I’m trying to get caught up to speed so I can continue this blog in chronological order with more timely posts, but once you fall behind, it’s hard to catch up! That being said, here’s a post with a short overview of what the weeks from Christmas until now have held.
From the previous post, you know that on the day after Christmas, I went to Uplistsikhe, the ancient cave city just outside of Gori, with my boyfriend Ben, friends Betty and Robert, and Zura, the Chair of the Foreign Language Department at Gori University.
The next day, Ben and I left for Bakuriani, a popular ski destination about an hour and a half southwest of Gori. We spent a few great days there, relaxing, skiing, and even horseback riding. It was still a little early in the season for skiing, so there wasn’t much snow and some of the trails were closed, but there was still enough to get a few runs in and to have a good time.
Horseback riding through the snow was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me. Our guide and horses met us at the hotel, and then we walked through Bakuriani to a small chapel on the edge of town. Seeing Bakuriani from atop a horse was a fun and interesting way to explore the town. In the very end, on the way back to the hotel, we galloped across a snow-covered field, which was a pretty incredible experience. The feeling of moving so quickly yet so smoothly, flying across the snow, is difficult to describe, but if you ever have the opportunity to experience it, I recommend doing so wholeheartedly.
After Bakuriani, we rang in the New Year in Tbilisi with Gabby, one of the Fulbright ETAs. I had tried to find out where the best place to see fireworks in Tbilisi would be, but I never got a clear answer. In fact, every time I asked someone where to see fireworks in Tbilisi, I essentially got the answer, “up.” If you want to see fireworks, simply look up.
In the US, there’s usually a central point where fireworks are shot off, and there are other places that are known for being a good spot for getting a good view of those fireworks. This was the kind of answer I was looking for and expecting.
However, as midnight grew closer, I understood the answers that I bad been given. Truly, if you wanted to see amazing fireworks in Tbilisi, all you had to do was look up. They were everywhere!
In the end, we made a spontaneous last-minute decision to take the cable car to the fort above the city to watch the fireworks from there, and the view was truly spectacular.
From the fort, you can look out over the entire city, and everywhere you looked there were fireworks. (There were also fireworks going off around us while we were in the cable car)! The pictures don’t really show how amazing the view was, but perhaps you can get a small idea. Just look at the picture, and imagine 3-4 times the number of fireworks that you can see there. We had taken a bottle of champagne up to the fort with us, and when midnight came, we popped the bottle and toasted in 2016. It was a great start to a new year. J
A few days after New Year’s, Ben went back to the US, and then, just a few days after that, I set off for the English Language Fellow Mid-Year Conference in Vienna. This was an opportunity for all of the Fellows in the Europe region to come together to share stories, exchange ideas, and be inspired for the second half of the fellowship. It also involved a day of public diplomacy training with local Embassy staff. This year, the Europe region has Fellows in Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Turkey, and Russia. It was great to reconnect with the Fellows that I had met at our pre-departure training in DC last August, as well as the Fellows from the RELO-Kyiv region that I hadn’t seen since our trip there in September. It was really interesting to compare experiences, hear about the projects Fellows are doing around Europe, and to get some great ideas for the spring semester.
It was also nice to spend time in Vienna. I’m fairly familiar with the city because Vienna is the most common airport to fly into when traveling to Slovakia. Also, because of its close proximity to Slovakia, after the conference I was able to make a quick but wonderful two-day trip to Slovakia to visit friends there.
On the day after our mid-year conference ended, I woke up early in Vienna and hopped on a train to Bratislava, where I met my dear friend Marta. About thirty minutes after my train arrived, we took another train to Zilina, the city in Slovakia that I have spent the most time in and the city that I most recently participated in a KECY English camp with, in summer 2014. In Zilina, we had lunch with two dear friends who were engaged when I last saw them in 2014 and married now. After lunch, we met several of the youth group members and students from 2014’s KECY English camp at the church for coffee and tea, and then our friend Matej drove us to Dolny Kubin, a small and beautiful town where I taught English and worked with a youth group in 2011.
I didn’t have much time in Dolny Kubin, but I did get to spend time with my friend Veronika and her family, who were my host family in 2011. They now live in a small village outside of Dolny Kubin. In the morning, we went for a walk through the snowy village and surrounding hills, and then spent the afternoon relaxing at a sauna nearby. Then, it was back to Bratislava for the night and then back to Georgia in the morning.
When I got back to Gori, the university was still on break so I had some time to relax, catch up, and begin planning for the semester ahead, which began in the middle of February.
This semester, I am teaching two classes at the university: American Studies, and an ESP (English for Specific Purposes) course: English for International Tourism.
Each class meets once a week for a large-group lecture and then two more times during the week for small breakout groups. I’m teaching the lecture sessions for both courses, as well as one of the three breakout groups which meet twice a week. These are both new courses for me, and it’s been a fun challenge so far to figure out how to teach these concepts, which are a bit different from the intensive reading, writing, listening, speaking, grammar, and vocabulary language courses that I typically teach.
Also during the break, I got very exciting news that I would get to travel to Baku, Azerbaijan to participate in English Language Week 2016. I got back earlier this week from that trip and it deserves its own post, so I’ll write more about it soon, but suffice it for now to say that I had an amazing time there!
The semester has been back in full swing for about a month now. In addition to my classes, the Coffee & Conversation club is continuing, a new conversation club for IDP students near Gori will hopefully be beginning soon, and later this semester I should be facilitating an American English webinar for the English teachers.
Looking ahead, there’s a lot going on! I’ll be traveling again soon when Anne, a great friend from my PhD program arrives tomorrow morning. Shortly after her trip, I’m off to the US for TESOL 2016 in Baltimore, as well as short trips to visit family and friends. Later in the spring, there is talk of several conferences in both Gori and Tbilisi that I should be involved in, and I’m currently working on several articles with my colleagues here.
Whereas my challenge in the fall was figuring out what to do with all the time that I had, it seems my challenge in the spring will be finding time to fit everything in and to do the many different things well. However, if you know me, you know I’m much happier when I’m busy than when I’m not, so it seems like the last four months (four months—can you believe that that’s all!) of my fellowship should be great ones.