Could you find Georgia on a map? No, not the state, the Republic of Georgia. This episode, I talk with Scott Skinner about his time in Georgia as an Education and Youth Development Volunteer. While he did hone his wood chopping skills in the far northern region Georgia, he learned many other skills and lessons that he uses each and every day.
On this Episode:
- I interview Scott Skinner about his time in Georgia as a Peace Corps Volunteer
- We discuss the three goals of the Peace Corps, and why the first goal should not be a volunteer’s primary objective starting off
- The importance of being a good host, how Georgians celebrate life, and how they morn death
Photos from Scott’s Story
Scott’s Peace Corps Story
Where and when did you serve? What did you do?
I served in the Republic of Georgia from 2012 to 2014. I was an Education and Youth Development Volunteer but ended up doing a lot of different things. I co-founded a youth summer camp promoting leadership and gender equality, ran an international creative writing competition, chaired the Life Skills and Volunteerism Committees, taught English at a local school, and completed two construction projects for that school – a new gym and new restroom facilities. My site was called Ambrolauri in the Racha region of northern Georgia, way up in the mountains and just south of the Russian border – so I also spent a good amount of my time chopping wood.
What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?
Georgia has a really beautiful tradition of toasting and feasting. Most feasts (supras) have one appointed “temada” or, toast-master. Throughout the meal, the temada will offer up very elaborate and poetic toasts. While still in PST, my host-grandfather and I shared a bottle of wine several times per week and he taught me the art of the temada. On my last night in PST, before travelling to my permanent site, my host father asked me to be temada for the night, which is a very big honor. There was music and dance, as well as other traditional Georgian acts like drinking from horns, and the party lasted for hours. While this tradition is centered around drinking and eating, it is more about the time spent with family and experiencing the Georgian culture. I went to hundreds of supras after that, but that one was always the most memorable.
What is one of your least favorite Peace Corps memories?
Just a few days before leaving my permanent site for good, one of my students who had just graduated high school was killed in a car accident. It was a really small school and a very small village, so the impact was felt throughout. Teachers at my school were sobbing, my other students were obviously incredibly distraught, and I felt just completely useless (a common feeling in the Peace Corps). The Georgian tradition mandates that the body be displayed in the home for several days while visitors enter the room and pay their respects. Mothers, siblings, and other family remain in the room with the body for days. Seeing such a young student, who was very injured in the accident was really difficult. Finally, after the viewing is complete, the entire village walks the casket up to the cemetery, which is always at the top of a mountain. It being a very hot day in July and hiking up a mountain, people were passing out along the walk and it was just a really tragic scene. This village was going through a terrible event and, as much as I felt a part of the community, I also just felt useless and in the way, in addition to being heartbroken. It was a really tough way to leave the country.
What do you miss about the Peace Corps?
I miss the camaraderie between other PCVs. Georgia is a really small country so most of us were able to see each other really regularly. Going through an intense experience like Peace Corps together really forges an intense bond with a group of people. In particular, I was lucky enough to have a site mate. I still consider her one of my best friends and I could not have gotten through Peace Corps without her there. My host family situation wasn’t ideal, and she made sure that her host family basically adopted me after I moved out. Additionally, there are many RPCVs that I served with that I keep in close touch with still.
What is something you learned in Peace Corps that has stayed with you?
Two things I learned in Peace Corps that have stayed with me – and helped me a great deal in my career – are the importance of knowing your stakeholders and the value in shutting up. I’m currently in business school and managing the various stakeholders with conflicting goals in a project is a really difficult thing to do, but it’s something Peace Corps prepared me well for. Both as a Peace Corps Volunteer and as a project manager, as well as just as a human being, we tend to go into conversations thinking we know the answers to a lot of questions and we are generally unaware of the overall complexity of the problems we are working on – this leads to uninformed decision making. You can’t get to know a problem or a community well enough if you keep talking about it – sometimes it’s important to just shut up and try to learn something.