TLG Drama

As I’ve said before, a significant part of the experience of an expat in Georgia will be TLGers. There are currently several hundred TLGers in Georgia and the government has grand plans to bring in 1000 every year and eventually increase that number to 10,000, with several native speakers in every school, so that every Georgian can learn English from a native speaker.

I recently read a post by some Peace Corp volunteers expressing the tiniest bit of resentment that there is now a flood of totally unvetted and untrained foreigners having wild escapades in Georgia and making all native English speakers look bad. At first I was offended – being TLG myself – but the more I think about it, the more I realize how fair an assessment this actually is.

So I’m dedicating this post to TLG drama. But before anyone accuses me of being preachy, I feel like I should admit to participating in this drama. I’ve gossiped and heard rumors and spread rumors and devoted a large amount of my time and energy to keeping track of everything that’s going on in every corner of Georgia for the ostensible purposes of maintaining this blog as a source of information – but also for the personal gratification of being connected to a social network, because to some extent I thrive on being in the know and having a large network of contacts and connections, and I always have. I’m not all that comfortable with being the center of attention, but I do like to be a social butterfly – the guy who knows everyone, the guy who you go to for help or information or introductions to the right people. That’s why I keep a blogroll over there on the right with about 60 or 70 blogs and counting. I enjoy being a hub of information.

However, that requires a certain amount of give and take. I generally try not to spread harmful or mean-spirited rumors about people, or if I do repeat something unflattering I try to keep it anonymous – for instance, I wrote once before that I had to break up a barfight on Halloween, but I didn’t mention the names of the belligerents – but the fact is, some of the stories that are going around about TLGers in general have come through me.

Gossip isn’t the only drama we deal with in TLG. TLG, as a whole, seems to have an alcohol problem. I say this because I used to throw bitchin’ college parties with a full bar – I would literally serve cocktails made to order out of a dorm kitchen stocked with about fifty varieties of liquor, liqueur, and mixers – and I used to bartend in Brooklyn, NY – and in neither of these scenarios did I experience anything remotely close to the kind of shit that’s been going on in my last three months in Georgia. In training there were people getting wrecked every night to the point where (rumor has it) TLG made such a name for itself in Kutaisi that eight or ten Imeretian families pulled out of TLG entirely and the people who were going to be placed there had to be placed in Ajara instead. I don’t have TLG confirmation of that rumor, but whether or not it’s true, it’s a credible story because that’s how bad our training group was. Since then there have been reports of people getting thrown out of host families and even thrown out of the country due to excessive drunkenness and its consequences.

I personally only went out drinking one night during training – because of the smoke situation and my asthma, which I believe I complained about amply in my early posts. I wanted to be on my best behavior for training and I also wanted to adjust to the new circumstances with a relatively clear head and healthy body.

However, since training week, I’ve definitely overdone it with alcohol on three distinct occasions. After each one, I’ve come out looking like a drunken idiot or worse – once I threw up all over my living room and blacked out for a whole night, once I passed out in a coffee shop in downtown Tbilisi, and once I got into a barfight with three other TLGers in front of a big group of expats.

None of these things are in character for me – I managed to get through four years of bar work (not to mention ten years of college) without getting into a single fight, throwing up in a single living room, or passing out in a single public place. So what gives?

I’ve been talking to a friend who spent a lot of time abroad, and who used to drink with some of the English teachers and expat community in South Korea. Her theory is that something about being in a foreign country – a place where you don’t really have that many ties – makes people act irresponsibly, especially with regards to alcohol. She says that somewhere in the back of your mind, you just know that the consequences of your actions aren’t going to follow you home or stick with you for life in the way that they would if you did this stuff in your hometown.

