About

Hello!

This is a blog about my experiences living and teaching in a country called Georgia. I strive to be interesting and informative. I devote a lot of attention to social issues, and a lot of attention to food, so if you are interested in either of those topics as they apply to Georgia, you’re in the right place.

My name is Neal Zupancic. My last name is the Americanized version of Zupančič, which the fifth most common surname in Slovenia, and most likely what my ancestors were called prior to their departure from the Old World. I was born and raised in New York City, although you wouldn’t necessarily know it from my accent, which has been described to me as “generic,” whatever that means.

I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Political Science at Hunter College in New York. My concentrations were Political Theory and American Law. I have also studied computer science, drama, linguistics, anthropology, linguistic anthropology, women’s studies, theatre, and philosophy, among other things. I am currently putting this diverse educational background to use by teaching various subjects (mostly computer science) at a private school in Tbilisi.

“panoptical” is my wordpress user id, taken from my first WordPress blog, which contained various philosophical musings and hasn’t been updated very much in the last few years.  I also use “panoptical” when discussing academic or philosophical subjects on the internet.  The name comes from Bentham’s “panopticon” which I read about in Foucault during a gender studies class that I took in college.  Foucault has since influenced my thinking a great deal, and reading him will take you a long way towards understanding why I am so weird.

For more information about Georgia-the-country, I highly recommend my brand new “Really Useful Information” page. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Comments are currently moderated strictly according to the Comments Policy.

Thanks for reading!

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44 Responses to About

  1. Hans Gutbrod says:

    If you’re interested in philosophy (and social science) drop by at our events from time to time. I enjoyed your blog.

    Hans

    • Dear Hans,
      May we (lovers of philosophy) know which events are you talking about?
      Are they open?

      • Hans Gutbrod says:

        Dear Andro: we have a weekly series called Works-in-Progress, with a range of different topics. The best way to check that is on Facebook, under Works-in-Progress. And we are always looking for researchers that want to present their own work in progress. Everyone is welcome to join!

  2. Hey,
    Actually, officially our country is called Georgia, and not Republic of Georgia :))

    Good luck in teaching 🙂

    • panoptical says:

      I thought officially your country was called საქართველო. 🙂

      Actually, I know that “Georgia” is the official name, but I follow the convention used by many English speakers and use “Republic of Georgia” to distinguish your country from the US state of the same name.

      • nino says:

        Hi Neal!
        Just try to ignore aggressive Georgians))))) good luck to you and I wish you’ll enjoy your stay in Georgia but can’t promise it will be pleasant all the time. )))

      • tamri says:

        Sorry for such late response, actually I’m not aggressive person, I just like calling everything by their own names. But when you explained why you use “Republic of Georgia”, and not just “Georgia” I understood everything.
        Yes, in Georgian language official name is საქართველო 😀 :)))

  3. Sandro Tarkhan-Mouravi says:

    Coming to a country which causes you so much trouble/discomfort requires courage and I respect all of you very much for that.

    Obviously, when you come here, you realize this society has many problems, especially with gender issues, but on the other hand, these problems are what makes life here interesting in a certain way. This is the feeling which is shared by many relatively “western”-minded Georgians.

    And I hope (want to believe) that the share of such Georgians will ever increase and I’m interested in observing that, either from inside or even from distance. I think, observing such local changes means observing the progress of the mankind, as the mankind consists of all the societies, and a large portion of them still has similar or other significant problems.
    Even the “western” societies constantly face challenges, albeit of different kinds — life is struggle, life’s a game, it’s beautiful and it’s interesting.

  4. Kimberly says:

    Hey,

    I have just discovered your blog and am really happy as I have been considering going to Georgia to teach next year (I am still at uni). This caused a rather violent outburst from several family members who consider it a really stupid idea! So I’m just letting you know I am reading your blog and really happy to have found someone who can comment from experience on the safety and conditions in Georgia.

