Tag Archives: study abroad

The power of education: A journey from the mountains of Khorog, Tajikistan, to a world stage


Muslima Niyozmamadova, a high school student from Tajikistan studying at the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, Kenya, is a powerful and uplifting example of how one person’s journey in life can drive them to seek change and how education can provide the tools to make that change. Niyozmamadova has made two big moves already in her short years, firstly with her family being relocated from their home owing to the construction of the University of Central Asia in Khorog, Tajikistan. Some years later she journeyed further, uprooting herself to a different country, culture and context to pursue her education in Kenya. I suspect she has a long way still to go, and I mean that in only positive terms.

Her story is reproduced in full below so you can share a sense of not just how powerful education can be, but how much we can all learn from this one young person.

(c) Education Week

Today we hear from Muslima Niyozmamadova, a high school student at Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa in Kenya. Issues of poor educational quality in her native country of Tajikistan inspired her to work to improve schooling in impoverished areas of the world. We hope this series of posts by students who are taking action to better the world through participation in the Global Citizens Youth Summit will be an inspiration to you and your students as well.

by guest blogger Muslima Niyozmamadova

Global citizenship means an awareness of the issues in my community as well as those faced by the world. My role as a global citizen is to promote positive change by trying to solve global problems. I am responsible for my city, country, and the world.

When I was six years old, my family moved to accommodate construction of the University of Central Asia in Khorog, Tajikistan. My family talked about how the university would become one of the best in the world. I was proud that the new university was being built where my family had lived. Even as a young child, education was important to me. I decided that I would one day become the head of the University of Central Asia. At the age of seven, I attended the only school in Badakhshan, the eastern part of Tajikistan. The school offered all subjects in English. I felt that learning the language was my first step towards achieving my dream.

A few years later, I was accepted to the Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa (AKA), one of the best secondary schools in the world, with a full scholarship. I applied to the school as it gave me the opportunity to become globally competent and prepare me better as a leader. While a student at AKA, I began studying the education system in Tajikistan. I was surprised to learn that Tajikistan’s literacy rate is 98%. However, few Tajiks qualify for professional jobs outside of Tajikistan because students learn basic proficiency in reading, but do not hone other skills needed to be successful workers, such as internationally qualified doctors, engineers, lawyers etc. I began to connect how poverty is linked to the quality of education.

As a participant at the Global Citizens Youth Summit in Cambridge, MA, I had the unique opportunity to engage in conversations with peers from around the world on issues of education and poverty. This experience helped me to build the global skills and confidence necessary to work toward a solution to these issues in my community. With my peers, I developed an initiative called YOUTHeory, which strives to ensure that children from low-income communities thrive in their early years of development. Our mission is to empower young people to exceed their circumstances through self-discovery and identifying their passions in life. We believe that education is the means of breaking the cycle of poverty. For children to thrive, they need resources, direction, and purpose. Together, my peers and I strive to provide these resources to children in different parts of the world.

Having a sesison with the students about techniques of studying effectively[1].jpeg

Since I attend school in Kenya, I decided to implement my project in the local community in Mombasa. I began working with a government school in the lower income area of the city. Eight of my peers from AKA support my work. My group and I have led workshop based sessions with the 140 students at their school on topics like the importance of education, effective study techniques, goal setting, good hygiene, and water conservation. We either go to their school after our classes to spend about two hours with them every two weeks, or we bring them to our school in groups of 50 over the weekends. Aside from academic sessions, we try and engage the students in sports, crochet, and board games. In addition, we raised money for the school to replace a broken water pump, which will give students access to clean water. We also held a clothing drive at AKA and shared these donations with the students in need at the school. My group also works with students to identify their passions through sports and games. In the future, I plan to donate solar panels to provide sustainable and reliable energy to the school. I am also working to identify sponsors who might donate breakfast to the kindergarten students (200 students) every morning. Without these donations, the students go hungry.

Over the coming summer, a leadership camp, Global Encounters (GE), will take place in my school. Because the camp aims to encourage students to engage in community service, I have handed my project to them to continue the work that I have done, as I believe it is crucial to have sustainability to really make a difference. My school falls under the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) which has done several development projects across Kenya. The Service Coordinator of GE has been able to connect with the Ministry of Education of the country and has communicated YOUTHeory vision to him. He was highly impressed by what we do, and therefore, wants us to be the bridge between the government and the individual schools. Many of our visions are similar to the plans of the government, like the focus on Early Childhood Development (ECD) and giving students motivation and support to continue with their education up to secondary school and university. One of the other focuses of the ministry of education is encouraging environmental awareness in the country, and he is trying to achieve this through the youth in schools. We are looking forward to making both our and the country’s visions for education a reality, and with the support of the government, we will reach great heights with this project.

