Nineteen-year-old international student Aidai Kozhalieva spent this year at Maryville College, and, as the time to return to her native Kyrgyzstan draws ever nearer, she is keen to use her experience to make an impact back home.
She is hoping that she has not seen the last of the Americans, either.
Kozhalieva studies business and attends the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan.
“I came here on the UGRAD program, sponsored by IREX, who offer scholarships to America for students from Eurasia,” she said. “There are 10-12 students who get to go a year, so it was a real bonus for me to get it in such a big contest, where so many students apply. I am very thankful. Coming to the U.S. was like a dream.”
Kozhalieva comes from Kyrgyzstan, which is in central Asia.
It is one of the extremely young countries born out of the territory covered by the former Soviet Union.
“[Kyrgyzstan] is really beautiful,” Kozhalieva said “The mountains are fantastic, and it is a very unique culture.”
One of the keys to getting over the culture shock of travelling abroad for the first time for Kozhalieva was making sure she took home from home.
“I really did get a big culture shock with the American food,” Kozhalieva said. “My favorite food is ‘Lagma,’ which consists of noodles, vegetables and meat. It’s very different here, and it took some getting used to. Our national instrument is the Komuz. I did a demo of it and a presentation of my country for Global Citizenship Organization.”
However, Kozhalieva got over the culture shock quickly because of the friendliness of people.
“My favorite things here are the relationships,” Kozhalieva said. “If you ask someone to do something, they will do it. It got easier to get by here because my English got much better. I am very happy I came to MC. It is very diverse.”
Kozhalieva continued: “All my expectations were surpassed. I love the professors, the people and the school. It was very enjoyable to study here. You are motivated to study here because the professors push you.”
In the future, Kozhalieva wants to repay her debt for being rewarded by IREX and being allowed to fulfill her dream of coming to America.
“The IREX program gives me everything. I want to apply what I have learned here to my home. I work on community service. I first experienced American people back home when the U.S. Peace Corps came and did summer-school teaching English. I dreamed of coming to America, and it came true. Now I want to do the same for other kids back home.”
Kozhalieva closed by inviting American students to apply for the reverse of the trip that she made.
“I want students who would be interested in a 2-3 week volunteer stint back in my home of Kyrgyzstan. There is a chance for one American student to get the same scholarship I did to come to America and come back home with me. It would be a great experience. It is amazing what you can do if you dream big.”