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English and Russian educators participate in scholar exchange

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Ms. Dali Vashakidze is teaching students and cadets about the Russian language and its culture at UNG's Dahlonega Campus. She is the head of the Russian Language Department at the David Aghmashenebeli National Defense Academy of Georgia in Gori, Georgia.

Dr. Donna Gessell is spending the fall 2019 semester teaching conversational English and writing to cadets at the David Aghmashenebeli National Defense Academy (NDA) of Georgia in Gori, Georgia. Ms. Dali Vashakidze is teaching students and cadets about the Russian language and its culture at the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Dahlonega Campus.

Both women are participating in scholar exchange between the two foreign military institutions in different hemispheres. The Republic of Georgia is at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia in the Eastern Hemisphere.

The exchange is possible because UNG signed an initial academic cooperation agreement in 2011 with Georgia NDA. As a commitment to the development of future officers, faculty research and teaching, UNG and the NDA renewed its partnership in May 2018.

"This is the first time we have had an academic scholar exchange with the Georgia NDA," said Anthony Fritchle, who manages the UNG Military Visiting Scholar Program. "We have had other forms of exchanges with guest lecturers for a few weeks, but Vashakidze is the first professor from a military academy who is completing a full exchange."

Gessell and Vashakidze are enjoying the exchange.

"Two of my favorite activities are teaching and traveling," said Gessell, professor of English at UNG. "Being able to do both at once is rewarding."

Vashakidze, head of the Russian Language Department at Georgia NDA, has been a visiting professor in Romania, but her experience at UNG is markedly different.

"It is a different style of teaching compared to my country," she said, explaining her Georgian cadets learn for five hours a day every day.

At UNG, she teaches a class for two hours three times a week, requiring her to make the most of her class time with students.

"It is a large amount of material I have to teach them," Vashakidze said. "I think I am always in a hurry to give them more for their educational purposes."

She also encouraged her students and faculty members to ask questions about Georgia and its neighbor, Russia.

"They want to know everything about the role of Russia and its language and my country and how they connect," she said.

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Dr. Donna Gessell is spending the fall 2019 semester teaching conversational English and writing to cadets at the David Aghmashenebeli National Defense Academy (NDA) of Georgia in Gori, Georgia.

Gessell said the students at the Georgia NDA are eager to learn English as well.

"Like our cadets at UNG, these cadets know that they are learning skills and knowledge to defend their country and way of life," she said. "I can work with them so that they can become adept in conversational English related to their curriculum. Also, with my experience teaching writing, I am working with students to improve their writing skills."

Both educators also venture out of class to soak in the culture. Vashakidze said her UNG colleagues have invited her into their homes for meals and taken her to Atlanta.

"I was amazed when so many Americans wanted to help me. They like that I am from a different country," she said.

Gessell said the faculty in the Republic of Georgia has welcomed her, too. She also enjoys walking out of her apartment to experience the foreign culture and food.

"I delight in walking around in downtown Gori every afternoon, which includes visiting the nearby open-air market to buy fruits and vegetables and patronizing my favorite bakery, especially for khachapuri, a cheese-filled bread," Gessell said. "I even found a deli that specializes in takeout Georgian food."

Both agreed they would volunteer for a scholar exchange again.

"The experience is a comfortable one," Gessell said. "But like any other experience abroad, it will change a person in ways that are unpredictable yet invaluable."

Fritchle said more scholar exchanges are in the future for UNG and its partnering institutions.

"For us, it's about relationship building and managing academic expectations," he said.

For more information about academic exchanges, contact the Center for Global Engagement.

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