Sunday, May 22, 2011

Turkey in Two

Hey all! Sorry I've been so MIA. Hope you are all still reading this thing! I have one month left in Georgia. I can't believe how time flies! I'm definitely ready to come home, but I also don't want to say goodbye to my life here. Its been an incredible experience, to say the least. I know the next month will be filled with lots of adventures with my three favorite Samtredia gals. So keep reading! 

Here is a recap through pictures of my backpacking trip around Turkey...Enjoy!

After an 18 hour bus ride we spent the night in the capital of Turkey...Ankara!

Met up with the other half of the Samtrediettes in Cappadocia

Had some fun in Love Valley..hehe

Quading around the Cappadocia valleys 


Having a traditional Turkish breakfast in a village outside of Antalya

The Roman ruins of Perge

Beautiful beaches of Olympos

Sunsetting on Antalya's harbor

Eating corn outside of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul!

Getting our mosque ON!

Ferry ride from the Europe side to the Asian side in Istanbul

Two amazing weeks. I love Turkey. Enough said. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

ESL Tara Teacher Style

Over the past few weeks I've been trying to take it up a notch at school. I've taken some of the best ESL ideas I've heard and brought them to my own classroom. Its gone pretty well so far...

Michelle loves to do power points to go along with what the kids are reading in school so I thought I would give it a whirl. I did one of the Empire State building to go along with this boring and difficult text about the historical building. It went great! The kids were "ooohing" and "ahhing" at all the pictures. The girls especially loved the pictures of all of the couples getting married on the observation deck on Valentines Day. 

My friend Lauren gave me the great idea of playing songs and writing some of the lyrics on the board and have the kids fill in the missing words. She was using old blues songs because they were slow and easy for the kids. Well, I took it to the next level and used Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. I did it with my 8th form class first and they begged me for Lady Ga Ga and Michael Jackson. So we did some 'Billie Jean' and 'Love Game.' Ok ok some of the lyrics are a little racey, but those kids were gaining listening skills and loving English class! 

Recently, Melissa's parents came to visit and they brought a little care package from my family for me. My mom is still thinking like a Girl Scout leader after all these years, and she included two bags of Valentines Day heart candy so I could do some project with my students. I gave each of my 11th formers 10 heart candies and they had to make up a story using the words written on the candies. One of my students wrote this fabulous story about how Georgi said "I love you" to Eka and she "Text me" all about it. Then they "hold hands" while having their "first kiss." 

Some of the simplest games I've come up with are from my own childhood. I love doing "Two Truths, and One Lie" and "Never have I ever...." Another classic is Mad Libs. When I was home for my sister Lauren's wedding back in November I bought some Mad Libs games. I did it with my 11th formers recently and they loved it. It was great for them to work on the names of the different forms of speech like 'noun,' 'adjective,' 'verb' ect. And at the end of the game we had a funny story to read! 

Its been a great challenge finding my place in the classroom, teaching ESL, and working in a developing country. However, I've found if I mix a little of my teaching style with some classic English language learning the kids are bound to learn a lot and have fun while doing it! 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Two Worlds, One Georgia

When I first started studying international development my focus was on places like India and Uganda where the poverty is extreme to the visual eye. People are living on the streets, wearing rags to school, and fighting for survival everyday. 

Kids at my school playing football with a empty bottle
I knew that coming to teach English in Georgia was going to be quite a different experience. Yes, there are people that have little money. Yes, there are plenty of abandoned buildings. Yes, we lose power and can't drink the water in certain cities. But even with all of that, Georgia is nowhere near the underdevelopment that many countries face. 

 Georgia appears to have a it all together. People live in beautiful homes, drive nice cars, and have the newest cell phones. This isn't just in Tbilisi, but also in my town of Samtredia. So for an outsider it seem like Georgia has it all together, but in reality many of those big homes only have heating in one or two rooms, and there are more people that don't have cars than do. 

