2012. Freshly deemed the year of growth and aspirations being put the test.
In January 2012 I was invited to serve in the Republic of Georgia as a Peace Corps Education Volunteer. For the next four months, I spent closing accounts, paying debts, working my tail off at Nature’s, volunteering and making purchases. Saying goodbyes were not always so white and black. I had to say goodbye to my uncle who was suffering from a relapse in his battle with cancer. When I called him to say goodbye, we both knew without saying it verbally that it would be the last time we ever talked. He gave me his words of wisdom and he shared his stories of his life working in Hungary. He passed soon after I arrived in Georgia. Other goodbyes were bittersweet in their nature, but since all parties have been striving to reach their own aspirations. Especially my sister’s wedding which was in February. I had to say goodbye to my younger sister then given she had to go back to university in Arizona. Regardless it’s rather admirable to read about others’ successes at such a distance. I really appreciate those stories. Life is not put on hold while I am abroad, that is one thing I have had to learn.
In April I departed for Philadelphia for two days of orientation. Fresh off the plane and still American clean we all stared at each other and realized our journey was beginning whether or not we were ready for it. We began to form our bonds and had our last Starbucks guilty pleasures.
In May we arrived in Georgia with the world at our fingertips. I remember being on the flight and meeting a man from Iran. He is now an American citizen and he thanked me and my fellow-trainees for our service to his country. I felt so proud in that moment and knew I was not just doing this service for myself.
Through the next three months we endured the 4 hours of language daily (6 days a week), practicum (teaching) and technical training (at least 2 to 3 hours a day, 5 days a week). Intensive does not even begin to describe the experience. On top of these classes, my fellow trainees and I were living with host families after a few days of being in Georgia. I still recall the words and the feelings expressed as the bus dropped us and our luggage off in our “training” villages. We all just stared out the window as our fellow trainees were told that this was their new village. The moment we entered the Atskuri village, my fellow cluster mates and I just felt a moment of complete panic as we barely had any Georgian to work with. I recall looking down at my family’s names and thinking… “Oh no- how do I even say this?”. The best feeling of relief is when in our little circle, our training manager named off families and their American volunteer who would be living with them. My host brother, Vano, came to collect me. I was so relieved when he spoke a little English with me. He led me to his car and the rest is history really. My time in Atskuri, though brief was living changing. I learned how to bucket bath, learned how to live with boys, learned how to deal with getting food poisoning, how to fit into my gender role and many other things. My family was amazing to me and cared for me. I could not have been luckier with my experience.
In July I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I left straight from the ceremony to my new village in Imereti. I fell in love with my village straight away. The quaint village atmosphere and the culture of farming are apparent right away and makes for a comforting and lovely experience. It is a bit off the main roads so it feels secure and sincere. I love my life in my village and thoroughly appreciate my host family, my community and my school here.
Since July I have been working in my village school as an English teacher. It’s been a challenge to understand my role here. However it has been an eye-opening experience to who I am as a person and the way I interact with others. I have learned a lot about my methods and my objectives.
With the help of numerous people, we were able to have our first English summer camp as well as a leadership camp in the village. We also started a Girls’ Club as a way to discuss various healthy lifestyle topics (hygiene, healthy relationships, self-esteem, healthy eating habits and etc) as well as leadership and team-building through volleyball. My girls are amazing and I look forward to next term to have more meetings.
We have also identified our first grant-funded project. My school and I have identified the need for technology in our school to be integrated into lessons for a more comprehensive approach. So for our grant we will also hold trainings for computer literacy and lesson planning for the teachers at my school. Another set of trainings will be held for my older students. These trainings will be job skills and professional development. Some of the trainings will be powerpoint presentations, resume/CVs in Georgian context, mock interviews and job shadowing with local industry workers. I am very excited for this project.
Since arriving to site I have also been selected (after applying) to serve as a permanent member on the Peace Corps Georgia’s Safety and Security Committee as well as the Youth and Volunteerism Committee. I am also assisting in working on our cross-cultural and language training for the next year’s incoming volunteers. I am really enjoying the work with these committees and doing other initiatives on a national scale. Currently we are developing curriculum to promote volunteerism as well as professional development curriculum to be available to all Peace Corps Volunteers in Georgia.
My students have also participated in the National English Spelling Competition and Future Leaders Exchange testing. It has been really great to watch my students try their hardest. I try to remind them, like my mother always told me, try your best.
If you risk nothing, you end up risking everything…
What about 2013? I have many projects ahead of me, that is for certain. The Georgian language as well as French, Swedish and Arabic are projects of mine for my own personal entertainment. My journey on the faith path has also been developing and I look forward to seeing where the path will lead. As for journeys I am headed to Sweden in January to visit some dear friends. I also plan on having my mother and step-father visit in the summer and then going Tunisia in August (inchaAllah). I look forward to the year that is in front of me. I truly believe that as difficult as things can be sometimes, that this is the life I choose.