EECS sophomore teaches robotics in Tbilisi, Georgia

EECS sophomore teaches robotics in Tbilisi, Georgia

As a sophomore, Damian Barabonkov (EECS ’22) taught robotics in Tbilisi -- the city often called "the heart of the Caucasus" -- as part of the first MISTI Eurasia Global Teaching Labs (GTL) program in Georgia in 2018.

“Being a part of a pilot program, GTL Georgia was structured differently than the usual GTL programs. Namely, in a team of two, the largest difference was that we taught adults, not middle or high school students. We would train these trainers, that would then hold workshops for kids. So, when our IAP program ends, there will still be a lasting impact from our teaching,” Damian explains.

Sponsored by Georgia’s Innovation and Technology Agency (GITA), the program was structured around three different technical subjects: littleBits, Lego Robotics, and Arduino. “Teaching adults made the program more flexible for us, letting us plan lessons, which probed deeper and explored more of the material. Additionally, we established friendships with our students, who were all kind enough to take us on trips and show us the various aspects of their country and culture in return,” Damian recalls.

Exploring Georgia

In the country where East meets West, Damian felt safe and found it easy to get settled. “The process of working and living in Georgia was not much of a challenge to me. I have been abroad many times before, and I also speak Russian and English. With both of those languages, communication in general on a basic level was not much of an issue, so I could find my way around and ask for things,” he says.

Damian admits that one of the way he explored Georgia was by allowing himself to get lost when going to a restaurant, a grocery store, or a tourist attraction: “Usually I would be alone on these journeys and some of them were while it was dark. I could afford myself this since very soon after arriving in Tbilisi, I got a very clear sense of how safe the city felt and was reassured by several locals of this fact.”

One of the most memorable experiences was his trip to the countryside to visit his GITA supervisor’s grandparents. “That entire weekend was a very authentic Georgian experience. [Our supervisor] took us to his home, where we were welcomed by his grandmother. She had prepared a bunch of authentic Georgian food for dinner, so much so that the entire dinner table was full, and there was no space for our plates. His grandmother also showed us how to fold khinkali, Georgian dumplings.”

During their visit, they played board games and simply enjoyed each other's company by the fireplace. Additionally, Damian was able to learn more about Georgia’s 8000-year-long history of winemaking since the grandfather was a winemaker himself. “He produces several different types of homemade wine in the basement, which was an amazing and new sight for me,” he remembers.

Upon his return to MIT, Damian realized how much this experience in Georgia had changed him. “Right now, I feel much more mature and socially capable [of communicating] with the many different types of people here at MIT with various backgrounds,” he concludes.

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Photo: Damian Barabonkov (left) in Georgia, 2018. Photo credit: GITA.