When Neli Tsereteli was applying to colleges as a student in the Republic of Georgia, she knew she wanted to attend school abroad. After a Google search and some online research, she found her way to Tufts.
Tsereteli said that, although there is now another Georgian student at Tufts, she was the first student from Georgia to attend the university for some years.
“I think I was the first student since the 1990s,” Tsereteli said. “They still had an old government flag when I came in and I remember being very sad about that.”
As the only Georgian student at Tufts, Tsereteli initially experienced homesickness and culture shock.
“I felt very homesick, and I really wanted to talk to someone in Georgian, and I think that’s what I really missed the most,” she said. “Freshman year, every other weekend, I actually went to New York City to visit my best friend.”
This was one of the ways that she tried to mentally adjust to such a different setting from her home.
“I came here all alone. I had never seen the campus before,” Tsereteli said. “I came here at night; I had to go to TUPD to pick up my keys, so everything was so surreal looking back.”
Over time, Tsereteli felt more comfortable at Tufts and began to identify with groups outside of her Georgian identity.
“When I came here, Georgia was such a big part of my identity,” Tsereteli said. “[For pre-orientation], we had to make this chart, and basically it was a circle, and you had to divide your identities. And then they gave the chart back to us several months after, and I was shocked to look at it. It was like 50 percent of the whole circle was Georgian.”
Her identity and view of herself has since changed radically.
“I wouldn’t divide the circle like that anymore,” she said.
As she tried to find a home at Tufts, Tsereteli became involved with the international community. She believes that this helped fill the gap she initially felt after leaving home.
As a first-year, she participated in International Orientation, and then served as a host advisor for the program, now known as Global Orientation, for two years. Additionally, Tsereteli has worked at the International Center since the end of her first year at Tufts, formerly lived in the International House and is on the executive board of International Club.
“[The international community] kind of kept me grounded, I think, and that’s why I’ve decided to give it back,” she said. “I feel very comfortable in the community, and I wanted to use that position of mine to make others feel comfortable in it, too.”
Tsereteli is double-majoring in cognitive and brain sciences and community health and minoring in child study and human development. Over the course of her Tufts career, Tsereteli has taken a total of 40 courses.
“I think [my degrees] kind of compliment each other, even though you wouldn’t think so,” she said. “I also enjoyed it because … both of my majors are very interdisciplinary, so I ended up taking a lot of classes through a lot of different departments and got to know a lot of departments, a lot of professors.”
Next year, Tsereteli will be enrolled at Lund University in Sweden to pursue a Master’s of Public Health degree.
Though she is moving on from Tufts, she will retain many fond memories, especially of the international community, which she described as the highlight of her Tufts experience.
“I think in general, the [international] community is an inseparable part of me,” she said. “[In] every person, every little conversation, every little hug, or every little remark, you find a common thing. Even something like, ‘You think in Celsius too,’ something like that. Every little dinner, discussion, … all of it makes me smile now too, because it’s associated with so much positivity for me.”