During the Celebration of Service Day in school, I will be advertising my project to get younger students to join so that the project can be continued even when I leave in 2017 to go university. After a few years, I see myself launching YOUTheory in Tajikistan for children from low-income families. I want to continue empowering children to succeed against the odds. Moving forward, I will continue to work towards my goal of serving as the head for the University of Central Asia. Education is a basic right for children, whether they live in Kenya or Tajikistan or elsewhere. If we want a more equitable and harmonious world, we must all consider how we can help a child to learn how to act as a global citizen.

For all the youth across the world who wish to make a difference in the world, I want to tell you that it all starts from identifying the issues in your community and taking an initiative to contribute to the prevention or solution of the problem. It is important to go deep into the issue and find the root causes first, as this is the best way to tackle the issue, although it might take the longest time. Base your project mainly on sustainable development instead of on giving aid or charity. I believe the moment you plan to make a difference in your community you will be on the right path to becoming global citizens.

Kyrgyz MBA graduates aim to motivate and inspire others


So, you’re one of the very few Kyrgyzstanis to have completed an MBA at a top American business school. What are you going to do about it?

Judging by the two graduates interviewed by Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz arm, Radio Azattyk, the answer is simple: share what you’ve learnt and try and inspire your compatriots to go and do the same themselves. That’s the story that Kumar Bekbolotov and Seyitbek Usmanov tell – the article is in Russian; my English translation Mentors from Kyrgyzstan MBA is attached.

Their group, Kyrgyzstan MBA (slogan: “We could do it, and so can you”), is a great example of a grassroots initiative supporting further professional education in Kyrgyzstan, encouraging people to set their standards high and work hard. The article that describes Bekbolotov and Usmanov’s stories is also interesting for highlighting the growing variety of permutation of MBAs. These days, an MBA doesn’t have to be just a hardcore business qualification, but can also allow you to specialise in particular areas such as corporate social responsibility, or, in my case, higher education management.

The Kyrgyzstan MBA website features some good advice for applicants, and rouses national pride with this great note added at the end:

Wait until you go to the US embassy for a visa and [see] the face of the consul who learns that you are going to one of those [top business] schools (Kyrgyz anthem in your head).

Kyrgyzstanis, go forth and conquer the world of the ‘b-school’!

The benefits of the ‘near abroad’ – educational exchange in former Soviet states


The ‘near abroad’ is a Russian conception, describing countries that used to be part of or have close ties to the Soviet Union, as distinguished from the ‘far abroad’ countries that we might otherwise call ‘the rest of the world’. Although Russian language usage is diminishing in Central Asian states, in part owing to state-building government tendencies to enhance the standing of national languages, Russian remains either an official or a widely used language in these countries (source: One World Nations Online).

The continuing importance of the Russian language enables the promotion of cooperation and opportunities in higher education for Central Asian states and nations. Just today I’ve read two reports on educational exchanges within the former Soviet sphere:

  • The development of linkages between Belarus and Tajikistan [en], as reported by Belarusian News. These government-level links began with professional development for Tajik civil servants and the most recent press release focusses on cooperation between the countries’ Academies/Institutes of Public Administration. The cooperation will cover research and conferences, training and staff/student exchanges, thus both sharing and building up expertise on both sides. (Just don’t mention ‘academic freedom’…)
  • A very proud-sounding press release from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, usually known by its rhythmic Russian acronym MGIMO, on its recent attendance at the Education and Careers Fair in Almaty, Kazakhstan [ru]. The report mentions participation by universities and employers from 15 countries, most of which are ‘near abroad’ but with a smattering of other countries thrown in.

Of particular interest about the MGIMO report was its note that attendees were particularly interested in its English language courses. This reflects the growth of a different kind of study abroad option for Central Asian students: one in which students enhance their academic and English language skills but in an environment that is not entirely unfamiliar. For many years the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan and KIMEP in Kazakhstan have supported students to stay in the region and to study in English; now it seems that trend is expanding with students seeking opportunities in Russia, eastern Europe and Asia (e.g Malaysia and Singapore).

Study abroad – what happens next?


Kazakh newspaper The Astana Times has this week published a story featuring three Bolashak scholarship holders to understand what happens once they return to Kazakhstan.

The Bolashak Scholarships are the Kazakh government’s flagship scholarship programme, and have sent over 10,000 students abroad to study at top universities around the world. Although a condition of the scholarship is that students must return to Kazakhstan to work for at least five years for any private or public sector company or the state, it’s estimated that around half of the scholars have not [yet] made it back home.