I’m not sure how much I buy this, on a personal level. On the one hand, I’ve long believed that humans control their behavior more because of social ties than because of a rational evaluation of consequences. People don’t want to lose the love of their friends and family, and they don’t want to look bad or lose face. I think that morality, for many people, comes down to image – self-image, and public image. I know that I personally treated strangers better in Brooklyn, where I felt close ties to the community, than in Queens, where I didn’t really know anyone and felt nothing but resentment towards my neighbors and just wanted to leave. When I lived in Brooklyn I would smile at people, say hello to people I saw regularly, help people with random things they needed help with, and get into conversations with strangers at the supermarket or laundromat. In Queens, I basically just kept to myself and ignored everybody, even people that I passed every day.

So I think there’s something to the idea that if we’re in a country where we are totally isolated from everyone we know, where we don’t feel at home, and where we know we’re going to be leaving at some definite point in the future, that frees us from the burdens of maintaining a positive disposition and good public image.

On the other hand, I personally want to stay in Georgia and build a community of friends here. I don’t want to be seen as a drunken idiot or an immature gossip or whatever. And aside from public image, I also worry about ending up in a hospital or in jail. What if I got drunk and fell over and broke something, you know? I know there’s an element of lawlessness in Georgian culture that makes people feel that it is okay to let loose, but that same lawlessness makes Georgia a very unsafe place for a person with impaired balance and reaction time. There are literally holes in the sidewalk that you could fall into if you don’t pay attention – for about two weeks, there was on on my walk home that was about four feet wide and about five or six feet deep. Slip into that and you’ll be lucky to just break a bone. Not to mention that my front steps don’t have a railing on the right side, which means that if I got drunk enough to be falling over, I could fall over and die on my way into my house.

So I’ve tried to be careful and limit my drinking. And yet.

And I wonder if I’m really drinking much more than I did in the US, or if there’s some other psychological factor at work when I drink. In the US I usually drink with close friends. We take care of each other, we trust each other, and we always have a way home or to someone’s house where we can stay. The bars that I go to don’t have the kind of people who get wasted and get into fights. I know there are problems in NYC, but for me, drinking there was always safe and in ten years I knew when to stop on all but two or three occasions.

So what is it with being an expat? Is it like my friend said – that it frees you from the feeling of being watched by a community? Is it culture shock – is drinking the only outlet for a level of stress that goes unexpressed, that we may not even know that we have until we’ve had a few too many? Is it the college-frat-party-like environment of TLG, in which there are only four or five hundred people to socialize with (aside from the townies) and the only way you can stand to be around most of them is to get really fucking drunk? Or is it the Georgian culture of drinking a shitload of beer and wine and vodka and chacha and toasting to literally everyone and their mother and are we Americans just the lightweights that everyone in the former Soviet bloc thinks we are?

So with that as background… yeah. TLG is a breeding ground for drama. TLG gatherings tend to be extended bitch-sessions in which people complain about host families, schools, salaries, weird Georgian cultural stuff, and, most of all, other TLGers. Some TLGers are starting to despise other TLGers on principle.

The thing is, TLGers aren’t screened all that much, which means that TLG consists of a fairly representative selection of people. For me, this means that some are incredibly interesting, intelligent, respectful, mature, and worthwhile people, and most are not. Take this average cross-section of people and add the stress of culture shock, take them totally out of their element, and put them in a place where alcohol is cheap and encouraged, and you basically get exactly what you would expect.

But that’s okay. Most people respond to their environments enough that if I select the groups and the environments carefully I have a very good time. I like my house for this because I can set the tone and decide who to invite – although the downside is, again, this means I have to spend money on hosting, and generally also clean up after people.

************************

The latest TLG drama unfolded on facebook. Some really cool people decided to throw a Christmas party and, due to the nature of TLG, felt compelled to include in the event description the following:

“Just as a preface: There will be NO fighting, NO puking, and NO other inappropriate gestures of any kind. If you usually use holiday parties as an excuse to get wasted and cause problems, this party is not for you. Let’s have fun, but keep it classy.”

Some other individual decided to throw a counter-party the next day:

“Just as a preface: There WILL BE fighting, puking, and other inappropriate gestures of ALL kinds. If you usually use holiday parties as an excuse to get wasted and cause problems, this party IS for you. If you’re usually part of the crew that takes themselves far too seriously and thinks you actually have a real role in this country then this is NOT for you. Let’s have fun, and keep it real.”

