The South Caucasus have taken on unprecedented strategic and political importance for Russia, NATO, and the U.S. in recent years. While rich in natural resources, scenic beauty, and vibrant cultures, the region continues to be hampered by age-old conflicts and political instability. Based in Tbilisi, Georgia, this five-week summer program explores cultural identity and nationalism, development strategies, the emergence of new political systems and parties, and ongoing efforts to foster peace throughout the region.
Academics / Courses
The academic program provides approximately twenty-two hours per week of in-class instruction. It consists of a major course exploring the politics of the South Caucasus, a minor course in society and culture and an introductory language course. The major course covers topics such as modern political history of the region, security issues, state building and democratization. The society and culture course addresses issues of nationalism, religion, gender and identity. The language course offers the opportunity to study basic Georgian, Russian, Chechen, or Azeri based on the participant’s preference. All classes are conducted in English by expert faculty of Ilia State University with extensive experience teaching foreign students.
- Geopolitics, Conflict and Development in the South Caucasus - 50 academic hours
(4 undergraduate or 5 graduate credits)
Week 1: Political History of the Caucasus (up to 1991)
Week 2: Conflict, Security, and Geopolitics
Week 3: Democratization and Political Development
Week 4: Energy and Economics of Transition
- Society and Culture in the South Caucasus - 20 academic hours
(2 undergraduate or 2.5 graduate credits)
Week 1: Nationalism and Identity
Week 2: Religion and Identity
Week 3: Gender Issues
Week 4: Social Issues and the Arts
- Language Course - 20 academic hours
(2 undergraduate or 2.5 graduate credits)
Choice of Russian, Georgian, Chechen, or Azeri
(Language courses are geared toward each student’s proficiency level; no prior language study is required for the program.)
Please note that the specific topics included in each course above may vary.
Administration & Partners
Ilia State University (ISU) is a higher education institution committed to academic research and instruction in fields important to Georgia’s geopolitical standing and social, political and cultural development. It strives to initiate and foster an open and unbiased public policy discussion. ISU was established in 2006 as a merger of six different institutions, each having a long history and a diverse institutional profile. Every year, ISU is attended by approximately 13,000 students who complete undergraduate and graduate degrees in Arts and Science, Business, Law, and Engineering.
Ilia State University’s mission is to nurture well-educated individuals, who possess the necessary critical, analytical and creative skills to build today’s global world. To achieve its mission, ISU recruits expert Georgian and international faculty committed to academic excellence and the highest research standards.
U.S. Academic Credit
American Councils participants receive academic credit through Bryn Mawr College, an institutional member of American Councils. Upon successful completion of the Peace & Security in the South Caucasus Program, Bryn Mawr College awards 8 undergraduate or 10 graduate hours of credit as follows:
POLS 365 Geopolitics, Conflict and Development in the South Caucasus (1 Unit*)
SOC 347 Language and Society in the South Caucasus (1 Unit*)
*One Bryn Mawr College undergraduate unit is equivalent to four undergraduate semester credit hours.
POLS 565 Geopolitics, Conflict and Development in the South Caucasus (1 Unit*)
SOC 547 Language and Society in the South Caucasus (1 Unit*)
*One Bryn Mawr College academic unit is equivalent to five graduage semester credit hours.
Course titles are tentative and may vary depending on instructor availability.
Excursions & Activities
As part of the Peace and Security Program, participants engage in a number of activities outside the classroom designed to give a deeper of understanding of life, culture, and history in the South Caucasus. While extracurricular activities vary from year to year, past American Councils participants in Georgia have enjoyed many of the following events:
- Welcome Lunch: During their first day of the program, participants are invited to join an informal welcome lunch at a local restaurant.
- City tour of Tbilisi:Tbilisi was founded in the 5th century and has served as Georgia’s capital for more than a thousand years. The city’s rich history and culture is reflected in its architecture – a mix of medieval, classical and Soviet structures. The city tour takes participants to Sameba Orthodox Cathedral, Freedom Square with the Parliament building, Rustaveli Avenue, the medieval Narikala Fortress, the Opera Theater, and the Georgian National Museum. The tour concludes with a visit to the ancient Georgian capital of Mtskheta in the outskirts of Tbilisi, with the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and hilltop Jvari Monastery.
