For those who have been wondering, I am still in Georgia.
However, I have left TLG, and not without some bitterness. I haven’t been telling my story because I haven’t wanted to slam my former employer – it’s just bad form – but now that I have some emotional distance from the events of last year, and have settled into my new job (teaching at a private school in Tbilisi) quite happily, I feel like it’s time to talk about what went down.
Last November and December, TLG began firing most of their volunteers. Due to budget cuts made by the new government, TLG had to be reduced from maybe 500-600 volunteers down to about 160. Many volunteers who had signed up for a full year were told they’d have to leave in December and would not be coming back. This caused a great deal of annoyance among those who were dismissed, and a great deal of speculation as to what the criteria were for volunteers who were offered extensions.
I was offered an extension, and accepted gladly, given that I had a newborn at home and didn’t want to have to change jobs abruptly in the middle of the school year, and that I had planned from the previous June to stay for the entirety of last year. Things seemed okay.
Then I got an email, just before school let out, from my regional representative. The email said that TLG volunteers would no longer be placed in “cities” (I guess Kutaisi, Batumi, and Tbilisi?) and that I would have to leave my school and go teach in a village outside the city. I bid a sad goodbye to my students and coteachers at my Kutaisi school and resigned myself to my situation – a new school, a new transition, and a new commute. I didn’t object at the time because they told me it was their policy and I didn’t want to ask for special treatment. Plus, I felt I was lucky just to have been given an extension.
Apparently others were not so scrupulous. I later found out that a bunch of volunteers actually stayed in Tbilisi, both living in and teaching in the capital city. I never received a coherent explanation of why exceptions were made for those volunteers to live and teach in Tbilisi but an exception was not made for me to teach in Kutaisi. Instead, I had to endure a semester with nearly an hour commute to the village on two marshutkas where people didn’t hesitate to light up a cigarette, which as you may know from reading this blog is a major point of stress for me. It was a major quality of life problem for me to spend nearly two more hours a day away from my family, especially with my son being just a few months old.
Compounding that was when I discovered that 400 lari was missing from my paycheck in January. That was the money I had previously received for both contributing to the TLG blog and managing our team of bloggers. I went to the TLG office and they explained that they had made a mistake with my contract and that in any case, they would have to reduce my blogging salary from 400 to 200 lari, assuming I agreed to stay on as blog manager under that condition. What could I do at that point? Again, middle of the school year, infant at home. I put aside my bad feelings and agreed to the new arrangement.
Then the blog began to suffer because the posts I sent in for approval were approved late or not at all. I found this very discouraging, as my posts and the posts of my team sat in limbo, and as you saw I ended up just posting some of the educational posts I had written for the TLG blog on this blog over the summer. I started to wonder if this didn’t presage the entire blog project being shut down. (I have since learned that this was actually just an issue of administrative incompetence/malfeasance and that the blog will be rejuvenated this year with a new team of administrators with increased authority and autonomy… a great development, but far too late to do me any good).
It was sad to see something I had worked so hard on be put on the back burner. It was stressful to be asked to take a nearly two-hour round trip every day to satisfy a new policy that other volunteers were exempt from for no apparent reason. It was difficult to live on my new, reduced salary, and I had to supplement my income with freelancing and tutoring rather than spending time with my wife and son. I reluctantly decided to start looking for other options.
It was not, however, until TLG failed to fly me home for the summer that I made the final decision to just cut ties with them altogether. As I’ve said before, the problem was that TLG has certain bureaucratic procedures that it follows when booking flights, and the administration was unwilling to deviate from those procedures to accommodate my family. Even though I had not taken my previous two vacation flights, even though I was going to pay for the cost of my wife’s ticket and my son’s ticket, they just wouldn’t book the flights we needed. It felt like the final insult.
So yeah, I’m still a little angry, but maybe the fact that TLG ended up falling so short of my expectations is ultimately a good thing, in that it pushed me to find a job that suits me better both financially and professionally. TLG is a good program for someone looking for an experience, but it’s not a career and it was never meant to be. Three years is already a year longer than I had initially imagined I’d ever stay with TLG. I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity TLG provided me with, even as I am very disappointed in how it ended.
And that’s the last thing I’ll say about it. It’s time to look forward, not backward. This year is going to be exciting, and while my new job keeps me very busy, I’ll try to find more time to talk about some of my projects and some of what’s going on in Georgia. After all, we have an election soon…