Tbilisi, Georgia/Cove, AR
ninimima [at] yahoo [dot] com
My journey in the world of academia started more than ten years ago now when at the age of 17 I left my country for the first time and went on a high school exchange to Van-Cove High School in the small town of Cove, Arkansas on a scholarship offered by the FSA/FLEX program (1999/2000). Needless to say, this was a priceless opportunity that opened a whole new world to me and put me on the path which I am following now. After coming back home to Tbilisi, Georgia I started BA studies at Tbilisi State University majoring in the History of Diplomacy and International Relations. I also worked part-time, giving private English lessons to students in my neighbourhood and getting involved in various projects run by the Project Harmony, through which my family even hosted an American guest who conducted trainings for local NGOs on the issue of domestic violence. As part of this project I also became one of the founders of the very first Coalition against Domestic Violence against Women in Georgia. These were the years when I was also very involved in the alumni activities of American Councils and was even elected as a secretary for the alumni of the year 2000.
I returned to the US in 2003-04, this time on an FSA/UGRAD program and spent a year studying American Studies at the University of Southern Maine in a beautiful town of Portland, Maine.. Upon my return back to Georgia at the end of the program, I first interned at IREX office in Tbilisi before doing an internship at the Committee of Foreign Relations at the Parliament of Georgia. Shortly afterwards I participated in a vigorous selection process for the diplomatic corps at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia which, for the first time in the history of the Ministry was conducted in an open manner, and I got a post of a diplomatic attaché at the Department for the Americas. My job there was to oversee US foreign policy development towards the Caucasus region. While I enjoyed it a lot, my time there was cut short when I decided to take up an OSI/FCO-Chevening/University of Edinburgh scholarship and study for a Master’s degree at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland from which I graduated with an MSC degree in Nationalism Studies in 2006. The following year I worked for the Refugee Program at a human rights organisation – The Hungarian Helsinki Committee in Budapest.
It was during my time in Hungary when I got a scholarship to do another Master’s degree program in International Relations with Peace and Conflict Studies specialisation. The Oslo Peace Scholarship (<http://rspas.anu.edu.au/gsia/general_pages/ops_scholars.htm>) gave me a chance to spend a semester at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) in Norway and two semesters at the Australian National University (ANU). This scholarship also allowed me to take part in some exciting activities, such as attending the Nobel Peace Prize award announcement in Oslo in 2007 when former U.S. Vice President Albert (Al) Gore and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were awarded this very prestigious award (as well as attending the live broadcasting of CNN’s interview with Al Gore and IPCC Chairman R. K. Pachauri in Oslo). I also met with the Vice-Chancellor of ANU in Australia as well as the Norwegian Ambassador to Australia and Norwegian Minister of the Environment and International Development who had visited Georgia before. The most exciting part of this whole story, however, is that I found out about this scholarship from the FLEX mailing list that I regularly receive since becoming FLEX alumna. An article based on the dissertation I wrote at ANU was later published in the Journal of International Law and International Relations (2009) – Kosovo Precedent and the “Moral Hazard” of Secession which concerned the complexities of self-determination and secession in the Balkans and the Caucasus.
Since February 2009 I have been working on a PhD at the University of Birmingham, UK, thanks to generous funding provided by various sources, including Global Supplementary Grant Program from OSI, Kirkcaldy Postgraduate Scholarship, Oversees Research Student Award Scheme (ORSAS), and Postgraduate Incentive Fund from the University of Birmingham. Currently I am a visiting researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Affairs (NUPI) in Oslo as part of the Yggdrasil fellowship from the Norwegian Research Council. My PhD topic concerns the problems of nationalism and ethnic violence in Georgia. In particular, I am looking at the nexus between identity construction and violence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the early 1990s.
After finishing my degree I plan to return to Georgia and use my knowledge and experience there. I would especially like to make my contribution towards the Georgian educational system in the future. Based on my personal experience, I believe nothing makes as much of a difference as a chance to have a good education. The chances I have got from American Councils and and the U.S. State Department that have funded my studies abroad over the years are priceless and no words will ever describe my gratitude towards the people who contributed towards these projects. If not these scholarships I would never have had a chance to see the world and to experience the beauty of meeting people from across the cultures.