The Astana Times article focuses on a small number of students who have returned. They all suggest that the scholarship has been instrumental in improving their career prospects, although they perhaps hadn’t realised the impact it would have when they were applying for jobs.

There’s always a difficult balance to be found when an organisation wishes to support students to continue their studies outside their home country but then requires them to return. I think this is particularly the case if the student is moving from a poorer to a richer country (by which I mean ‘rich’ in a wide sense, in that the education system may be better developed, career prospects may be broader, etc) where the pull factors of remaining in the host country may out-number the push factors encouraging a student to return home. But I’ve also seen students stay in the UK who come from countries where the career prospects are just as good because whilst here they set down roots – such as enjoying living in a particular city or establishing a relationship with someone – that provide more compelling reasons to stay.

Perhaps it’s inevitable that by offering students the opportunity to study abroad, at least some will choose to stay away in the short-term. Governments and other funding bodies should focus their efforts on keeping in touch with their scholarship alumni, encouraging them to continue to develop their skills so that at some point in the future these can be applied for the benefit of their home country.

Malaysian university to open in Tajikistan


Malaysian Limkokwing University has committed to opening a campus in Tajikistan, a not unexpected move by this ambitious and globally facing technical/creative university, which I first investigated in 2011.

The announcement was made during President Rahmon’s visit to Malaysia earlier this week. In the press release on the President’s website [ru], it is noted that there are ‘only’ around 40 Tajik students studying at Limkokwing (at its main campus in Malaysia) and around 200 Tajik students studying across that country. Presumably the aim now is to encourage more Tajik students to experience a Limkokwing education without leaving Tajikistan, a trend that has been growing around the world and particularly in the Middle East and some African countries (Mauritius seems to be a popular destinations for UK universities setting up overseas).

I think this is a great move both for Tajikistan and for Limkokwing. Tajikistan brings its first major overseas branch campus to the country (not counting the Moscow State University branch that opened a few years ago; using the wonderfully Soviet concepts of ‘near abroad’ and ‘far abroad’, I’m referring now to developments with the ‘far abroad’) and assurances that this will be an opportunity to develop home-grown talent and not to import the so-called ‘fly in-fly out’ lecturers who come from outside the country to teach a class and then leave again. According to trusted Tajik news agency Asia Plus’ story on the new campus, 80% of the teaching staff will be Tajik. In addition, there will be a quota of places for Tajik students, who will also benefit from tuition fee reductions.

What’s in it for Limkokwing, you might ask? This will be its first full foray into Central Asia and will add to established branch campuses in Asia, Africa and the UK as well as partnerships around the world (see www.limkokwing.net/malaysia/about for more). I expect that the academic offering of creative and technical courses geared towards getting graduates ‘job ready’ will be popular not just amongst Tajik students but with students from other Central and South Asian countries and with employers too. It’s a great foothold into a market (inasmuch as we can call it a ‘market’) with great potential (e.g. to increase participation in higher education, to fill the gap left by students who leave the country for study) and I am really pleased to see the Tajik government ostensibly being so welcoming and forward facing towards this relationship. And I’m sure it helped seal the deal for President Rahmon to be awarded an honorary professorship at Limkokwing out of it too.

**DON’T FORGET TO KEEP UP TO DATE WITH THE CAMPAIGN TO FREE ALEXANDER SODIQOV. SEE https://sabzalieva.wordpress.com/wandering-scholars-no-longer-free-to-wander-freealexsodiqov/**


Studying abroad: no longer just a dream?


Here’s a transcription (though not a literal translation) of a very informative 8 minute video from Radio Ozodi [ru]. It shows a growing interest in studying abroad, but the programme has a clear moral drive behind its interesting content – see the last paragraph. Makes me wonder if the Kazakh government didn’t inspire the piece: the state provides excellent funding for its young people in the form of Bolashak scholarships but the programme notes that more than half of the 10,000+ scholars haven’t returned to Kazakhstan (which is a condition of the award). Brain drain alert?

Emma’s transcription. Original video can be found at http://rus.ozodi.org/media/video/25299778.html, (c) Radio Ozodi, 12.03.2014

In Kazakhstan, the Bolashak scholarship competition is now open. Thousands of ambitious young people will apply for funding to study in Europe, USA and China. And across Central Asia, study abroad isn’t just a sign of quality and reputation but an investment in their future. The programme discusses the possibilities of studying abroad.

Abu Bakri Saidullo is studying in Dresden, Germany. He wants to graduate with distinction before returning to Tajikistan where he plans to run a business. “We get really up to date knowledge here. I don’t think you can get that kind of knowledge in universities at home,” he says. Abu Bakri is self-funding his studies. The cost per semester is €250 which covers tuition and six months of accommodation in halls of residence.

