I honestly did not depart for my program in Batumi, Georgia with many expectations. Most of these expectations revolved around Russian language learning goals and what I had heard from my Georgian friends in the US: that Georgia is a chaotic, yet warm, country.
The expectation I had about the chaos and hospitality of Georgia is absolutely true. The expectations I had about my academic, professional, and personal development, however, have changed since I first step foot in Georgia a few weeks ago.
During the day, my Russian language skills are used to discuss the changing face of warfare, nuclear proliferation, human rights, and healthcare systems. My coursework is difficult and thought-provoking. But to me, this aspect of advanced language education is not surprising. Last year I participated in Pitt’s Summer Language Institute and the methodology of our class was quite similar. I had expected to tackle high-level topics and build toward my goal of a professional level of proficiency in Russian.
I think what I had low expectations for was the development of my conversational Russian skills and cultural competencies. I think my mistake in being so focused on the academic and professional elements of this intensive language program blinded me to the potential of developing casual and interpersonal communication skills in Russian. I think that my perspective on the value of small, everyday interactions has changed drastically throughout my time here in Georgia. I have to remind myself that successfully interacting in a restaurant or grocery store without shopkeepers switching to English is a little victory. That walking on the Boulevard and stopping at a cafe with my neighbor while talking about a TV series we are both watching is just as important as being able to monologue about enriched uranium.
I think the most noticeable change in my expectations about my study abroad program is the ubiquity of Russian speakers. I was torn about my ability to practice my Russian “out in the wild” in Georgia, and then when I learned that Batumi is a resort city primarily visited by Russian-speakers I feel like my expectation was that everyone would speak Russian everywhere. I have talked extensively about the language dynamics of Georgia in my past blog posts, and I think the longer I spend here the more I am unsure of what language to lead with. Because of this uncertainty I think that I have developed a better ability to read situations, adapt, and communicate clearly and simply. Even my English communication abilities have benefitted from this limbo and I am certain that I will be able to further refine this skill and apply it to my future academic and professional career.