“It was in 1982”, remembers Zifrida Nikachadze, Ana’s grandmother. Thirty-two years ago her son Kote became a student of medicine at the University of Tartu. On 1 September 2014 – Zifrida’s birthday – she stands in front of the university’s Main Building in Tartu again, this time with both her son and granddaughter Ana, who is starting her medical studies in the steps of her father. Ana is only seventeen, just as her father was in 1982.
“It was my dream that Ana would study in Tartu”, reveals Kote. “It is symbolic that I took my only entrance exam in the chemistry building (now Philosophicum), whereas Ana had her very first lecture there – Latin”.
With both parents being doctors, Ana knew early on that medicine was the right thing for her: “I decided it was my calling”. As for Tartu, Ana admits that it wasn’t her decision. When a sudden possibility emerged to complete high school in Tartu, Ana’s first reaction was ‘No’. She was only fifteen and obviously could not see the positive side of it. Still, as Ana puts it: “I never voiced my opposition. I never put up any real fight”.
The most difficult thing for Ana in the beginning was getting used to the new culture. She missed her family and Georgia; however, in about three months Ana came to appreciate the decision. “It was like a paradigm shift – I have learned so much now, and not only what they teach in school. I was able to combine the two cultures and become the person I am now”.
She still misses her home country, but it’s far from being as bad as a Georgian saying has it: “Nostalgia for your motherland is unlike any other pain you will ever experience”.
Ana appreciates that in Estonia everything looks so clean, and it’s not just streets or rubbish: “Everything looks taken care of”. This is something that she misses in Georgia, and adds: “It’s my motherland; I kind of can’t criticise it. Not like I can’t, but I shouldn’t”.
Ana’s first impressions about the university? “I think it’s amazing! Of course, learning medicine is difficult. But I made new friends, met new people. I learn so much more than I ever could in Georgia – not because education systems are different and Estonia is a bit more advanced, but because people are different and teach in a different way”.
Ana’s father Kote also remembers with fondness and is very thankful to his teachers and supervisors in Tartu: “What instruction it was! How eager they were for you to learn! I could be a part of all the surgeries I ever wanted. I was stuck in the surgery room – it was so interesting!” Besides medical lectures and practice, Kote also attended lectures of the world-famous semiotician and cultural historian Juri Lotman, who worked in Tartu at the time. “Lotman’s lectures maintain their importance”, says Kote. He shivers and feels nostalgic whenever he finds himself in the favourite places of his youth: the Town Hall square, Ülikooli 18, and Jakobi 2.
While Kote studied medicine in the Russian language group, his daughter studies in English, and most of her fellow students come from Finland. Ana’s favourite subject is anatomy. She is convinced that it’s the most enlightening thing one can learn, and very useful in everyday life. Learning to become a doctor is no joke: Ana studies about two and half hours daily after classes plus six hours on Saturdays. There is not much time left for her hobbies, such as knitting and writing fiction.
Ana would also like to do her residency in Tartu, because “Tartu University Clinic looks fabulous!” Ana’s father also performed his residency in Estonia. At that time it was paid and cost almost his annual salary. Smart young man that he was, Kote found a sponsor by making a deal with the textile factory Marat. Once a month he drove to Mustvee in his second-hand Zhiguli, bought with the money he earned picking strawberries in Finland (“Picking strawberries is a tough job!”), where he provided gynaecological help to the three hundred women that Marat employed.
Kote’s daughter knows that after residency her parents expect her to return to Georgia, and she too would like to go back. Ana feels that her motherland granted her so much, and wants to give back.
What if she finds love in Tartu? Ana seems surprised by the question – she has not really thought about it and obviously does not know. Her father has apparently considered the option and feels slightly worried: “It would be better to create a Georgian family. This is our tradition and it deserves respect”.
Kote followed this tradition himself. He lived in Estonia for twelve years and returned to Georgia in 1993, even though he had received an offer to become a doctoral student in Tartu. Kote’s father was ill, and as the only child he could not leave his parents alone in such a difficult time. Before leaving, though, he passed the state language exam and became a citizen of Estonia. Kote’s three children also hold Estonian citizenship.
He compares the situation in Georgia at the time to that of Ukraine now – a war was going on in Georgian Abkhazia, where separatists were backed by Russia. It was a terrible time. “There was no light or gas; we used kerosene lamps. I feel sick when I think about it now, how we had to do Caesarean sections in the dark”.
Kote had to abandon the plan for PhD studies in Tartu, but it became his dream that his children pursue higher education in Estonia. It has almost been decided now that Ana’s younger sister Lana and twelve-year-old brother Anzori will also be schooled at the University of Tartu.
“Lana is not sure what she wants to study, but she is sure that it is not medicine”, smiles Ana. She says Lana is her best friend, even though it might sound like a cliché, and she is looking forward to her moving to Tartu next year. Father understands Lana’s preference for a different career: “Medicine is a tough profession. There are sleepless nights. An obstetrician is responsible for two lives, that of a mother and a child; you have to take care of both”. At the end of the interview he confesses that “There are tough surgeries which you remember throughout your life…”
In April of this year Kote Bochorishvili opened a private women’s clinic in Georgia. At the opening, the Estonian ambassador to Georgia presented him the flag of Estonia – a symbolic moment for someone with two motherlands.
How did it all start? As a teacher of Russian language and literature at a railway school in Georgia, Kote’s mother and Ana’s grandmother Zifrida happened to visit Elva, a small town near Tartu, as a part of the Soviet twin school programme. She fell in love with Estonia during these trips with her small son. Last year Zifrida attended celebrations for the 100th anniversary of their twin school in Elva.
Kote recalls that he saw a University of Tartu brochure with the entrance exam info (Never underestimate marketing materials!) brought by a family friend in Georgia. It was crucial that the only entrance exam for him as a holder of a high school gold medal to study medicine in Tartu was chemistry, and not physics, as in his home country university. Kote loved chemistry.
The way in which Georgian people who have studied in Tartu love Estonia is almost incomprehensible. Some years ago, when Alar Karis, then rector of the University of Tartu, met about fifty Georgian alumni in Tbilisi, he said that the number of Georgian students at the university was nine, and he hoped that one zero would be added to this during his time in office. Then Kote gave a speech on behalf of the Georgian alumni in pure Estonian, telling how much they adored – not just loved, but adored – the University of Tartu.
At the end of his visit, Karis confessed that he was shocked by the extent of Georgian love towards Tartu and rephrased his wish: “I would like that instead of one zero, we could add two.”*
*Currently, there are 34 degree students and 5 exchange students from Georgia enrolled at the University of Tartu.
Kote Bochorishvili remembers fondly and is thankful to his teachers: Kadri Gross, Uno Leisner, Ilze Koiv, Ado and Tatjana Truupold; and fellow students at the University of Tartu: Aivar Ehrenberg, Fred Kirss, Pille Soplepman, Urmas Sule and Aavo Lang.