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How a European academic programme became a bridge to international education

Eastern Partnership European School

Nino Zhuzhunadze, an eighteen-year-old girl from Akhaltsikhe, says she could never have imagined studying abroad. “Two years ago, I was studying in a public school in my hometown. Continuing my education abroad seemed impossible to me.  I thought I had to be very clever or very rich, and my family’s financial situation made it seem unattainable. Despite that, this autumn I will start studying in one of the best universities in the United States.”

Nino graduated from the Eastern Partnership European School in 2021. She won a scholarship to Minerva University and will continue her studies in San Francisco. Her tuition fee of $21,000 will be covered by the university. There she will study natural sciences, and later, biochemical engineering.

It all started two years ago. A friend told Nino about the Eastern Partnership European School and she decided to apply. It went well and she then passed the internal examinations and the interview. Afterwards, she was enrolled into the scholarship programme of the European School. “Many things have changed in my life since I moved to this school. Living with other students from different countries, the European educational system, the quality of the teachers and the education made me see the world in a new light and become more open to diversity.”

Nino talks of her experience at the European School and how it made her understand that working with others and sharing different ideas is more fruitful than studying alone. “I have developed research, critical reasoning and presentation skills while studying at this school. The experience gained over the last two years will help me pass my course at university. I have learned how to assume responsibility and take care of myself while at the school to such an extent that living on my own in the US, away from home doesn’t seem like an obstacle to me. The school has nurtured my confidence, and so I am prepared for the challenge.

Three years ago, Nino decided to specialise in the field of sciences. She plans to acquire master’s and doctoral degrees as she continues her education. Afterwards, she intends to conduct independent research, study cells, and build learning laboratories throughout her career. “When I become a specialist, I’ll definitely come back to Georgia. There are no labs, so I always think about opening my own after returning. I know this requires very hard work, but I’ve already taken my first steps”, says Nino.

The Eastern Partnership European School is an EU initiative for the six partner countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. The programme focuses on secondary education. It gives young people a better academic experience, with high quality education offered throughout the two-year course for students from the six Eastern partner countries. Students are awarded an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma after successfully graduating from the school. Among the 34 graduates of 2021, 11 are from Georgia, specifically Tbilisi, Khashuri, Rustavi and Akhaltsikhe.

Luka Khachidze is another graduate of the European School who plans to continue his education abroad. He will specialise in computer engineering at Kaunas Technology University in Lithuania. Before the European School, Luka studied at St. Dimitri Kipiani Boarding School in Khashuri. “I had many interests back then. I studied icon painting and was fascinated by Georgian folklore and culture. I was also interested in computer programming. I studied it on my own and used to set up assistants and create computer games. It was just a hobby when I first started, but later my interest in maths and physics grew significantly. That’s when I learned about the Eastern Partnership School and the type of education it offered, so I decided to apply. I passed all stages of the competition and after I was enrolled into the IB Programme I moved from Khashuri to Tbilisi to study,” says Luka.

While talking about the advantages of the Eastern Partnership European School, Luka notes that an education in English and qualified teachers are among the most important factors. He says the European academic programme differs from other schools because of its international setting. “As I lived with lots of international students in the accommodation on campus, I am now friends with many of them. This was a huge opportunity for my intellectual development. The school also served as a two-year preparatory course before going to study abroad. If I had had to go to the Lithuanian university straight after public school, I would have been scared of living in a foreign country. After my time at the Eastern Partnership School, I no longer feel afraid. Little by little, my personality changed so much that now I know I’ll be able to establish myself easily, wherever I go to study. This school not only provides excellent knowledge in physics and chemistry but also develops communication skills. I can tell you that it has also changed many of my perceptions, made me re-evaluate lots of things, and widened my horizons”.  

Luka’s mother, Tamuna Khachidze also talks about huge changes in her son’s personality. She says he became much more communicative, independent, and responsible during the last two years.  “Despite only being eighteen years old, he is able to make decisions and solve problems independently. He can manage his own life reasonably and he can give good advice to his family. I have also noticed that his interests and circle of friends have widened. His English is much better now, and in comparison to two years ago, he is much more confident. Based on the changes I have seen in my son, I see how big a difference the manner and environment in which children are educated can make.”

“Initially, my parents were worried when I moved to Tbilisi, but they soon understood that I was in a very good school, with its main focus being the education of its students,” says Luka.

Luka is sure that studying abroad is one of the most important steps towards success, and he urges young people to use all available opportunities: “I was always eager to talk to other young people who were struggling to make a decision, about the opportunities offered by the Eastern Partnership European School. I wanted to tell them that it’s okay to be afraid, but it’s better to overcome this fear. It’s not worth constantly living with it, as it inhibits you from achieving success. They must use every opportunity that guarantees quality education and, in turn, a better future.”

Nino and Luka will start a new chapter at university, this autumn. The Eastern Partnership European School will also welcome new students. Forty young people, who successfully passed the competitive selection process this spring (including written assessments and interviews), will be enrolled for two academic years (from 2021 until 2023).  The programme is equally accessible to young people from all regions of Georgia, offering them quality education and all the necessary facilities alongside an interesting and diverse environment in which they can thrive.

Author: Tamar Kuratishvili

Article published in Georgian by spektri.ge