    Cheers,

    Kim

    • panoptical says:

      Thanks! I got similar responses from friends who told me that I’d be crazy to come here, but I’m really glad I did.

      • Kimberly says:

        Yeah I guess people who are just not that way inclined just won’t understand! I am also wondering, were you already a teacher or did you just do a TEFL course? My degree is not in teaching and another program told me that no one will accept the online courses and I must go to the country early and do a TEFL course there… but there are so many online options that I feel this can’t be true?

        • panoptical says:

          Well, TLG doesn’t require any certification or teaching experience, so you can come to Georgia without taking a class at all. As for other countries, I’m not there so I can’t say, but it seems like many programs do accept online TEFL courses.

        • Kimberly says:

          Oh really? I didn’t realise that nothing was required at all. Because I found it through the Footprints website I assumed you had to at least do a TEFL online. Thanks for that!

        • Kimberly says:

          Ah and have just read their home page more closely and seen it says all you need is your bachelors. I am truly brilliant 😛

    • Chetan says:

      Hi Kim,

      I stay in India, earlier stayed in USA and in Georgia (Sakartvelo). I consider Georgia to be the safest. Children can play without supervision. Young beautiful girls can walk out past midnight. No fear. You can keep your door open in Tbilisi anytime (I stayed near freedom square and also in didi digomi). People can be a bit rude but face it, they don’t hide emotions and act, they are spontaneous. Show emotions on face. I will soon be there at the end of the year. Its a beautiful nation with clean resources and simple life. You will never forget it.

      • Kimberly says:

        Thanks Chetan,

        I have to say, although I am a little worried about being a woman alone there, it’s only because I have traveled a little bit in Africa and the Middle East and thus I am aware of the dangers that exist in many places, especially for women. I am not judging Georgia until I experience it for myself, and it is most definitely other people, not me, who think it’s a stupid idea. I have heard of the famous Georgian hospitality and so I am very much looking forward to it.

  5. Sibila says:

    Hi, Neal, I have just discovered your blog when searching some materials on gender situation in Georgia. I am Georgian and I like your blog and generally, I like those people coming to my country and trying to analyse the interesting differences and delivering a critical appriach – it is very useful contribution to transition of Georgian civil society from the old-fashioned USSR life style to a democratic and open – non-discriminative relations.

    By the way, you`re right to menitoned Georgia as a Republic of Georgia – it is absolutely correct according to the Constitution of Georgia.

    Best regards,

  6. Molly says:

    Hi Neal.

    I am a journalist with EurasiaNet.org, http://www.eurasianet.org, an American online news magazine. I am based in Tbilisi and wrote an article about the Teach and Learn with Georgia program in September. I am now working on a follow up article about the program’s growing pains and successes.

    Would you be interested in being interviewed?

    Thank you,
    Molly

  7. katarzynawid says:

    Hey Neal,
    Georgia has caught my eye, but I’m not keen to lock myself in for too long – are there many opportunities to freelance, in your opinion? I’m really enjoying your blog so far, thank you 🙂
    Ciao!
    Kat

    • panoptical says:

      Well, I know TLG is giving out contracts as short as 3 months. In addition to that, if you have some money (and Georgia has a very low cost of living) you could come here, rent a place for a month for something like 150-200 USD, and look for freelancing stuff – there are jobs boards (like jobs.ge) that recruit English speakers, and there seem to be plenty of people looking for private English language tutors. And of course if you do something like freelance writing for a website, the pay you get will go a lot farther here than it would in most other places.

      • katarzynawid says:

        Sweet! Thanks for the info 🙂
        Hmm, three months I could do…any less than that, and I wouldn’t really get a ‘feel’ for what ‘it’s all about’ anyway 🙂

        Hmm, finding freelancing work as well. Hmmmmmm 🙂

        Thanks for the ideas, and I hope you’re enjoy the mild winter (that I presume a place like Georgia has).

