|08ASHGABAT106||2008-01-22 09:14:00||UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY||Embassy Ashgabat|
1. (U) Sensitive but unclassified. Not for public Internet.
2. (U) SUMMARY: In December and January, Embassy Ashgabat's
Consular Section interviewed dozens of students studying in the
United States but not on U.S. government programs who had returned
to Turkmenistan for the holidays but planned to return to the United
States spring semester. Most of these students began their studies
in the United States at the end of the Niyazov era, during the
darkest days for education in Turkmenistan. They vary in background
and field of study, but all share a history of resourcefulness in
overcoming challenges, and all expressed optimism for Turkmenistan's
future. In contrast to students interviewed at the end of the
Niyazov era, these students genuinely see a place for themselves in
their country, where they will be able to use their education and
make a difference. We share their hopes for their success. (NOTE:
We have omitted names to protect the students' privacy. END NOTE.)
THE FIRST TURKMEN STUDENT AT MIT- "BUT NOT THE LAST"
3. (SBU) A junior at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is
majoring in chemistry. Originally from Turkmenabat in Lebap
province, his family now lives in Ashgabat. He wants to return to
Turkmenistan to work in the oil and gas sector, which he believes
will expand when Western energy companies come to Turkmenistan. He
was not a FLEX participant. Instead, he learned English from
various Peace Corps Volunteer teachers before going to the United
States to study intensive English. No one in his family speaks
English or has traveled to the United States. His trajectory to MIT
is all the more impressive given that it was entirely self-directed.
When asked about his experience in such a challenging program, he
said that he studies constantly to keep up with the "curve breaking"
foreign students in his classes. He noted that he was the first
Turkmen student at MIT, but he hoped that one day Turkmen students
would be as commonplace there as his Indian and Chinese classmates.
"NO ONE HERE IS DOING THIS KIND OF WORK"
4. (SBU) A student from Ashgabat is completing her PhD in geography
at the University of Arizona, having earned a master's degree in
environmental studies at Ohio State University. A former exchange
visitor who worked at the Ministry of Nature Protection, she has
always planned to return to Turkmenistan to work in her field. She
chose the University of Arizona, she said, because Arizona's
ecosystem was similar to Turkmenistan's, particularly the Caspian
Rim area that is the focus of her research. She is enthusiastic
about her role as a cross-cultural ambassador. She proudly noted
that she had returned for several summers to Turkmenistan to give
recruitment talks for Ohio State. She added, "Now I will help
recruit for the University of Arizona." She believes that private
sector funding for environmental work in the United States could be
a model for Turkmenistan - especially if foreign energy companies
move in - allowing for sustainability research and programs. She is
eager to bring her expertise back to Turkmenistan, because "no one
in Turkmenistan is doing this kind of work."
FUTURE POWER COUPLE?
5. (SBU) A young woman originally from Turkmenabat and her husband,
a native of Balkan province, met as graduate students at Eastern
Illinois University, where she received a master's degree in
economics and he received a master's degree in political science.
While he has stayed on at Eastern Illinois to complete his PhD, she
accepted an assistantship at the University of Northern Iowa, where
she is pursuing a PhD in public policy. Although both completed
their undergraduate degrees at the International Turkmen-Turkish
University in Ashgabat, they did not become friends until they
studied together in the United States. Both are enthusiastic about
the possibility of returning to teach or finding a position in the
government - opportunities that would be open to them now that the
government of Turkmenistan has announced it will once again
recognize foreign degrees.
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ALL IN THE FAMILY
6. (SBU) One family in Ashgabat is not politically well-connected or
extremely wealthy. The parents are actors at the Turkmen State
Theater. Despite the odds, three of the five children in the family
are studying in the United States. All three have followed a
pattern typical to many Turkmen students by beginning their studies
at Houston Community College (HCC) before transferring into
undergraduate degree programs. The twin sisters are both alumnae of
the FLEX program, although in different program years. They are
completing their studies at HCC and will transfer into bachelor's
programs next year. Their eldest brother followed his younger
sisters to the United States. He received his bachelor's degree
from Northern Illinois University, where he is currently enrolled as
a master's degree student.
THE LONG ROAD TO A PHD IN EDUCATION
7. (SBU) With the recent announcement that the government of
Turkmenistan wants to reopen graduate study programs at state
universities, one female student could be in a great position to
help shape the future of education in Turkmenistan. Currently a PhD
student in Education at the University of Missouri, she is focusing
on curriculum development in mathematics and related subjects. Her
experience highlights the improvement in prospects for ambitious
young Turkmen. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in
economics from Turkmen State University, the best job she could find
was working in the sales department at the Grand Turkmen Hotel.
After working there for nearly two years, she was accepted into a
master's degree program at Central Michigan University. The
prospect of returning to work in Turkmenistan was less certain when
she began her studies. However, things have changed so much that she
expects, by the time she finishes her program in 2009, to return
home to a different Turkmenistan than the one she left.
8. (SBU) COMMENT: If these students are indicative of the Turkmen
students studying abroad, especially in the West, they will be an
important source of new talent to advance the changes under way in
their country. They will be more qualified to compete in the global
economy than their countrymen who did not study abroad and, we hope,
ambassadors for even better relations between our two countries.