There are also plenty of opportunities for talented students to obtain funding to study abroad. 30 year old Ilkhom Aslanov from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, has studied in India and Japan and is now in Germany. He comes from a modest background and couldn’t have afforded to self-fund his studies. He says there is a good choice of institutions in Germany and that influenced his decision to apply. The application process was quite cumbersome but in the end he was awarded a grant by DAAD (https://www.daad.de).

Young people in Turkmenistan, however, prefer to study in former Soviet countries and Turkey, mainly for language reasons. Eliza Kenenbaeva is completing her studies at the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Her studies are funded by the Soros Foundation which is why she took up her place, but she says that other Turkmen students are attracted by the low fees and proximity of AUCA to their home country. She also says that it helps that the educational systems are similar, as are Turkmen and Kyrgyz languages.

Although the number of Turkmen students in Kyrgyzstan has fallen in recent years due to travel restrictions on Turkmen citizens, they continue to be attracted by the low cost of study ($2-3,000) and the absence of a language barrier.

The criteria for obtaining a scholarship to study abroad, which the commentator points out is the only way to study abroad without cost, can include:

  •          Academic achievements
  •          Research and academic potential
  •          Leadership qualities
  •          Financial situation

Aynura Chollonkulova, a Bishkek-based careers adviser, says that funding bodies will also consider your personal characteristics. Students initially want to base their choice by the country they want to study in, but she and her experienced consultants advise them instead to focus on their area of specialisation.

In Kazakhstan, the state-funded Bolashak scholarship programme has enabled more than 10,000 Kazakh students to study abroad over the last 20 years. More than 6,000 of them have already completed their studies. The aim of the programme is to train highly qualified specialists who can work at an international level.

Scholars have to return to Kazakhstan and work for at least five years for any public or private sector company or the state as a condition of the funding. However, according to official figures, more than 50% of scholars haven’t returned to Kazakhstan.

Gulzira Amanturlina did her Master’s at LSE, one of the best universities in the world. She then returned to Kazakhstan where she pursued a career in banking. She says she found work in a bank straight away after graduating, and that she was able to put into practice what she learnt in London. She was promoted to Director in 2010. Now she runs Eldani, a non-governmental organisation working with disabled people. Her work on social entrepreneurship and charity developed from what she learnt when studying abroad.

So, studying abroad provides a launching pad for your career – but it isn’t always a guarantee of success. Much depends on what you want to get from it: are you doing this just to live abroad, or do you want to obtain valuable knowledge and experience? It shouldn’t just be the scholar that benefits, but society as a whole.


More on Tajikistan’s education deficit


It seems that everyone wants to get in on the game of identifying deficits in Tajikistan. This time it’s the turn of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, in an audio report published [ru] [tj] at http://iwpr.net/report-news/tajikistans-education-deficit.

I couldn’t access either audio stream but the text below [en] (is it a transcript?) is reproduced below. (c) IWPR, Shahodat Saibnazarova.

Qarshiboev’s contribution echoes my previous reporting of Saifiddinov’s Asia Plus article of 7 August by focussing on the lack of leadership support for good quality education and well trained staff.

Afghanov’s findings echo those of my 2011 research on Tajiks who study abroad.

I’m not sure I agree with Hakimov’s suggestion to reduce the number of universities and specialisations offered by those institutions that are left. I’d suggest instead that cash is pumped into school education and into widening access and participation initiatives to help increase enrolment into higher and further education. Put more access on vocational education as Saifiddinov suggests and then pump your next batch of cash into post-graduation employment prospects.

Easier said than done…

Text of article at http://iwpr.net/report-news/tajikistans-education-deficit

Tajikistan is desperately short of graduates, particularly in engineering and other applied sciences, because so many prefer to go abroad in search of work.

Nuriddin Qarshiboev, head of the National Independent Media Association, says state policy needs to change so as to provide more incentives for graduates to stay.

“I believe that as long as the government doesn’t put a value on highly-qualified, education personnel, this systemic problem is unlikely to be resolved,” he told IWPR. “I know many young people who are very well qualified but who, because they can’t get decent, properly paid jobs, are forced to leave the country, or else do work that isn’t what they trained for.”

Many prospective students apply for university places in the West or in Russia. Few return to apply their skills in Tajikistan.

“We’d like them to return, but only between 25 and 35 per cent do so. The rest remain in Russia, carry on studying, or emigrate to Europe,” said Samariddin Afghanov, director of the Centre for International Programmes based in Dushanbe.

