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!