writing this two days after orientation ended and we were picked up by our host families. This entry will discuss orientation week including the classes we had throughout the day.

I met most of the other teachers at the hotel over the first few days of orientation. With close to 70 teachers there it became an increasingly difficult job to remember not just names, but faces too. Every time you walked round the hotel you met more and more people. I have to say 99% of the other teachers I met were absolutely fantastic people. They came from all walks of life. Despite the majority of teachers coming from America, they generally came from different states and so I guess you could say our group featured an equal distribution of people from most of the states in America (if this makes sense).  Aside from America, some were from Ireland, a few from South Africa, an Argentinean, and an Englishman. If I’ve forgotten any other foreign nationals I apologise!

 As the week went by we got to know one another better and I think by the end of the week I could remember almost everyone’s name. As the orientation took place in the hotel (excluding trips into Tbilisi of course, as they were only occasional) we learned more about each other and I think this helped the experience. From 9am to 3am (or whatever time you stopped drinking...) you were always in the company of at least a small group of teachers.

The schedule for orientation week was pretty much the same each day. It would start with a meeting at 9am with Tamara, the orientation co-ordinator. She was great throughout orientation and was always willing to help when necessary. The first meeting was a ‘meet and greet’ type meeting introducing herself. Other meetings in the week were just to keep us updated with respect to our orientation and when we would be finding out our locations in Georgia.

Georgian language lessons were generally after the meeting. These lessons lasted four hours but we always had 2-3 coffee breaks inbetween to ensure our brains weren’t fried. In my group our teacher was Marika, and she was brilliant in teaching us the basics of the Georgian language. Their alphabet has 33 letters and so remembering what they looked like and their pronunciations was very difficult, but she made it easier for us to do so. So far I know the fundamentals of the language, such as greetings, directions, talking about the weather, talking about family, food and drink among a few other things. I am by no means perfect at the pronunciation of words but feel I have enough to get me by until I learn more words and phrases.

In the afternoon we had Cultural Training. This workshop-based session encouraged us teachers to interact with one another in groups as well as others in the class. The main purpose of these sessions was to make us aware of things like cultural shock (pretty self-explanatory I know) but also to go in more detail, such as looking at prevention strategies as well as coping strategies if it was to happen to any of us. I felt more comfortable after these sessions and now know the signs to look out for if I think cultural shock is going to set in. Other aspects of the cultural training was to make us aware of culture differences between our society and Georgian society. Despite being similar in a number of ways, there are differences which we need to have an understanding of, particularly as some of us will be living in the country for a year. Perhaps one of the most surprising differences is that Georgians do not smile to eachother if they were to pass on the pavement, which is possibly why I received strange looks when walking past the locals during the week.

We were usually finished these sessions around 7/8pm and the rest of the evening was ours to do what we wanted. Some people would have a look round Tbilisi while others stayed at the hotel in the bar. On one of the evenings a group of us got taxis to the Rustaveli (the CBD of Tbilisi, if you will) and had a walk round there. It was an absolutely amazing site, and I hope to have a blog entry on the Rustaveli over the coming weeks/months.

When we stayed in the hotel for the evening, the hotel staff were pretty laid back and we were allowed to buy alcohol from small shops near the hotel for considerably less than the price they were charging in the hotel. You can buy a bottle of Chacha (their vodka which is far nicer than any other vodka I’ve tasted in my life) for about 10 Laris, converted to Pounds thats about less than a fiver. Amazing. Beer is also cheap and you can buy a 3 litre bottle of lager for 5 Lari. Again, this is ridiculously cheap compared to UK prices.

I must mention an interesting aspect of the orientation which Throughout the week in the hotel there were security staff following us pretty much everywhere we went (around the hotel). These were typically mean-looking Georgian men who never gave us as much as a smile. At first I thought they were keeping an eye on us in case we misbehaved or got into any trouble. It only became apparent some time later that these guys were here to protect us as much as they were there to look after the hotel . As we were guests of the hotel they would have wanted to ensure we got into no difficulties, for example with the locals.

