Our new regular column “The Expat Lifestyle” sees us out and about meeting expat business owners who have chosen to make a life in Georgia. We’ll be finding out about their lifestyle, hobbies, culture, likes and dislikes about Georgia, and how this life compares with that abroad. For our second interview, GEORGIA TODAY sat down with George Welton, who runs the American Chamber of Commerce and has a research company working on development issues.
What brought you to Georgia?
Providence. Good luck! OK – you meant the more prosaic answer. I came here under a program set-up by the Soros foundation that brought Western academics to teach at universities in the region. I worked as a lecturer at TSU and then set-up and ran a couple of academic programs for Soros.
Tell us about your business and background in the field.
AmCham is the biggest international business association in Georgia and so is very influential in Georgia. This basically makes me a ‘public policy professional’ – so I work on business climate issues, legislative reform and investment promotion. This ties to my academic background in international relations and economics.
Tell us about your family. Are they also thriving here in Georgia?
I’m married to a Georgian, so my kids are basically Georgian (though they would always point out that they are half-British)! They go to a great Georgian school, which they love, and we always try and do a bit of adventuring in Georgia, with more to come as they get older. We are very lucky to have a great life here – and obviously Georgia has a lot to offer. I come from a big family, and my whole family like to see a lot of each other, so they come here pretty often and we go and visit them every chance we get. My kids love all things English, mostly because they associate the UK with Christmas and family holidays. Harry Potter has helped too!
What are your main likes here?
It’s a long list. My first few years in Georgia, each year I used to say was “the best year of my life,” but after quite a few years, it feels silly to say that. Of course, there are easy things to say that you love about Georgia – the food, the wine, the nature. Coming from the UK, the climate here is awesome too. I love the bright sunny winter, particularly with the option of skiing, and I really like the hot summers too.
But the most important thing is the Georgians that I’ve met. Many of the smartest people I have ever known (and I have been blessed to know a few) are Georgians. I’ve also found incredibly talented people who are super-driven and motivated by the right kinds of things – a desire to make their country better, to help their friends, support their extended family and, above all, make sure the country stays on the right path. Of course, not everyone is like this, but I’m lucky to be surrounded by people that are.
What would you change about Georgia if you could? Compare it to where you lived previously.
The last place I lived (other than the UK) was Russia for a few months – which was not a great experience. Pretty much the opposite of my Georgia experience. Before that, I lived in LA, which is pretty different too. Unfortunately, Tbilisi traffic has become a bit more like LA’s recently.
What would I like Georgia to add? I would like it if Georgia could host some more English-language theater and if the supermarkets had more ethnic food. But that has improved quite a bit recently too.
How do you see Georgia a few years from now? Are you here for the long-term, do you think?
I tend to be SUPER optimistic. I think that this country has so much potential. The level of transformation that has occurred in the last 20 years is almost impossible to summarize well – and I think the opportunities are only expanding.
Of course, in the context of the war in Ukraine, it’s hard not to be nervous. It hasn’t undermined my optimism, but maybe I’m a bit more cautious about the possibility that things can go wrong.
The thing I would love to see more than anything is Georgia in the EU. I really think that could be the most transformative change of the time I’ve been here. If Georgia got into the EU, I think you would see living standards going up sharply – which is clearly what Georgians want and deserve. It would also significantly improve the security dynamic and democracy. But more importantly, seeing Georgia as part of the European family would just make sense to me. I would love to see that.
In terms of my personal orientation – Georgia is home. I’m staying.
Interview by Katie Ruth Davies