Monthly Archives: April 2016

Competitions and Contests

One thing I’ve noticed over the past two years, given that I have two host sisters in their teens, is that Georgians kids really, really love competitions. And international organizations are eager to feed that love, too. Not only are there a myriad of local and state competitions, but the British Council, the EU, and numerous others sponsor an endless flow of contests and shows which reward the winners richly. Many competitions are academic; some focus on specific issues, like a recent competition to show who best knew the Georgian Constitution, and others are just pure standardized test-taking and score-counting. The stakes are high in the 12th grade – the very top performers get free college tuition from the government. Then there are English essay and recitation contests, film contests, overseas opportunities, art … really, everything you can imagine.


I’m not sure how I feel about all this incessant competing, but my host sisters, Salome and Nutsa, are enthusiastic participants, so I’ve been pulled into the process more than once. The outcomes are often good, though not always, and when that happens, it can be very disappointing. I’ve been impressed by Salome’s perseverance – last year she made it through a pretty grueling process to the very end of the Giffoni Children’s Film Festival finals, but was not selected. This year she tried again, and this time she was selected as a juror and will be traveling to the south of Italy for ten days this summer. It takes nothing from her achievement to point out that a young Georgian living in an impoverished village somewhere out in the rural hinterlands would have no more chance of entering and/or winning this competition than the proverbial snowball in hell. For one, you have to speak fluent English. For another, you have to have internet access to find out about the competition, and to submit your application on-line. You have to have the self-confidence and self-esteem to even feel yourself worthy of applying. And, significantly, you have to be able to afford to travel to Tbilisi for interviews, for participation in Giffoni Georgia, and, should you be lucky enough to win, to pay airfare to Italy. All this is just so far outside the experience and resources of the majority of Georgian teenagers living outside of major cities, in small, impoverished villages, that it simply will never happen … or at least, it will never happen until things change, particularly the educational system, which heavily favors those who can afford private tutoring and extra-curricular activities, such as those that Salome and Nutsa are afforded by their loving, supportive parents.

I recently have read some interesting blog posts from ISET, the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University on the topic of secondary education in Georgia.  For those who are interested, see here:

On a somewhat less serious note, I thought it would be fun to present a few small videos of one of these competitions. This is the British Council English competition held each year in Gori. Kids compete in a two-stage process, stage one being an essay, and stage 2 being a recitation. There’s entertainment, and prizes include cellphones and iPads. The level of fluency of competitors is really quite impressive.  Below is a sampling of the entertainment, along with Salome’s recitation.


I particularly enjoyed watching the kids doing traditional dance. When I was coming into the building, I wasn’t sure where the contest was – there are two auditoriums. I was talking on my cellphone with someone from my Tbilisi office, in English, and I kind of wandered toward the bigger auditorium, only to notice that the entrance had been sealed off and construction was going on. I turned around to face about 12 kids, dressed in traditional dancing costumes, literally to a person staring at me in quite obvious dismay. No one spoke – they just stared. It was funny, because I knew exactly what was going on. They heard me speaking English, and they wanted to tell me to go upstairs, and they didn’t know how to say it in English. I know that look, because I personally wear it several times a week. It was particularly funny because actually, they could have said it in Georgian, and I would have understood them – my language skills are at about that level. Or they could have just pointed, “upstairs!” But they were frozen, absolutely unable to even move. I was relieved to see that they were able to step it up for their performance, haha.

There was also entertainment with young people belting out pop songs, mostly ballads, at excruciating volumes, with a lot of emoting and hair-tossing … I didn’t record those. 🙂

My other host sister, the younger Nutsa, is no less talented. A very gifted artist, she won an international art competition – the World In Your Hands Art Contest, run by the NGO Together for Girls. Her artwork was featured in Safe Magazine, and shown at the Commission on the Status of Women in March 2016.  The instructions were:

We all know that girls can achieve great things and be powerful agents of change when they’re given the right tools, support, and opportunities. Unfortunately, poor health, violence, lack of education, gender inequality and discrimination, and violations of girls’ human rights often keep girls from reaching their potential. So what should we do?

How would you improve girls’ health? How would you reduce violence or gender inequality? How should we address the violation of girls’ rights? We want you to use your artistic talent to show us your solution.

Use your creativity and talent to create a piece of art that illustrates how you might overcome one of these barriers confronting adolescent girls:

Poor health
Gender-based violence
Gender inequality and discrimination
Violation of girls’ human rights
Lack of access to education

Show us your solutions – take the world in your hands – and help us build a better, brighter world.

Nutsa’s result, one of the top five chosen, was this:

This water color painting was accompanied by the following essay (written with help from Salome):

When I heard about this competition, I started thinking about how to say and how to show  my ideas about violations of human rights for girls. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest problems in the world. I live in the Republic of Georgia. Last year in my country, nine girls died because of violence. In my country people think that a girl’s “work” is to stay in the kitchen and have kids. Because of these incorrect opinions and stereotypes that some parents have, sometimes girls marry as young as 14 or 15. That’s it why I made a painting about violating girls’ human rights. When people see a violation of a girl’s rights, they always close their eyes and think that it isn’t their business. In my opinion if we will close our eyes again, and if we won’t do anything to protest violence against girls, this problem will come to us, too.  There are governmental and non-governmental organizations working in my country to solve this problem. I want to join them and show you my thoughts about how to solve this problem. I think that if we will forget  silly but strong stereotypes, if we will be brave, strong and  educated about our rights, we will solve this problem and we will show the world that we can do all the things we want. Because we are brave, we are strong. We are courageous and educated girls.

