Eric Jackson is very comfortable on the basketball court.
He has stats to prove it: during the 2012-2013 season, he led the Prairie Wolves in scoring, was third in the Great Plains Athletic Conference for three-pointers made per game, and set the season high three times. His success continues this season as well.
He’s just as comfortable playing basketball in a park located in Georgia, the country located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe. That’s where the senior political science major from Lincoln spent his summer nights.
Jackson received a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to spend his summer in Georgia. The scholarship pays for students’ study abroad experiences. NWU students have won 35 Gilman scholarships since the award was created in 2001.
His interest in the post-Soviet region was first piqued when the men’s basketball team traveled to Estonia in 2011. He wanted to see more so he spent the following summer in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Sderot, and Tiberias accompanying a pro-Israel lobbying group.
An internship in Georgia would provide him with needed experience for an anticipated career with a non-governmental organization. He worked at the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), which processes information requests mandated by the Georgian constitution. His responsibilities included writing blogs, editing grant proposals and articles, and helping with social media messages.
“If a citizen wants to know the salary of a certain government figure, IDFI can send an official request to the ministry to tell them that this person wants information,” said Jackson. “If the ministry doesn’t comply, IDFI can take them to court.”
In addition to learning a new culture, Jackson needed to learn a new language even though his colleagues at IDFI spoke English.
“They speak Georgian there. I studied some Georgian before I went over so I knew some basic phrases that helped me out immensely while I was there,” he said.
However, with Georgia’s close proximity to the Russian border, Jackson learned some Russian as well.
“My host family was not actually Georgian,” he said. “They spoke mostly Russian. Communicating with my host mother got tricky, but I was able to learn a few Russian words as well. I did a lot of pointing and a lot of sparse Russian while I was there.”
It wasn’t all work and no play for Jackson. He experienced the traditional Georgian life while living with his host family.
“It was probably the best part of my experience,” Jackson said of his host family. “Georgians traditionally value guests to the utmost. They are perceived as gifts from God which is a Georgian custom. They were really nice to me and accepted me as their own.”
He was also able to share his basketball talents.
“I was able to play a lot of basketball there at a couple parks. One of my host family’s relations took me to the park 2-3 times a week. It was a great cultural interaction with Georgians with the sport of basketball,” he said.
And now Jackson feels confident as he prepares for graduation and a career.
“I think it made me realize that I can do a lot of things by myself,” he said. “I can adapt to a lot of different environments and have success within those environments.”
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