Monday, December 19, 2011

Pros and Cons of being a TLG (Teach and Learn Georgia) Teacher


 I hope I’ve made some of my readers think about coming to Georgia to participate in the Teach and Learn with Georgia volunteer program. I want to highlight some of the good and bad points of the program and of living here for those who are considering coming.

Pros:

Program open to all nationalities: Most English teaching positions only consider native speakers, but Georgia wants as many teachers as possible and will accept any fluent speaker of English. This is a great opportunity for people to experience another culture and perhaps improve or practice their English at the same time. Most participants are from English speaking countries, but in our orientation group there was also someone from the Chech Republic and from Poland.

Airfare included: Unlike many volunteer positions, this one includes lots of benefits, one of which is round trip airfare. Not only do they offer round trip airfare, but if you sign on for two semesters, you’ll even get a round trip airfare to your home, or to anywhere of equal or lesser value for the winter or summer vacation. The only unfortunate point is that you can’t choose your flight schedule or route (though you can make requests, but they don’t have to honor them). You must fly from Tbiilsi and they make the bookings, you can’t book your own and get reimbursed which is what I usually do when I go to Korea and back so that I can choose the airline and schedule that I like.

Health insurance included: Health insurance is included in the program at no cost. Seeing the doctor is covered 100% and prescriptions are covered 50%. Although, I hear most doctors are pretty bad, but I had good luck personally here.

“Stipend” provided: Volunteers get a “living stipend” of 500 Lari  (about $300 USD) per month after taxes. I use quotation marks though because this is 200 Lari per month higher than the local teachers. It is quite easy to live off this small amount. If you don’t travel much or make long distance phone calls on your cell phone, you could even save a little money. Because I travel every weekend, I’ve found myself with close to a 0 balance in my bank account at the end of the month, though.

Low cost of living: This goes along with the above point, but living and traveling in Georgia is very inexpensive. A six hour marshutka (minibus) ride from my city to the capital city is 15 lari ($10 USD), or I can pay the same amount for the 8 hour night train and get a bed with sheets, blanket and pillow in a 2 person room. If you’re on a budget, you can take the 4th class in the night train for just 5.50 Lari ($3 USD) you can get a bed with no blankets or pillow in another section of the train. A loaf of bread is 0.60 tetri (0.20 USD), a kilo of clementines is 1 lari ($0.65 USD), a cup of tea in a local café is 1 Lari ($0.65 USD),  a ride on the metro in Tbilisi is a fixed rate of 0.50 tetri ($0.30 USD), and a night at a hostel is usually between 15-25 lari ($10-$18 USD). This makes Georgia a very affordable place to visit or live, even on a very low salary. 

24-hour support: If you ever have a problem, whether it be a translation issue, school issue, health issue or personal issue, you can call the TLG hotline, regional representatives or the health insurance company who all speak fluent English and can help you with your problem.

Neutral:

Living with a host family: Although technically you have the option of getting your own apartment, on a salary of only 500 Lari per month, it would be nearly impossible to pay for your own apartment and survive on this. I’ve heard of some teachers that renew their contracts and find a roommate, but the vast majority of teachers live with a local Georgian family. I hate to say that this is a pro or a con, because it’s complicated and depends a lot on the family and the teacher.

Good points of living with a host family include a) Low rent of 100 Lari per month ($65 USD) which includes meals, utilities, etc, b) The opportunity to learn Georgian traditions, language, culture, etc, and c) A chance to integrate into Georgian society.

Bad points include a) conflicts due to cultural differences b) the need to adapt to local customs and expectations, the good and the bad c) the inability to control your surroundings d) difficulties controlling your diet e) Never understanding what’s going on around you f) Accepting your host family’s situation… no family is perfect, everyone has their problems.

Cons:

Roughing it: While every home is different of course, many people here are roughing it, so to speak. No, no one is living in a shack on the side of the road like what many people may think about when you say the word “third world”, but your house may not have the modern convienences that we are used to in our home countries. Central heating is quite rare, most homes are heated by wood stoves or electric space heaters. Many homes may not have a stove or oven, just a gas burner to cook on. Many homes don’t have washing machenes, they may hand wash everything or they may have a manual “washing machine” that dates back to soviet times into which you must heat water and manually pour it in and manually drain it out. Hot water may come from a hot water heater, or hot water may come from a fire built under a tank in the bathroom. If it’s the latter, you may feel bad about asking your host father to chop you wood every time you want a shower. Most teachers here find they don’t get to shower too often. Several times a week if they are lucky, once every 2 weeks if they are unlucky. Maybe you might not have any refrigerator and all your food is stored on the table overnight. My classroom had no heater until after our first snowstorm and teaching in the cold is unpleasant for teacher and student. Maybe your electricity goes out for a few hours once or twice a month. Maybe your electricity goes out for 2 days. Transportation is not always reliable, sometimes the bus you expected to come just never shows up. Or it’s too full and won’t let you on. Or it’s too full, but it lets you on anyway. Living here is certainly an adventure. But, that’s why I came, so maybe you won’t consider it a con.

No control over placement: One of my biggest concerns coming here was the fact that I didn’t know where I would be placed. We were told 12 hours before we were shipped out to our families where we would be placed. It would be nice if you could choose to live in a village or city, choose whether you wanted to be closer to the mountains or to the sea. I guess in the end it doesn’t matter, but it would have made packing a lot easier if I had known where I would be placed. If I had known that I was going to be in a wet, rainy part of the country I would have brought some kind of rain boots and an extra umbrella. My biggest regret here is the fact that I brought no boots with me.

If anyone is interested in this program, feel free to e-mail me with your questions and concerns.smileyjkl (at) hotmail (dot) com.

To apply for this program, please go here: http://www.tlg.gov.ge/
To read other blogs, please see here:

3 comments:

  1. Hi,just wantedto make sure you had received my email.. my email is spelawi@hotmail.com and I just wanted to ask you a few questions on Georgia... if u have not received my email, please email me at the above email, subject: TLG Teacher Enquiries
    Regards,

    Stephen Pelawi

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi, my name is David, 35, currently living in Australia. I'm just about to send you an e-mail about the TLG Program. I look forward to receiving your reply.

    ReplyDelete