All of this makes me very proud of these two girls.

Heading home for 50+ PCVs

As COS (close of service) approaches, so does the reality of having to return to life-before-Peace-Corps. No more easy access to medical and dental care. No more staff to call if I’m having a problem. All my PCV friends, leaving town! And, the biggest reality bummer of all – gotta get a job! Of course, I’ve always been aware this day would come, and I’ve been researching and planning for it for a while now. None of which has gotten me a job yet, but I’ve still got just under three months to go, so send me your best wishes. In the meantime, prompted by an inquiry on the 50+ PCV Facebook page, I’m going to share my research with anyone who would like to take a look. So this post will be very short on stories and photos, but I’ll try to make up for it with useful links.

First of all (in response to the Facebook inquiry), I’m not aware of any Peace Corps special help or program for 50+ volunteers at all. There is a brand-new program called “Emerging Leaders” for “early to mid-career professional RPCVs with a degree in business, international studies, law, or sciences, and have 2-10 years of professional work experience.” You can find out more about it here:

Introducing the Emerging Leaders Project

All of their regular help is available to us, but if there’s anything beyond that, I’ve never been able to find it. Having said that, their regular help is pretty good. Before I start providing the links, I’ll offer some advice. While researching and working on resumes and such between MST and COS is a good idea, applying for positions more than 3 months in advance of your COS date is pretty much an exercise in futility. I speak from sad experience, having sent out a resume in February that resulted in a very fast response and an excellent interview the same week, only to have it all crash and burn because they understandably couldn’t wait until July for me to make my way to Washington DC! Federal jobs of course can take a lot longer, but it’s a gamble to apply too far out, for the same reason. I sought advice on this from staff and some contacts in DC, and the answer I got was – 3 months out.

So, first advice on the work you need to do between MST and COS. First, if you plan to apply for federal jobs, start learning how to write a federal resume, which is quite different from a normal, 2-page summary. It’s much more detailed and demands a lot of factual back-up for every assertion made. This may require you to write to your old job and ask some questions! Personally I certainly can’t remember every grant I wrote for the last 20 years, or every budget, or even my last salary level! Luckily my former employer was very helpful. So, here are some good places to look at examples of federal resumes and see instruction on how to write them:

I also participated in a webinar led by someone from OPM who gave a very thorough presentation on this topic. He allowed us to download his presentation and you can find it here:

Now, aside from writing federal resumes, there’s drafting of normal resumes as well. It’s easy to research this – just google it, and thousands of articles and samples will pop up, so I won’t provide any here – you just have to peruse. But, there are some tips for 50+ job hunters that I found in a few helpful articles, here:

Much of the advice these articles address concern three myths about older people: older adults are too set in their ways; older adults aren’t tech-savvy and older people aren’t resilient, and offer advice about how to offset these stereotypes. This can be useful. For instance, I really spiffed up my LinkedIn profile and did all the things advised here:

OK, so you’ve worked on your resume, you’ve fixed up your LinkedIn account (or opened one, :-)), you’re 3 months out from COS, where do you look?

First, start with Peace Corps resources. They have a “Peace Corps Virtual Career Center” page with a lot of resources, here:

They post job openings of all sorts – domestic, international, public and private sector – here:

You can sign-up for an email service that either daily or weekly sends you all the jobs, or just in the categories you select.

Next, there’s a good Facebook page for job-seekers, here:

Another good source is the National Peace Corps Association job page, here:

Sometimes there is duplication between all these sites, of course, but that’s ok, it’s easy to catch.

Next, there’s the dreaded USAJOBS. This is only for federal jobs, and if you want to work for the government, this is the only portal of entry. You can create a variety of searches there, save resumes, etc. Does it work? I’ve heard it’s a black hole, but there isn’t really any choice. I’ll let you know whether it works for me or not! Here it is:

Another really good source is the PND Job Bulletin, PND standing for Philanthropy News Digest, from the Foundation Center. They send out a weekly email bulletin that has really good nonprofit jobs that I don’t see elsewhere. You can find them here:

There are other job-search sites that might be helpful. Please keep in mind that I am not a teacher – I am an IOD PCV, and worked in the non-profit field prior to that, so this list skews that way. I’m sure there are other education sites, but sorry, I don’t know them. I can’t personally vouch for any of these, but they seem worth exploring, anyway.

Last, I’ll give the advice that we all hear, but it bears repeating – network and reach out to your contacts as much as you can. In the course of our careers we 50+ PCVs have amassed a lot of experience and know a lot of people, and we can use that to our advantage.

Good luck to everyone.