My Year Away. And Back.

The Joys of Getting Back into Academic Life after a Year-Long Sabbatical.


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(Not) Lost in Translation: Why Working in Another Country Is an Excellent Segue into My Year Away

I’m in Tbilisi, Georgia, for three weeks. When I return to the states, I’ll go to the office for one day. And then I’m done. The sabbatical begins.

What was I thinking? I’ve got too much work to do before I begin My Year Away. But, alas, I’m here. Tbilisi makes me discombobulated. It’s a collision of Old World and New. Soviet influences and democratic ideals. Breathtaking scenery and traffic-jamming pollution. Mouthwatering organic, locally grown food and cigarette choking-smoke everywhere. The language doesn’t look or sound like anything I’ve seen before. I’ve been here 10 days now, and I’ve had my days. But once I realized I could create a routine, it’s been better.

On days I teach, it’s easy. I get up. Have breakfast. Work a bit. Walk 45 minutes to school. Get ready for class. Teach. Walk 45 minutes back to hotel. Eat dinner. Go to bed.

On days I don’t teach, I get up. Have breakfast. Work a bit. Walk 45 minutes in a different direction than I would go if I were going to the school. I walk up the hill to a Georgian bakery where the baker does not speak a word of English, but now recognizes me and, I think, is glad to see me. I give him a one gel coin (about 56 cents) and he gives me several coins back. Then he hands me a loaf of gigantic, straight-from-the-oven Georgian bread. I stop at the corner apothecary and buy a big bottle of Borjormi (very strong seltzer water) and an itsy-bitsy slice of Georgian cheese (as small as I can convince the counter girl to cut it since she doesn’t speak English either and seems confused on why I want such a teeny piece). I work in the afternoon at my desk with the French door open. Then I walk again. Eat dinner. Watch an hour of Discovery channel (the only channel in English; it only seems to air “Baggage Battles” and “Dirty Money”). I take care of some work issues back in South Carolina (with an eight-hour difference, the best time to communicate for me is in the evening). Then I drift to sleep as I think about the next day.

I suppose it’s not the worst way to live. But, it’s strange. On days I don’t teach, I don’t talk. There is no one to talk to. And while everyone wants to be helpful, it’s not like the South where you “Hey, how are you?” to every passerby.

Perhaps this is good practice for My Year Away.

I realize that I’ve created a good routine that is helping me do my work the best way I can in the situation I am currently experiencing. And I’m noticing the world in ways I might not when I have everything instantaneously at my fingers. While I’m working at my desk, I look out at the high-rise apartments that surround my hotel. Most of the windows are open. In one apartment, someone practices the piano. I think she is better than she was 10 days ago. In another apartment I see a woman hanging clothes to dry. In others, women wash windows. Lots of people wash windows here.

On my way to the school, I see the same hunched-over women clad in black, sitting on the steps of the underground walkways, hands outstretched, holding a note that I can’t read. I put coins in some of their hands, hoping that it helps.

I see the same workers at restaurants I’ve visited in the evenings, sweeping and washing windows, waiting for customers. I see the parking monitors ready to help five cars fit in parking spaces made for two. I see the same teeny Smart car that doubles as a coffee shop, parked and ready for business.

I miss South Carolina. I still have work to do to finish up my administrative duties there. But I can tell the change is in progress. Faculty have clearly begun to make the adjustment to the new administrative team.

When I return at the end of June, I’ll have to carve out a new routine. I hope this time in Tbilisi is helping me get ready for the change. Meanwhile, as they say in Georgia, “კარგია.” Seriously. This is what they say.