I don’t know if they’re serious, or if this is some kind of joke that I just don’t get. I have been avoiding going to bars and parties here because there always seems to be someone wasted or fighting or passed out or puking – and yes, sometimes this has been me – and I am trying to stay away from that so that no more stupid crap happens to me during my stay in Georgia. TLGers already have a well-deserved reputation for causing problems and being, well, a bunch of dickheads, and while some people choose to try to remain above these problems, apparently others have chosen to mock them as “taking themselves too seriously.”

I’m not a fan of taking anything seriously unless it’s an issue that really, really deserves it. This one does. For whatever reason, TLGers – at least, in Tbilisi – seem to surround themselves in drama and trouble and seem totally unable to rein in their impulses or control themselves and behave in appropriate ways in public places when alcohol is involved.

Aside from just ignoring the seriousness of the warning not to cause problems, it also seems mean-spirited to mock someone who is trying to show everyone a good time before some of us go on break and others leave Georgia forever. Again, if it’s supposed to be a joke, I don’t get it. To me, it just seems like a dick move. But it’s just one minor example of how asinine and ubiquitous this TLG drama can be.

On the bright side, it’s certainly motivation to make more Georgian friends.

******************************

This one’s for all the haters:

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13 Responses to TLG Drama

  1. Victoria Wheeler says:

    I have to say, the first time I ever went to a bar and drank, or even drank enough to be very tipsy, was in France. Now, part of that for me does hinge on the fact that I was underage at the time and could not have gone to a bar in the states if I had wanted, but there is still a fundamental shift that moreso happened in my thinking while I was over there than it just being the age factor.

    I tend to agree with you, I think for me, it was largely the removal of the community around me that I normally worried I would look bad in. Likewise, there was the pressure of living abroad, and finally the idea that, if you’re abroad, you should have “new experiences” and drinking was one of them – one that was very much permitted in Europe – for me.

  2. Kam says:

    Right on. Despite the fact that there are a handful of awesome TLGers that I hold very near–you being one of them–I find very little appeal in fraternizing with most of the other volunteers very much. I’d never been around people who drink before I came here and the drama and irresponsibility that unfolds amongst volunteers on what is probably a daily basis in relation to alcohol-consumption and who knows what else completely overwhelms me.

    I admit to being ashamed to even be TLG at times, simply because of the misbehavior and lack of professionalism that has become synonymous with the acronym to many people. I jump at the opportunity to befriend and socialize with Georgians and non-TLG expats and–in many cases–prefer that company.

    The screening process really needs to be taken up several notches. Several, several notches. And more people actually need to start facing consequences for their actions. There are some people who definitely should not be here. Period. But the discipline problems that allow Georgian classrooms to spiral into chaos have already touched TLG. If you can do whatever you want and almost always get away with it, why stop?

  3. Justine says:

    I’ve been thinking about doing TLG and reading the blogs since August. I think it’s unfortunate that so many problems have occured, but really it is to be expected. I will say the screening now is heavily emphasizing that doing TLG will be challenging, and we are expected to represent ourselves nicely. From reading all the blogs about people drinking all the time, I as a social light drinker started thinking “wow I better build my tolerance before I get there so I fit in” now seeing there is a bit of an alcoholism problem, maybe I’ll just keep my tolerance nice and low.
    Anyway, thanks for your blog, it helps me a lot in knowing what to expect.

  4. Ilyk Eyaj says:

    Yeah you are right, drinking is in excess and there are some druggies/junkies in the group too.
    Of course, I don’t drink or use drugs, so maybe I’m just a prude? Or I’m just old?
    I’ve never attended TLG events and won’t be attending the Christmas party/parties because of this type of frat-boy/sorority-girl behavior.

