GSPM hosted its first online residency on Georgia in the spring and will continue e-residencies until it is safe to travel.
By Tatyana Hopkins
Early in the spring 2020 semester, Gary Crone, a graduate student seeking a certificate in global public relations, prepared for his fifth trip abroad as part of the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management’s Global Perspective Residency program. However, like many people, his plans to travel in the spring were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the program’s first-ever trip to the small but strategically important Eurasian country of Georgia was canceled, the course persisted virtually last month, connecting students with senior government officials, political strategists, business leaders, nonprofit organizations and other professionals through video conferencing.
Mr. Crone, M.P.S. ’19, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel with extensive experience in international affairs and a former deputy prosecuting attorney of Indiana, had previously participated in Global Perspective Residencies in D.C., Spain, England, South Africa and Canada.
“I like the residency program because it makes travel abroad opportunities available to people who don’t have the time or resources to spend a semester or a year abroad but want to be immersed in understanding culture and how a foreign society functions,” he said.
The program, which aims to prepare students for success in leadership and engagement in foreign environments, brings them face to face with senior leaders in politics, advocacy and business abroad.
He said although students would typically get to meet leaders in person while visiting the country, leaders in politics, communication, advocacy and other areas of governance and business, were brought right into their homes.
“I thought it was pretty amazing,” Mr. Crone said. “I’m sitting in my home office, and I’m having a one-on-one discussion with [Georgian Ambassador to the United States David Bakradze] and asking him questions.”
High-ranking officials from Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, also joined the GSMP students including, Archil Talakvadze, chair of the Parliament of Georgia; Kakha Kuchava, deputy speaker of the Parliament; Levan Davitashvili, minister of environmental protection and agriculture; and Mariam Kvirishvili, head of the national tourism agency.
Mr. Crone said even online, students were able to have candid conversations with Georgian professionals to explore and expand on the trends they studied about Georgia throughout the semester, such as the efforts of young people to revitalize democracy and civil rights protections, shedding its Soviet past, integration with the European Union and NATO, issues with Russian occupation and creation of a unified Georgian identity to overcome nativism in the ethnically diverse country.
"Georgia has achieved a lot,” said Natalia Dinello, director of the Global Perspective Residencies program. “There are still many challenges, but the resolve to address these challenges is impressive. What is absolutely clear is Georgia's western orientation and its commitment to the idea of doing everything possible to integrate with the EU despite all of the Russian and other influences that have been going on over the course of history. Georgia’s young leaders, such as our partners from Sector 3 -- Hub for Development, the nonprofit led by a superb Ketevan Chachava, represent the country’s future.”
She said after the virtual residency, participants expressed great interest in reinforcing ties between the United States and Georgia and support for Georgia’s aspirations for freedom and prosperity as part of the community of democratically-minded countries. Mr. Bakradze even invited the class to the traditional Georgian feast at Supra in D.C. after shutdown orders are lifted.
“You could tell in the interactions we had with all of the Georgian speakers, that they are passionate about what they’re doing, about their nation and where their nation is headed,” said Shawn Pierce, a student participant and active-duty U.S. Army officer with a background in the former Soviet Union. “My hope for Georgia is that in the next five to 10 years, Georgia becomes a member of NATO as well as the EU and yet maintains its own distinct identity. It’s a bit of an uphill battle, but I believe it will happen.”
Since March, nations have operated under lockdown measures.
However, Dr. Dinello said the residency program will continue to adapt virtually, not compromising on the program’s rich content.
In the fall, the program will offer an EU e-residency, which will explore the union’s history, political institutions and programs, agreements and clashes among its member states and its foreign and security policy. Via online interactions with the delegation of the EU to the United States and virtual bridges with the EU headquarters in Brussels, Europe will be brought to GW as an alternative to students traveling across the pond.
“Learning persists, and the global scope of the current health and economic emergency is a telling reminder about the need to go beyond understanding and changing U.S. politics,” Dr. Dinello said. “If we want to mitigate the current crisis and prevent another one, we must develop cultural and political sensitivity to the challenges of other countries, enhance mutual understanding and solidarity, strengthen cooperation, and develop solutions to global problems together.”