Voices of DiversityPage address: http://www.mnsu.edu/diversity/commission/gulmira.html
From Uzbekistan to Minnesota: A Story of Identity, Experience, and Change
By Kouliga Koala
We met with Gulmira, a student from Uzbekistan who shared with us about her origin and culture, her experience in the United States, her love for Minnesota State University, Mankato, her passion for languages and the cultural and historical richness and diversity of her country.
“Uzbeks are very generous, and always welcoming. I have never felt any tension between myself and people because you can talk about anything with them. They are different than Americans. In America, there is a lot of privacy and you cannot talk about a lot of things. Uzbeks are also very hospitable. Whenever you see your acquaintance, you call him/her to your house to be your guest; it is the norm. You fill the table with everything including food and drinks,” Gulmira said.
Gulmira is from Bukhara, a city of 272,700 people in Uzbekistan but she was born in the Soviet Union because Uzbekistan did not become an independent country until 1991. In the region, Uzbekistan is a country of particular consideration. It is located in the heart of Central Asia. In the world, there are two doubly landlocked countries (meaning that you have to cross two countries if you want to get to sea), and Uzbekistan is one them; the other one is Liechtenstein. Uzbekistan is famous for being on the Silk Road, and for its abundant white gold production. It is among the world’s first ten producers in gold with the world’s largest open-pit mine. It is very ancient with a lot of monuments and historical sites. In every city in Uzbekistan, there is a modern city and an ancient city.
Historically, Uzbekistan underwent World War II. Its culture was shaped by the way and that shaped Gulmira’s identity as well. Her origin is Uzbek but she has tatar Russian origins as well since Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union. Before the Soviet Union, Arabs had conquered Uzbekistan. Therefore, the people have some Arab blood as well. “The big change is that everyone in Uzbekistan now speaks Russian; which had never been the case until the Russian invasion in 1917,” she said. The national language is still Uzbek, but the second language is Russian and everyone speaks Russian. A lot of documents are in Russian. Most foreigners who live in Uzbekistan are from Tajikistan. Europeans, mainly the French, Italian and Finnish come to Uzbekistan for tourism because the cities are very ancient. Some come to the capital city, Tashkent, for studies.
The educational system in Uzbekistan is different than the American system. After her first nine years in school, Gulmira completed three more years of professional training in computer technology. She then attended Bukhara State University where she graduated with a Bachelor’s in Economics. In her junior year in Bukhara State University in 2011, she passed the writing and oral examinations including the test of English as a foreign language (TOEFL) which allowed her to participate in the Undergraduate Exchange Program at MSU-Mankato.
What did she expect from America? “My view about America was different because I heard people say that Americans were individualists. But when I came in the United States, it totally changed,” she said. She participated in the family friendship program and is connected with two host families with whom she still keeps in touch. She studied as an exchange student for two semesters during which she took 28 credits in Economics and English. Gulmira was very excited and active during her exchange year at MSU. In April 2012, she participated in Undergraduate Research Symposium and won two grants. With these grants, she worked on a research paper on the former Soviet Union countries.
After Gulmira completed her one-year Exchange program at MSU, she went back to Uzbekistan in 2012 where she completed her senior year and graduated while she was completing a mandatory two-year home residency requirement for participating in the Exchange program. “The first time I came to MSU, I did not have any choice. I was just sent to this university but I definitely wanted to come back after I experienced the quality of the university,” she said. She joined MSU again in August 2014 for a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA). “I want to study MPA because it is good to have skills both in Economics and management. This combination makes me stronger,” she said. Currently, she works as a graduate assistant for Dr. Kawabata.
Apart from school, Gulmira is very passionate about and likes to learn languages. She learned English by watching movies and reading books in English. Gulmira speaks many languages including Tajik (Persian), Uzbek (Turkish), Russian, and English and is currently practicing her French. “I love science too because I am always interested in how things like physics and mathematics work,” she added.
As student, Gulmira’s priorities include doing an internship to be able to combine theory and practice. “I study hard because I want to get good grades and finish the program with a high GPA,” she said. Next semester, she will work with her professor to teach a class to get some experience and knowledge about teaching, another one of her passions.
Gulmira said, “I would like people to come and visit Uzbekistan because a lot of Americans don’t know where Uzbekistan is, and I am really proud of my country. I love my country! From independence, we went through great economic and political development and my country is still undergoing prosperity. I love my country and it is really beautiful, ancient, and I think that people should know about my country and experience it.”