        • Irakli says:

          Hey, I am Georgian and believe me, being American nativa English speaker can earn you with private lessons can earn you around 21 usd for an hr as a tutor, have around 5 students and you are rich for Georgian standards.
          Cheers.

  8. Emily says:

    Hi…
    I found your blog referenced on a chat forum about teaching in Georgia, and I guess this seems like the easiest way to get in touch with someone who’s there now. I’m leaving for Georgia on Saturday (Feb. 27th) and am debating whether or not to bring a winter coat. I’ve spent time in the region before and my inclination is to say I need to bring it…but as I look at the space in my bag I can’t help but be hopeful for Spring. Thoughts? I’m only committed for a semester so it won’t affect me next year.

    • panoptical says:

      I didn’t bring a winter coat – I usually layer a shirt, a sweater, a vest or sports jacket, and a spring jacket, with a thermal undershirt on particularly cold days. Also you’ll mostly be inside for the first week as you’ll have orientation. So by march 7th it might be warm enough for you not to have a winter coat – depending on where you’re from. If you’re from New York or points north, no problem. If you’re from Florida you’ll be pretty miserable. Also some regions are warmer and at lower elevations, but other regions are colder and mountainous, so I don’t want to tell you not to bring a winter coat and have you end up freezing your ass off on a mountain somewhere where it will still be snowy in April and where the schools don’t have indoor heating.

      So I guess I’m saying that you should at least try to bring enough layers to have the capacity to be warm at freezing temperatures, but I don’t know if a winter coat per se is necessary.

  9. Louie Davis says:

    Hey Neal,

    I’m graduating in April and applying for a June 15 start date. Really enjoy reading your blog. Outstanding writing and very insightful. I’ll drop you a line if I end up in Georgia. Until then, I got this shit bookmarked.

    Louie

  10. Dear Neal it’s nice to read your posts 🙂 I am a magistrate student of TSU, achieving my master’s degree in American Studies. I am eager to get in touch with TLG members. It’s very attracting for me to communicate with people from diverse cultures , wanna make as many foreigner friends as possible and practice my English. You are welcome to see my blog also – http://www.bilball.wordpress.com 🙂 Contact : at Facebook.com Giorgi Rostiashvili Email: mbagiogio@gmail.com

  11. Tanja says:

    Hi,

    It is great to read your blog. My boyfriend and I are just getting ready for our time in Georgia and I was wondering if you would answer a couple of questions via email, facebook or skype. I just want to have a chat with someone who has already done it 🙂
    It would be great if you have the time but absolutley no worries if not.
    Thanks
    Tanja

  12. Wiweck Singh says:

    I really appreciate your blog. It is what. I had been thinking from long time (almost 3 years), and you put all those things in your posts. I feel that problem is, Georgians are highly ignorant people. Therefore, they do not accept the fact, which is happening with them and happening around them.

    • --> says:

      I feel that problem is, Indians are highly ignorant people. Therefore, they do not accept the fact, which is happening with them and happening around them.

  13. Hani says:

    Hello,
    I’m heading to Georgia at the end of the month. Any advice?

    • panoptical says:

      Yes – lost luggage is not uncommon; usually it will arrive within a week or two, but that’s no comfort when you’re wearing the same underwear for that long. So it pays to bring a change of clothes in your carry-on as well as any necessary items like medication that you won’t be able to do without for a week.

      Read the forums for things like packing tips; don’t overpack because most things are available in Georgia – maybe not your brand name product of choice, but almost every general category of thing can be found here. Pseudoephedrine is an exception; if that’s your favorite cold medicine I recommend you bring enough for at least two or three colds. Remember you are working with disease vectors and handwashing is not a thing here in Georgia. Unless you are some sort of superhuman mutant alien, you will probably get sick more often in Georgia than you are used to just for that reason alone, not to mention the heating challenges that sometimes occur in winter.

