Campus: CSU Fullerton -- March 5, 2004
Georgian Scholar Learns About American Culture
While Providing Insight Into Her Country
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
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 from Nino.”
“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
“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
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 do here.”
Another difference she notes is that single adults in America tend to
leave home once they reach adulthood — not necessarily when they
“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 home.”
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
“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.”
Media Contacts: Nino Kurtskhalia at email@example.com
Valerie Orleans, Public Affairs at (714) 278-4540 or firstname.lastname@example.org