Throughout my program in Batumi I would often use the Russian phrase найти общий язык when speaking to people about my adjustment to Georgia, when making new friends, and when seeking understanding with my Georgian host family. Найти общий язык means “to find a common language” and usually people use this phrase when expressing the time when new friends find their rhythm and reach an understanding.
My life in Georgia was all about finding the point of understanding; whether that be in the context of an internal realization, reevaluating my own goals, making new friends, or finding my groove with the everyday Batumi lifestyle. One of my key takeaways from my international experience has been the ability to persevere, be flexible, and look beyond my worldview for understanding and common ground. Every social interaction I had out “in the wild” in Batumi was a struggle to find a common language. Do I speak Georgian? Russian? English? What do Georgian young people like to talk about? What are safe topics with my host family? How do I express that I can’t possibly have another slice of bread, but thank you for being generous and offering?
The answer to all of these questions was to relax, have faith in yourself, have faith in the power of your perspective and experience, and to simply listen.
It turns out that leading with Georgian is the answer to the anxiety about which language to speak, and then to follow the lead of the Georgian person when they realize you don’t know much more Georgian than a simple Gamarjoba. It turns out that BTS is just as much of a safe topic with Georgian college students as it is with Americans, and that my host family were just as curious about hearing about a non-filtered perspective on life in the United States as I was curious about how Georgians live their everyday lives. Oh, and unfortunately, there is no way to stop a Georgian mother from feeding you. Even after returning from Georgia I regularly get Facebook messages from my host mom asking if I have eaten enough today.
In finding a common language during my everyday life in Georgia I was able to reach my goals and develop personally, academically, and professionally in ways I could not have expected upon my departure from the US. Personally, I have become more prepared to reconcile with differing viewpoints and respond with cultural sensitivity in difficult social interactions. I have navigated difficult conversations between my host family with cultural differences, with my Georgian friends asking innocent, yet loaded, questions about a blanket American perspective that I am not prepared to provide, and with strangers who can be hostile about my Russian study or my presence in Georgia. I feel more confident bringing a better ability to approach and negotiate difficult topics and conversations as it relates to my Pitt Honors coursework, but also in my future career as I will be tasked with cross-cultural negotiations and personal advocacy.
Academically, I have undergone significant language acquisition that I plan on further developing for my Russian major capstone and in my future career in international business. By the end of my intensive Russian class this summer I was able to speak confidently about nuclear proliferation treaties, South Korean soft power, issues of human rights in Russia and around the world, and demographic patterns. I plan to build on the foundation I developed this summer to acquire a more mature and varied Russian vocabulary and to further train my grammar skills.
Finally, I believe that my professional skills have benefitted the most from my international experience this summer. I recently got an internship through the US Embassy in Tbilisi where I will be working with the EducationUSA initiative to advise and prepare the next generation of Georgian leaders and scholars to study in the United States. Cross-cultural education has been a big part of my life since I first studied abroad in Russia in high school, and now my international experience with the support of Pitt Honors has helped me land a dream internship.
As I move into my final year of study at Pitt with Pitt Honors I know that my involvement with the Frederick Honors College, the Pitt student body as a whole, and in my budding professional career that this skill of finding a common language that I developed in Batumi, Georgia will prove to be the impetus for my goal of serving others, working hard, and staying curious for years to come.