UCAN has gone international! This year we were proud to welcome Tinatin Pareishvilli to the United States as a part of the U.S. Department of State’s Professional Fellows program. As a social worker traveling from the Republic of Georgia, Tinatin observed the state of the social services sector and learn from her experiences with UCAN to develop a program to take back to her country.
Working closely with UCAN Clinical Case Worker Heather Blankenship, and Coordinator of Specialty Programming Donna Kane, the three proposed a grant to the American Councils for International Education to employ Heather in Georgia to help implement the beginning of a program that would utilize UCAN’s Diermeier Future Leaders Now (DFLN) curriculum, one of UCAN’s most prominent leadership development programs. After receiving the grant, Heather traveled to Georgia in October.
“Georgia is an incredibly beautiful and hospitable country with such a vibrant history,” Heather said. “Tina’s family was incredibly welcoming and always made sure that I was comfortable in their home.” For two weeks Heather stayed outside the capital of Tblisi, working with three small family-style youth homes in a rotation to implement the DFLN program. In her work with the youth, Heather observed many similarities and differences in the culture of social work.
“Family is an integral component in Georgian culture, both in the community and in the workplace. I truly appreciated how the youth and staff in the group homes prepared meals and ate together.” Heather also noticed that religion is very much a part of Georgian culture. “Religion has a significant role in Georgian culture and is very much expressed in the homes, schools, workplace, and in the community. Many offices provided community members with a place for worship and prayer.”
Heather explained that youth in Georgia are placed in care for many of the same reasons that youth are placed in care in the United States. Heather learned that a high number of youth were placed in care due to a lack of family support or death in the family. She noticed that Georgian youth share a lot of similarities to youth in the United States. For example, she noticed that they both shared a love for music and dancing. “The youth in Georgia enjoyed reading, playing games, and spending time with their friends. The youth were fascinated with Georgian celebrities, cultural songs, and traditional dancing as well.”
Heather also attended a Georgian wedding, which she noticed was very similar to traditional weddings in the United States. “What fascinated me the most at the wedding reception was the traditional Georgian dancing that took place. The reception was a time that friends and family all participated in traditional dancing and sharing toasts throughout the reception.”
Heather stressed that there were things that both Georgia and the United States’ child welfare system could learn from one another to be more effective. Overall, the project was a success, and Heather learned a lot on her trip, most importantly “to be open about experiencing different cultures and embrace the many unique differences that we all share. One of the many things that I love about traveling is being able to truly experience a new culture and learn about the differences and similarities that we all share as people.”