The only exception is an group of around 80 a year who get government grants and are contractually obliged to repay them by working five years in their own country.

Part of the impetus to study abroad comes from the perception that higher education in Tajikistan is second-best. Most commentators agree that school, technical college and university education is in urgent need of reform.

Analyst Shokirjon Hakimov says the 30-plus universities and colleges that now operate in the country should be reduced in number, with specialisations concentrated in particular department.

Shahodat Saibnazarova is IWPR Radio Editor in Tajikistan.

International students, international communities


I recently started a new job as Registrar at St Antony’s College, which is part of the University of Oxford. Each student at the University is a member of a College, and the College provides residential, pastoral and social facilities as well as providing teaching (for undergraduate students) and a base for researchers, seminars, conferences and so on. Many Colleges accept both undergraduate and postgraduate students whilst mine is one of seven postgrad-only Colleges. We specialise in international relations, politics, economics and history of particular parts of the world. St Antony’s is unique in that we host seven centres, each focussing on a different part of the world. Our student community is very international – around 85% of our students are from outside the UK. We also have a high number of visiting researchers, who come to work with our fellows as well as use the College’s fantastic library and academic/social resources.

One of the (many) things I like about St Antony’s is its cosmopolitan nature. Just yesterday I met with one of our former students from Chile, who is now head of the Chilean athletics team! Today I’ve been in touch with people in Norway, Pakistan as well as down the road in London, to name just a few places. Come the autumn term, there will be regular seminars on aspects of life and society around the world.

The international character of the College can be hugely beneficial for our student community, but it also leads me to thinking about how we integrate our students and what steps we can take to help them settle into life in the UK. Students who are new to the UK (and let’s not talk about the particular quirks of Oxford’s way of doing some things!) can have queries that range from big (help me with my student visa) to mundane (where can I buy bed sheets). What can my office – as well as the other student support services in College – do to make the path as smooth as we can for our students? And once we’ve done that, what we can we do to enhance their experience of being in Oxford, but without impinging on their main priority, which is to study?

Elisabeth Gareis has an interesting article in University World News this week looking at an aspect of the second question. She has investigated friendships between international students and host nationals, pointing out the positive effects such friendships can have: improved language skills, greater levels of well-being, enriched perspectives in the classroom and so on. However, the reality is that these kinds of friendships don’t exist as much as they should/could, and Gareis offers some good suggestions for institutions to help facilitate this.

She is absolutely right, though, to point out that ‘accountability also lies with the students themselves’. It’s hard work being an international student (I’ve been one myself and can testify to this!): continually putting in more effort than if you were studying in your home country and often dealing with cultural adjustments as well as changes to your study environment. But ultimately the experience you will have abroad will be much richer and more positive if you can make that extra effort to integrate yourself.

Nevertheless, the burden should not fall entirely on the international student. Host national students also need to try much harder to get on with their international colleagues. A Tajik friend of mine recently returned from studying in the US and said she didn’t make any American friends, and that is not for want of trying. At a recent Society for Research into Higher Education seminar, Paulo Pimentel Bótas of the University of Bath pointed out that UK students are often less well prepared to critically reflect on their own work than Chinese students brought up with the Confucian style of self-criticism before criticism of others. As such, host nationals can learn as much from nationals of other countries as international students themselves can learn – but the major challenge is to enthuse and engage home students to do that.

If you have examples of steps you have taken to integrate yourself as an international student, or things you have done as a home student to help international students, I’d love to hear about them.

Study abroad survey: part 5


Thank you all for sticking with me as I complete the publication of my study abroad survey results. Part 5 is the finale, bringing together in my conclusion everything that I’ve discussed in the paper.

If you requested a copy of the full paper, I’ll be emailing it out shortly. (If you didn’t but would like a copy, just let me know)

My next plans are to …

a) try and get this paper published;

b) perhaps consider spin-off papers focussing on particular aspects of the study abroad experience for this group, for example by gender or by looking at only those who have completed their course;

c) think about whether there would be organisations or universities out there interested in the results to help them shape their provision for international students;

d) and then work out what I do next in terms of research. What I’m really interested in is social change in post-Soviet Central Asia but what I don’t know is how to combine my personal observations/reflections/experience with my educational background to move this forwards. Suggestions are welcome!

OK, here’s the conclusion of the paper:


Pre-departure motivations and perceptions

There were no noticeable gender differences in the survey, either by composition of respondents or by type of response. The main age group for respondents was mid 20s to mid 30s, and the majority went abroad to study either for a Master’s degree or an undergraduate degree, so their ages suggest that most respondents continued a direct progression route into higher education from secondary school. Whilst questions that could have directly inferred income or class background were deliberately excluded from the survey, the information provided by respondents suggests that they may come from higher social class backgrounds.

