Спасибо, Грузия!

And a Big Thank You to the Center for the Study of Languages & Cultures and its Summer Language Abroad Grant Program!

I had such an amazing time in Batumi and all of the other places I was able to visit in Georgia. My program was provided by the School of Russian and Asian Studies, and having never been to another country before, this experience was invaluable and I really hope to be able to visit Georgia again someday. Having studied French and Italian previously, I have always loved learning other languages and about other cultures, but my summer abroad in Batumi with so many different nationalities present really gave me a new appreciation for the human race and all of our different lived experiences.

My SRAS class during our certificate receiving ceremony in Batumi.

Regarding language acquisition, as my first time being a foreigner and trying to speak a language other than my native English, it also helped me learn what it is like trying to communicate in a foreign language. I have never been impatient with people who came to the United States and who were just starting to speak English or didn’t know it very well, but before being in their position myself, trying to speak Russian, I will admit I never gave much thought to just how difficult or stressful it might be for new English speakers when they come to America. My 94-year-old great grandmother is from Germany, and immigrated to the U.S. without knowing any English, learning it on her own by reading newspapers and watching TV, but I had never pressed her about how hard that must have been. Especially as I have been taking formal Russian classes and many new immigrants to the United States do not have the opportunity to take formal English classes, having to take what I learned from the classroom and put it into practice was very difficult for me at first, so I can only imagine how difficult it must be to try and go to another country without the teaching that I have received. 

My SRAS class in Batumi, Georgia.

One insight I have brought back as a result of this experience is that the world is really such a huge place, and that there are so many different kinds of people, and yet, in some ways, we are not all that different. I think my culture shock started when I first reached the international wing of the San Francisco airport, and increased as I walked through the Istanbul airport, but I would describe the shock as positive and exciting: the beginning of my getting to see another part of the world. When I arrived in Tbilisi, met my first host family in Batumi, and explored the city a little bit the first night I was there, my eyes were opened even more, but again, in a favorable way. There were moments when I missed home and some of the normal things that aren’t as common in Georgia as in the U.S. (like a basic bowl of cereal in the morning), but these were also moments where I got to be even more thankful for the experiences I was getting to have abroad! And as much as I missed home (especially my dogs and cats), by the time I had to leave Georgia I was feeling sad as it felt that I had just gotten comfortable in that beautiful country and with my amazing host family and the rest of the wonderful people I met while in Georgia.

During a Georgian dance class in Batumi.

Overall, I would definitely recommend study abroad to anyone considering applying for an SLA grant because it is truly a life changing experience! While in Georgia and speaking Russian, I couldn’t always say exactly what I wanted to, but just as I enjoyed helping people I have met who had only learned a little bit of English by the time they reached the United States, everyone in Georgia was very friendly and excited that I was trying to speak a language they knew very well. It wasn’t easy, but my summer abroad has really made me feel much more comfortable doing my best to speak Russian, even when I was stumbling through all of the special grammar rules and knew I was making mistakes. It has been so nice to feel some improvement in my Russian speaking skills and a to gain a greater knowledge of the language, as well as learning some more colloquial phrases. It has showed me just how important being able to practice a language in a country where many people are fluent in it is to improvement in the language! I would also like to thank my Russian Professor Tom Marullo for encouraging me to study abroad and apply for the SLA grant, as well as Professor Melissa Miller for all of her help navigating the process and providing me with information about what an experience like this may have to offer. If you ever have the chance to go abroad, learn a new language and about another culture, take it!

Спасибо, Грузия. Я уже скучаю по тебе и надеюсь когда-нибудь увидеть тебя снова!

Current Events Through a Georgian Lens

As I was originally supposed to study in St. Petersburg, Russia this summer, the Russo-Ukrainian war remained on my mind during my time in Georgia. My host family was Georgian, but I had started the first few days of my time in Batumi with a host family consisting of a Belorussian woman, Nana, and her mother. They spoke only Russian, and were excited that I was learning Russian, especially as they watched Russian news channels and viewed Putin favorably (in comparison to my Georgian family who watched Georgian news and were glad that Georgia is no longer a part of the now-collapsed Soviet Union). As my first hosts didn’t speak Georgian and hadn’t really made any effort to learn much, I felt this reflected their cultural values as Belorussians who viewed Russia and Putin’s actions positively. As well, both women were older, Nana is 65, and so, as an outsider, I also perceived their cultural values as a reflection of their age, cultural values possible received from being born into and growing up in the Soviet Union. And again, as an outsider, I perceived the difference in opinion of my peer tutor, Oleg, who is middle-aged, to be partly due to age. 

Ukrainian Flag in Europe Square in Batumi, Georgia.

            I inadvertently got into a limited discussion about the war with Oleg, who is from Moscow, but recently moved to Batumi. I had told him about my original plan to study in St. Petersburg, and to keep the conversation going I simply asked him if he liked living in Russia, not meaning to bring up the war at all (as we were discouraged from discussing sensitive situations or engaging in any political activities during our time in Georgia). His response was, “это сложно” — “it’s complicated.” I tried to steer the conversation away from the complex situation but he continued and said that he and his family don’t support the war and it influenced his move outside of Russia, although the rest his family still lives in Moscow.

