Saturday, September 1, 2012

First Georgian Conversation and a Defense of My Generation

I finally realize that I am in Georgia.

Before you chide me for being a bit slow, please know that I arrived here at five in the morning and spent the next two days trying to stop from falling asleep during seminars, meeting a million people, getting blood drawn, and mostly staying inside the four walls of a fancily-carpeted, dimly-lit hotel. 

This past evening I was finally awake enough to venture out. We walked along Rustaveli, a famous through-fare in downtown Tbilisi, stopped in Prospero's Books (also famous, for being an ex-pat hangout and English bookstore) and wandered around before settling in a French cafe near the old city. Ancient churches and fortresses loomed over the cobble stone square we sat in, sipping ridiculously hot tea from ridiculously tiny glasses. Having studied abroad in Lima (a city I love, but admittedly, not the safest place in the world) I marveled about how comfortable and safe I felt when as we walked around the sometimes dim streets. Other than the drunk man shouting different nationalities at us (I think it was a sort of survey, you know, for informational purposes), no one bothered about us being foreigners. I'm not trying to say they should have, but comparing the down-town touristy area of Tbilisi with downtown, touristy Lima, I was surprised that no one tried to give us free tickets, pushily invite us on their tour, or ask our names. 

We did have two taxi drivers fight over our business, prompting about seven other taxi drivers to gather, and we feared a taxi driver battle royale. This was solved by the one driver peeling away quickly with us in the car, after I had successfully asked for the price (in Georgian!). He and I then had an intelligent dialogue. He repeated our hotel name questioningly and I replied, "Si! Si! I mean, yes! I mean, dee'akh!" somehow managing to answer him in three languages, finally landing on Georgian. For the rest of the short trip he repeated "yes!" and laughed. When he dropped us off he said "thank you!" “You're welcome! Araprees! Gmad-lobt!” I answered.

And having used all of my Georgian in one taxi ride, I returned triumphant. 

So far, one of the most interesting parts of our training has been meeting the other teachers. Some have taught English before, many are seasoned travelers, but every single one came for the adventure. A lot of them have made (or are planning to make) teaching ESL a way of life, for a lifetime or for the next couple of years. They ride the ESL wave from one country to the next, and some return to their home countries with it, and teach in schools there. Most, however, take it as a means for foreign adventures.  Whatever their motives, it’s an entire far-flung community of ESL teachers and while I knew the statistics (thousands upon thousands of English speakers are teaching abroad) it still somehow surprised me.

A couple of the teachers and I sat around a pot of Moroccan mint tea, at the aforementioned French cafĂ©, and talked about where our lives were going. They had all taught before and planned to teach again, living abroad for a couple of years before going to graduate school or finding a “real” job. For a while, we discussed where the best money was (mostly Korea) and then a few people lamented the fact that we hadn’t gotten degrees that actually made us any real money. “Why hadn’t I gone with engineering? Computer science? Stuck with pre-med?” For a moment, I wondered if I had been wrong in choosing anthropology. Why hadn’t I tried business? Marketing?

Us recent graduates are in a scary time, made scarier if you have a liberal arts degree, and/or lots of debt. The pressure mounts higher when the older generation continually berates us for not choosing a practical degree.

With all due respect, older and (sometimes) wiser generation, unless you were there coaching us to be practical, counseling us to go where the jobs are, and educating us on financial literacy, you can be quiet. Because were you advising us well? For the most part, no. All we heard growing up was “Follow your dream! No matter how impossible or impractical! You can be an astronaut! You can be a movie star! You can poop rainbows!” We didn’t take financial literacy classes (and apparently, no one else in our country did either) and we all got certificates for participation anyway.

I was lucky to have practical parents to advise me. And I don’t regret my anthropology degree one bit. I was hugely blessed to have the financial ability to go to school without paying a cent and no debt at all (thank you GWU and Jack Kent Cooke Foundation!), a city where I could find internships in my field, and professors that counseled me well.

And another thing, all you who badger me for not getting an engineering degree (ok, no one really does, but theoretically, some people badger people like me for that), what makes you think I could have gotten an engineering degree? I was blessed with the ability to write an A essay in a matter of hours, spin out some good tales and poetry, and make my way brazenly through a host of awkward situations both abroad and at home, but not with any skills that tend to make steady money. And definitely no math skills. Algebra 2 was rough.

So I WAS practical. I went with my strengths, kept within my budget, and did all I could to get real world experience. And I’m not arrogant enough to think I was the only one. I like to think my generation is a tad more practical than you give them credit for. My friend group sure is. 

The huge amount of ESL teachers likely reflects the lack of job options in the US and UK right now. But it also reflects people with a sense of adventure, global mentality and (for the most part) the willingness to work. And maybe the unwillingness for a 9-to-5. Which is ok. 

I will never make much money. Most of my fellow teachers won’t either, unless they change their field. But if I had money, you know what I would be doing? Traveling to capital cities and remote mountaintops all over the world. Like I am now. Probably with nicer gear and more money for luxuries like consistently warm hot showers, but hey, so I have to work for my travel… oh well. I sure appreciate it a lot more. 

So thus far Georgia has made me a tad reflective about my life, as you can see. And I have decided I do not regret my choices. The only thing I regret is not being even more involved with anthropology.  “Deedee madloba, Sakartvelo! Thank you very much, Georgia!”

And this is only the beginning. Keep up for the insight, worries, bad days, good days, and everything in between, right here, at your local blog of Mary Ellen! 

Since you made it this far, you get a song!  I'm not a John Mayer fan, but this song completely defines what I (and many others) are going through right now, growing up in an age of worry...

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