Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I’ll be posting a new ESL related article on my blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you’d like to contribute to next month’s Blog Carnival, please contact Dean at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he will let you know how you can start participating!
Ratz ikneba, ikneba. What will be will be.
That is my travel motto (or what I try to have as my motto). It is also my advice to other travelers about to embark. Don’t over plan. Don’t over schedule. Don’t be afraid to veer away from any itinerary you may have. Yes, it is always a good idea to have an idea of what you would like to do or see if you have limited time. And it is of course a good idea to plan/manage funds to make sure you can get back home, somehow. It is also always a good idea to have the visa situation figured out before attempting to arrive somewhere…
For longer adventures, it makes sense to have more of an idea of what you want to get out of your time abroad and not to worry about planning the entire three months or a year all in advance. That will take away some of the fun and spontaneity of such a long adventure.
I tend to like schedules and timetables and to have everything go according to plan. ( I have relaxed a bit from this, but it took quite a few experiences to get me there). My first year abroad in Germany, I didn’t have a plan and I didn’t have any clue what I wanted to see, only that I wanted to become fluent in German (which I achieved, go me for sticking to a goal!) I was straight out of high school where I would get really frustrated with one of my best friends for always being 10-15 minutes late. I hated it when class didn’t start on time etc….a bit anal retentive some might call it. Needless to say, the general lifestyle and culture in Germany fit my need for punctuality. The presence of understandable printed bus and train timetables, the punctuality of said buses and trains, and the typical (but of course there are exceptions) timeliness of the people themselves fit in quit well with how I liked things to run. Of course there were things that didn’t go according to plan, and they upset me greatly.
My next stint abroad was in college in Japan. Even more organized and efficient in some ways and oh- so soothing to my need for schedules and conformity.
Then came Georgia. Ha. I was a well experienced traveler, had been out of the comforts of a college schedule for a few years and was ready for something else. I had a few more goals in mind for Georgia. Teach English to students was a big one, learn Georgian was another priority, and then finally visit relatives and my grandparents grave in their home village. Well, it can be argued how well I managed to teach English and my quest for becoming proficient in Georgian was much more difficult than should have been for living in the country. Two fails. I did manage to succeed in visiting my grandparents grave. Not a total loss! Well, ok I haven’t gotten to the most important part of Georgia. I learned to let go of schedules and the frustration, stress and even anxiety that came from not having a plan or things not going according to plan.
Within the first week of orientation, when we actually did have a schedule and plan ( I just didn’t realize how much of an anomaly that was) I was frustrated with the lack of organization. By the time I had spent two weeks with my host family, I knew it was going to be tough. I knew that Georgians didn’t do things according to a time frame. Buses and trains didn’t have timetables and sometimes didn’t even have indicated stops. But they managed to run. I could stand at a bus stop and within 5-10 minutes of waiting, there was a bus that could take me where I wanted. I loosened up. I relaxed. I went with the flow.
One of the ultimate lack of plan trips for me was a trip to Vardzia/Akhaltsikhe. Vardzia is a monastery carved into the living rock of Southern Georgia. Six of us English teachers decided we had to see it before we left Georgia.
One weekend, we hopped on a marshutka (mini bus) headed toward Tbilisi. We knew we needed to stop half way to Tbilisi and find another taxi or marshutka to take us to Akhaltsikhe and then somehow from there get to Vardzia. We randomly stopped in, I don’t know what town, at the gas station where there were some taxis and other marshutkas sitting around. It was a rather arbitrary decision if I remember correctly. We asked and asked about getting to Vardzia, nope no one knew of any marshutkas that went there.
OK, it was early evening and we didn’t have a clue how to get where we were going. Lucky for us, some random guys with a van were listening in. They offered the lot of us a ride to Akhaltsikhe for super cheap ( a few cents I believe). They were excited to have the chance to hang out with foreigners for a 3 or 4 hour drive. Former me would have been flipping out before we even started on the first leg, but Georgia-me was going with the flow.