A number of push and pull factors were shown to have influenced individuals’ choices about studying abroad, with two pull factors dominating: the desire to improve one’s academic knowledge and the desire to improve one’s career prospects. Richters and Teichler’s notion of ‘vertical mobility’ was shown to have relevance for the surveyed group. Schweisfurth and Gu’s three categories of cross-intercultural experiences, human development and intellectual development were used as lenses to examine respondents’ perceptions of how they might change through study abroad. Human and intellectual development outweighed cross-intercultural experiences as important factors for these individuals.

Study abroad experiences

Respondents’ choice of institution for their study abroad reflected the seriousness of their choice, with quality an over-riding factor. Two high quality English-medium institutions in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan received the highest number of respondents, suggesting that geographical factors also play a role in choice. The UK and the USA were the next most popular destination countries. Every subject that was studied (where stated) could either be classed as belonging to the social sciences or the humanities, suggesting that respondents made pragmatic decisions about course choice with a view to future career prospects.

The majority of respondents reported a generally positive experience of study abroad, with positive responses outweighing reported problems by an average of 7:3. The survey results demonstrated very few problems in adapting to life as an international student, which stood out against a more usual expectation that international students may suffer from culture shock, which is often heightened when the differences between the individual’s home country and the country being visited are greater. Given that 72% of respondents moved to a country where English is an official language, it could have been expected that the adaptation process would have proved more complex. Furnham’s theory of ‘expectancy-value’ was offered as an explanation for this successful adaptation.

Post-study abroad impact and decision-making

Of the respondents who had completed their study abroad, most had successfully found employment and indeed were employed at a rate far greater than the estimated Tajik norm. Those in employment broadly fell into three sectors: international organisations, the private sector, and academia/teaching and it was suggested that these fields were predictable given the nature of the subjects that had been studied as well as the ‘premium’ placed on jobs in international organisations and the private sector. Those working in the public sector were overall more positive about their study abroad than those working in the private sector.

The fact that there was a relatively even spread between respondents who had returned to Tajikistan (31%) and those who had remained abroad (44%) suggested that the ‘brain drain’ phenomenon was potentially an issue. Although the survey was not able to ascertain whether the non-Tajikistan based respondents planned to stay abroad more permanently, the evidence provided does seem to lean towards this migration being a temporary phenomenon. Whilst Abazov believes that ‘young professionals who have been receiving education in foreign countries have little incentive to return’ (22.07.2010), Altbach’s slightly more nuanced view is that ‘while brains may no longer be permanently drained, they are nonetheless siphoned’ (26.02.2012). A longer term study of the respondents might help to elucidate this question.

Respondents’ family and friends were generally supportive of the decision to study abroad, although were not without concerns for the personal safety and well-being of respondents. During/after the study abroad, it was shown that family and friends tended to remain or become slightly more supportive. A small minority had mixed or negative attitudes towards the study abroad, and the specific context of Tajikistan was touched upon as a way to unpack some of these less positive reactions.

It was evident that study abroad made an impact on all the respondents, and for the majority this was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Respondents reported change in all three of the categories from Schweisfurth and Gu employed as a framework for analysis in this paper, although a small number did not feel they had changed particularly. This was often for specific reasons, such as the respondent who had studied abroad before and felt that the second experience, which was the one being examined in the survey, had played a lesser role than the first period of study abroad.

In summary

Yang et al’s study of Hong Kong Chinese students’ study abroad experiences contends that ‘students’ study abroad goals, host country experiences, and learning outcomes were interrelated… students are motivated by their goals to actively engage in experiences that are conducive to enhancement of their intercultural, disciplinary/career, and personal competences’ (2011). This small-scale survey has similarly demonstrated strong connections between motivations for study abroad, the actual experience of being a temporary migrant overseas, and the impact that this has on individuals after the study abroad is complete. In many instances, the perceptions and changes that took place were similar to the findings of studies of other groups of international students, for example with the weight placed on improving career prospects. The key area of divergence from other groups (particularly groups from western/more developed countries) was the relatively low occurrence of culture shock issues. The benefits to respondents of being able adapt quickly and/or with ease undoubtedly play an important part in allowing their vision of well-being to be achieved.

Overall, therefore, study abroad has a major impact on the well-being of the individual Tajik nationals surveyed for this paper, and for the most part this is a strongly positive experience. Study abroad is a step taken by these Tajik nationals towards their ambition of making their life better.

