Sandra M. Mejia
Have you heard of Ala-Too International University? It’s a university in Kyrgyzstan, a country that shares borders with China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. VIU and Ala-Too have been partners since 2009, and since then, more than 50 students have applied to VIU. Now there are several Ala-Too/VIU alumni in Northern Virginia and in Kyrgyzstan. Because of our partnership and Ala-Too sending students to study at VIU, their education fund has increased such that they were able to send two faculty members for a ten-day visit to our intimate campus in early April with paid flights and hotel accommodation.
Introducing… Ms. Gulnaz Atabaeva and Ms. Zhibek Orozbekova!
Ms. Gulnaz Atabaeva ( left) is a published Ph.D candidate in economics with special interests in labor migration and the impact of remittances on the economies of developing countries. Ms. Zhibek Orozbekova (right) is a lawyer and lecturer with special interests in human rights and religious and Islamic rights.
Dr. Suleyman Bahceci, the Executive Vice President of the Office of University and Student Affairs, and I, Sandra M. Mejia, the University Affairs Coordinator, welcomed Ms. Atabaeva and Ms. Orozbekova to VIU. When we met, we exchanged gifts. Notably, Dr. Bahceci was given a traditional Kyrgyz hat, and our guests had him put it on right away!
The main purpose of this visit was for our guests to participate at the recent Conference on Language, Learning, and Culture (CLLC) held at VIU. Our guests attended the conference, and Ms. Atabaeva even presented during the poster session on “Analysis of literature on the impact of remittances on the education of children.” It was fascinating to learn about her studies on how immigrants sending money back home to their families affected their home countries’ economies. As a child of immigrant parents, this really resonated with me because my family sends money back to my relatives in their home country too and for similar reasons like to help cousins buy school supplies or pay for medical expenses.
Both educators also did some guest lecturing in courses for SPIA and the School of Business. Ms. Atabaeva presented on “Kyrgyzstan’s Economic Development” in Dr. Shukla’s Principles of Microeconomics course. The students were very interested to hear a more Central Asian perspective and asked our guest many thought-provoking questions.
Ms. Orozbekova guest lectured in two of Dr. Uslu’s courses, International Security and Globalization, on “Regional Organization in Central Asia” and “Democracy and Civil Society.” Our guest facilitated lively discussions that the students appreciated very much. They didn’t want her to leave!
In between the CLLC and guest lecturing, our very own Dr. Klara Bilgin so kindly took Ala-Too’s visiting faculty to Washington, D.C. for a tour. Of course we needed to show our guests the nation’s capital! They took a bus tour, visited the monuments, and went into quite a few museums. They told me that they were sore from all the walking (don’t we all know that pain!), but that it was an amazing and fun experience.
Ten days is quite a long time for an international visit. Ms. Atabaeva, Ms. Orozbekova, and I shared quite a few meals together while they were here. They told me about visiting Walmart and the Fair Oaks Mall and meeting their former students and their families. Apparently, they went to DC with them too and got to see the cherry blossoms at night. This trip was definitely perfectly timed for the cherry blossom season. Before they left, we had our last meal together at Wegman’s, and it was so fun seeing them take pictures of the bakery and the produce section. Although, Wegman’s is a pretty fancy supermarket, and I took pictures of the really tasty-looking fruit tarts there too.
As University Affairs Coordinator, I had the pleasure of arranging our guests’ visit to our campus. They were such lovely people. It never felt like a chore to show them around our campus and make sure they were able to enjoy VIU and the Northern Virginia area. I look forward to meeting them again one day, maybe even in Kyrgyzstan! 😊
Note: If you and your institution are interested in a partnership with VIU, please visit our website at viu.edu/partners to apply and learn more about how partnerships work.