Finding and Escaping Normalization in Tbilisi

You find what you’re made of when you go solo on a program. Over one year ago, I decided that Eurasian Regional Language Program was best to pair with my Boren Scholarship application, because of the intensive 15+ hours of language lessons each week. I felt that this was what I needed to reach my linguistic goals. However, I also knew that transitioning from my multitasking lifestyle to devoting so much of my attention to Georgian language would be the most difficult aspect of life here.

I could not have been more wrong. With a host family, a superb language partner, multiple Georgian friends, and fantastic private teachers, it’s impossible not to succeed if you have any sense of motivation. Living with a Georgian family is definitely a lifestyle I have had to adjust to, given that I don’t even live with my own family in the U.S. However, it makes my language learning so much more rewarding when I come back every single day able to communicate new concepts to them. The timing of our conversations always makes me laugh. After studying food, my Georgian grandmother and I had a long conversation about recipes. After learning how to express my travel plans, my host brother asked me more about where I was going during my holiday breaks. Likewise, my language partner is excellent at assessing my new skills each week and leading me to talk about a difficult, but possible, subject.

Based on these circumstances, I’ve really tried to analyze what is most demanding about a program such as ERLP. I’ve come to the conclusion that I am my own challenge. I am the only program student in Tbilisi this semester and perhaps, during the next as well. This is fantastic in that I can build a network of Georgian friends and acquaintances, rather than living an expat-style life. I leave my apartment every day feeling like a Georgian girl, speaking to passer-bys, going to events and shows around the city, and spending many evenings with Georgian family and friends.

However, I am also the only one accountable for me.

I’ve realized that 3 hours of language study each day is nothing when I’m in charge of the other 12 hours. I have so many obligations and relationships in the U.S. that keep me occupied every day of my life. Here, I am building something new for myself; I am the designer. You really find out what kind of person you are. I think you know when you go from being a tourist to a resident of a country when your mindset is not that you only have to “live” with something until your departure date and when you feel that your life is a little too normal. Georgia may be another country, but it is not another world. I have my good days, my bad days, my busy days, and my slow days. I enjoy every single one of them, but my life is not a fantasy of taking pictures in front of Sameba Cathedral and Mtatsminda Ferris Wheel. My experience is much more special than a collection of Kodak moments.

Most importantly, my time here in the Republic of Georgia is teaching me what normal means to me. When I stepped foot last month into my one course at Ilia State University, I recognized instantly what I was missing. The community environment and niche I have at my own university in Florida is something that is hard to compete with here. I have so much in Tallahassee- my friends from all over the world, professors with open office doors, organizations excited to welcome newcomers, and most importantly, safe places where I can always go to study and meet people. My university is my home away from home. I see now that if I want this in Tbilisi, I must create that network for myself. Every day, I strive towards this vision, knowing that upon leaving next summer, I will be as grateful for my home here in Georgia.

By: Paige Dabney

Program: Eurasian Regional Language Program (ERLP)

Term: Academic Year 2014-2015

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