Study abroad survey results: part 4


Hot on the heels of part 3, here is the next part of my study. In part 4, I look at the post-study abroad experience. This section uses a number of quotes from respondents, which I think complement the graphs/tables well, and deepen our understanding of the individual experience and impact. Let me know what you think!

Post-study abroad impact and decision-making

Of the 103 respondents, 44 were still studying and were therefore only able to provide limited responses to questions about how study abroad had changed them. Of the remaining 59, 42 were in employment, 12 had started a new course of study, 3 were full-time parents and 2 were looking for work.

Employment prospects

The employment rate of 95% amongst completed students compares very favourably to the general employment rate in Tajikistan, which is unofficially estimated to be around 60% (Asian Development Bank, November 2010)[1]. Three employment sectors were identified from those in employment, where this was stated in the response:

  1. Nearly half work for some form of international organisation, with the UN system featuring prominently;
  2. Just under a third work in the private sector such as banking, logistics and consultancy;
  3. Around 15% teach or research at a school or university.

A rare report on higher education in Tajikistan suggests this is to be expected: ‘graduates/alumni of the international scholarships programmes or universities, the most  talented youth, prefer to find work with international organisations or in the private sector’ (National Tempus Office Tajikistan, October 2010, p8). There also appears to be a match between the subject studied (see figure 6) and the career fields students are progressing in, reinforcing the strong inclination shown by respondents to study abroad in order to improve their career prospects.

Interestingly, respondents’ attitudes to their time abroad varied by the career sector they now worked in. Those working in the private sector were less positive about the impact of study abroad on their career prospects, as this sample response shows:

“I am working in Tajikistan now. I am an entrepreneur. To be honest I expected that studying abroad would help more with finding a good job. But so far it has turned out that it was not as helpful as I thought it would be.” – male, 24

On the other hand, respondents who said they were working for an NGO or in academia/teaching assigned greater value to their study abroad:

“I work as a development specialist at the United Nations. My studies definitely enabled me to take this path.” – female, 29

 “Now I am teaching secondary level students about Islam as a civilization in Khorog, Tajikistan. Studying abroad helps me a lot with this. For instance, I am able to use various methods of teaching; I know how to manage my classes better and effectively; I know various ways of approaching my students of different academic achievements; I know how to better and effectively approach my students’ parents and involve them in their learning process.” – male, age not stated

Where are they now?

Respondents in employment showed the highest tendency to return to Tajikistan. Whilst a quarter of those in employment did not state which country they were working in, of the remaining number, there was an almost equal split between those who had returned to Tajikistan (16) and the number who had stayed abroad (15). Of those who stayed abroad, the two biggest destination countries were the UK and the USA with 20% of respondents each, and the remaining 60% scattered across the world – from Uruguay to Ethiopia to Thailand. This result was surprising as a popular perception in Tajikistan is that once an individual has the opportunity to go abroad, they are likely to stay abroad to continue pursuing better opportunities.

For respondents doing a new course of study (12), only 2 were doing so in Tajikistan. 6 were in the USA and 4 did not state their destination. Of the three full-time parents, 2 were in European countries and 1 did not state their destination. And both of the respondents currently looking for work were doing so in the USA.

Overall, therefore, 31% of respondents were back in Tajikistan compared to 44% who were out of the country (25% did not state their location). It is not known whether those who remained out of Tajikistan planned to migrate on a permanent basis, although two respondents noted that they lived abroad permanently due to marrying someone from a different country. White and Ryan suggest that the networks built by migrants whilst abroad ‘are increasingly important to understanding patterns of migration’, and strong networks built up within the receiving country can facilitate the chances that migration becomes long term or permanent (2008). It would be interesting to track the students who stayed abroad on a longer term basis to investigate the extent to which study abroad is a form of temporary, rather than permanent, migration and how the networks students construct influence the length of the period abroad.

Impact on family/friends

Respondents were asked two questions about the opinions of their family and friends. The first question, shown in figure 10, used a Likert scale to assess how family and friends felt about the decision that respondents had made to study abroad and suggest that the reaction of family and friends was overwhelmingly positive. Three answers generated a much more mixed range of responses: ‘worried about your financial situation’, ‘worried about your safety/health, and ‘not worried’, demonstrating that whilst overall family and friends were likely to be very supportive of the decision to study abroad, this did not prevent them from harbouring concerns about aspects of the student’s personal well-being. Concerns about academic progress (‘worried that you wouldn’t do well academically’) were minimal, indicating that family and friends had confidence that by deciding to study abroad, the student was in effect already demonstrating a high level of academic ability.