These ‘mean-looking’ security guys were actually the most hospitable guys I’ve ever met. They followed us constantly through the day but when they clocked off at 1am or whatever, they would join us at the bar and drink with us. They would bring everything from beer to vodka and shared it with everyone who was in the general area. They were very friendly and together we learned a bit of Georgian and they learned a bit of English too.  The secretary of the hotel (although I think to us Westerners he was actually the boss) was a lovely chap who was very friendly, and despite not sitting down to drink with us he would play on the grand piano in the bar to give us some ambient music.

Overall orientation was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The days started early and went long into the night, but I think it was the perfect way for us to meet new people and begin preparing ourselves for our time in the country. The orientation formally ended on the Saturday, one week after arriving there, and it was time to meet our host families and leave the hotel for the last time. This will be covered in my next blog entry.

Arrival in Tbilisi and Hotel

Wednesday 19th January, 1.14am

So this is the first blog I’ve written since I’ve arrived in Georgia. In short, it’s been a whirlwind of a few days.  There’s a lot to get through but I’ll do my best to keep it in chronological order.

The rest of the plane journey to Tbilisi was fine. Got a bit bored by the end though. We landed in Baku and the majority of the passengers got off, including those in first class, but I didn’t even think to cheekily ask if I could move forward to that part of the plane. We were on the ground for about 40 minutes in total which wasn’t too bad, and arrived in Tbilisi almost 7 hours after leaving Heathrow. Despite being delayed in taking off from Heathrow initially, we made up time due to the weather (the wind pretty much blew us to Georgia). Upon leaving the plane I met another guy taking part on the TLG programme (Alex) so we went through the customs bit with him. As it was around 1am in the morning the airport was pretty much dead aside from members of staff moving around. There wasn’t a problem getting through the security bit and I now have a Georgia stamp on my passport, possibly the first one of many?

We continued through the airport and were greeted by about three or four TLG staff. They greeted us formally and gave us nametags to wear for our orientation week. We were told to change $100 into Lari (Georgia’s currency which has considerably lower value than that of the pound and Euro). The main TLG guys left us in the hands with our driver who would be taking us to a hotel which would be our home for the week. I aim to post a blog solely on that of the state of driving in Georgia so look out for that somewhere down the line, people think British drivers are bad but really they have seen nothing yet...

The driver, despite not speaking much English, looked courteous and gave us a pat on the back after arriving at the hotel. A warm smile helped and eased my initial nerves of being taken around a foreign country with a guy who I’ve never met before.

We arrived at the hotel after a short ride. The hotel, called the Bazaleti, looked huge from the outside, and inside it was no different. As you walk through the front door there is a huge leisure area filled with comfy sofas to relax and from there you can view the beautiful scenery of the mountains overlooking the hotel. Continuing on through the hotel is the reception, followed by yet another huge leisure area, this time with even more comfy seats and sofas, a bar and a fancy piano. From this area it is possible to get to most of the rooms are on both floors overlooking the area.

 We checked in at reception, and the receptionist took photocopies of our passports to keep us on their file. Myself and Alex were taken to our room by a porter. The hotel room had three beds which would mean we would be getting another flatmate later on in the night (it turned out we were one of the first people there). The room was very spacious with plenty of floor space. A fridge occupied one of the corners containing around ten bottles of water which would get filled every day. It’s not widely recommended to drink Georgian tap water, particularly since we’ve been used to UK water for years, so this ensured we would be less likely to suffer from any dodgy stomachs from drinking from the tap. I’m not sure if I really expected a difference but our hotel room really is just like any other UK, America-style of hotel room.  

Anyway, the third roommate (Timothy) arrived around 4am and we spent an hour or so just chatting before eventually crashing out. Overall, it was a long but enjoyable day. It’s not often you can say you’ve been in four different countries in one day (Scotland, England, Azerbaijan and Georgia of course...).
More to come in my next blog entry.