    Expats should mingle with a lot of the NGO’s and Int’l Companies here in Georgia. I’ve met a lot of interesting and worthwhile people through those organizations. Plus it’s a nice way to meet the International crowd that is A.) Not American or Canadian
    B.) Not affiliated with the TLG or the Peace Corps.
    (Sorry but I have met a lot of drunk and high Peace Corps people as well and don’t think of them as better than the TLGers)

    There is a community of Western Europeans from Schengen countries in Tbilisi as well as people from Asia, Africa, and South America too. Great folks from the 4 corners of the Earth who have a different perspective on Georgia than one you would hear from TLGers or the Peace Corps.

    It really is a breath of fresh air to talk to someone who is South African, Serbian, or Filipino about life here in Georgia!

  5. Yo says:

    Well let me tell you something. It’s kinda ironic really. I like drinking, not often but when I do I do it to the max. I fortunately only pass out and never go into drunken rants when intoxicated. Usually, 8 out of ten times, I stumble on my own to a taxi cab or the metro station and basically make it home safely. I drank back home as well though not as often as I have here. I had my fun, I enjoyed breaking this town in and now I’ve realized that at my age I can’t continue hanging out with most of the just graduated from college crowds because in all honesty they can be fucking retarded when they drink.

    I’ve gotten so tired of the drama and shit talking about myself and other members that over time I’ve made Georgian, Armenian, Indian as well as Belgium and Polish friends. I’m an American and I enjoy the company of Americans but for fuck’s sake why is it that I have to avoid Americans to have a good time in this country?

    You know what else is annoying? On the other end of the blind drunkeness many TLG’s display (I have belonged in this category many times to be honest) I can’t stand the boring uptight save the world tree hugging fucking presumptuous and pompous poindexters who hang out at overpriced joints like Prospero’s and talk and philosophize about ridiculous things like why they believe they are doing the country a favor by gracing Georgians and Georgia with their presence. It really is annoying when a guy like me who likes to get along with everyone can’t hang out with drunken TLG’ers nor with credentialism sucking uptight pricks who think that because they were measured with higher IQ’s they can say what ever shit that comes out of their mouths.

    I love my children, I love where I work and what I do. I may not be the best at it but I do a damn good job based on my fellow Georgians’ colleagues reactions and the reactions of those of my students. I also found a special someone from Georgia who I absolutely adore.

    Drama comes in many different shapes and forms and drunken TLG’ers are not the only common source of gossip and drama it is only the most obvious and well known type of drama. This blog is a type of drama, me having had sex in public is drama, me watching a georgian couple get it on in the park is drama, me hearing stories of georgian men groping western women is drama…drama drama drama.

    All of you who commented here can’t seriously point out the drunken drama TLG’ers without also acknowledging the drama that this blog has brought on. I mean everyone knows about this blog. My point is although I know the author of this blog acknowledges his blog does create or fall into drama…these other 4 posters who commented speak as if they are holier then thou.

    If you’re going to “raise” the standards for bringing in people to Georgia to screen out unqualified people then I hope they include some metric test to measure the uptightness many TLG brainiancs and poindexters seem to want to flaunt. Fuck there’s no point in being book smart if you have no personality and your kids are bored the hell out of their minds. There are some fun brainy people, and I’ve met one here and there…but this is a rarity.

    So make it go both ways. Screen out the drunks and junkies as well as the people with huge intellectual boners who are so square and uptight they cannot only not relate with most TLG’ers, even on pragmatic level, but they snore their kids to sleep with their fucking boring personalities.

  6. Tymala says:

    “Expats should mingle with a lot of the NGO’s and Int’l Companies here in Georgia. I’ve met a lot of interesting and worthwhile people through those organizations. Plus it’s a nice way to meet the International crowd that is A.) Not American or Canadian
    B.) Not affiliated with the TLG or the Peace Corps.”

    I have to admit that things have changed dramatically since the TLGers came to Georgia. I do enjoy being able to hear English on a daily basis and meeting new people. There have been many of us NGO’s here for the past decade and I would say that most of us are Swedes or Danes. I have been here for a year and half (wrote 2 years in a previous post because it has felt that long). I still have another year and half to go and do not mind mingling with some of the TLGers as long as they are conducting themselves in a fairly proper manner in public. I have liked most of the people from this program whom I have had the pleasure of meeting, but it is clear that some may not have been screened properly. The Georgians are going to lump all of us foreigners together in most cases. Nowadays they are labeling and assuming all of us are Americans.