Figure 10: Responses to the question ‘In general, how did your family and friends feel about your decision to study abroad’

The second question was free text and asked respondents to state what their family and friends thought of their decision to study abroad now, i.e. at the point they had either already started or completed their studies. Almost every single respondent reported supportive reactions:

“My family and friends think my decision was the best one and if I stayed here in Tajikistan then I would never [have] been able to achieve what I have achieved so far. Now my parents think that I should go on to [do a] PhD and finish up what I have started.” – male, 25

“I worked hard to study abroad because of my family. They always were supportive.” – female, 29

The strong positivity demonstrated in figure 10 has therefore for the most part been sustained and responses showed that some families and friends had become more encouraging in their attitudes. As one respondent put it:

“I am proud that my family walk with high heads because of me” – female, 29

For a small minority, however, the reaction of their family and friends is mixed, or negative:

“My family and friends are happy that I am studying and living abroad now. My parents, though, sometimes ask me to come back as they don’t want their children to live in any other country for a long period of time.” – male, 34

“My family was against my study abroad since [the] beginning and has not changed their view. My friends were neutral and do not share their view.” – female, 36

It is worth noting that family relationships in Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries are distinctive from European/American models. For example, people generally marry earlier and have more children, although this pattern is changing. Further, it is common for elders to have more control over family life and decisions, and for family life to be more intergenerational (Roberts, 2010). This may help to understand the reticence communicated by a small number of respondents.

Impact on self

The final question in the survey asked respondents to comment on how they have changed as a result of studying abroad, the aim being to understand the extent to which study abroad affects levels of well-being. The majority of respondents asserted that they had changed in at least one of the categories employed in this paper to describe change (cross-intercultural experiences, human development, intellectual development), as shown in figure 11.

Figure 11: Codings of free text responses to the question ‘How have you changed as a result of studying abroad?’

In terms of cross-intercultural experiences, Opper et al note that study abroad ‘provides a direct opportunity for cultural learning through the broadening of knowledge and views internationally… an understanding of other cultures stimulates, in turn, some reflection about one’s own culture, and even a reconsideration of values in general, apart from application to any specific country’ (1990). The responses in the survey can be grouped into two types. Firstly, some respondents noted that their views of Tajikistan had changed, either positively or negatively:

 “I used to idealize foreign specialists before going abroad myself… Today, however, after having studied so many years abroad, I think that Tajik specialists and professionals are highly underestimated and underpaid.” – female, 31

“[I] didn’t like Tajikistan before but [I] hate being there now. I would never go there if not for my family and friends.” – female, 41 or above

The second type of response commented on their changed views of other countries and cultures:

“I am no longer in love with the West. The more I studied here the more I understood the working of a neo-colonial system and how the richness of the West is built up on [the] backs of developing countries. I guess I no longer see the West or democracy as something that will ‘help’ Tajikistan.” – female, 30

 “The knowledge and experience of studying and living in the UK… will certainly have an impact on [a] person’s life and worldview…. all these studies and experiences at leading universities in the UK has changed my view about the world and Tajikistan…” – male, 38

Respondents reporting human development-related impact focused on improvements to their skills: those related to their personality (e.g. increased confidence and responsibility) and skills that would enable them to improve their career prospects:

“[I] became more tolerant and open, more self confident, improved my academic background, and being a student here I already have 2 job offers with a good salary back in Dushanbe [capital of Tajikistan]” – female, 23

“I became more independent and responsible as I thought I would be. And I feel I am ready to move on, starting with exchange programs, internships abroad, meeting more people, using any work (career) opportunities.” – female, 18

Intellectual development connects primarily to reported improvements in academic knowledge and skills, but a number of respondents also directly related this to how they perceived their responsibility to make changes in Tajikistan:

“The primary change in me personally is my academic ability, questioning various subjects across disciplines” – male, 31

“It is obvious that after studying abroad your attitude to your country changes totally. Now you begin to look at your country with the question “how I can contribute to the development of Tajikistan” and you begin to realize that the future of your country is your hands.” – female, 23

It is evident that all respondents had changed in at least some way as a result of studying abroad. At its deepest, studying abroad can be ‘a profound transformational experience’ (Gu, 29.01.2012) and many of the respondents said they had changed greatly across the three categories used in the paper:

“I am so much [a] different person now than I was back then. Education here has broadened my mind to the things that I had no idea of their existence and as I grow in possessing my knowledge I see the opportunities that I can get, and the things that I can do in my life and with my life. I am [a] much happier person now than I was before.” – female, 26

[1] It should be noted that the official unemployment rate is 2.2% but most indicators suggest that this is based on incomplete criteria and therefore does not capture the full scenario.