- Visit to the Museum of Soviet Occupation: The Museum of Soviet Occupation was established in 2004 as part of Georgia’s National Museum. It documents the seven decades of the Soviet rule in Georgia and is dedicated to the victims of the Soviet political repressions throughout that period. The exhibits also cover the pro-independence rally in 1989 and the declaration of the country’s independence in 1991. In addition, the museum holds an extensive Soviet security (KGB) and Communist Party archival reserves, which remained in Georgia following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
- Meeting with US Embassy personnel in Georgia: Program participants have a chance to meet with representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Georgia and discuss U.S. foreign policy in the South Caucasus as well as U.S. efforts to promote peace in the region resolve territorial disputes in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
- Day trip to Gori and a refugee settlement: The small city of Gori, located about 2 hours north of Tbilisi, is best known as the birthplace of the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Visitors can see the small wooden hut in which Stalin was born, and learn about his childhood, rise to power and controversial rule for more than 30 years.In the afternoon, participants drive to the administrative boundary line of South Ossetia, which has been a disputed territory between Russian and Georgia ever since the fall of the Soviet Union.On the way back to Tbilisi, students visit the Tserovani refugee settlement – home of thousands of displaced Georgians after the 2008 Russian-Georgian War.
- Visit to the Caucasus Research Resource Center: The Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC) is a network of resource, research and training centers established in 2003 in the capital cities of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia with the goal of strengthening social science research and public policy analysis in the South Caucasus. A partnership between the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Eurasia Partnership Foundation, USAID and local universities, the CRRC network offers scholars and practitioners stable opportunities for integrated research, training and collaboration in the region. Since the opening of the Center in 2003, the CRRC-Georgia office has become a nexus of activity for the South Caucasus social science community by providing open access to fundamental literature, data, and professional training for social science researchers. CRRC representatives give a presentation on the Caucasus Barometer and other sources of data for research in the South Caucasus.
- Film Screening and Discussion: Program participants watch and discuss the BBC documentary series Places that Don’t Exist on Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
- Visit to the Tbilisi History Museum: The Tbilisi City Museum occupies an old ‘caravanserai’ at the edge of the bank of the Kura River, in the old city center. The building is marked by successive renovations, since its foundation in the 15th century and represents the city's historic role as a Silk Road trading outpost.
- Farewell Party with a Traditional Georgian Supra: At this social event on the last day of the program, participants have a chance to say good bye to their fellow students and congratulate themselves with the successful completion of the academic program. The farewell party is organized as a traditional Georgian feast (supra) with delicious dishes and toasts.
Housing & Meals
During the program, participants live with local host families in Tbilisi. Host families expose students to authentic, contemporary daily life in informal social settings and provide supportive environments for students overseas. All families are carefully screened, selected, and monitored by local American Councils staff. They provide two meals per day; participants are guaranteed private rooms and telephone access. Even though host families are compensated by American Councils for their services, they very much enjoy having American guests in their home.
It is important to enter into a host family arrangement with realistic expectations. Often, American students establish a very warm relationship with their host family, feeling like they had almost been "adopted" into it. At times, however, the student and family do not form such a close relationship. The object of the program is not to provide surrogate families abroad, but to help students gain a closer understanding of the local culture.
Many of the families have hosted American Councils participants before and already have some experience with “strange” American eating habits or other “odd” tendencies such as jogging at dawn. Good humor, patience, and open minds on both sides will help in adjusting to these and other cultural differences.
Before leaving the U.S., program participants attend a mandatory pre-departure orientation. Orientation sessions address topics such as health and safety, Georgian academic culture, dormitory housing, culture shock, and strategies to maximize a student's experience abroad. Students also have a chance to meet and get to know fellow participants. Lodging and meals for the orientation are provided. Upon arrival in Georgia, the American Councils Tbilisi office provides an informative in-country orientation.
The American Councils Tbilisi office, employing both expatriates and host-country nationals, arranges the academic program, business practica, housing, in-country orientation, and medical care. American Councils regional staff also provide ongoing logistical support, including an emergency contact person who is available at all times for participants. During the pre-departure orientation, participants receive a wallet-sized card listing field office contact information as well as other important phone numbers.
During the program, the Outbound Office in Washington, D.C. stays in close contact via email and telephone with all regional offices hosting study abroad participants. Outbound staff also perform regular site visits to meet with American Councils program participants in the field.
In addition, participants are enrolled in international health insurance provided by Cultural Insurance Services International (CISI). The CISI health insurance plan provides medical coverage of up to $250,000 per accident or illness as well as full coverage for emergency medical evacuation. American Councils overseas staff are available at all times to assist participants in receiving the best medical care available.
U.S. citizens are not required to obtain a visa to travel to Georgia. However, it is the student's responsibility to obtain any other visas required by their individual itineraries.