The three Georgian men were driving a big white van that had a front bench and one back bench. They all sat in the front and five of us squeezed on the back seat (on laps and luggage). The last member of this adventure had the good luck to sit in the back of the van on the tombstone (yes a tombstone. And Georgian tombstones have engraved pictures of the deceased…) that was being transported to Akhaltsikhe….he had a sore bum after that.
It was really fun and crazy and we chatted as best we could with our hosts and they stopped and showed us some important sights along the way and took photos. Upon introductions, the Georgian men were so shocked that a non-Georgian could be named David or Mary (two of my traveling companions). The response to introductions always being “David, kartuli sakhelia. Mary, kartuli sakhelia” (David, thats a Georgian name. Mary, that’s a Georgian name!) And my name, which is Georgian, didn’t get the same type of response.
It was full dark by the time they drove us through Akhaltsikhe ( I emphasize through). We were hungry and had been up since early (some of us had taught our classes that morning). We just wanted food and sleep. Not what the Georgians had in mind at all. They had to make a few stops. Fair enough, they had given us a lift for free. We were ok with a few stops.
The first stop was to drop off the headstone. Didn’t take but a moment. Not so for the second. The second stop was to drive out of town to a village an hour away. Once in that village, they drove through it to a cemetery even more remote on a hill. It was terrifying. It was pitch black, we had no idea where we were and were pretty much at these men’s mercy (we did have three guys with us, so we didn’t feel too unsafe in that regard, but were still uncomfortable with the situation). It was pretty much the beginning of a horror film at that point.
Once at the top of a hill in this dark graveyard, we all got out of the van, met more Georgian men. They were here to drink to the remembrance of a 4 year old girl who had died the year before (one of their daughters). It was really moving and sad and it was amazing that they opened up their private ceremony for us and shared their wine and bit of khachapuri (cheese bread) with us. It was literally a once in a lifetime experience. But not too sound cold and callous, we needed food, a place to sleep and to be not in the middle of nowhere.
One of the new arrivals could speak relatively good English and he was telling us how they wanted to party with us. We were trying to argue against it. I was saying that we didn’t want to and the other decent Georgian speaker (a guy) was all about continuing the party. Everyone else was a bit at a loss to say or do anything. We all piled in the van again (our only way off the top of the hill). The back was totally empty of headstones and other things, so we sat on the empty bed and some of the new Georgians climbed in with us and started handing out bowls (yes I said bowls) of wine- while the van was driving.
Most of us were declining, some of us were accepting. We were then driven to someones apartment where more wine and people were picked up. At this point I was demanding food loudly in Georgian. I know that sounds strange, but I was literally saying that we were hungry and needed to get to Akhaltsikhe and get food. Then we would see about going out afterwards (not. We three girls were starting to feel a bit awkward and want out of the situation. Questions about our marital status etc…).
They took us back into town, everything was closed. At this point, I was fed up with the situation (and getting a bit rude) and started demanding that we needed to find a hotel. We were teachers, had been up a long time, really appreciate the ride, but we needed to sleep. They complied because the drunkest of us was saying that he would go back out with them, and the other girls were pretending to think about going out after freshening up (not the nicest, but we were a little scared they would just take us to a party if we said outright that we didn’t want to and we also wanted to attempt to be polite.)
We all ran into the one hotel that was open and immediately got one of the guys to go outside and say we weren’t coming back out, but maybe tomorrow when we have slept we can hang out. We then hid in the rooms until they drove away before our search for food. The night ended with a dinner of chips and stale bread from the only place we could find open. We were really excited to be able to watch movies as a group.
That whole thing would have never happened had I been my normally plan-driven self. It is an experience that none of us involved will ever forget. So bottom line, go with the flow. Don’t stress about plans, it usually works itself out. And of course ratz ikneba, ikneba.