Saying Yes to the Unknown

By Julia Gibson
March 11, 2020

Working with the enthusiastic and loving teachers here in Georgia has reminded me why I became an educator.

Lesson plan, teach, grade, read, write, repeat.  Routines can be healthy and comforting until they swallow you whole.  This time, last year, I was in the throes of finishing my master’s degree and teaching my 9th and 12th grade students in the Bronx.  Every second of my waking life was spoken for. In stolen moments, I took a deep breath, rested on the window sill of my apartment, and imagined other possibilities for myself.  What I couldn’t have imagined, during those window sill reveries, is the life I am leading today.

Julia and her counterpart laughing

For some of the reasons mentioned above, saying “yes” to serving as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer was a no-brainer.  I was desperate for a new…anything. My decision was, of course, much more nuanced and purposeful than that. My prior two years of service in the Philippines had been some of the most profound and joyful of my life.  This time around, I thought to myself, I had so much more to offer the people that I would be serving.

What I was really saying “yes” to, when I accepted my invitation to Georgia, was the unknown. I did not know then that I would be living in a small town, circled by mountains, bisected by a rushing river, and watched over by a castle on a rocky outcrop. I did not know then that a family of six would open their home and hearts to me. I did not know then that I would be drinking homemade wine with my neighbors and sharing freshly picked persimmons, pears, plums, apples, and grapes. And finally, I did not know then that I would be assigned to a school where I would meet inspiring people who have restored my faith in education.

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When I first did an online search of my community, I ran across a post from the British Ambassador to Georgia. I did a double take when I saw that he was writing about a teacher with the same name as the woman listed as my counterpart. Long story short, the British Ambassador’s “#Georgianhero” is, in fact, my counterpart, and she has quickly become my hero as well. Together, we have experimented with movement-based readings of literature, cooking as language instruction, project-based learning, research-based units on feminism, and everything in between. Where teaching had gradually eroded into a regimented duty at home, in my community it has flowered into creativity, playfulness, and the joy of taking risks. Working with the enthusiastic and loving teachers here has reminded me why I became an educator.

Julia teaching three students with her counterparts

Not only have I been able to put my knowledge and creativity to good use, but true to the Peace Corps experience, I have also been challenged to take on an entirely new skill-set. I never would have guessed that I would be working with physics educators from around Georgia and the science team at my school to establish a community robotics center. We applied for aSmall Project Assistance Program grant and received funding to purchase materials and equipment for a center that will enable children throughout the municipality to learn coding, engineering, and development of artificial intelligence. It has been humbling and thrilling to witness the generosity of spirit among Georgian educators and students as they have shared their robotics expertise with us. As a team, we have embarked on an adventure into unfamiliar territory, and along the way, have visited a village school in the mountains and a renowned center for teacher’s professional development in Tbilisi. In both places, we were greeted with warmth, excitement, and a sincere desire to collaborate to enhance STEM education in Georgia.

With only three months left of service, I am trying to figure out what’s next while staying in the moment and appreciating my life here. I have no idea where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing a year from now, and instead of feeling daunted, I feel enlivened. If there is one life lesson that my two Peace Corps experiences have taught me, it is to always say yes to the unknown.

Head shot of PCRV

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