    True that most of you are here only in the short term-so please do not do too much damage for those of us who must stick around longer :). However, I can totally understand the need to get together and vent with each other regarding host families, culture shock, ect…and drink as well-this is normal and necessary for those who are stuck in villages with little contact with friends. The excessive drinking probably is a combination of a coping mechanism and the lax cultural acceptance of alcoholism in general.

    I don’t think anyone should be ashamed of having to hit the bottle and vent every now and then-just in moderation and not so publicly to help the image and diplomacy between the future TGLers and the NGOs who are here for quite some time.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I am ashamed to even admit I am part of the TLG program. Not because of the behaviors of many of the party-goer teachers, but because of the lack of preparation and organization needed to make this program successful. I think TLG’s goal is just wonderful, but the execution of the plan has failed in many ways. I’d like to see all of the investment in the project turned over to expanding the Peace Corp program in the following years. That’s a program with undeniable, and proven success around the world.
    I met a local the other day. I reluctantly told her that I was here with TLG, she right away asked if I liked it. I answered that the program has many problems and if I could go back and change things, I’d have prefered to come to Georgia through an organization like the Peace Corp. She was not surprised as she had heard some stories from other volunteers & was right away concerned if anything had happened to me. She told me some volunteers got mugged, a girl had all of her belongings stolen by her own host family while she was out of town for the weekend, a volunteer’s host father made a pass at her and tried to kiss her, another girl was forced to sleep in the same room as her host mother for 3 days until TLG finally moved her to a new host family that had proper accomodations. (That last story I already knew of, as I’d met this girl and heard her bazaar host family story.)
    It seems that the situation with TLG volunteers is as follows: typical twenty-something year olds wanting to party because they are overseas, stressed out with all the new changes, and as a result getting carried away with their drinking in a country that unfortunately encourages excessive drinking. However this is not the safest country for that, with the sort of naive Westerners being taken advantage of in many ways by the locals.

  8. Kay says:

    Wow I was thinking of applying to become a TLG until I read this post. Unfortunately there’s nothing similar to the Peace Corps here in Canada. It’s unfortunate that some people in the TLG program are so immature. The only requirement is that you’ve completed 2 years of university – you don’t even need to have graduated. Well, I remember the difference between a person in second year and a fresh graduate can be the difference between a toga party and a dinner party.

    I had considered the JET program and other ESL, but I thought that my chances of getting in would be less because of the more rigorous application process. I thought that going to Georgia would be more unique than going to Asia to teach ESL. The advantage of more established programs like JET can screen in people who really want the job, know what to expect and screen out the people who want to drink. Of course, there are huge differences between TLG and JET.

    It’s great that you have this blog because now I can make a more informed decision before I apply. But I haven’t read all of your posts yet – do you have a post on why you applied to this program in the first place? I’m curious to find out.

    • panoptical says:

      I was actually recruited to come to Georgia by Footprints, who specifically emailed me asking if I’d like to come here. I know that TLG has increased the level of screening that they do since I entered the program, although no amount of screening can really predict how someone will react to the environment in Georgia.

      I felt a strong need to get out of America and to find a job quickly after finishing my degree rather than languish in the stagnant American job market for over a year, which is how long it takes the average graduate to find a job after college. I’ve always wanted to travel, so teaching abroad seemed like the best plan, and Georgia combined a lot of factors that appealed to me.

      Anyway, TLG is making an effort to improve the overall level of its employees and I think they’ve been doing a decent job since I wrote this post. It’s also easy to avoid the kinds of situations I described here – that is, if you choose to – and there is a significant proportion of TLG volunteers who just quietly do their job and don’t cause any fuss, but of course we don’t get to hear from those people all that often.

