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Pilot: Traveling to Peru!

This year GZAAT has introduced its first ever exchange program! 5 Juniors will be traveling to Peru in mid-June and will be spending two weeks exploring the beautiful South American country. Since this is an exchange program, in turn 5 students from Peru will be visiting Georgia in October. The 5 GZAAT students (Anastasia Kurdghelia, Anano Kirvalidze, Anita Karalashvili, Giorgi Jakobia, and Anna Partsvania) will be accompanied by one teacher, Gvantsa Zhuruli from the English department. While Gvantsa is the main organizer of this trip, it is interesting as to how this program surfaced and came about in the first place.

Campus footage taken from their school website

Formation of the Georgia-Peru Bond

The school that the 5 Juniors will be visiting is called Casuarinas International College, and was founded in 1982 by Pilar Deza. The school currently has grade levels K-12 and practices an IB program. They have all instruction in English, as well as a long history of exchange programs. This international college has exchange programs with places from all around the world, and has wanted to add Georgia to this list for quite some time. Apparently Pilar Deza is an honorary ambassador of Georgia in Peru, and friends with a member of the GZAAT board of trustees. This is how in 2019 she contacted GZAAT, expressing interest in starting an exchange program with our school, and even visited our campus. Unfortunately this was the year of COVID-19, and shortly after this meeting it became clear that such an exchange would be impossible at the time.  Luckily the year after the pandemic, she revisited Georgia for a few weeks and this conversation resurfaced. After these unexpected delays, the exchange has finally been planned, and was announced at our school during one of the assemblies in the first semester.

Making Choices: Who gets to go?

When this program was initially offered, 18 students expressed interest. However there were limited spots, only 5 Juniors could be chosen to participate in the program: “We had the liberty to make the choice of which five students to take with us, based on their discipline, grade point averages, and anything else of importance. Initially we planned to use such criteria to choose students, as we didn’t know how much would show interest, how much would be willing to host the students from Peru in their homes etc. At first I asked Andres to choose the students, and he agreed, because I could’ve been their teacher next year, and I didn’t want to be the one choosing and picking, it would be impossible for me.” explains Gvantsa. However, once it became known that the students would have to host the Peruvian guests when they visit in October, the number of interested people decreased to exactly 5. Luckily for Mr Cruz, no choice had to be made, they had the perfect number. As for the accompanying teacher, Gvantsa explains that once she returned from her Sabbatical, Mr Cruz approached her and told her about the program, asking if she would be interested in leading the trip because of her long background of travel and leading student-trips abroad: “Peru was always on my bucket list and so of course I agreed.” However, interestingly enough, Gvantsa has never taught class of 2025, and therefore doesn’t know these students as well as other teachers might. Fortunately, this doesn’t pose a problem: “I haven’t taught any of these students, but I asked around and here and there in official and personal conversations, and the teachers that have taught them say they are all wonderful, interesting, intelligent kids with zero discipline problems. I am so excited to be with them and spend time with them.” 

Side Quest: Machu Picchu

As for what our GZAAT travelers will be doing during their 2 weeks in Peru, Gvantsa has expressed extra initiative. Casuarinas International College sent their 2-week planned out program to GZAAT, and GZAAT sent their program to Casuarinas (in these programs, the plan for each day is written out). In the Casuarinas program, while there was an array of cultural activities and events that our students will attend, one crucial destination was missing from the syllabus: the 15th century Inca Citadel located deep in the Andes mountains - Machu Picchu. “We actually added to their activities, as Machu Picchu was not included in their program, and I asked them if we could add this on our expenses. They said yes, of course. It is important to note that everything else is included when we visit - students only pay for the plane ticket, Tbilisi-Lima and back. The rest, such as meals, housing, trips, tours, transportation, activities, it is all covered and paid for. And since I believed that it would be impossible to visit Peru without going to Machu Picchu and Cusco, I asked to take a couple of days off from the program and to arrange this trip by ourselves, with our finances, and they agreed, so that’s what I’m finalizing at the moment.” explains Gvantsa. This side-quest will take place during the first week of their visit to Peru. First they will fly to Lima, then they will hop another plane to Cusco, where they will be spending a couple of nights, and from Cusco they will take a train up  to Machu Picchu and back. This whole part of the trip will be guided by an English-speaking tour guide who was recommended by Casuarinas International College. The tour guide will meet our students at the airport in Cusco, and stay with them until they fly back to Lima. Once they return to Lima and settle in the homes of the Peruvian families, the initially intended program will continue to take place. 

