Finishing Strong: A Letter to My Past Self

It’s been almost two months that I have been in Batumi, but the person I was when I stepped off the train six weeks ago was so different from the person packing up her suitcase and confirming her flight back to the United States in just a few days. There has been significant progress towards the goals that I set at the beginning of my program, but there has also been unforeseen growth in areas that I never could have anticipated until I settled into a routine in Batumi a few weeks ago.

As I write this letter, I think that one aspect of my budding retrospection is the idea of what I wished to know before I began my international experience. Here is the thing: I would not change the lack of expectations (both good and bad) coming into my program. I believe that no information or no specific event would have prepared me for a summer in Batumi, Georgia. And I think that is one of the best parts of an international experience. It is wading in a sea of unpredictability, unexpected challenge, and cultural difference that builds character, challenges one’s worldview, and kindles a more culturally sensitive and curios spirit. 

However, I do think that there is merit in reflection and evaluation of an international experience. I think that the highlight of my experience in Georgia has been building a strong relationship with my host family and Georgian friends to gain a look into Georgian culture and society in a way that many are not able to. I will forever treasure sitting on the coast of the Black Sea and talking about life, or getting last-minute text invitations to sit on a patio on the Piazza in Old Town Batumi and sip on a drink. I think if I could approach my time abroad with a different mindset it would be to simply relax. Things may be confusing or difficult to assign weight in terms of reevaluating world view, but it is okay. Not everything has to be an exercise in challenging deeply held beliefs or a significant language learning moment. Sometimes the best thing to do as a citizen diplomat is to simply build relationships and be present. 

I think that if I could do my program again I would change my language learning goals from being so focused on Russian acquisition to being open to learning a little bit of Georgian and understanding that exposure to Georgian culture does not always mean an immersive Russian environment. Be flexible with your daily routine, do your best always, and show up to dinner with a full stomach. Also make sure you always have lari coins so you can catch a taxi. 

It’s been an amazing summer in Georgia and I know I will return to the United States with a countdown to the next time I can step foot in this beautiful country. 

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