A year ago today, at about 4 am, I landed in Tbilisi International Airport for the first time.
Last night my blog reached 100,000 individual page views, or “hits.”
I wish I had time for a real “year in review” sort of post – something looking back on my time here, or whatever – but that’s sort of what this whole blog is. I’ve grown a lot in this past year. I’ve changed a lot and become a better person. I’ve realized opportunities that I never even knew I had. Life has been good.
I have failed to become fluent in Georgian. My first six months here I didn’t even have a host family, and when I did, they mostly just spoke English. I live in Tbilisi and hang out with expats and English-speaking Georgians. I can order food, direct a taxi, and obtain goods and services; I cannot hold a conversation. I can understand less than half of what is said around me, depending on their accent and how fast they are talking.
I have learned a lot about teaching. I have learned a lot about Tbilisi. My knowledge of Tbilisi geography is now comparable to or better than that of most Georgians I encounter. Sometimes when I go out in public I run into strangers who know who I am because of this blog. I find this surprising but incredibly cool. I have finally, after a full year, found a place to get decent mtsvadi. I still haven’t tried the Mexican place in Sighnaghi. I still haven’t been to Batumi.
I’ve made a lot of good friends, and a ton of nice acquaintances, and most of them are gone now. There aren’t many people from TLG group 3 still in Georgia. I’ve had great luck with dating and relationships, and I’ve managed not to talk about any of it on this blog even though I always want to. I’ve made professional contacts that could perhaps one day lead to well-paying jobs. I have a decent social network here who I feel I can rely on for help if I need it. I’ve avoided culture shock.
This is one of the first times in my life when I can honestly and unreservedly say that I am better off now than I was one year ago. Coming to Georgia was a great decision for me even if it’s only because I no longer feel like I am wasting my life. Teaching, and writing this blog, are dually responsible for the feeling that my life is now contributing positively to the world and the lives of others. I feel like I can make a difference here, like I can give Georgians the opportunities that come from education and also give a voice to the social issues that Georgia struggles with (or should struggle with.) Someone told me that this is a very American attitude. I’m fine with that.
This blog gets, on average, between 200 and 300 hits per day. That means that there are hundreds of people who read what I have to say – who get to be exposed to a very particular Western assessment of Georgian life and culture. A vocal minority wishes I would shut up and go home, but that’s always the case when there’s any discussion of social issues whatsoever. Many more people read, and comment, or pass a link on to others, or mention me in their blogs or news articles. I want to thank all of those people – you’ve given me something really special and I hope I can live up to that gift.
I’ve fallen out of touch with America in a very big way. I know that some of my relatives read this blog, but most don’t. Same with my American friends. I haven’t had time to keep up with facebook this summer, and even before that I had hid hundreds of people from my news feed because their daily lives are no longer applicable to my daily life. I was happy with a lot of aspects of my life in America but on a day to day basis I was often very miserable. I haven’t had a single miserable day in Georgia and so I can’t say that I regret making a significant and sudden break from my previous life, even if there are many people and places and things from America that I miss.
My opinions about Georgia have grown and changed. As a friend told me the other day, I’m no longer a rookie. I’ve been places and seen things – more than some, less than others – and my perspective today is vastly different than it was a year ago. At the same time, I’m still a New Yorker with a liberal arts education, which means that I still see things differently than most of the people in the world. Again, I’m fine with that. I want to express my views and I want to hear your views. This blog has evolved from primarily a one-way information source for Americans looking to come to Georgia and into something more like a cultural exchange, an English-language forum for Georgians and Americans and other interested parties. I think that’s really cool, and I never would have expected it, and again I want to extend my gratitude to everyone who’s made that possible.
It’s been a great year. Sakartvelos Gaumarjost!
(video: Katie Melua, What a Wonderful World)