Google picture of Machu Picchu

2 weeks in Peru - What will they be doing?

While this trip is primarily a cultural exchange above all else, GZAAT students will have to do some work while in Peru - they will have to prepare a long, all-inclusive, informative presentation about Georgia. Much like GZAAT’s assemblies, Casuarinas International College holds large meetings with all grade levels every once in a while. During their second week of being there, our Georgian students will host this gathering and present their country to the Peruvians. Gvantsa estimates that this presentation will be up to a couple of hours long. But it must not be forgotten that the focus of the trip is learning about Peru: “We will be together during school hours, but after, the students will be with their families, because after all this is a cultural program. They have to experience Peruvian family and Peruvian life in general. Hopefully they will also get to practice some Spanish. It will also be interesting for me, as a teacher, to observe the classes and see what type of teaching style and education system they have. I will also see how this exchange program works, because while we’ve traveled abroad with students, this is our first such exchange, you could even call it a pilot program.” This experience will serve as a full cultural immersion for our students.  They will also have the opportunity to observe high schools from abroad, and compare it to our beloved Academy. Anastasia Kurdghelia, one of the traveling Juniors, expresses her expectations: “I’m very excited to see the school we are collaborating with for this program. When I looked it up, it seemed very advanced and academically rigorous. It is also an international school, so not only will we get to know Peruvians but people of all nationalities. I’ve never been to a school outside of Georgia, so I have no idea what their program is like, but I’m very eager to know. I think that this experience will help me a lot in getting a broader perspective on what education is. Other than the purely academic aspect, I’m most excited about getting to know the country and its people. I’ve never been to a country like Peru and I’ve never met anyone from there. I hope to gain some new friends from across the equator. I’m sure that the relationships I will form there will help me understand people from different backgrounds much easier in the future.”

Peruvians in Georgia

As mentioned before, the 5 students from Peru will also be visiting Georgia and staying with our Georgian families. However, this aspect of the program has proved a bit more problematic than expected, as Mr Cruz explains: “While our students will be completely safe in Peru, the Peruvian parents are a bit doubtful about sending their children here. For some reason, Georgia doesn’t have a very good reputation abroad. Now for me, this is absurd. Even when I first visited here in 2001, I thought this was a very peaceful place. But foreigners don’t necessarily think like that. And moreover, they are from Latin America, for them to observe small Georgia next to Russia, in war with Ukraine, it makes them nervous. I wrote to them, explaining that Georgia is quite safe (after all, Peru has double the crime rate than Georgia) so let's see what’ll happen in October.”  It is also important to note that if the Peruvian students, in the case of visiting, will be in their senior year, which Gvantsa hopes won’t be a problem: “That’s the only thing I'm worried about, to make sure that we don’t intervene in their college prep process and we dont stress them out. We plan to ask the school to help us figure out their visit in that regard. But we have tours planned in Tbilisi, Kakheti, Vardzia, Kazbegi. I prepared a Georgian culture program for them, where we will be viewing a lot of historical sights and experiencing lots of cultural activities, like watching Georgian dances, making Churchkhela and Khinkali, baking bread and things like that, which’ll help them understand our culture better.We’ll see how it all plays out.” Additionally, October is the month of the parliamentary elections, so it will definitely be an interesting visit for the students from Casuarinas International College. Despite all this, we await them at our school with open arms, after all, Georgians love being a “maspindzeli”. Let’s see how this pilot program will work out, and hope that future GZAAT students will be able to take advantage of this cultural opportunity. 

Edited by: Lizi Schierman

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