What was your favorite part of being a university student in the United States?
I think the most essential part was that I was having an English-speaking environment. I met so many people from other countries… It was not just study. It was learning other mentalities and learning other cultures. I was assimilating all these things. It was so awesome and fun. I learned a lot from that. I think now, I’m more versatile than before. I think maybe I’ve changed some habits. I had so many moments when it was thought provoking. I really liked the part when our teachers taught us how to think differently. Before, maybe it was something cultural, I had some stereotypes. But with studying, I was stepping out of my comfort zone.
We learned how to write essays. We learned how to construct our essays and how to compose all these things.
Was your life at university in the US similar to what you imagined it would be like? How was it different? Did anything really surprise you?
I can’t say that it was really surprising because I was in the program Study with US for nine months in Almaty and it was really helpful. We learned how to write essays. We learned how to construct our essays and how to compose all these things. [For example,] you should have paragraphs. I think it seems very simple, very easy. But truly, I think it was essential because when I came to the United States, I already knew some things—like essay composition, how to make presentations, how to present, what is an ice breaker in a presentation. These things, I learned from the Study with US program. I think that was the important part of the program because I was almost ready for these changes in the United States. I am really thankful for this program.
What was the atmosphere on campus like? What was your experience making new friends?
First, I was just absorbing the environment and the people because it was a new environment. I was thinking, “Whoa, how are they speaking so quickly? So fast?” Then I got used to it—to the accent. I found the easiest way to assimilate is to get acquainted with friends and teachers and spend time not only studying but also chilling out, having coffee. That was really important. I was very shy at first, to be honest. Then, I thought, “I am not the only one who came to study.” I saw other people [similar to] me. We started brainstorming, spending time together, and sharing our ideas and some fears. I found it [was] very normal. If you have fears and some embarrassing moments, that’s fine.
I really liked the American people because they are very open. They never judge you. They never say, “You are wrong,” because they know if you are open, they can help you. They can share their ideas. I like that part also. It really helps when someone is ready to help [and when] someone is ready to show you how to do some very simple things. As I am a journalist, our faculty, the people are very open and they are very friendly and I think it was like a double bonus for me. People like to think differently. They like to find other ways to communicate with people. They were so interested in my culture. It helped me to create this environment, to feel very safe, and to feel very friendly with them.
You should remember that you are unique. Every person is unique. Some people, I know some of my friends, even in Kazakhstan, think, “They are American and they have more privileges than we [do].” But honestly, it’s wrong because every person is unique. When I was sharing my culture, when I was writing about our legends, I saw how people were very interested and they were very surprised. [They said,] “Wow, that’s really interesting!” And I said, “Now I understand that we have something to share. We have something to surprise people with in a good way.”
I found the easiest way to assimilate is to get acquainted with friends and teachers and spend time not only studying but also chilling out, having coffee. That was really important.
How was the food?
I liked it. American food is not something homemade. They like going outside and having some dinner. I think that’s a part of their culture. First time, I was missing my Kazakh cuisine. We were preparing at home some borsok, pilov, some meals which we are used to eating. But then I started going outside and having dinner with friends. I like that [American food] is really light—to have burgers and Coke. But I didn’t [eat] it too much. [Eating together was] another way to communicate.
You should remember that you are unique. Every person is unique.
What was the most challenging part of the application process?
While I was applying, the one problem was that I didn’t have much time to research every university’s requirements. They have different requirements. Each one is accustomed to their own university. Maybe now, two years [later], I would act differently. The challenging part was to write essays. In my case we have to show our writing samples [such as] articles, videos, podcasts. I had all these samples in Kazak but it’s quite different to write in English and so I had to redo it, remake it, rewrite it and that was a challenging part for me. As a journalist, I felt just knowing the language—speaking English language was not quite enough. You should have some good words—being very pithy—writing very concisely and at the same time, with meaningful words. Sometimes I had that problem when I had some ideas. I’m used to writing in Kazakh, but I didn’t know how to express it in English and the colloquial English is not quite the right way to express or write English. To do journalism in English is really challenging. But finally, I learned how to write concisely because I had so much practice with teachers, and they were really open. They said, “Treat me like a friend. Don’t be scared. Better to ask. Better to revise than just being shy.”
I think I used open resources from websites. For the most part, I just wrote essays and statements of purpose and showed them to teachers in the [Study with US] program and they revised it and gave some recommendations. It was really helpful because those people are very experienced, and they showed how to emphasize your strong parts. Or, if you don’t have skills they require, you can just show another skill. It was really helpful because you cannot fit one program 100%, so you should just select some points that are suitable to that program or that university and then write it correctly, without any added words. It’s the second thing, you should showcase you properly. Emphasize your strong parts instead of thinking about your weak parts or about the skills that you don’t have.
As a journalist, I felt just knowing the language—speaking English language was not quite enough. You should have some good words—being very pithy—writing very concisely and at the same time, with meaningful words.
How did you choose which universities to apply to?
I applied to five universities and got into two of them--University of Wisconsin and Michigan State University. Those two universities are situated very close to one another, so I searched for the rank of those universities. Then I researched the faculty members—who are the teachers and what courses do they provide to the students? Then I started researching faculty members’ interest areas because even in journalism, there are so many tracks, like strategic communication, science journalism… [After] I learned who was teaching what…I chose University of Wisconsin.
What advice do you have for students from your country who are considering applying to universities in the US?
First of all, don’t be scared because you are in another country or a new environment. Don’t limit your horizons. Be open every time in study and every time just remember that you have something unique that other people don’t have. Be brave every time—showing and asking. Don’t feel scared to ask teachers because they are also people, they are also friends. If you are open, opportunities will come immediately. You will see that there is an opportunity to write, to share, or to meet someone whom you want to be a friend or to communicate [with]. There is always an opportunity. Just be open.
Be brave every time—showing and asking. Don’t feel scared to ask teachers because they are also people, they are also friends. If you are open, opportunities will come immediately.
What job do you have now? Was it easy to find work when you returned home?
I continued my previous job. Currently, I’m working at the National Bureau of Translations…[on the] English-Kazakh and Kazakh-English Oxford dictionary. I’m an editor, so I’m editing phrases, some idioms in the dictionary. It’s really interesting because it requires both languages—being fluent in English and Kazakh. It’s really interesting work. I notice that in English, one word can have 20 meanings. But in Kazakh, we don’t use that style. [The] difference of Kazakh language is you can say one thing with 20 words... It’s a really interesting job and I like it.