Last May, 18-year-old Alina Gavrish, from Baku, graduated from the Eastern Partnership European School which is located in Tbilisi.
The school offers a two-year programme inspired by European school systems. Its graduates receive an International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB Diploma Programme).
This programme can be seen as a preparatory stage after school and before higher education. It might be a great advantage to those graduates who plan to apply to international universities.
Alina’s case is a clear example of this. Two years of effort and good grades helped Alina to continue her studies abroad, which has always been her dream. She is now a student at Maastricht University in Holland, which is in the top 150 of the world’s best universities.
“With my final IB score, I was admitted to several universities in the Netherlands and Finland. Having weighed out all the pros and cons, I chose Maastricht University,” she says.
“Both the high ratings of the university and the richness of the academic programme, as well as the atmosphere of the city where the university is located, helped me make a choice. A small green campus, few people, few cars, everyone uses bicycles … Just perfect for me!” Alina says with a smile.
The young girl decided to specialise in a field that is usually considered to be more popular among men (although in recent years this stereotype has gradually been breaking down in Europe), namely in the field of data science and artificial intelligence. Experts in this field create software algorithms, which help, for example, to create voice assistants.
Alina’s interest in this subject was instilled by her father, who works as a safety engineer in the maritime sphere and has been well versed in programming since his student years. However, she only chose her future profession during the second year of studies at the Eastern Partnership European School, thanks to the effective mentoring system operating at the school.
“My coordinator guided me in choosing a profession by excluding those areas which I have no interest in. That’s how we opted for computer science,” says Alina.
Alina’s father helped her determine a more precise orientation in this area of study.
The EU Eastern Partnership School in Georgia is available for high school students aged 16-17 years old from the six Eastern Partnership countries, including Azerbaijan. Since the launch of the scholarship programme in 2018, 64 students have graduated from the school. Almost 70% of them are girls. The education is free of charge and funded by the European Union. The EU also covers accommodation, local transportation, the possibility to travel home twice a year and even participation in summer schools and conferences. An international diploma allows graduates to pursue a career in fields such as economics, biochemical engineering, physics, social sciences, arts and culture, communication and media, international relations, medicine, law, humanities and computer technology.
“When I first saw the advert about this school on social media, the words ‘Tbilisi’ and ‘free education’ caught my attention,” Alina says, laughing. “At first it was hard to believe, but we really didn’t pay for anything during the two years of studies. During the pandemic, we were even given free COVID-19 tests and medication.”
“At the time, I didn’t know what IB was. But now I can say that although it is not an easy programme and requires a lot of work and self-management, during the two years you learn a lot – both in terms of academic knowledge and various other skills. IB makes you think all the time. Each paper should be accompanied by a short summary, in which you describe the goal and the result, and identify the mistakes. This allows for a more conscious approach to work, with a better understanding of what you are doing and why,” explains Alina.
According to Alina, IB taught her to think big and look at various issues from different points of view, while being able to detach herself from her own opinions on the matter. Thanks to this, Alina has overcome many stereotypes in her perception of the world and other people. She has also started paying less attention to other people’s opinion about her.
Moreover, thanks to the international environment in the school in Tbilisi, Alina has become more self-confident, has significantly improved her English and has overcome her fear of speaking in front of an unfamiliar audience.
“I had already participated in international events when I was surrounded by many strangers but still, I could not get rid of the feelings of shyness and discomfort. In this school in Tbilisi everything changed! The international atmosphere in the school helped me open up,” says Alina.
Independent living also teaches self-control and self-reliance – qualities that are indispensable in adult life.
Sending a 16-year-old girl to study alone in a foreign country is not something with which every parent would be comfortable. But Alina’s family fully trusted her, which is not surprising, considering that the young girl had been travelling outside her hometown regularly since she was 10 years old. Alina is passionate about tennis and plays in Azerbaijan’s junior national team. She has participated in the First Islamic Games of 2017 in Baku, as well as in numerous international tournaments, including the prestigious Billie Jean King Cup, where she brought victory twice to the national team.
Alina has travelled to many cities, but Tbilisi became her second home. The fact that this city was already familiar to their daughter and is located just an hour and a half from Baku made it easier for her parents to let Alina go.
The school administration is open to all parents who wish to come and get acquainted with everything in advance. They take the safety of their pupils very seriously. Even though there are no longer children but young adults who study here, there is effective supervision over everyone.
According to Alina, before leaving the school building, it was necessary to inform your mentor about where you were going and when you would return. The rules were tightened during the coronavirus pandemic.
Alina took no issue with this system of control, since, according to her, studying takes so much time and effort that there is not much free time left.
“I just loved my room! It was my little world – here I enjoyed studying, relaxing, and doing sports,” she says.
The environment of the international school and the modern approach to education create an atmosphere in which communication is combined with learning and development. For instance, according to Alina, before the exams, students were allowed (on their own initiative) to gather in classrooms and prepare for the exams together by discussing the subject matter.
“In addition to all the experience, knowledge and skills, the school in Tbilisi gave me so many new friends! Here I found my soul mate too!” says Alina, referring to her best friend from Belarus.
Alina Gavrish advises all the young people who are now finishing school in Azerbaijan and wish to continue their studies abroad to fear nothing and to dare but, at the same time, approach everything wisely.
For example, planning your time accordingly, doing everything on time and not procrastinating, making your own study curriculum in a balanced way (so that it is not too thin or overloaded), since all these aspects are considered when submitting documents to universities. When choosing the disciplines (such as global politics, for example), it is important to have some background in them, otherwise it might be difficult to follow the course.
“It is also worth knowing that in the IB system, teaching staff are always there to help you, to provide all the information you need. But no one is going to fuss around you and motivate you to do your studies – your success is entirely your responsibility! This approach by the teaching staff allows for both more freedom and makes you to take responsibility for your own actions,” says Alina.
It is important to read carefully all the admission requirements of the universities to which you apply, advises Alina: each has specific deadlines for submission and a list of the documents required. Not all universities have an early admission procedure.
For the academic years of 2021–2023, the Eastern Partnership European School will accept another 40 students from the Eastern Partnership countries who have passed the competitive selection. For more information about the school, application procedures and other important details, please follow this link.
Author: Elena Ostapenko
This website is managed by the EU-funded Regional Communication Programme for the Eastern Neighbourhood ('EU NEIGHBOURS east’), which complements and supports the communication of the Delegations of the European Union in the Eastern partner countries, and works under the guidance of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, and the European External Action Service. EU NEIGHBOURS east is implemented by a B&S Europe-led consortium. It is part of the larger Neighbourhood Communication Programme (2020-2024) for the EU's Eastern and Southern Neighbourhood, which also includes 'EU NEIGHBOURS south’ project that runs the EU Neighbours portal.