Volunteer to Teach English Abroad – Interview with Justine Flores

Teach English Abroad

Volunteer to teach English abroad

How long have you been teaching English in Georgia?

I arrived in Georgia in January 2011 and renewed my original one semester contract twice, so I will be there until June 2012.

Please tell us about your job?

I work through the Ministry of Education program Teach and Learn with Georgia (TLG). They place volunteer teachers all over the country in public schools which can vary from small villages to large cities. Currently we teach grades 1-6 and additional activities with older students if desired. A typical day is teaching four 45 minute classes with a Georgian English teacher.

My original school was in a small village about 20 minutes away from the closest town. The school had 300 students, grades 1-12 and classes were typically 20-30 students each. The building was old and in desperate need of renovations. There was no electricity in the classrooms and the only heat came from wood burning stoves. The teachers I worked with were very creative with the limited resources.

There are 14 National Holidays where school is not in session and an additional month off from December – January thanks to Georgians celebrating Christmas and New Year both on the Julian and Gregorian calendars. Volunteers can return home for this month or use it to travel.

Why did you choose to volunteer rather than get a typical English teaching job?

I taught English back home in the States for a year to adult immigrants and discovered I really love teaching. I always wanted to live abroad so I did a lot of research on this program and felt it was right for me. I liked everything I read about Georgia through other volunteers’ blogs and wanted to go there more than any other location. I might not make a lot of money but I am very happy there, and it doesn’t hurt when you get treated like a celebrity by your students and the villagers.

How did you find your job?

I saw it advertised on Idealist.org from the Greenheart Travel Teach Abroad agency. I thought Greenheart was great in all the support they gave, free of charge, for the entire application process and putting volunteers in touch with each other to create a community before even leaving home.

Does your school provide accommodations, monthly stipends or pay for your travel expenses?

TLG has no program fee and provides volunteers with a round trip flight, one week orientation in a hotel, accommodation in host family houses, which includes a private room and meals twice daily, medical insurance, a cell phone that calls anyone else affiliated with TLG for free, and a monthly stipend of 500 Lari (about US$ 275) which is about average income in Georgia and enough to live simply. Volunteers are required to contribute 100 Lari monthly to their host family for rent and give private lessons to the family three hours per week. If you sign for two consecutive semesters, you get a pair 24 day vacation.

What are your rough expenses for entertainment and other costs?

If you live in a village or town it’s likely you will not spend much money all week, but the weekends are spent traveling for most volunteers. A night in a hostel can be 15-20 Lari (US$9 -12) dinner and drinks run about 10-20 Lari (US$6 -12). Many times you can find entertainment for free by going to Georgian supras, spontaneous feasts that happen for any and every reason and by going on field trips with your students. In general, things are very cheap in Georgia, you can get from one end of the country to the other for about 24  Lari (US$14) through the network of mini buses or trains. There are all kinds of ancient churches and ruins to visit, excellent hiking and camping in the Caucasus mountains, all of which are free or very cheap. If your host family does not have internet, you can purchase a USB Modem for 155 Lari (US$93) and monthly plans are between 15-45  Lari (US$9 – 27). For additional entertainment and frequent travel, a volunteer would need to earn more money or use their own savings.

Are there opportunities to earn income on the side?

I personally don’t do extra work, however we are allowed by our program to privately tutor anyone besides students in our school. Depending on where you live you could make an additional 100-300 Lari (US$60 -180) a month if you wanted to privately tutor. Also the ministry offers additional jobs, like teaching police or adult classes in the evenings for extra income.

Is it necessary to have teaching certificates or training to find volunteer teaching positions?

TLG Volunteers are not required to have a teaching certificate nor training. The requirements to apply are two years of university, pass a medical clearance and criminal background check, and an open mind.

What is Georgia like?

Georgia is unlike any other country I have ever been to. It is in the Caucasus region, between Europe and Asia. Georgian people have a proud history that goes back thousands of years. The culture there is more laid back and heavily family oriented. Living with a Georgian host family is an excellent opportunity to experience the culture fully. The food is also very unique, Georgians take pride int their foods, especially khatchapuri (cheesy bread) and khinkali (meat or potato dumplings). Food there is prepared fresh daily. Additionally, Georgia is known for its wine, it is one of the oldest wine producing regions in the world. Each little village has their own grape variety and most families make wine in their houses in the autumn.

As I mentioned, there are many great outdoors activities in Georgia. You can enjoy palm trees and beaches in Batumi in the summer and skiing and mountains in the winter. The people are known for their overwhelming hospitality, they will feed you cake and have you drink wine until you explode, or that’s how it feels sometimes. It’s a great problem to have. Georgia is the second oldest Christian country and they are very proud of their orthodox Christian heritage, yet generally very welcoming to people of all backgrounds. They tend to be socially conservative when it comes to gender and sexuality issues.

Is it a good place to travel from?

Georgia borders Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia. It is across the Black Sea from Ukraine and a short relatively cheap flight from many European and Middle Eastern destinations. I have travelled to Armenia and Turkey, as well as Central Europe after my first contract ended last summer. Armenia and Turkey are the easiest to visit from Georgia, either one could be a weekend trip. We also get many holidays and vacation time which makes travelling a lot easier.

Do you recommend Georgia for other English teachers?

Georgia is an absolutely joyful experience for me, but it’s not for everyone. I wholeheartedly recommend it to teachers who are able to go with the flow. Time there operates on GMT – Georgia Maybe Time, planning ahead usually does not exist more than a few minutes in advance. If you can deal with a developing country and things like squat toilets, lack of central heat, intermittent electricity and running water, and being a local celebrity to the point where if you take a walk everyone in the village is talking about it the next day, then I think you would like Georgia. If you can throw yourself into a linguistically isolated language with its own alphabet, try new food and drink, bring a breath of fresh air to an education system making its way out of the Soviet era mentality, survive mad traffic patterns, then I think you would love Georgia.

What advice would you offer for others thinking of volunteering to teach abroad?

Do your research on the country and the program as much as possible. Talk to other volunteers if you can. If you think it’s sometime you would like, you probably will – so just do it! Don’t wait until later because later you might not have time. Don’t be surprised if you end up learning more about the world and yourself more than you teach.

Teach and Learn with Georgia Official Site

Greenheart Travel and Teach in Georgia:
Justine Flores on Facebook