Interning at the Rondeli Foundation in Tbilisi, Georgia by Benjamin Cooper (A'20)

by tuftsigl
Jul 06

Following a cancelled overnight flight from Minsk to Tbilisi, I arrived in beautiful Tbilisi on a Monday afternoon. I was greeted by fervent taxi drivers competing for my ride. I finally got in one and was driven down the aptly named George Bush Boulevard into the heart of the city. My taxi driver told me about the city and expressed his happiness that westerners were excited to visit his city.

My first night in the city was clear and then, seemingly out of nowhere, a torrential downpour began and lasted for almost thirty minutes. Being from Southern California, I rarely see heavy rain storms and even after having lived in Boston for two years, the rain and nonstop thunder and lightning I experienced on my first night in Tbilisi was a new experience.

My first day at the Rondeli Foundation was the next day. I came into work in a full suit only to find that the dress code was more casual than expected due to the extreme heat in Tbilisi.  This was an appreciated change from my previous internship which included walking around Washington DC in the dog days of summer. The Foundation as a whole conducts research on public policy decision making in Georgia. Their research includes security and defense as well as domestic and foreign policy within Georgia. They aim to promote democracy in Georgia, enhance regional cooperation amongst neighboring countries, and foster political and economic reforms to empower the Georgian people.

I am just starting to learn my way around the city and adjusting to the life here.  The foundation gives me the freedom to explore any area of research that I want. I plan to write a paper outlining the changes in US policy in relation Georgia from the Obama administration to the Trump administration. Georgia is an excellent example of a post-Soviet state which is attempting to distance itself from Russia and integrate with NATO, the EU, and the US. Therefore, exploring Georgian-US relations will help me better understand the Caucuses region as a whole but also Georgia’s focus on the West.

Outside of the Foundation, I have thoroughly enjoyed my first week in Tbilisi. The city is a wonderful mix of European, Middle Eastern, and Russian culture which makes a unique and interesting mix of people that make up the city. I have been able to use my Russian to get around the city quite effectively and have done my best to meet other expats living in the city. My co-workers and I joined the weekly football club and even went to a traditional banya, or bathhouse, which in Tbilisi has a mix of Turkish and Russian styles. The naturally heated sulfur bathhouse was built in the Soviet period and still has much of the Soviet architecture and symbols inside its walls.

I have yet to explore outside the city but plan to take a weekend trip to Kazbegi as well as Batumi. I also hope to visit both Armenia and Azerbaijan before my time in Tbilisi comes to an end.   Overall, my first week in Tbilisi has been eye-opening and I look forward to learning and growing at my internship.