New v.s. Old
Georgia is full-on Monet. To quote one of my favorite movie characters, Cher from Clueless, "It's like a painting, see? From far away, it's OK, but up close, it's a big old mess." Georgia looks like it has it all together from far away, but in reality it still has a long way to go. 

A few months ago my friends and I went to see a play at the theater in Kutaisi. From the outside the building looks beautiful, but when we stepped inside I thought the ceiling was going to crumble on my head. Georgia may have many of the ammenities of the western world, but they are in need of a lot of love. It was a strange realization for me to understand that a developing country doesn't always mean they have nothing.

Sometimes I feel like I live in two different worlds in Georgia. I have students that talk to me about Johnny Depp movies, and the latest fashion trends in Paris. Then I have students that run off and get married at the age of 17. On the streets of Samtredia, I see young women dressed in high heels, sunglasses, and expensive looking dresses, and then on the other side of the road are little grandmas hunched over, dressed in all black, who probably haven't showered in weeks. It blows my mind!
My 7th formers huddled around the heater 

Another ironic thing that happened to me one day, was when I heard John Lennon's song 'Imagine' being play on a girl's cell phone as she walked down the street.  It just shook me to my core to hear John Lennon's message of world peace and equality being blasted onto the streets of Samtredia where just a few years ago people were fleeing from war. 

I'm not sure I'll ever be able to figure out Georgia's two worlds, but I can keep enjoying living in them!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My 23rd Birthday...Georgian Style!

Last Wednesday, March 9th, was my 23rd birthday! Birthdays are huge in Georgia so I was really excited to see what would be in store for my big day. 

My birthday celebration actually started the night before around 11:30 at night. We had gotten back from Yerevan that day so I was completed exhausted. I had just said good night to my family and was crawling into bed when all the lights went off in the flat. Then, in walks Nino and Iraqli singing 'Happy Birthday' at the top of their lungs into my room with a birthday cake with huge sparkle candles. It was quite the surprise (but so adorable!) especially since I was half asleep haha.

The next day (on my actual birthday) my 5th form class started the day off by serenading the 'Happy Birthday' song as soon as I walked in the door. Gu-Ga, one of my 5th form boys, drew me a picture during class (which he shouldn't of done hah), but it was still really sweet. Then my 7th form class surprised me with a cute birthday message written on the chalk board, and several rounds of clapping and 'whoohooing' to celebrate my 23rd year. Also, the three English teachers I work with and another teacher that I've become close with gave me lovely earrings. 

Unfortunately, I had to leave school early that day for a co-teaching meeting in Kutaisi. It did give the girls and I an excuse to go to our favorite Georgian restaurant for lunch afterwards! We ordered all my favorite dishes. So-co da suguni (mushrooms stuffed with cheese), saladi (cucumber and tomatoes), and katopeli da so-co (mushrooms and potatoes). You can tell we've been lacking in the veggies!

When we got back to Samtredia my family had a little supra set up in the dining room for me. Nino, Iraqli, and Nino's friends decorated the room with balloons and signs. It was so adorable! The table was filled with yummy food, and a big pitcher of wine! 

Table all set!!


Nino and Iraqli made this day so special

These candles are illegal in the States! haha
My Bebs! (with the cake I couldn't eat haha)
My Boyfriend (our inside joke hehe)
After our festive meal it was time to get our groove on! Those girls sure know how to dance! Iraqli brought out his drum at one point and we moved to his drum beats. I was so happy that Nino's friends were able to come. They all speak English so well, and they are all so sweet! I feel like I've gotten to know them all so well from our little sleepovers and hang outs at the flat. They gave me cute earrings which I immediately put on to celebrate the evening in! 

Dancing the night away....
The day after my birthday, 5 girls from my 4th form class came up to me in the hallway with a bouquet of flowers, and homemade birthday cards! They said they had everything ready on my birthday, but I never came to their class (stupid meeting!) so they couldn't give me my presents. It was so sweet of them! I'm going to keep their cards forever! Never underestimate the power of a sweet smile and a card that says "Many Happy Retens!!"
Birthday cards from my students!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Just get me to the church on time!!

