Senior wins Fulbright to teach in country of Georgia

Thomas Nolan ’20, a Near Eastern studies and government double major in the College of Arts & Sciences, has been awarded a Fulbright teaching fellowship to work in the country of Georgia.

Nolan spent some time in Georgia during the fall of his junior year, when he traveled around the region following an internship at the Vatican.

“I loved it so much. Georgia is in this really interesting nexus where east meets west,” he said. “It’s an area that’s so often forgotten, but the three countries in the south caucuses are a microcosm of world politics today. The U.S. is a big backer of Georgia, which has issues with Russia, Turkey is a backer of Azerbaijan, while Iran is backing Armenia. In this small area, all of these things are going on.”

He was also encouraged to apply for the position in Georgia by his Persian teacher, Iago Gocheleishvili, a senior lecturer in Near Eastern studies, who helped him think about the way to approach his future.

 Thomas Nolan in Georgia
Nolan on a past trip to Georgia.

“I’ve always been thinking on the organizational level and not about the people who are impacted by government decisions,” Nolan said. “But professors like him have shown me it’s important to interact with people on the ground before you move on to other positions. Plus, he genuinely cares about his students and their work.”

As a Fulbright English teaching assistant, Nolan will work with university students at a university still to be determined. He will teach English and tackle a project he proposed during his application – forming an American a cappella group with university students in Georgia.

“When I went to Georgia, I went to a rehearsal of this Georgian folk singing group and it devolved into them just singing for me,” he said. “Although we had very different musical styles, we just had this instant connection. That’s the moment I knew Georgia was the country where I wanted to be.”

Singing would help his students learn English, he said, and they could cap off the year with a concert, perhaps at the U.S. Embassy.

At Cornell, Nolan has been a musical director for the a cappella group Men of Last Call, so running a rehearsal won’t be a new experience for him. He’d also like to join a Georgian choral group while he’s there.

Although Nolan is looking forward to the experience, he realizes that all of his plans are a bit up in the air, as the Fulbright program awaits more clarity around the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program has announced that its 2020-21 programs are delayed until at least January 2021.

He’s also applied to graduate school and was accepted into a master’s program in global governance and diplomacy at Oxford, so he has an option if the Fulbright is canceled for 2021. He envisions a future career centered on diplomacy or law.

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 Thomas Nolan in Georgia