London, Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, Rome… these are the places all of your friends have studied abroad. In the classic study abroad destinations there are plenty of programs and schools to choose from, you’ve got lists and lists of the best bars and cafes from returning students, and perhaps you’ve already studied the language or the history starting back in high school. These typical choices for study abroad would no doubt bring you a great and fulfilling semester… but something also to consider is that these locations are already so familiar to Western students that it’s almost only a baby step outside of your comfort zone instead of the gallant leap that travel has the potential to be. If you’re interested in discovering somewhere new, in telling tales the folks back home haven’t heard one hundred times before, in the road less traveled and roads yet to be traveled at all… go to Tbilisi. Go to Georgia. If the uniqueness and bounds outside the normal range for 20 something’s isn’t enough to convince you on its own, here are the top 10 reasons you should study abroad in the Republic of Georgia.
A semester in Georgia might make your freshmen 15 look like child’s play, but it will be worth it. Typical Georgian cuisine is full of flavor, color and often weight, and with always fresh ingredients it’s no wonder everyone who tries it keeps coming back for more. As a student in Georgia you’ll get to experience the stairs… the plates just never stop coming and eventually the waiters start to stack them.
Okay so it might be unlikely that you’ve studied Georgian thus far in your college career, not to worry though, many Georgians, especially in the cities where students will likely live, speak English fluently as a means to connect with foreigners. You’ll have no struggles making local friends. They also speak Russian so if you want to give that a go while you’re there just to be extra impressive all the power to you.
3. Georgian Hospitality:
Hospitality is extremely important in Georgian culture and they’re famous for it. Georgians are basically majestic beings who invite travelers and new friends into their homes, feed them a feast, toast to them over and over with their wines, and sing beautiful Georgian polyphonic and folk music for them. I’ve literally never met a Georgian who did not sing for me multiple times. If other nations behaved this way towards foreigners we would have world peace. Hospitality is an important element when choosing your study abroad location, you’re far away from home so a host family, or just local people that you meet outside of student housing, that makes you feel warmly welcomed is important.
Everything from being an important stop on ancient trade routes between Europe, Asia and the Middle East, to the Soviet Union, Georgia’s is not a history that most Western students learn about at school without specifically majoring in it. Georgia’s history is a long, exciting, diverse and intense story that is worth popping your America bubble to hear.
5. Varying terrain, landscapes and climates within different regions:
While students will likely choose to study in a city, like for example the capital Tbilisi, the rest of the country is accessible for day or weekend trips with options ranging from a charming town on the Black Sea or a day of hiking in the pristine mountains of Kazbegi. There is plenty to see.
Other than general common sense of safety habits to be practiced when traveling or when living in cities, Georgia has proven to be a comfortable and welcoming place where travelers can feel at ease navigating through life independently. (Note: this post does not include breakaway regions). Something in particular that I noticed during my recent visit, which I was very happy with compared to my home base in Rome, is I did not hear any cat calling ever. Not once.
As it stands, right now $1 US = 2.17 Georgian Lari. Not only is the exchange rate the bee’s knees but in general life is fairly affordable (an average taxi ride, for example, in Tbilisi costing about 5 lari) and visitors don’t have to worry as much about tourist scams as they do in other destinations.
We all know this to be a priority for study abroaders. No judgement zone, you guys, no need to deny it. Georgians make natural wines (less hangover symptoms) in an ancient vessel called a Qvevri, this 8,000 year old technique is recognized by UNESCO as the oldest in the world. Any Georgian you meet will likely be able to tell you why Georgia is in fact the birthplace of wine, it is one of the most important factors of their culture. Drink up, because it’s also delicious.
9. Cultural Fusion:
Due to its location at the crossroads of Eastern Europe, Western Asia and the Middle East, as well as it’s past of adapting to various conquering cultures during wars throughout history, Georgia’s food, culture, architecture and art show influences from pretty much every direction, blending together with the pieces of Georgia’s own unique identity to create basically a traveler’s dream destination. The best of everything.
THEY ARE JUST EVERYWHERE. I mean they’re street dogs, and like you should be careful, but also so cuuute and sweeet and awww you can just put one in your backpack and take it home <3 <3 <3
All photos via Sarah Freeman