Last weekend a bunch of TLGers and I took a trip to Armenia. A year ago I probably couldn't locate Armenia on the map let alone visit there so it was quite an experience. All I knew was that Armenia claims to be the first Christian state, and that the Kardashians and Cher are Armenian. So I could expect to see a lot of churches (which I did) and women that look a lot like Kim and Cher (which I did too). 

As we walked through the streets of Yerevan I could not help but notice the diversity of restaurant, shops, and people. I no longer felt like I was in a former Soviet Republic, but in a European city! The change wasn't completely drastic to Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, but it was definitely noticeable. It was almost like a sneak peek into how Tbilisi would be in 10 years. We explored all different types of food including Lebanese, Chinese, Mexican, and American style. We even went karaoking one night haha. I felt like I was back in NY!

A beautiful brand new church in downtown Yerevan

Yerevan's central square

Over the course of the weekend we were able to take several days trips to beautiful sights outside of Yerevan thanks to our marshutaka driver Roman, and Michelle's fabulous Russian language skills.

Geghard Monastery

Garni Temple

Echmiadzin (like the Vatican of Armenian Apostolic Church)
Armenian Genocide Memorial

One day we went to the Armenian Genocide Museum. This is a brand new museum that was created in order to educate people on the genocide of over 1 million Armenians that took place in 1915 during the Ottoman Empire or present day Turkey. It was an extremely moving exhibit, and it made me grateful to be able to visit Armenia and enjoy its people, places, and culture.
Noravank, set in a breath taking mountainous valley
Samtrediettes <33

Mt. Aragats in the distance

Were jumping for joy at Lake Sevan
Abandoned the color contrasts

Monday, February 28, 2011

And a quack quack here!

It was so great to return to school! I really missed my kids, and I think they missed me. Nana wanted to teach the 3rd formers different animals, so I had the idea of having them color pictures of the animals that we would teach them. 

I thank goodness that I worked at the Hempstead Boys and Girls Club before coming to teach English in Georgia. I see so many parallels everyday to the low income school district I worked in in the States to my Georgian school district now. My experience there helped me learn the patience I need to work through this experience. There were days when the internet didn't work or people wouldn't show up to meetings. Similarly, in Georgia teachers don't show up some days, and there is an extremely low amount of resources, which leads me to my animal activity.

I wanted to have the kids color in pictures of different animals and practice writing the different names, but of course finding a coloring book of animals would be impossible here. Instead I remembered a great trick from a co-worker at HBGC where she drew outlines of pictures and then made photocopies for the kids to color in.

I couldn't exactly make photo copies, but I could draw out the pictures each by hand and have the kids color them in. That's exactly what I did and they LOVED it! It was worth every colored mark on my hands! It amazes me how such a simple activity like coloring in animals could make the kids so excited to learn English. I feel like because we don't have a lot of resources there is less creative activities and more translation and exercises from the books. But even with such limited resources I was able to make learning the names of animals fun! 




What would a day with animals be without 'Old McDonald'? So I did a rousing performance of the classic farm song, and the kids just couldn't get enough. Were still working on it, but I know in a few months they will be able to make all the sounds of the farm animals!

Cute picture alert:

Nino carved mine and her name into our mchati (corn bread) fun!!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bieber Fever and American Pop Culture in Georgia

When I first met my students they asked the usual questions like "What State are you from?" and   "Do you have a brother or sister?" But one question that has stuck out, and has constantly made me wonder is the "Do you like Justin Bieber?" question. Now, after spending this past summer teaching  a hip hop dance routine to Bieber's "Baby, Baby" song to the kids at the Hempstead Boys and Girls Club summer camp, I was well aware of the Bieber effect. However, I never would of thought he would of made it all the way over to the little country of Georgia! 

