BY VALERIE ORLEANS
March 5, 2004 :: No. 169
Georgian Scholar Is Learning About
She never thought that she would be in America
— the country where everyone supposedly looks like movie stars.
And never in her wildest dreams did Nino Kurtskhalia
believe that she would be putting the American people and their
culture under the academic microscope. But that’s exactly
what she is doing as a foreign scholar at Cal State Fullerton this
year. Kurtskhalia is studying on the Fullerton campus as a member
of the Junior Faculty Development Program, sponsored by the State
Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
The professor of English at the Georgian State Technical
University in Tbilisi, Georgia, is attending American studies classes
to learn more about American pop culture, race relations and women’s
issues with the hopes of one day teaching American studies classes
in her homeland.
She will participate in a panel discussion Monday,
March 8, on “International Women’s Day: Women, Power
and Social Justice” with Gloria Bogdan, lecturer in Afro-ethnic
studies and women’s studies, and Khanum Shaikh, lecturer in
women’s studies, as part of Women’s History Month. The
discussion will be at 1 p.m. in Room 130 of the university’s
Pollak Library and is open to the public.
“Coming to Cal State Fullerton offers me a wonderful
opportunity to learn about a culture and country that is of great
interest to people in my country,” she explains. “Not
only am I learning about American culture, but I am able to observe
and study American methods of teaching. Classes are much more focused
on student participation than in my country.
“It’s been wonderful having Nino participate
in our American studies classes,” says Leila Zenderland, professor
of American studies. “Having someone respond to the issues
being discussed from the perspective of another culture has been
fascinating and enlightening for both the faculty and students.
We feel fortunate to have the opportunity to interact with and learn
“I’ve found Americans to be very friendly,”
Kurtskhalia adds. “When I first arrived here, I was frightened.
I didn’t know anybody, and this was the first time I had been
away from my family for such an extended time. Yet the people here
have been so helpful in providing me with assistance. The people
in my department, the students I meet, friends I’ve made —
they are all very quick to offer assistance.
“In Europe, we have a different image of Americans
— we see them as only glamorous and not so friendly —
mostly this is a result of television shows and movies.”
Family living arrangements are different as well.
In Georgia, it’s common for three generations to be living
under the same roof.
“For instance, my mother-in-law also lives with
my husband, my two children and me. That’s pretty typical
to have at least one of your parents living with you,” she
explains. “We also visit with friends much more often, and
it doesn’t occur to us to call ahead. You just show up. I
think Americans are busier, but I’m not sure if that’s
a good thing. I think while individualism is prized here, there
is not always a strong sense of community. I’m surprised at
the number of people I’ve met who don’t know their neighbors.”
The diversity and number of different ethnic groups
that call America home also surprised Kurtskhalia.
“What’s interesting is how those of different
religious and ethnic groups mingle with one another,” the
researcher says. “While we do have different groups in Georgia,
they don’t tend to co-exist with each other as easily as you
Another difference she notes is that single adults
in America tend to leave home once they reach adulthood —
not necessarily when they marry.
“In my country, adult children don’t usually
leave home until they marry and start their own families,”
Kurtskhalia says. “It’s not unusual to find men in their
40s who are still living at home and having their parents make decisions
for them. You don’t see that as often here. Adults in America
are often more responsible for their own decisions.
“I think the concept of raising children is
different, as well,” she continues. “In Georgia, children
don’t have as much freedom to express their own thoughts.
Many parents see their children as an extension of themselves, and
they don’t encourage their children to think independently.”
Since Kurtskhalia is used to living in a city, Southern
California’s sprawling metropolis was a surprise.
“I’m used to tall buildings and people
walking along the street,” she says. “Here you see housing
tracts and business separated and very few people walking.”
Even the food presents challenges. In Georgia, vegetables
are always cooked, never served raw. Produce is purchased directly
from the farmers so it is always fresh. And there is no such thing
as Chinese food.
“The coffee is very different, too,” she
adds. “We drink very strong Turkish coffee. Fortunately, I’ve
discovered Starbucks, where I can get espresso like they serve at
While Kurtskhalia is looking forward to reuniting
with her husband and two children, she knows that it will be difficult
to leave her new friends and colleagues.
“I know when I return to Georgia, I will miss
California,” she says. “This has been such an incredible
opportunity for me to learn more about American culture and to share
my culture with others.”
||Nino Kurtskhalia at firstname.lastname@example.org
Valerie Orleans, Public Affairs at 657-278-4540 or email@example.com