For the past six years, 27-year old Raj has lived in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi with two of her brothers, who also came here to study medicine. One of them has since graduated and returned to India. After six years of living in Georgia, Raj is also preparing to go back home to Hyderabad. She never felt she would spend her entire life in Georgia, but nevertheless feels very sad about finally leaving the country.
Stories like Raj’s are becoming more common; over recent years, more and more students are opting to study abroad. According to UNESCO, over the past eight years the total number of international students rose by nearly 80% worldwide; by 2015 it had risen by more than 4.1 million. Georgia is no exception; students from overseas have become a familiar sight on the streets of the capital Tbilisi. According to the data provided by the National Statistics Office of Georgia, more than 10,000 foreign students are studying in the country today. The largest group of them (about 4,000) are Indians, the majority of whom study medicine.
Most Indian students come to Georgia thanks to OM Consultants, a company based in Chennai which manages study programmes in Europe. The responsibilities of such organisations vary, but their role is mostly taking care of the paperwork for visas and university enrollment. OM has already helped more than 2,000 Indian Students to come to Georgia, mostly to Tbilisi State Medical University.
But why would a young student from India travel nearly 4,000 kilometres to study medicine in distant Georgia? It’s not as unusual a choice as it might sound. The main reasons Indian students give are Georgia’s affordable prices and relative safety when compared to other countries.
One of them is 24-year old Anooj Vijayaraj. His parents decided that he should study medicine, and he did so to make them happy. Anooj says he first considered studying in India, but according to him the Indian educational system is corrupt; a bribe is needed in order to access university, which his family couldn’t afford to pay. While searching for alternative options, Anooj came across Georgia. He felt it was better than other countries; he rejected Russia, having heard about the racism in the country. To study in China he needed to learn Chinese, and Anook says he usually finds it very difficult to learn a new language. So Georgia it was.
Another is 27-year old Febian. He’s lived in Georgia for four years already and likes the country, which he first heard about from a friend. Febian was a third year dental student in India when he quit, as he wanted to become a doctor instead.
Living in a new country isn’t always easy. According to Febian, there is racism all over the world and Georgia is not an exception. He’s met some people who treat him like their own relative. But on the metro, some people do not even want to sit next to him. “If I sit in the metro, Georgians wouldn’t come and sit next to me. I don’t know the reason… Maybe they think that we have some special disease… it’s the same blood. We all have blood right? We all breathe the same air. Where is the difference?”
Some Indian students have even put down family roots in Georgia. Twenty seven year old Pryanka and 30-year old Giorgi met each other at a friend’s birthday party. Pryanka also came to study in Georgia. At the beginning she really loved the country but after living here for more than seven years her feelings have grown negative, even though she finds life much easier now than the year when she arrived.
Pryanka and Giorgi have had to go through a lot in order to be together. “My parents stopped talking with me because I was dating an Indian girl. They didn’t come to our wedding and wish that she won’t ever give me a kid and that I will divorce her,” says Giorgi.
“I find Georgia a very safe country compared to where I come from. Women have rights here. Police help. But I’m still worried about our kids; if we have one, they will have problems. If there [are two] queues and I stand in one, a lot of people prefer moving to the other line. It’s ok for me, but for a kid it would be painful,” explains Pryanka.
Selda, a sixth year medical student from India, says that while she has met some amazing people in Georgia, the racism she faces every day doesn’t disappear. “After some time you stop reacting to it,” Selda says. She adds that her friends have even experienced racism from university lecturers, as well as from their landlords and from random people in the street. Selda continues that some of her friends were forced to move out of their rented apartment because they complained about the heating system. “If you complain to them they say ‘What are you guys doing in our country? You disrespect us!’ and they kick you out from their house,” she adds.
Selda thinks that things would be different if she was from other country. “If you are American, everybody wants you to be there. They want you to be their best friend. But if you are from India… maybe some other time, “ comments Selda. While she believes that Indians aren’t usually introverted people, Selda feels that Georgia has made them so: because it’s so difficult to fit in and socialize, Indian students mostly stay at their houses or in stick to their own small social circles.
Nineteen year old Nitish has had a similar experience. “When [Georgians] are drunk they make some issues for us, threatening us. The first year when I came, some people threatened me. Me and my friends were going to see our other friends and [a] guy followed us and threw stones at us.”
“When we [Indians] go to a shop and [the shopkeeper] sees us standing, they don’t pay attention. They give preference to Georgians first and later turn to us,” recalls Nitish. “And with th[ese] kinds of situations I’ve learnt a lot. In India it would not be like this. After all, OK, it’s their country, I will adjust. So I adjust and live like that.”
Nevertheless, Nitish stresses that he is in love with Georgia and would like to stay longer. “I will never forget this place. After finishing my studies, I want to come as a tourist. I will see this place every year!”
Whatever the difficulties, some Indian students find Georgia a welcome change from their home country. Nineteen year old Ishan comes from New Delhi, the capital of India. He was brought up in Dubai, and says the concrete buildings near Tbilisi State Medical University remind him of the area where he used to live. In comparison to his hometown, Ishan finds Tbilisi locals to be very friendly. “Where I come from capital, everyone is very rude to everyone. Here people don’t bother you. Maybe at clubs, when you go at night they have restrictions, but other than that it’s fine.”
Sharvani Salimath agrees, and feels that her experiences of life in Georgia, which she first heard about at a study fair, have changed her for the better.
“My mentality changed,” says Sharvani. She had an amazing experience, she adds, apart from being harassed once or twice on the street. “I was walking home and Georgian guy came to me and was harassing me and I took my bag and beat him, so he went away,” remembers Sharvani.
Like many other Indian students before her, Sharvani’s studies are ending and she will soon have to say goodbye to Georgia. She must soon return to India, but hopes that she will manage to go abroad again. “I prefer going outside India. Because I want to explore different countries now.”
She doesn’t regret her experience in Georgia for a second.
Journeys, December/January 2018/2019