You would be surprised of how many of my students (well, mostly my girl students) who are madly in love with Bieber! They know all the words to his songs, and have memorized his dance moves. If my students are shy in class one day, I know to always bring up the subject of Justin Bieber. We played a celebrity guessing game in my 8th form class a few weeks ago, and one student had to guess who all the other students were pretending to be. Of course the first one to be guessed correctly was Tamera as Justin Bieber because everyone knows she's crazy for him! 

This madness for Bieber made me start thinking about American pop culture in general in Georgia. The most obvious is the television shows. There is a Georgian type Oprah, The View, The Late Night Show , SNL, Survivor and Friends just to name a few. They are all casted with Georgians and speak only Georgian, but they are most definitely influenced by its American counterparts. They even have an American Idol type show called Geo Star. And believe me Georgian families are just as obsessed as American families are. For a country that less than 20 years ago just created their first independent TV channel (post USSR) this is quite incredible!

The Late Night Show

Georgian Survivor (Tamara, the winner, actually works for my english teaching program)

Geo Star (Georgian American Idol)

Part of me is proud that American pop culture has made it all the way over to my favorite former USSR country, but at the same time it makes me wonder how much this effects Georgian culture. I know that Georgians are no where ready to give up their Henri Joxadze and Eter Kakulia (Ia Ia song) for Eminem and Rihanna. But I wonder sometimes if they are so caught up in copying our shows and music that they will end up not producing any of their own ideas. I guess time will only tell, but until then I will continue to discuss Justin Beiber's ever changing bowl hair cut and fashion styles with my 11th grade girls if it will make them speak English. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

No School. Again.

Its been over a week since I've set foot in my school. At first I was pleased by the free time, and even thought about taking a last minute trip to Turkey (that was shot down immediately by my three more realistic friends). However, now its just plain crazy! Between illness and the snow/rain that has been occurring lately, School 12 was forced to close (at least I thought).

Real Snow in Zestafoni (not like the snow/rain we get in Samtredia!)

All of February the Samtredia girls and I have been teaching to classrooms that have been more than half empty. There was one day I taught only three 5th formers and we just played hang man the whole time! Another time I taught five 3rd formers the 'Hokey Pokey' song as an unplanned activity and they LOVED it. Even though I was teaching much smaller classes I felt like the students that were coming were getting some well needed attention and review. Hey, learning 'left' and 'right' and 'shake it all about' are pretty important phrases to grasping the English language ;)

Then, last Wednesday, February 9th I walked into an empty 5th form classroom with just two backpacks and no children. I found out later the two children that actually came to school were put to work to collect wood for the teacher's lounge's fireplace (nope not kidding). I walked disgustedly into the teacher's lounge to just sit and wait two periods with nothing to do. Nana, finally came to school and told me that they were canceling school Thursday and Friday, and I could go home right then (11:30am). I said, " Well, I still have Vicka's 8th form class to teach today." And Vicka goes, "Oh don't come to my class. Only three 8th formers came and they are cleaning the windows."

Empty School 12

So after my lovely four-day weekend (see next blog), Monday I woke up and got ready for school. As I went into the kitchen to start making my coffee, Iraqli, stops me and says, "You have school? Look. Snow." (His English is getting so much better!). It was coming down pretty hard so I called Nana, and she said, "Don't come to school because no children will come." The same thing happened on Tuesday. 

On Wednesday, Nana told me to meet her at school at noon to catch up because she missed me (She's so cute!). Then like clock-work she called me around 11:15am and said I shouldn't come because its snowing again, and everyone is going home. This is the first time it occurred to me that we've probably been having school all along, and Nana just hasn't had me come in because no children have been coming. I definitely appreciate her reasoning, but I wouldn't of minded coming in at all. Even if it would of been just to teach one child! Granted, my school is a lot smaller than the other girls so my school probably took the biggest hit of low attendance. I just felt bad because all the other teachers have probably been going to school everyday, and I've been researching post-Georgia opportunities, and watching Mad Men. 