      I recommend that you learn the Georgian alphabet before you arrive. You won’t have the time/mental energy to do it during orientation, which means that if you don’t do it now you’ll be functionally illiterate and quite possibly remain that way throughout your stay in Georgia. Literacy isn’t all that important in Tbilisi but it helps a ton in the boonies. It’s only 33 letters; I used http://www.omniglot.com/writing/georgian2.htm and some flash cards, it took about 30 minutes of study per day for about four days. Don’t bother learning the “names” of the letters, Georgians just call them by their sounds anyway. Also, on the flip side, you don’t need to bother learning basic Georgian words unless you feel like it, because the pronunciation is a pain and a half and you will have time to pick up many basic words and phrases in orientation especially if you don’t have to waste time with the alphabet. Studying basic words helps if you have free time and desire, but the letters are the thing to focus on initially.

      Finally, expect the unexpected. In a lot of ways, Georgia is super-awesome and has everything you need. In a lot of ways, Georgia is super-frustrating and it feels like there’s never any organization and nothing ever gets better and nothing ever gets done. Living with a host family is challenging so try to prepare yourself and set your expectations at a very low level, this way you will mostly be pleasantly surprised rather than disappointed.

      Let me know if you have any questions and feel free to find me on facebook!

      • Hani says:

        Thanks for the Advice 🙂 I am leaving Toronto Tonight, so I’ll be landing in Tiblisi early wednesday morning..yikes.. I ended up with the group that leaves at the end of august, which worked out great!

        I am definitely bringing change of clothes in my carry on.. I wish they gave us more Kg for our luggage though 😦 ..

        Hope you don’t mind that I email you from time to time.

        take care

  14. Karen says:

    I was wondering if you have any first hand info on the safety for women volunteering to teach in Georgia. I have read on other blogs that they are treated like ‘whores’ and sexually assaulted and in some cases lived with families where the wife was beaten. Any of these situation would be quite distressful for me to say the least. Also, an recommendation on whether to go urban, or rural and where to live if I had the choice?

    • panoptical says:

      I’ll answer the easier question first – if you’re going through TLG you won’t have a choice of whether to go urban or rural. They may or may not take your preference into account but in general you can’t expect to be placed where you want. Urban and rural both have pros and cons, and a lot depends on your personality. I grew up in a city of 8 million people and now live in Tbilisi, which has 1.5 million – honestly it wasn’t much of an adjustment, but it is strange when the water and power go out. Rural areas have lots of livestock and not much to do but it’s very cheap and you get more of a cultural experience, from what I hear. You’ll learn the language better in a rural area, certainly.

      As for women’s safety… it is certainly an issue. I’ve written about it several times before – see in particular my post on International Women’s Day for a comprehensive overview of the topic, or if you feel like wading through almost 200 comments arguing back and forth there’s my older Sex and Gender in Georgia post..

      The short version is that if you come here you will be subjected to a level of sexual harassment that is much more pervasive and frequent than what most Westerners are used to. This will be worse if you are blond, and much, much worse if you are not white. There are ways to deal with this, to mitigate risk and avoid dangerous situations, but for many women who come here the heightened level of caution and the defense and coping mechanisms they have to learn seem to be the biggest single stress factor in the first few months. Most Georgians do not seem to understand what the problem is with the way women are treated here and that makes it all the more frustrating.

      Host families generally are not characterized by gender equality, so be prepared for that. Host families are screened for things like criminal backgrounds, but I have heard credible stories of domestic abuse taking place while a volunteer was in the home. Unfortunately domestic abuse is a rather large problem in Georgia and there is still a code of silence surrounding the issue. That being said most volunteers don’t seem to have problems with their host families – who would view it as a great shame if their guests were alienated or distressed – and the bulk of the problems seem to come from strangers or acquaintances. And, if you do happen to be placed in a host family where you find the situation problematic or unsafe, TLG is extremely responsive and will not hesitate to move you to a better situation.