A mural in support of Ukraine in Batumi, Georgia.

Overall, the feeling I got while in Georgia was that most people did not support the Russo-Ukrainian war. During my last day in Tbilisi, there was a speaker who said, “Twenty percent of my country is occupied by Russia, Russia is an occupier who wants to conquer and create an empire once again, don’t let that happen.” There are Ukrainian flags and images and phrases supportive of Ukraine displayed all over Batumi. One evening, I visited the market in Europe Square, and there was a group making a speech about how no one should continue to buy Russian products because it would essentially be helping to fund the Russian war effort. Batumi is a resort town, with over 100 nationalities present at any one time, so there exists a tolerance of all different kinds of people and cultures. Therefore, there are many different opinions and views present in Batumi as well, but most that I encountered leaned toward being against the war.

Painting in Batumi, Georgia.

“The American”

In Georgia, I was often referred to as the American student.

The responses I got during my time in Georgia about the United States and about my being American were really positive. As I do not look Georgian or speak Georgian, I was asked many times where I was from and why I was in Batumi. A lot of people thought that it was really cool that I was from America and that I was visiting Georgia, and they said not many Americans go to Georgia or Batumi, and that I was the first American they had met. People of all different ages and genders were really kind and interested in where I was from. When I had my nails done by my host mom’s friend, Tiniko, who is 44 and speaks Russian but not English, I asked her what she thought of the United States and if she had ever been here. She said she had not ever been to the U.S., but that she would love to go one day. I asked her what she thought most Georgians felt about the U.S., and she said many Georgians view the U.S. as a place with good jobs, good pay, and better education. In another interesting conversation I had with a 38-year-old man named Paata and his friend, they said that Batumi, which is seen as a resort town, is good to visit for tourists, especially from the U.S. where there is a great exchange rate for the dollar, but that it is not so cheap to live there as a Georgian. This was a little eye-opening for me, because I figured that average Georgians made similar wages to average Americans, in the sense that they made more Lari in quantity, but the exchange rate in spending would be similar if they were to come to the U.S. 

A vendor selling American posters in Tbilisi.

In general, younger people seemed to also have a positive attitude towards the United States, and while I was waiting for Tiniko to do my nails in her boutique, which also sold clothing, her daughter brought me a pair of black jeans that said “Led Zeppelin” on the tag, and she asked me what that meant. I told her it was a band, like with musicians, and she got a kick out of that! My host brother, Saba, wants to be a captain on a ship and travel the world, and as he learned the English language throughout his time at school, he said English is a very important part of the job he wants to pursue. As far as furthering his education, he asked me about Notre Dame and where it was, and said he thought he had actually heard of it before, and that if he could, he wouldn’t mind going to a university in the U.S.

A vendor selling American posters in Tbilisi.

As well, just looking through a couple clothing stores and simply walking around the town I got a feeling that the attitude towards Americans was relatively friendly. I saw American musicians and celebrities on t-shirts, I saw multiple people wearing t-shirts with the American flag and other emblems of the United States; one man was even wearing a t-shirt with “USMC” written on it. And not to forget, Batumi is home to the coolest McDonald’s in the world. 

McDonald’s in Batumi, Georgia.

Khachapuri Takes Away Your Worries

During our Georgian cooking class at
Wine Restaurant Marani in Batumi.

One dish I had quite a few times while studying abroad was “khachapuri,” which is extremely popular in Georgia. It is essentially bread and cheese, with the Adjarian version (Batumi is in the region of Adjara) throwing an egg, or just the yolk, on top at the end of the creation process. During my stay, my host family not only made the Adjarian version but also the Penovani version of khachapuri for me, and I had both versions in different restaurants during other outings. During my last stay in Tbilisi, the night before my flight home, I tried the Megruli version of khachapuri as well…all super delicious! In Batumi, the Adjarian version is very popular and instantly recognizable from the first time you are made familiar with the dish. While it is a part of everyday life, and acceptable to order at every meal, it is also used for celebrations and for treating guests. On my first Saturday in Batumi (when I didn’t have to be up as early for class), my host grandma, Nanuli made me my first khachapuri for breakfast! What is different about the Adjarian version is that it is shaped like a boat — to sail across the vast expanses of the Black Sea, and the egg yolk that lays on top of the cheese represents the gentle, yet bright, sun of Adjara and the coastal community from which the dish originated. 

Khachapuri I made during our Georgian
cooking class at Wine Restaurant Marani in Batumi.

