Friendly Links Forging Ahead

Christine Chokhonelidze

7-30 April, 2005 were special days for the Kutaisi-Newport International Association (KNIA). Catherine Philpott, Mike Singleton and Sonia Fisher, active members of the Newport-Kutaisi Twinning Association (NKTA) visited Kutaisi. They traditionally met the staff of the English Studies Department, attended a meeting of the English Speaking club and were warmly met by the Rector of the University with whom they discussed the main issues of the current educational reforms and the University life.

Mike Singleton who stayed in Kutaisi longer arranged lunch time clubs for students, the aim of which was to create friendly atmosphere in which students could freely express their opinions on any topic interesting for them. He also delivered lectures on some interesting books and tried to draw students’ attention to expressive language means encouraging them in free writing.

Mike visited different social and cultural institutions of the city and was greatly impressed by the activities of Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) and the Ombudsman’s Office.

He also met English school teachers at the Kutaisi office of English Teachers’ Association of Georgia (ETAG). They discussed some problematic issues of the New National Entrance Exams.

Mike Singleton’s personal impressions are given in his interview:

- Mr. Singleton, you are an active member of Newport-Kutaisi Twinning Association and your visit to Kutaisi is a meaningful step in the activities of the both associations. What is the major aim of your visit?

-My visit has two major aims: first to help students write for the competition in Newport, try delivering a series of lectures looking at a variety of texts which give students ideas about what to write and how to write and the second, to look closely at the needs, existing now in Kutaisi and collect information and requests which I will take to Newport.

- It is your third visit to Kutaisi. There have been some changes in our sity in different aspects. What has changed since your previous visit?

-I am not able to comment on any rational change in Kutaisi because this is the firt time I have been able to walk freely in the city. However, I have enjoyed the restaurants I have visited many of which are obviously new. Also some roads are now in a good condition.

-Being a citizen of Newport, what can you say about the twinning of the two cities – Kutaisi and Newport?

-The twinning with Kutaisi is one of three in Newport. I am very happy with the high estimation of Newport in Kutaisi. I hope that the twinning will continue making benefits to the city. Kutaisi named one of its streets Newport St., Newport in its side named one of its largest roads Kutaisi Road. In commemoration of the Twinning Agreement Newport has laid out a site on the banks of the River Usk where Derek Butler’s designed Kutaisi Newport Association logo can be seen.

-What can you say about the activities of the two associations?

-I know the KNIA is very active with a large membership seeing to strengthen the cultural and educational links between the cities. The NKA is likewise engaged in seeking benefits for the city of Kutaisi and its inhabitants. I was greatly impressed by the ways the documentation of the Kutaisi Newport International Association is organized.

-What would you advise to change/add to the association journal “The Land of the Colchi”?

-“The Land of the Colchi” is already an interesting journal. My main advice would be to try maximise the personnel contact of the journal because twinning should at best be around people knowing about other people in each other’s city. You would obviously like to be able to have more colour.

-You have met the students of the English Studies Department at the lectures and the lunch time clubs, what can you say about their command of English?

-I have been very impressed with the command of English of the students. I can boldly state that they speak excellent English and are excellent listeners. The department pays attention to students’ individual expression, especially spoken. Hearing native English speakers as often as possible via tapes, etc. is very usual at the department. The Department meets the European standards. Both the older and younger generations work together here with great enthusiasm to educate the students. Not only English is taught here but also the manner of public relationship and how to be a contemporary XI century citizen.

-What can you say about Kutaisi youth? What distinguishes them from that of Newport?

-The youth of Kutaisi is probably a bit behind the times by comparison with the youth of Newport in terms of their clothes and other national items. However, this has a beneficial effect since they appear to be more polite and more cultured and educated.

-What can you say about the educational system in Georgia?

-I know that the traditional educational system in Georgia was very strong on knowledge and its standards were very high. I am impressed by the standard of English among of 14-16 years old.

-As you are an English teacher, what can you advise Kutaisi English teachers?

-My knowledge of English teaching is 6 years out of date. I would urge English teachers to encourage expression in their students, especially orally, though the new national test exam does not help with this.

-From all the places you visited in Georgia, which one did you find the most interesting?

-I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Vani. I thought the view across the town towards the mountains was very attractive. The standard of the exhibits in the museum, especially the intricate gold prices and the wonderfully naturalistic sculptures, is of the highest artistic level. I must notice that I was guided by a well-known archeologist Professor Omar Lanchava, I am very grateful to him.

-Being a representative of a country of great cultural traditions, what can you say about the Georgian culture?

-Georgian culture goes back at least 3 000 years and was highly developed, showing the influence of the Greeks and Persians. The people seem very interesting in intellectual concerns. I love the habit of playing piano and singing in the home – often very fluently.

-You have visited many Georgian families, what can you say about Georgian hospitality?

-Hospitality is a very strong feature of Georgian culture – the guest feels very much at home. A huge interest is taken in the opinions of the guest. One criticism I can make is that the amount of food offered is excessive: though I’ve described the desire of Georgians to provide hospitality of the highest order I am concerned about the huge amount that appear like wasted. Again the drinking of wine, though central to the culture, is often very substantial and cannot inspire the health of individuals especially men.

I want to thank the Chilingarishvilis’ family, who were wonderful hosts to me.

-What can you say about the Georgian cuisine?

-Georgian food is wonderful in its variety. There is great invention in the use of herbs and species with meat, poultry and fish. Khachapuri is unique and I also enjoy Lavashi. It is always interesting to drink your host’s own wine though it comes in daunting qualities.

-Finally, you have been to Georgia for several times. You visited different parts of Georgia. What would you wish to Georgia and Georgians?

-I want to notice that you have the wonderful historical past you can be very proud of. REMEMBER YOUR FUTURE IS IN YOUR PAST. I wish you to find the power in yourselves that will help you to create the future relevant to your past.