Thursday, May 23, 2013

What I learned

I have 25 days left in Georgia. I've written my description of service, updated my resume, finalized my projects, completed my medical exams (I'm happy to report I have a clean bill of health… no parasites, no worms, no TB!), and started packing. It's really coming to an end. I'm excited to go home, but I'm also very sad to be leaving. So I've decided to put off my goodbyes until June and simply enjoy the time I have left. The weather has been amazing, I've started running again, and I'm very much enjoying the fruit that has started to appear in the bazaar… strawberries, cherries, and these little mysterious black berries that are so sweet and delicious. Life is good in Georgia. 

Sadly though, this part of my life must end. It's been an incredible journey full of surprises. I've had some of the best days of my life here. I've worked on exciting projects, and have seen a million new places. I've made new friends and new memories. And I've learned a lot. Not only about myself, but also about my friends and family members, Georgians and Americans, and life in general. 

Over the past two years, I learned that… 

… I actually can learn a foreign language! After 4 long and discouraging years of French, I was pretty sure English was going to be it for me. But alas, I have successfully learned a language that is rumored to be more difficult than Mandarin, and I'm fully capable of carrying on decent conversations every day! Who would have ever guessed?! Not Mrs. Allen, that's for sure.

Georgian language class

… It really doesn't matter that I think pedestrians should have the right of way. Georgians don't. And if I don't get out the way, they will (and have) run me over.

… Americans truly are germaphobes. We wash our hands multiple times a day, shower at least once a day, only wear our clothes one time before washing, obsessively use hand sanitizers and wipes, sterilize anything that has fallen on the ground, and wash everything before we eat it. Not me. I've spread honey on my bread that was full of caramelized ants (and ate it). I've had countless drinks with dead fruit flies floating on top. I rarely use hand sanitizer except after riding public transportation. I shower 2-3 times a week. I wear my clothes until they are visibly dirty. I eat fruit that hasn't been washed. I fully believe in the 5-second rule (except it's kind of turned into a 5-minute rule). And I'm fine. 

… The Soviet Union wasn't the horrible, scary place we learned about in school. I'm not condoning communism, but, turns out people in the Soviet Union were happy. They had jobs, homes, money and a good quality of life. Some people actually yearn for those days.

… I love being an American. Before I left the U.S., I wasn't completely sold on America's greatness. Oh, was I wrong! I'm fairly certain now that it's the greatest country in the world. Yes, we have our problems and we seem to have a lot of them lately – but still, I love that we show up on time, form lines, give people their privacy at the ATM, and plan ahead. I love how we treat each other (mostly)… "thank you," "you're welcome," and "please" really do go a long way. Not to mention we open doors for each other, let others go in front of us when we're not in a hurry, and smile at strangers. I love that we have options. I love our freedoms. 

... I actually like being called a "good girl" by Georgians. It was a little irritating at first, but now I find it endearing.

… Less really is more. I don't have a closet full of clothes, the latest iPhone, or a fancy car – and I'm quite content. Living a simple life is easier in a lot of regards: there's no "keeping up with the Joneses," no rat race, no living outside your means.  

… Fitted sheets are ridiculously important to a good night's sleep.

No fitted sheets here!

… Americans complain. A LOT. Some of my favorite complaints on Facebook have been about traffic jams, lines at Starbucks, spin classes that were full, delayed flights, dropped calls, snowplows blocking the roads, hour-long power outages, and of course, your basic road rage. Those are what people call "first world problems." You should consider yourself lucky; not cursed. (And maybe curtail the "FML" statements, too. I'm pretty sure your life doesn't suck that bad.)

… It's really hard being the odd man out. I now have so much respect and empathy for immigrants trying to set up a new life in the U.S. It's not easy living and working in another country with a different culture and language. Maybe we could all cut them a little slack, just as Georgians did for me?

… I am resilient, flexible, unassuming and grateful for the days when most things work in my favor. 

… Most Americans think of luxuries as Bentleys, Pradas, and vacations in Tahiti. In every other country around the world, these things are true luxuries: air conditioning, central heating, insulation, indoor plumbing, running water, electricity, microwaves, ovens, dishwashers, refrigerators, cars, options and variety, school buses, the Internet.

My basic, but functional, kitchen

… Our public schools are pretty nice. Don't get me wrong, I think the educational system is extremely flawed, and don't even get me started on pay for performance, but overall, we have clean schools with trained teachers and specialists, countless resources (meaning chalk, markers, paper, glue), functional gymnasiums and playgrounds with equipment, libraries, indoor bathrooms, and running water. That's more than most countries can say.

Typical Georgian school

… Our government – while also flawed – provides a lot of great services for its citizens: public libraries, parks, paved roads, snow plows and salt trucks (and employees to do the work), garbage collection, street lights, and utilities. Yes, I know we pay for these services, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be grateful.

… My mom is the strongest, most loving, thoughtful, funny and amazing person I know. I'm so grateful that she was able to visit me in Georgia and experience a little of my life here. And I'm grateful that she has taken care of my cats for 2+ years. Thank you, Mom!


… The mysterious black berries that I mentioned before are mulberries! I don't think I've ever had a mulberry before. I highly recommend them. 

… I'm proud to be part Georgian. Despite my struggles here, it has truly been an honor to immerse myself in their culture, to live among them and to be accepted by them.

My beloved Georgian family

But most of all, I've learned that I'm lucky. I live in the United States of America. I speak the world's preferred language. I received a free quality education (save your SC jokes, please). I have amazing friends and a supportive family. I've always had a warm (or cold, depending on the season) house to go home to and food on the table. I'm healthy. And I've had incredible opportunities in my life that most people only dream about. Thanks to this experience, I now know just how lucky I really am. 

The start of it all... orientation in Tbilisi, April 2011

P.S. No part of this blog was intended to offend my fellow Americans. As I stated above, I am very proud to be an American. I've just learned to laugh at all of our ridiculousness. :-)


  1. As your mom, I am at a loss for adequate words after reading this blog entry. I've always known you were special and amazing. Your PC experience and what you have taken from it affirms my beliefs about you.

    Congratulations, Susan! You followed your dream. You learned, grew, and changed - not an easy task for any of us. I can't wait to see you in Savannah!

    Love, hugs and kisses,

  2. Hey Susan! I've enjoyed reading about all your experiences and checking out your pictures! I love this post, especially the shout out to public libraries. There are always way more Asian patrons at my library (esp. Korean, Indian, Vietnamese and Chinese), I think because they appreciate how wonderful it is to have all the resources that a library offers - for free.

    And I agree with your observation on American courtesy... It drives me bonkers when I see someone pushing to the front a line or getting in the express lane with 30 items and their response is a simple shrug. I would guess that compared to problems like no heat, limited food, etc. that courtesy is a luxury they're not accustomed to. At the same time, I think that Americans are exceedingly polite to strangers but mostly reserved about expressing platonic love and friendship.