When our lecturer first told us to talk to each other and we only vaguely knew who he was referring to, I don’t think Lienus or I could have imagined that it would lead to the day when we met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia. When we first started discussing the possibility of arranging a trip to Georgia, we certainly didn’t dream of such an amazing experience; in fact, there were many moments where we both doubted it would ever even happen. Yet here we are, freshly returned from Tbilisi with a group of students from the University of Westminster’s Democratic Education Network (DEN), as well as the lecturer, Dr. Farhang Morady, who first told us to talk to each other.
It has been a mind-blowing experience from the moment we stepped off the plane (or perhaps before that, as we travelled through the night with a stop-over in Istanbul) and were met by our most hospitable of hosts, Giorgi Tsiklauri, and our fellow Westminster student and Georgian resident who would be our incredibly capable interpreter, David Kenkadze. Our first day saw us whisked away to St Andrew the First-Called University of Georgia (SANGU) where we received a highly informative lecture on Georgia from the rector of the university, Sergo Vardosanidze. We received the warmest of welcomes from the moment of arrival in Georgia, from everyone we met. Our first evening was spent with mountains of fresh and delicious Georgian food and wine as well as first-class entertainment courtesy of father and son, Kakhi and David Kenkadze. These Georgians know how to host!
Our second day saw us really getting down to business. Firstly a SANGU lecture on Georgia’s tourism industry from Niko Kvaracxelia followed by a meeting at the Ministry of internally displaced persons and refugees. The lecture on tourism was really interesting and made me reflect upon the role of tourism in the development of a country. From the ministry of IDP’s, my overwhelming impression of Georgia’s approach here is that they are doing all they possibly can for their vulnerable population with the limited resources available to them. The social care system is aiming to do all that you could ask; providing housing, healthcare and benefits through effective and well-planned strategies.
Our final meeting of the day was with the Georgian chapter of Transparency International. I felt this meeting was very informative and crucial in giving us a more balanced insight into Georgia. Given that corruption was Georgia’s biggest problem, Transparency International has played a vital role in the transforming the country.
Day three…and many more meetings ahead of us, starting with a lecture at SANGU on Georgian economics from Levan Kistauri. This lecture really highlighted Georgia’s determination and focus on becoming a liberal capitalist free-market economy. Currently, a large proportion of Georgian’s is self-employed (mainly in agriculture) with very small revenue, which is just one story behind the official unemployment statistic of 13.9%. Our afternoon consisted of a meeting with the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, where we heard some more of Georgia’s history and hoped for future from Kakha Gogolashvili and Giorgi Badrizdze.
On to one of the most exciting moments of our trip…when we attended the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We were all somewhat overwhelmed by the lavish building, and the room in to which we walked only to discover a very formal sight, with all of our names around a table. Now we really felt like professionals! Such meetings gave us a real insight in to what our future careers may look like. I believe I can speak for all of us when I say that it is an experience that will leave a mark on our minds for a very long time. Our final meeting was at Parliament with Sofio Katsarava who talked to us about Georgia’s position in Europe and its path towards the EU.
As well as our many meetings, we did manage to fit in a spot of sight-seeing. Saturday morning was spent visiting the jaw-droppingly stunning Mtskheta, where we visited Jvari Monastery and had a tour of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. I can’t begin to tell you how much I loved this place, it was beautiful beyond words. I can’t wait to go back again. We were also able to spend some time seeing Tbilisi, including the exquisite Old Town, enchanting Botanical Gardens, and enchanting clock tower.
Tbilisi is an alluring city that we all fell in love with. Most notably, everyone treats you with such hospitality. I have never felt so well looked after. I highly recommend that everyone visits Georgia and I will be returning myself for a trip of a different nature when I go skiing in Gudauri. I will definitely be scheduling a few days in Tbilisi en route, where I will stay once again at the gorgeous Stay Boutique Hotel where I know I am guaranteed an elegant room and top service from the lovely Natiya.
By Rebecca Price