Jaya Sahihi '13 is an insatiable globetrotter, and it shows—while discussing her research internship in the republic of Georgia this summer, Jaya nonchalantly tossed off lines like “My host mother was the widow of the former Prime Minister of Georgia, who was assassinated by the KGB, or so they thought.”
But political intrigue was just gravy on a five-week trip that Jaya mostly spent organizing a 33-country international research conference for the Eliava Institute, a world leader in research on bacteriophages and probiotics. “They’re viruses that eat bacteria,” Jaya explains, “but are more useful than antibiotics, because they only target specific bacteria, like salmonella.” While Jaya plans to pursue a career in science—she’s taking courses in Optics and Ecology this fall, and her science research project juggles sophisticated concepts like particle physics and the Big Bang theory—her trip to Georgia was also something of a feminist wake-up call.
“It was such a beautiful country—we went hiking in the mountains and saw this beautiful 12th-century church, in this little hole in the rock—but the culture can be very close-minded,” says Jaya. “People have iPhones and watch movies, so it feels modern in a lot of ways. I’d start bonding with my host sister’s friends, and start thinking they were teenagers just like me. And then they’d say something incredibly misogynist or homophobic and it was like this slap in the face. I was never interested in gender equality before. In Park Slope, I never felt the need to be specifically heard as a woman, and thought people who did were overreacting. But in Georgia, I finally realized why women need to fight.”