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Emily Sullivan

Organization: Independent study in Georgia
Dates: May 30, 2018 to July 27, 2018

In Emily's own words

How I contributed: I was able to connect on a deep level with the local people of a small community in the high Caucasus mountains in the village of Roshka. With the help of a translator, I used the photovoice method to inspire conversation with people in the village and left them with the photos each of them took. Interviews illuminated the daily lives and values of the community, which has complex and completely unique socioeconomic factors, such as semi-nomadic tendencies and a mixture of pagan and Orthodox Catholic practices. The community functioned as a stronghold of Georgian borders as it lies on the border with Russia historically and to this day many of its members are employed as border guards. I had special moments with the individuals in the community, focusing on mutual learning and communication as a means of research and development. I learned about their concept of life and well-being, transportation and farming, spirituality, history, and internal and international political struggles.

What I felt most challenged by: I felt most challenged by the complete isolation of my research location and my limited knowledge of the Georgian language. Not only was my research limited to the availability and energy of my translators but my day-to-day mobility and agency was limited by the obstacle of communication. I know limited Russian which allowed me to privately navigate grocery stores or some public transportation, but I was not able to converse with anyone within the country to a great extent. Traveling to the village of Roshka where I did my work took most of a day because it was so high into the least developed parts of the Caucasus mountains.

What I enjoyed most: Most of all I enjoyed the challenge of complete isolation and becoming more independent than I ever imagined. This, coupled with deep human connections that transcended verbal communication gave meaning to a sense of community and reduced anxieties about life and the unknowns. The pace of life in Georgia seemed slower, and without any distractions, I was able to realize my priorities. Being in a place where nothing is familiar, everything is new and there is no longer the white noise of life that can become routine. Everything that I have learned in school and through personal experience was tested and recontextualized. The unique identity of the country, referred to as Central Asian, Eastern European, sometimes Middle Eastern, it was impossible to look at anything with a singular lens.

Would I recommend this experience? I would recommend this experience to students that have an in-depth interest in a particular country or region. I am interested in post-Soviet countries and their transition towards independence and global market integration. Working independently surrounded me with what it means on the day-to-day and smallest interactions to be previously part of a communist regime, to be a transitioning economy and redefining a national and local identity, and to be occupied by another country. I was also able to report for the primary English-language newspaper which was a formative experience. Developing and implementing independent research allows for a lot of creativity and control over the process, especially for those who are goal oriented but also open to changes and fluidity of the project.