      Overall, if you follow the safety recommendations that TLG gives you, you can be as safe in Georgia as you would be in any other country, although you may come to resent taking precautions – for instance, the idea of needing a male escort while traveling – and prefer to risk dealing with harassment once you have a better handle on the language, culture, people, and places.

  15. Noel says:

    Hi Neal,
    Enjoying reading your blog, please keep blogging. I’m wondering if you give private lessons for Georgian students with moderate level of English?

    PS: I thought to live in Georgia for a year or two. I felt like you’re feeling right now…missing friends, parents, lost opportunities, daily fight for survival…despite all of this it’s getting my sixth year. Got married to Georgian and raise my family here. Tbilisi is a crowded melting pot just like any other in the world, it’s not the real Georgia. But you don’t have to travel far to experience the real Georgia, guria, kakheti, …

  16. Jessica says:

    Hey,

    I found your blog through footprints recruiting. I’m about to do tlg in Georgia and they recommended that I talk to a former volunteer about the experience and I was wondering if I could ask you some questions via email or something.

    Thanks so much,
    Jessica

  17. mezzoguild says:

    Would you consider guest posting over at The Mezzofanti Guild?

    People interested in the Georgian culture and language would be keen to hear some of your insight.

  18. Pingback: New Pages | Georgia On My Mind

  19. Jenny T says:

    Hi there
    Your blog is fascinating 🙂
    I am a South African teacher, with 8 years of teaching experience. I also have short term volunteering experience in India and Swaziland. I’m very exited by what I’ve heard about the program. I just have a few questions about the application process. Maybe you could give me some guidance. I’m getting all the documentation in order. I was wondering if I should apply through an agency, or directly through TLG. I live in South Africa, so it seems kind of going a round a bout route sending all my documents to an agency in the States. Or are there advantages to doing that? Also, it sounds ridiculous, but I don’t have the internet at home, so worried it might be difficult to arrange a Skype interview. I know it may sound strange, but even at the school where I work (in terms of technology, its kind of under resourced), we don’t have access to Skype. Obviously, I’ll have to make a plan, but is there another alternative? And one last question! If I apply and am accepted, what kind of time frame should I work on? How soon after applying should I expect a response, and how long until a placement is settled? I’m really serious about gaining some experience teaching overseas, and as a keen historian, Georgia sounds like an incredible opportunity for learning. Any help would be appreciated 🙂 Thanks so much!

    • panoptical says:

      Hi,

      Thanks, I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog.

      Right now, because of the shift in government, TLG is on a recruiting hiatus – no one else will be brought to Georgia until at least January. So, that’s the current time frame, and I imagine that if and when TLG starts recruiting again, there may be a sizeable backlog of applicants and it could even involve waiting until September.

      You can certainly apply directly to TLG, the agencies are just facilitators. I went through Footprints, which is headquartered in Canada about 3000 miles away from where I lived when I applied – everything is electronic so there’s no real difference between going through an agency or TLG, except that the agency gives you extra help and advice and can also help you in your future teaching career – ie because I went through Footprints I’m now a Footprints Alum and they will give me priority in certain selective assignments.

      Good luck!

  20. Anonymous says:

    hi,
    I am an international student in Tbilisi, intending to teach English.
    can u advise me how can i start? and how much i can earn trough this?

    thank you

    • panoptical says:

      If you aren’t a native English speaker, you’ll have trouble getting students. If you are a native speaker, I’d recommend trying to find private students by networking with Georgians. Most business in Georgia is conducted through word-of-mouth and personal contacts. There are many language schools in Tbilisi that you could also apply to, but they usually pay very little.

      Native speakers usually earn 20 lari per hour at minimum, in Tbilisi. Non-natives can expect to make half that. A lot of Georgian students can be a little unreliable and will cancel classes at least once or twice a month, so it’s hard to really plan out your monthly income in advance.

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