JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: I’m thinking of Georgia – Bemidji Pioneer

Yes, I have Georgia on my mind. No, I’m not talking about a person named Georgia, nor am I talking about the state of Georgia, I’m talking about the country of Georgia. It’s a beautiful little country, about the size of Illinois, with a population of 3.5 million.

It is part of the Asian Caucasus region bounded by the Black Sea to the west, Russia to the north and east, Turkey to the south-west, Armenia to the south and Azerbaijan to the south-east. Like Ukraine, it declared independence in 1991 when the former Soviet Union collapsed.

Why is Georgia so special to me now? The opportunity to teach there was made possible through a Peace Corps-sponsored volunteer service pilot program available only to returned Peace Corps volunteers. My job is to teach English to students in grades 6-12 and work with a group of teachers to give them some teaching suggestions that I hope will make their job easier. At the same time, I hope to learn more about Georgian culture and language.

I meet with my students and teachers at 6am (4pm Georgia time) and we conduct a class in English via Zoom. It’s not the best way to teach, so I know what the teachers have been through during the COVID-19 days. I look forward to meeting early in the morning which still gives me time to work on our 100% completion goal.

If I hadn’t visited Georgia in the 1980s, I would know little about it. Why would you want to know about Georgia? Why should we know about other cultures? The answer is that they are there. They are citizens of the world like you and me. Yes, they speak a different language, but we have more in common than differences. They are people who want the best for their families, for themselves and for their children. They are people who want to live in harmony with their global neighbors.

Here are just a few interesting facts about this unique country.

  1. Georgia is the birthplace of the wine they have been making for 8,000 years.
  2. There are 12 climatic zones in Georgia. Georgia is one of the most ecologically diverse countries on earth.
  3. The Caucasus Mountains, stretching along the border between Georgia and Russia, are the highest mountains in Europe – even higher than the Alps.
  4. While the climate of the capital, Tbilisi, meaning “warm,” is subtropical, it can get chilly in winter. It owes its warmth to the natural hot springs discovered in the fifth century.
  5. In 2017, it was ranked as the seventh safest country to visit in the world. The Georgian language has its own alphabet and consists of 33 letters that bear no resemblance to our alphabet.

Like countries around the world, they strive to have good schools and to offer the best education they can muster. For example, learning another language starts in elementary school, so by the time they graduate from high school, my students have mastered at least three languages ​​– Azerbaijani, Georgian and English. (Azerbaijani is only taught to ethnic minority students.) Isn’t that amazing? Some can also speak Russian.
Her mother tongue is Georgian. However, my students’ native language is Azerbaijan and Georgian is their second language, which all students learn. They are learning their third language, namely English.

My students live in or near the town of Kasumlo, which is south of Tbilisi and not far from the Armenian and Azerbaijani borders. While my students learn a little bit about our culture, I try to learn about their culture, which is a primary goal of the Peace Corps. I first try to pronounce their names correctly like Gulasar, Gunnel, Aysu, Aysun, Salatin, Mina, Zhale, Lale, Auset, Esmira, Khanimnaz, Yasin, Seadet, Nigar Atam Simayet, Banzar, Safire, Ebru and Gulai.

I am grateful to my Georgian teaching partner, Samira Ismailova, who made my job easier, and Ia Gelashvili, who represents the Peace Corps and is coordinating this project.

November is Native American Heritage Month. This should mean something very special to us who live in north-central Minnesota. There are three thriving cultures just minutes from Bemidji – Leech Lake, White Earth and Red Lake Bands of Ojibwe. We should feel blessed that their closeness enriches us.

We have great schools in the United States and they’re getting better every year, but we’re seriously lacking in language and other culture teaching. We spend more time reading, writing and arithmetic, which is fine. Why couldn’t we read more about other cultures while reading? When writing, why couldn’t we write about other cultures? If we are studying arithmetic, why can’t we combine it with studying another culture?

What if every young person in the United States learned Spanish, now our second language, starting in first grade? How many of our students know Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela, Guatemala or Mexico? Millions of these people are now our neighbors.

“Georgia, Georgia, All Day, That sweet old song, Keeps Georgia on my mind.” Yes, I think of Georgia and feel very happy.

Puzzle: What is the longest word in the English language? Answer: “Smiles” because there is “mile” between the first and last letter. There is nothing better than learning another language.

I constantly remind my Georgian students to graduate. What if every young person in the world had a high school diploma?

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area manager. He is also a writer and public speaker.