With all this time at home at least Bebs is letting me help her cook!
So after this realization you would think I would of definitely made an attempt to go to school Thursday and Friday despite Nana not wanting me to come. Well, my family finally got a doctor to come look at my foot on Wednesday, and he put me on bed rest for 4 days. Apparently, I tore a muscle in my foot 3 weeks ago, and then me walking on it didn't really help matters. So no school for me. This Monday I'm not letting ANYTHING, snow, rain, illness, or my stupid foot get in the way of my children. 'Tara Teacher' is coming and my kids better have been practicing their ABCs. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Walk On

Maybe its all those years of dancing on my toes, but I've been having some major foot issues since coming to Georgia. First, it was my right foot blowing up from bug bites (watch out spring, my Benadryl is ready to go!) Then, in Israel I twisted my right ankle while hiking through En Gedi. If you've ever hiked around there you could imagine the treacherous 'stair like' rocks I was climbing when I gracefully hurt my ankle (meaning almost fell on my face). 

Now, back in Georgia I thought I was in the clear, but nope last week the top part of my left foot started pounding with pain as I walked to school and around Samtredia. I was trying to brave it out, but after a few days of limping in pain I texted my host sister one night asking for our house address because I wanted to call a taxi in the morning to go school in.

I guess she took that as 'I am in deep pain and you need to help me NOW,' because she text me back saying "Tara. Father and I will be at house in 10 min. Doctor is coming. Wait me." This is at 11:30pm at night mind you. In less than 10 minutes they were there, and a few minutes after that I heard the sirens of an ambulance. Yep, they called the ambulance. No worries though. In Georgia an ambulance is more like a house doctor. Thank goodness too because I was not ready to brave my first Georgian hospital experience on account that my foot hurt.

I told them my issue, and within 2 minutes I was lying on my stomach getting a shot in my butt. I swear I've gotten more shots in my butt here than I have when I was a baby! And even better, it turned out the doctors on call that night were Melissa's host mom, and Iya's mom (one of Nino's best friends). So another plus is that the next time I'm sitting having tea at Melissa's house her mom will have a great image of my ass in her head!

I went to school the next day, but it was a mistake because all the children started realizing I was walking around like an old bebia (grandma), and the teachers kept asking if I was OK. Needless to say I spent the next two days cooped up on the couch in the dining room. It was great fighting over ways to help heal my foot with Bebia. I would put the icepack on, and she would take it off. I would take pain medicine and she would tell me the pills are what is causing the pain. Got to love Georgian medicine. You know I do!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

From T-Rex to Georgian comedy at its best

This past Saturday the girls and I ventured into Kutisi to do a day trip to a park that claims to have dinosaur foot prints. After a 15 minute cab ride up a cork screw windy road we made it to the gates of the park. However we were quickly disappointed by the park rangers standing outside of the gates saying that the park was closed till April 1st. So we were a bit early. They asked why we hadn't checked online, and our response was, "We're in Georgia! When is anything ever online?!" 

We had our cab driver take us back into the center of town where we decided it would be a good idea to see if the newly opened opera house was showing anything that day. A manager of the theater saw us struggling with the doors, and let us in. She lead us through the backstage door and we soon discovered that we were watching the auditions for their first opera in the stage wings! We met the musical director who spoke beautiful English, and we exchanged email addresses so he would let us know when the opera would take place. You can't get that kind of service in New York!

We got a sneak peek of the brand new opera house!

After we left the opera theater we went to the Marjanishvili Theater to see if anything was playing (my host family's great-grand father built this theater!!). 

The Marjanishvili Theater

As it turned out their was a comedy show. We had no idea what it was going to be like, but we all thought it was worth a shot! After some ice cream in the park (yes, in January!!) we went to see the show, and to our surprise it was the Georgian SNL type show comedians putting on the show! We see these guys on TV ALL the time so it was really cool to see them in person. I especially love Georgi!!

The Georgian David Letterman type late night show host battling it out

Typical Georgian family dinner haha
Doing Georgian versions of 'Americano' and 'Waka, Waka' haha soo funny (sorry the videos wouldn't load!)