What is your favorite part of being a university student in the United States?
I think it's the people, the opportunities that you have, and the quality of education that you have here. Berea is a very unique college by itself. You have full tuition scholarship. There are no tuition charges… On the other side, you have to work...a minimum of 10 hours per week. This is how you can make some money… What I like about my college, in particular, is my labor. You can get different kinds of labor positions here like being at the circulation desk, working as an office assistant. When I came here, they put me as a teaching assistant for computer science class because I had computer science experience back in high school. Now, I am in charge of a maker space—a maker space assistant. Over the summer, I helped them build the website for maker space. I really like this labor experience in my college. The computer science department here is very supportive. They always push you toward succeeding in everything. I also like the fact that we have a small number of students in class—no more than 30, usually. The professors are always reachable. They’re always supportive. You can always ask for advice.
American students here are very welcoming. You might think you won't find friends here, but they're very outgoing. It’s easy to make friends here.
Has your life at university in the United States been similar to what you imagined it would be like? How is it different? Has anything really surprised you?
I think what I imagined was pretty much the same. I had a multicultural experience before this. When I came here, [I understood] they had a little bit different culture. [For example,] American holidays and the food they eat. I’m still not used to their food. I still miss home food a lot. Otherwise, I don’t think my imagination, my expectations were much different.
What is the atmosphere on campus like? What has been your experience making new friends?
American students here are very welcoming. You might think you will not find friends here, but no, they're very outgoing. It’s very easy to make friends here. But I’m mostly friends with international students because I feel like they can relate to me more than Americans. We have the same kind of background, same experiences, same struggles--in terms of job search, internship search, and it’s different for international students than for Americans. It's easier for me to find common topics with international students, rather than Americans. But Americans are also very nice. They are very outgoing and open to new conversation. They're always very eager to learn about your culture. Most of them don't know where Kyrgyzstan is.
How do you communicate with family and friends back home?
The time difference is ruining everything. When I go to classes, they have night. But, I usually stay in touch on a daily basis, especially with my mom. WhatsApp is the best one. If I don’t have time, I send photos and videos of what’s new to keep her posted, so she doesn’t lose me. On the weekends, I try to catch up and talk for a longer time.
Ms. Olivia [my teacher] was really helpful. I was studying for the SAT with her help. We had a college counselor at school who was also helping out with the process. If some parts of the application process were not clear, you can go and ask.
What was the most challenging part of the application process? What resources were helpful for you?
The most challenging part was that I did the International Baccalaureate diploma program and I had to study for school and for exams at school and for SAT and TOEFL all at the same time… I should have taken them [SAT and TOEFL exams] earlier and maybe multiple times to get [my] desired score, especially for SAT, but the deadline for the Berea [College] application was the 30th of November which is super early… It is hard to keep track of everything… It was a little bit stressful. I had to think about a lot of stuff at the same time. It was a little bit overwhelming… For people who [take] a gap year [it] might be easier. They can just focus on the application, but I had to do school and do extracurricular activities so I can write about something and keep in touch with professors so they could write good, relevant things about [me].
I was part of the Study with US program in Kyrgyzstan… Ms. Olivia [my teacher] was really helpful...I was studying for the SAT with her help… We had a college counselor at school who was also helping out with the process. If some parts of the application process were not clear, you can go and ask… I personally submitted 10 [recommendation letters]. I was applying for an economic major at first. [My college counselor said,] “You need to be smart about it. Ask an economics professor [to write a recommendation letter for you].”
I watched a lot of videos on YouTube, searched the internet, and read Quora. I contacted students in Berea College from previous years [and asked them,] “What do you think made your application stronger?” to understand what they [the university] wanted. For TOEFL, I prepared myself online with practice tests and Khan Academy.
How did you choose which universities to apply to?
It was mostly my research. There is a magazine, like a newsletter (lemon.kg). They wrote articles about both of the students who study here [at Berea College]. The articles were really inspiring. I started reading about them. They talked about their experience in Kyrgyzstan, what kind of extracurricular activities they did there. I read everything about them and about the college. I really liked their experience here [and that] they have no tuition.
The first thing [I recommend to prospective students is to] identify what are your financial capabilities.
What advice do you have for students from your country who are considering applying to universities in the United States?
I was dreaming of only the United States [when I was in school]. I wanted to go only to the United States. Then, I started searching and I realized that it's very expensive, especially undergraduate studies, and getting a scholarship is a very competitive process. The first thing [I recommend to prospective students is to] identify what are your financial capabilities. If they're good, then most of the schools will be available for you. If you are planning on a scholarship, then you should [have high] scores. [Y]our application should [be] stronger… [T]he second thing is [to decide whether] you want to go to community college or [if] you want to go to undergraduate. [Y]ou [must] decide for yourself what's better. If it's community college, then it might be easier to get in. If it's undergraduate, then it gets more challenging. Third is prepare ahead. It might take one year [or] more than one year to prepare for, depending on your English level. Then, you also make sure your GPA is good. Maintain a good GPA. Do your extracurriculars, volunteer, do your projects, [and] keep in touch with professors, so they can write good things about you. [Also, do] not start your essay two days before the deadline. Actually, put a lot of effort in your essay. Make someone proofread it for you… [I]t's okay to give it to someone to proofread for you. Consult with other people. Use the library. EducationUSA has great resources. I have personally never attended, but I heard a lot of times you can make an appointment with them one-on-one and talk about any questions you have.
Do your extracurriculars, volunteer, do your projects, [and] keep in touch with professors, so they can write good things about you.