While I often eat most of my food with a fork and knife (a habit I acquired from having braces), khachapuri should be eaten by tearing small chunks of the hot bread from the sides of the “boat” and dipping it into the middle with the melted cheese, butter, and flowing egg yolk. Megruli khachapuri is different as it is essentially like a double cheese pizza, and Penovani khachapuri is like a puff pastry with cheese flowing throughout the layers, which my host mom made me once for breakfast as well! While I only had three versions of khachapuri, there are many, many more, and I am sure if you ever get to try any you will not find a version that is not delicious and that you do not enjoy. I loved this dish so much that since I’ve been home I have practiced making it multiple times for my family, which has been fun to share with them. While I may be impartial to Adjarian khachapuri because of its presentation and the meaning behind it, and because I spent most of my time in Batumi, you will come across this amazing food at almost every step you take in Georgia, as khachapuri is the country’s national dish, and rightly so! Приятного аппетита!

Hello, Georgia!

Getting Acquainted with the Colloquial

` Hello, all! I have now been in Batumi, Georgia for two weeks and have been really enjoying learning about Georgian culture so far! I have been living with a Georgian family of six, my host mom, Natia, her husband, her mother and father, and her two sons. They mostly speak Georgian unless they are talking to me, or unless my host mom and grandma are talking around me. As well, they all speak Russian as a second language, except for her two sons who know a little Russian but speak more English, which has been nice for me to hear English and also to be able to communicate a little more clearly every so often. I had done some research before I got here, which explained that most Georgians over the age of forty speak Russian, and that most of the younger people here are learning English in school, so it has been interesting to see that evidenced through my host family and also when talking to older vs. younger people out on the streets. 

One important phrase I have learned so far is the verb “кушать,” which means “to eat,” spoken as “кушаешь” or “кушай” to me, from my host mom and grandma. When I first arrived I had never heard this verb before, as in class we learned “to eat” as “есть,” but I quickly figured it out! I eventually looked up “кушай” and saw it translated as “to eat,” and it was cool to learn that this is the more colloquial way of talking about eating, and in fact, I have not heard “есть,” since I’ve been here. I haven’t really noticed any barriers between who uses this verb as it’s been said to me and my host brothers, and to my host mom, from the grandma and vice versa. I asked my Russian teacher (who is from Russia) what the difference is, and she said “кушать” is less formal, and thus, more colloquial. Another difference in daily speech that I’ve learned here vs. what I learned in class at Notre Dame, is that it is much more common to describe liking something, or to be asked if you like something as, “тебе нравится?” instead of “ты любишь?” In class, we used the verb “любить” much more than “нравиться,” and from my experiences here so far, it simply seems that “любить” is a little more intense than “to like,” closer to “to love,” and so “нравиться” is the more common form: just as in America we say we “like” things in conversation more often than “love” unless we do have a more intense feeling for the things we are describing. 

Another interesting thing I have learned as someone who is trying to learn Russian through Georgians, is that they do have an accent when they speak Russian, which has made it a little harder for me to understand some of what they say, but I am getting used to it. For example, with “кушай” as it’s written it would be pronounced “koo-shai,” but my hosts pronounce it more like “koo-shee.” Long story short, the wonderful family I’m with now is not the homestay I was originally assigned to, I actually switched from a home with two Belorussian women, and I noticed that I could understand them fairly well vs. the slower progression of understanding I’ve had with my new family. 

Of course, this country is different from the United States, and while I have noticed differences in the cultural behaviors of some people, I think what I’ve learned most so far is that people are people wherever you go, and we are not all that different! Like in my own home in America, we usually eat dinner together, but not all of the time as sometimes I go out, etc. And so far, we actually have not all eaten together. I think it has to do with it being summer: the dad still goes to work and gets up early like I do because I have class in the morning, and the rest of the family sleeps in because the kids are not in school. So I usually eat breakfast alone, but sometimes with the dad; I have eaten lunch with the youngest son, my host mom and grandma; and the rest of the food is usually just made as people get hungry because no one is really on a set schedule because it’s summer break. This is similar to how my family is with meals during the summer at home! To summarize… Мне очень нравится грузинская кухня!

Thinking of Georgia

As my departure to Georgia draws nearer, my time in this beautiful country inches closer and closer to the front of my mind! My courses at Notre Dame have taught me how to read and write in Russian fairly well, and while I am nervous about my speaking skills in this exciting language, I hope that my proficiency in conversation will grow a great amount while spending time in Batumi! Along with this, I am excited to learn about Georgian culture through this immersive program and have even started looking into basic Georgian phrases and customs. While I had originally planned to travel to St. Petersburg, Russia, Batumi looks absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to soak up some sun with the locals, and hopefully will grow close to my host family!

Having never traveled outside of the United States before (except for Victoria, B.C. near my home in Washington state), this will be a great test for me as an individual and an exciting new experience! I can’t wait to experience a different language, culture, and country, and learn about and engage with the Georgian people in Batumi. I am also excited to see how the dynamics of speaking Russian in Georgia play out, and how the Russian tourists interact with Georgian locals. I have been trying to improve some of my listening and reading skills in Russian by watching “Servant of the People” on Netflix, and cannot wait to hear this amazing language in person! I have a little more than a month of waiting to do before lift off: Georgia, I will see you soon!