Spring in Gori

Well, spring has come and gone (though it still doesn’t feel like summer here yet) without a post about what I’ve been doing. It probably goes without saying that this spring has been busy!

First of all, I traveled a lot: to Azerbaijan during the first week of March, to western Georgia and Armenia during the middle of that month, and then I spent nearly three weeks back home in the U.S. during April. I went back to the U.S. primarily in order to present (for the first time!) at the International TESOL Convention in Baltimore, Maryland.

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By my poster at TESOL before the session began.

It was great to get to go to the conference as I usually do each year, and especially fun to go as a presenter. I had two presentations; a poster session entitled Increasing Reading Motivation by Bringing Local Literature to Life, and a discussion group session with my colleague Annelies Galletta from the University of Maryland. The discussion group session was titled, Beyond Words: Challenges IEP Students Face to Connecting on Campus and involved a discussion of factors that make connecting to the university community difficult for international students studying in intensive English programs, and actions faculty and staff can take to help students connect.

I also took advantage of my time in the U.S. to catch up with family and friends. I spent time with my family in North Carolina and flew out to Seattle for a whirlwind weekend to see one of my dearest friends get married. I had just a little bit of time to catch up with friends and colleagues in D.C. and Maryland, and I spent some time in Georgia (the state) with Ben and his family.

But, this post isn’t entitled, “Traveling in the Spring,” but “Spring in Gori,” so what was going on in Gori this spring?

Well, a lot!  When I wasn’t traveling on the trips described above, I prioritized being here in my host city.

Throughout the semester, I taught two classes at GSTU for English Philology majors: a content-based course (American Studies) and an ESP (English for Specific Purposes) course, English for International Tourism. The students were almost exclusively fourth-year students and most of them were enrolled in both of these classes.

For each course, I met with students three times a week: once for a large “lecture” session with all of the students in these classes, and then two more times with a smaller “break out group” of students. There were around 58 students enrolled in these classes, but actual attendance is often much lower in Georgia than it is in the U.S. On a typical week I had 15 to 20 students present in the lecture session.  My breakout group officially had 18 students in it, and attendance for these sessions ranged a lot– from as few as four students on a given day to as many as 13.

The majority of classes I’ve taught in the U.S. have been skills-based (focusing on reading, writing, listening, speaking, grammar, and/or vocabulary), so it was fun to teach something a little bit different than usual. The highlights of teaching these classes for me were getting to know the students who came consistently and the English-language walking tour of Gori that the students prepared for a group of American tourists and volunteers at the end of the semester.  I’ll write more about that assignment in an upcoming post.

The spring semester ran from late January to the end of May, and exams are taking place right now. (In fact, I’m taking a break from grading 57 American Studies exams to work on this post).

When I wasn’t teaching (or traveling!), I continued my Georgian lessons and the English “Coffee & Conversation” student club. Though I still find Georgian a difficult, I’ve definitely made progress.

მე ვფიქრობ ქართული ენა რთულია, მაგრამ მე მომწონს. 🙂

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Betty and I with our Georgian teacher Tako

My vocabulary is still small, but I can communicate a lot more than I could back in the fall! Some personal victories with Georgian include being able to call a taxi to pick me up at my house, usually being able to successfully negotiate a decent price with the taxi drivers in Tbilisi, and managing to explain to a waiter at a restaurant that even though only two of us were at the restaurant at that moment, five people would be eating. (Typically, if two people come in, two plates are brought to the table; four people, four plates.  Coming in as two, saying a few things in Georgian, and then having five plates appear was a very visible language victory 🙂 ).

The Coffee & Conversation club has dwindled in number, but it has increased in consistency. Now, there are about six or seven people who come regularly, and occasionally a new visitor joins us. There are about five weeks remaining in my fellowship, and we’ve decided to continue the club to the end, even though summer is here and the university is not in session. Instead of meeting at the university as we usually do though, we’re hoping to get outside more and perhaps even travel a little bit together.  First up is a hike to Gorisjvari, a monastery that sits on the mountainside, overlooking Gori. There’s also talk of one of the Gori Peace Corps Volunteers continuing the club when the university begins again in the fall, which would be great to see.

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Celebrating my birthday with Coffee & Conversation club and a group of my Tourism / US Studies students

In addition to teaching, taking Georgian lessons, and leading the coffee and conversation club, there have also been many one-time events. For example, I attended three English conferences in Georgia this spring: one in Tbilisi at the beginning of May, one in Akhaltsikhe at the end of May, and one here in Gori last weekend.  I’ll talk about these in a separate post. At the university, I participated in two English events for students: a “Literary Evening” and a “Presentation Competition.”  The Literary Evening involved about 30 students giving presentations in English about an American or British author and work of literature of their choice; the “Presentation Competition” included business, law, journalism, psychology, and tourism majors giving presentations from their fields of study.  I served as one of the judges for this competition alongside two Peace Corps Volunteers who have extensive work experience in law and business.

I’ve enjoyed seeing Gori in the spring. The city seems to have come to life; it is much greener (and full of flowers!) than I’ve seen it so far. The grapes are beginning to grow again, and people are out and about much more than in the late fall and winter (as to be expected, of course). I’ve enjoyed spending more time with my colleagues, former students from the fall, and the other Americans in Gori– and I’ve had more visitors come to Georgia!

In May, I got to “play tour guide” for a group of nine: Ben, his mom, two of Ben’s close friends from his time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine (Maxim and Anya), and five of my friends from D.C. Their trip deserves a post of its own, but it was great to have them here and to show them a bit of Georgia!

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More pictures in another post, but this is my big group of May visitors 🙂

One last highlight from the spring was finally getting to see Sukhishvili live. Officially, Sukhishvili is called “The Georgian National Ballet,” but if you imagine ballet dancing, your idea of how they dance will probably be very different from what they actually do.  They are dancers of course, performing the traditional Georgian dances, but I’ve never seen “ballet” quite like this.  The dancing involves a lot of leaping and spinning (and even some occasional dagger throwing) and it’s truly some of the most amazing traditional national dancing I have ever seen. I got to see them perform in Telavi with a group of PCVs and Fulbrighters, and Sukhishvili did not disappoint:

*Huge thank you to Tom Kerwin (PCV, Telavi) for letting me post his pictures from the show!  He took all of the pictures above.

I was really disappointed that my friends’ trip dates and the performance dates just barely missed each other (the last performance finished literally four hours before Ben and his mom arrived), but Sukhishvili travels worldwide, so if anyone reading this ever has the chance to see them perform, I absolutely recommend it!

Spring has basically passed and we’re slowly transitioning to summer.  (It’s the second week of June now, but the high today is only 66, so it’s hard to say it’s truly summer yet).  By the time exams end next week, I’ll have only one month of my fellowship remaining. I’m still working out what I’ll be doing for the last month of my fellowship, but right now, I’m thankful to have a few days to breathe and catch up from all of the traveling.  I’m also hoping to finally catch up on blog posts and photos, so check back soon! Now, back to those exams…

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