Study international relations abroad

Students on SRAS' Identity and Conflict program traveling in Azerbaijan in 2019.

Review of Identity and Conflict in the Post-Soviet Space in Tbilisi, Georgia

Published: June 6, 2023

If you’d have asked me on June 10th, 2022 when I landed in Tbilisi if I’d be here, in Georgia, almost a year later, the answer would have almost definitely been “no.” However, I had so many great experiences and met so many extraordinary people that summer abroad that I felt the need to return for spring 2023.

Programs Abroad in Georgia

Study international relations abroad Armenia Caucasus
The author at Noravank Monastery in Armenia.

My first summer was spent learning Georgian on the American Councils’ Eurasian Regional Language Program. I went to Georgia sort of as a passion project. I’d wanted to study Georgian for a long time. Since finding the small books that my middle school had on the Caucasus, I’d been fascinated by the region and Georgia in particular because of its middle ground, or possibly a place all its own, between Europe and Asia. My university, Vassar College in New York, also had a fellowship that would fully fund summer language programs, making this even more accessible.

SRAS’ programs are recommended by my university’s international programs office. On the SRAS website, I found the Identity and Conflict in the Post-Soviet Space program. It was exactly what I wanted for myself. The identity and conflict courses would allow me to fulfill requirements for my international studies major while giving me access to Russian language courses higher than the level available at my university. Most importantly, the program took me back to Georgia. Over the next few months, I diligently filled out every form and emailed every necessary person, to ensure that I’d be back on a plane to Georgia in January.

Studying Russian in Tbilisi

Study international relations abroad Georgia Caucasus
Sign on the Enguri Dam in the Samegrelo region of Georgia. The dam provides power to both Georgia and the occupied region of Abkhazia.

When I got to Tbilisi, I was most nervous to start my Russian classes. Because I was going to be at such an advanced level, I was going to be one on one with my teacher, which meant that there was nowhere to hide, no room to slack off. Though it was difficult and a bit awkward for me, I could tell from the first day that the class was going to be exactly what I needed. The readings were understandable, but with a lot of new vocabulary, which I was desperately in need of. Though I was nervous at first, I found the learning environment was perfect for helping me feel more comfortable speaking and allowing myself to make mistakes in Russian. I was pleasantly surprised by my experience in Russian classes, and from what I’ve heard, my fellow course-mates were also pleased with the quality of their classes as well.


Studying Diplomacy in and Traveling the Caucasus

The focal point of the program is the lectures on identity and conflict in the post-Soviet space. Each week we had lectures, either given by our two main lecturers, or by one of many professionals that SRAS and their local partners, Novamova, arranged to speak with us on various topics relating to their fields and passions. Never in my life had I had the opportunity to connect with so many people who had so much experience in this part of the world that interests me most. The post-Soviet space is so interesting because all of the countries have an overarching experience of being a part of the USSR, but the conditions they left with and the choices they had to make have left them in dramatically different socio-economic and political positions and with nuanced views of the Soviet legacy.

Study international relations abroad Azerbaijan Caucasus
A restaurant in the mountainous Azerbaijani town of Lahij. Lahij is primarily inhabited by an ethnic minority who speak Tat, an Iranian language.

My hands-down favorite parts of the program were the periods of travel in Armenia and Azerbaijan. During none of the great lectures did I feel like I absorbed as much information as I felt like I did while traveling. While I had met people from Georgia while in the U.S., I had never met anyone from Armenia or Azerbaijan. I had never had any chance to hear perspectives from either of those countries firsthand. Our amazing guides, in showing us mosques, churches, the local nature, and so much more, revealed the meanings behind these beautiful places with a wealth of personal knowledge about their countries’ culture and history. The group seemed to especially enjoy the surprise we received from our experience in Azerbaijan. People we met in Georgia tended to have neutral to negative views about visiting Azerbaijan. However, our group found the northern part of Azerbaijan through Shamakhi and Sheki to be breathtaking and unique and the complexities of Azerbaijan’s culture astounding.

For me, the main value of the Identity and Conflict in the Post-Soviet Space program was in better understanding the Caucasus and its cultures. I have been interested in the Caucasus for many years, longer than I have even been studying Russian. In my opinion, as with many places in the world, the Caucasus is a place that you can’t even begin to understand until you visit it yourself. Though much of the material for the course was focused on the current conflicts in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, by basing the program in Tbilisi, and including so much travel throughout the Caucasus, SRAS has created a truly unique experience. I believe that studying in the Caucasus is invaluable to anyone with an interest in international relations, identity formation, or conflict resolution. The post-Soviet space should be a focus of American diplomacy for many years to come and understanding its regional and global value is crucial today.


You’ll Also Love

Ballroom dance in Georgia

Ballroom and Latin Dancing in Georgia

In my six years as a competitive ballroom dancer in the United States, I’ve been struck by the fact that most of my coaches, teachers, and judges are from former Soviet states. Even Ukrainian President Zelensky had a star turn as a dancer when he won a Dancing with the Stars competition in 2006. During […]

Share on Social Media
Fabrika Tbilisi Hostel

Staying at Fabrika Hostel in Tbilisi

Fabrika Hostel is a large and centrally located hostel in Tbilisi. Students on regular SRAS programs in Georgia stay at homestays while in Georgia. However, SRAS recently hosted a group of students on a short-term faculty led program from University of Richmond who chose a hostel stay for their time abroad. The following was written […]

Share on Social Media
Fitness in Tbilisi— GYM 13

Gyms in Tbilisi: Staying Fit in Georgia

There are many ways to stay fit while in Bishkek! Below are suggestions for gyms and training clubs within the city that students on SRAS programs in Tbilisi have found and would like to recommended. This resource is part of the much larger SRAS Guide to Living in Tbilisi. GYM 13 17 Nikifore Irbakhi St By Zhengyi […]

Share on Social Media
Student budgets abroad Europe Central Asia

Study Abroad Budgets: A Student Guide

Eurasia today is quite affordable. Students are often surprised how far their dollars will go even in major cities like Warsaw – and very surprised at how far they go in places like Bishkek. However, students can also be surprised at how easy it is to run into troubles – like blocked bank cards or […]

Share on Social Media
Batumi Beauty

Batumi Beauty

Amidst the excitement of studying abroad, students often seek unique experiences. Imagine combining the thrill of exploration with the indulgence of self-care. In this tale, students embark on an unconventional journey, where cultural immersion intertwines with the soothing rituals of nail artistry. Dona Nail 51 Tbel-Abuseridze St Review by SRAS Student Marina Garfield When I […]

Share on Social Media
Share on Social Media

About the author

Matilda Linne

Matilda Linne, at the time she wrote for this site, was pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies at Vassar College in New York. She studied abroad on the Identity and Conflict program with SRAS over spring semester, 2023. She also served an Online Research Internship with SRAS over the summer of 2023.

Program attended: Research Internships

View all posts by: Matilda Linne