When I along with 5 other volunteers (hereby referred to as my cluster, arrived in Kvishkheti, I was greeted by my host mother Marina and her daughter Lela. My host family also consisted of my host father Junberi. There were also two sons but they didn’t live at home, Shalva and Andrew. For the next 3 months, this would be my family.The house was very large which isn’t what I was expecting. The layout was different from American homes but I had more than enough space. My bedroom was on the second floor and I had the whole floor all to myself. My room even had it’s own entrance. It was almost like having my own apartment. The bathroom was outside which wasn’t very fun especially late at night. I also did not have a western toilet. I had something better. I had a nice big hole in the ground, affectionately referred to as a squatter, which is where I honed my squatting skills. That definitely took some getting used to but since I had already been warned, I just had to make the most of it. It wasn’t the most pleasant smelling bathroom but such is life. My host family was very nice. There was a bit of a communication barrier but it worked out because my host mother and sister knew basic English. My host father didn’t speak any English but we still somehow communicated. As time went on, he even had a special name for me which was Chemi Shavi Gogo. Translation: My black girl. It probably sounds worse than it is but it was a term of endearment. Living with a host family was not difficult for me because it wasn’t my first rodeo. I think it’s also helpful because I’m someone who can adapt easily. The one thing that definitely took some getting used was not being in control of what I ate. Prior to Georgia, I worked out consistently and ate pretty healthy. I didn’t each many fried foods and I stayed away from bread in particular. I had to give that all up when I moved to Georgia. For one, bread is the holy grail in Georgia. Bread is served at every meal so its pretty much impossible to avoid. Oil is also a very common ingredient in Georgian foods so it was no surprise when my clothes started getting tighter and tighter and tighter. My family didn’t have a dryer so I couldn’t blame it on shrinkage, nope I was just packing on the pounds whether I liked it or not. Also, one of the differences with living in Georgia and the U.S is that it’s very hard to get fruits and vegetables that aren’t in season. So basically fresh fruits and vegetables are not available all year round. In the capital Tbilisi or the bigger cities, there are more options but in a small village like mine, I didn’t have many options. One thing I loved about my village was that it was so quiet. Not all families had cars so you didn’t have to worry about the sound of traffic outside your window. The unpaved roads would have made that difficult too. I also really liked how there was a sense of community. In the states, it’s very common that a person might not know their neighbor but in Georgia, that would have been unheard of.
Pre-Service training is for 3 very intense months. There are daily language classes for about 3.5 hours. Georgian is a very difficult language to learn in part because it is unlike any other language. It has its own alphabet, structure, etc. I tend to pick up languages pretty easily but Georgian was still a struggle. The pronunciation was most difficult for me. It also took some practice to learn the alphabet. I enjoyed language classes but they were definitely challenging. I think it helped that I already knew a foreign language. On Saturdays, we have classes about Georgian culture and customs. A typical day is language class from 9am-12:30pm. After which, the cluster has lunch together at one of the host family’s home. Lunch rotates between all the host families. In the afternoon, we have our technical classes that are to prepare us for entering the classroom. As the weeks go on, we eventually begin to co-teach to get a feel for what to expect. Typically we would do an activity with the students and occasionally one of the PC staff would come and evaluate us and give us feedback. Our only day off was Sunday which I always relished. A day where I didn’t have to do anything. To pass the time, sometimes after class we would all just hang out and play games on the balcony of one of our homes. The village was pretty small so most of us lived pretty close to each other. There was always homemade wine to be indulged in. We lived near Borjomi which was the nearest big city so we would go there to meet up with some of the volunteers who lived nearby. Twice a month are hub days when all volunteers get together to have cultural lessons, get our remaining immunizations, and other technical sessions. The highlight of hub days was that the building had wireless internet. When I first moved to my village, I didn’t have internet access for almost 3 weeks. I almost went insane. Eventually most volunteers bought a portable usb internet modem which was my saving grace. Without the internet I felt so disconnected. Throughout training we were able to hear from current volunteers who told us about their experiences as well as offer advice about where we should ask to be place for our permanent site. Basically they informed us about the pro’s and con’s of living in East Georgia vs West Georgia and vice versa.
The benefits of each region vary depending on who you talk to but the general rule of thumb is that if you live in East Georgia, you will be closer to the capital Tbilisi which is where there are lots of things to do plus you’ll have access to American food. However, it is colder in East Georgia. West Georgia on the other hand is warmer and it’s close to Batumi, a city that lies on the Black sea.
Mid training volunteers have a meeting with their program managers and they’re able to tell them where they want to go and why. I was really hoping for West Georgia because I hate cold weather. The last few weeks of PST, everybody is super anxious about where they’re going to be placed. I was nervous too because I really wanted to be near my friends. Well decision day finally came and I was going to Lanchkhuti. That was in west Georgia which was about 5 hours from the capital but 1.5 hours from Batumi. I was very happy with my placement. I also was going to have three volunteers in close proximity, one of which was my close friend. My other friends were closer to Tbilisi so I was a bit disappointed about that. Leading up to swearing in, we have the opportunity to visit our permanent site where we meet our new host families. That day finally came and I met my host grandmother and we headed to Lanchkhuti. We took a bus from my Borjomi to Lanchkhuti which took about 5 hours or so. When we arrived, I actually stayed with my host grandmother because my host family was in Tbilisi. They lived down the street from each other so it was fine. I really liked my host grandmother. She was very sweet. I met my host grandfather who wasn’t as warm and fuzzy but he was nice too. He was a chain smoker which sucked but again nothing I could do about that. The next day she took to my house to give me a tour and I felt like i had hit the jackpot. My future house was huge and it had an amazing balcony off the second floor. After seeing my house, I was even more excited about moving to Lanchkhuti. Shortly after site visits, was the swearing in ceremony.
Swearing In ceremony is when trainees are officially sworn in as volunteers. During the ceremony the country director makes a speech and there’s a speech from a volunteer in Georgian which was super impressive. I sung the American national anthem and a group of us sung the Georgian national anthem. There was also a performance by a Georgian dance troupe. More importantly, it was where I met my host family for the first time. My host mother Lela and my 1 year old host brother Misho were there. My host mother was beautiful and Misho was absolutely adorable. I was happy about moving to the next phase of my PC experience but it was bittersweet. It was also sad saying goodbye to my host family that I had been living with for the last 3 months.