      And of course the last thing I want to do by posting about drama is drive away the kinds of people who don’t thrive on drama. Anyway, from what I’ve heard, every teach abroad destination with a significant expat population (see for example Korea) has the same issues, regardless of screening – people are far away from home and responsibility, and no matter how good they look on paper, some people just sort of lose control in that situation.

  9. --> says:

    I liked this comment:

    ************************************
    “Because, in all honesty, my biggest disappointment was the program itself. While many of the coordinators were helpful, kind, and incredibly devoted to the teachers’ happiness, the program itself was running on a hobbled leg out of the gate.

    It was underfunded, understaffed, and lacked the cultural understanding to provide for such a large group of volunteers. That last one sounds a bit insensitive, but I don’t mean that the employees of TLG are ignorant or intentionally frustrating.

    The Georgian government was making a massive push with this program, and one gets the sense that it bit off more than it could chew. As such, volunteers were routinely asked to accept things that would have been outrageous in other programs, particularly ones run by the U.S. government (the lack of sufficient training or information about host families, for example). These are cultural differences, I think, in that many countries and governments have experience running programs and hosting volunteers the likes of which TLG was charged with, and as such they know the do’s and don’ts of a country-wide effort to, say, reduce illiteracy.

    With respect to this particular program, the Ministry of Education (or TLG specifically) was more like a confused yuppie tasked with running a startup business without ever having held even a shift manager position at McDonald’s: well-intentioned but ill-equipped, lacking some foresight, and prone to lashing out at the wrong people.”

    http://asenseofadventure.blogspot.com/2011/02/time-and-distance-part-1.html
    **************************************

    • panoptical says:

      Another retail metaphor criticizing TLG… one almost gets the feeling that the West is in some kind of consumer culture and sees everything through the lens of Starbucks and McDonald’s.

      Needless to say I disagree with this text completely. Okay, yes, there are some cultural differences between the way business is run in Georgia and the way business is run in the US – but I’m surprised that you in particular are so willing to accept this characterization of Georgian cultural business norms as “outrageous” considering how staunchly you have defended some other Georgian cultural norms.

      TLG had a very rough first semester as it adapted to the strange and difficult reality of working with hundreds of spoiled American 20-somethings (and a much smaller number of people from other countries and age groups) but I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect a new program to be able to anticipate every contingency from the get-go, and as I’ve said before I think TLG is doing a wonderful job of making incremental improvements on all of the issues that Adam here mentions. I also think that the negative comparisons to US educational programs is ridiculous – American education is in the toilet and anyone who thinks otherwise is buying into bullshit American exceptionalist propaganda.

  10. --> says:

    > One almost gets the feeling that the West is in some
    > kind of consumer culture and sees everything through the
    > lens of Starbucks and McDonald’s

    Don’t you tell me that it is not!

    It IS the consumer society where pretty much of everything – birth, death, wedding, cost of human life, religion – everything is measured by money.

    Plain and simple. Economic indicators are based CPI. Starbucks is an indicator of infrastructure development of a particular area and moreover – indicator or the purchasing power of the local population. There is even a term SpZ – Starbucks per ZIP code. Your native NY is well ahead of the rest of the planet.

  11. --> says:

    Hey, I said that I liked the comment, not _agreeing_ with it.

    Regarding this statement:

    > but I’m surprised that you in particular are so willing to accept
    > this characterization of Georgian cultural business norms as “outrageous”

    Because it is, from my point of view, based of personal observations and experience. But I’m using a broad generalization here (which as we know is false, because all generalizations are, including this one) . Let me explain.

    See, when someone does not do their job properly they can be blamed for either not knowing how to do it properly or not willing to learn how to do it properly.

    How business is conducted in general in Georgia it is rather latter, than former. However, what I read about TLG it is rather former – people had actually no idea how to do it and they’ve being learning during the process. And so far they’ve done quite a good job based on what I see.

    Yes, the important thing is that (again) people need to have right expectations when they arrive to a different country or when they communicate with people outside of their normal business environment. I’ve briefly touched one part – about communications in my own blog post http://tanelorn.livejournal.com/16649.html

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