Bolashak Students at Upenn (end of March 2014) - artvbal

Bolashak Students at Upenn (end of March 2014)

The particular article provides short overview with regard to a few Kazakh students studying in Language School at University of Pennsylvania (Upenn). Notably, these students are all enrolled in the “Bolashak” scholarship. According to wikipedia - “Bolashak International Scholarship” is a scholarship which is awarded to high-performing students from Kazakhstan to study overseas all-expenses paid, provided that they return to Kazakhstan to work for at least five years after graduation “.

Initially, I planned for this article to be a photo story, but my photojournalism skills are sort of underdeveloped right now, so it is going to be an article with a few illustrations, that's all.

Let me start with a quick introduction of the folks this article is about.

Ruslan Zhexebaiuly spend his youth in Almaty province in Kazakhstan. After finishing high school there, Ruslan enrolled in Omsk Academy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation. Notably, as he enrolled in the academy, Ruslan won financial support scholarship. As he graduated from the academy, Ruslan came back to Kazakhstan and started to work in detective bureaus of Almaty and Astana cities. As he was working in those agencies, Ruslan noticed that many innovations coming to the law enforcement system are being borrowed from the other countries, largely from United States. As a result, Ruslan decided to go to study to America, so he could better understand potential benefits of western law enforcement system with regard to his home country. As far as choosing language school, Upenn got Ruslan's vote due to it's being one of the oldest universities in the U.S., as well as having reputation of the school respected throughout America. Another factor that played into Ruslan's choice was the fact that after finishing the language school he plans to continue his education in Law School at Upenn. Currently, Ruslan is pretty much satisfied with his choice of a language school - “I like it here a lot – one could say that Upenn Library has became my second home, since I spent most of my time here and go to my living place only to sleep”.

Zhibek Sarbasova spend her youth in constant migration between various cities of Kazakhstan – Almaty, Astana, and Aktobe. In Astana Zhibek received her bachelors degree (with honors) in Business Law from Kazakh Humanitarian Law University. During her graduate studies in the same university, Zhibek decided to continue her education overseas. At this point, she spent considerable amount of time searching for an adequate language school, and as result, eventually, she has chosen Upenn. Some of the reasons why Zhibek has chosen Upenn are:

Upenn is located in the city of Philadelphia Philadelphia is the city with the deep history and complex architecture.

Upenn's membership in Ivy League According to Wikipedia, “The Ivy League is a collegiate athletic conference comprising sports teams from eight private institutions of higher education in the Northeastern United States. The term Ivy League also has connotations of academic excellence, selectivity in admissions, and social elitism. Ivy League schools are viewed as some of the most prestigious, and are ranked among the best universities worldwide”

The geographical location of the school is in close vicinity of New York, NY and Washington, DC

Zhibek is happy with her choice so far - “learning atmosphere is very strong here”

Dauren Berdibekov spent most of his youth in “green” city of Taraz, but later moved to Astana where he finished a high school. Dauren hold bachelors degree in tourism from Eurasia National University. Upenn language school attracted Dauren due to the fact that there is similar climate in Taraz and Philadelphia. Another important factor that played role in Dauren's choice was the fact that Upenn is a member of Ivy League. Since, Dauren was living in America less than a month for now, it is hard for him to properly weight his school choice, but so far, so good - “I like the fact that all students here seem to have a clear idea of what they want to do with their lives”.


Rauan Smail partially spend his youth in the city of Taraz located at south of Kazakhstan. Later he moved to Astana where Rauan finished a high school. In the city of Almaty, at Al-Farabi Kazakh National University Rauan received his bachelors degree in “Chemical Technology of Organic Substances”. As it comes to why Rauan has chosen Upenn language school, two factors played a role here – Ivy League and recommendation of the particular school by a close friend. Same as Dauren, Rauan only just began his educational experience in Upenn, but so far, so good - “people are here very friendly”.

Well now let us take a brief look at University of Pennsylvania.

As the university archives state, the primary founder of the particular institution could be considered Benjamin Franklin, whom in 1749 was able to bring a group of investors to support building of an educational institution. Benjamin believed that one day it would become “Public Academy of Philadelphia”. In 1751 the institution had opened its doors for the first time. In 1779 Pennsylvania state government transformed the particular institution into University of the State of Pennsylvania, thus creating first university in America. Later, in 1791, the university was renamed to University of Pennsylvania. During years of Second World War, the university has received extensive financial support from the government for its research supporting the war effort. Since this time, Upenn is considered to be one of the strongest universities with regard to a scientific research prospect. Currently, there is approximately twenty one thousand students in Upenn, four thousand of which are foreigners. Also, Upenn is known for its selective acceptance rate – not an easy institution to get into. Geographically, Upenn is located in vicinity of the central area of city of Philadelphia.

The photo below shows the central square of Upenn with the sculpture of Benjamin Franklin. One of the students noted that the particular place is very popular tourists wise.

At central area of Upenn one can discover the enormous broken button monument. Ironically, I could not locate any trustworthy source that would explain the reasons behind creation of the particular art. One of the students this article is about told me that by there is the legend by which one day Benjamin Franklin decided to sit down on the bench somewhere in the central square, and due to his belly being a bit larger than normal, one of the buttons from his shirt got broken of, fell down, rolled all the way to where current monument is now, and got broken in half down there...

Also on Upenn central square one can find the oldest building of university that survived till our days, namely College Hall. This building was erected in 1872. Initially, this building was used for classrooms, laboratories and offices. However, in our time, it houses offices of President, Provost, School of Arts and Sciences, the Department of History and the Undergraduate Admissions Office.

In vicinity of Upenn central area also located another ancient building that was constructed somewhere in 1890 and was serving for a long time as main library. In 1962 large portion of the library was moved to the new building, and nowadays this building mostly houses architectural and historical literature.

The photo below illustrates insides of the former main library – too bad it was impossible to enter the actual library rooms. The access to library is restricted to students with IDs. Such restrictions are totally understandable, because the university campus is located in central part of Philadelphia, and some of people who pass through the central streets of this ancient city are likely to have some criminal intent.

Alright, let us go back to our students. I asked them about what did prove to be the hardest part of adaptation process so far. All my responders agreed that language barrier, homesickness, and absence of national food were major challenges as of now. Also, I was curious if students feel that there is any difference in the learning atmosphere between Upenn and the place they had studied earlier. Here my question produced quite a different answers:

In Ruslan's opinion as far as desire for attaining new knowledge goes, Upenn students are more serious about it than students in his previous schools.

Zhibek - “Americans are individualists – this is the major difference”.

Dauren - “I don't really notice that much difference. There are some advantages and some disadvantages in both places”

In Rauan's view, the level of friendliness between students was significantly higher in Kazakhstan. However, he also points out that seemingly less friendliness can be caused by a language barrier.


All Bolashak responders pointed out that inside their relatively small Kazakh community, which consists of approximately 30 people, the mutual support is very strong. Furthermore, all four students shared the same viewpoint stating that celebration of national holidays should be set as priority for their community. At this point Ruslan pointed out that it is important to invite many various guests, including foreigners and mass media, to Kazakh national holidays celebrations.

Coming to the end of my interview, I have asked students about their plans for the future.

As I have pointed in the beginning of this article with regard to Ruslan, after graduation from the language school he plans to enroll in Upenn Law School. Ruslan bases his decision on the fact that Upenn criminological school has high rating in United States. When he will come back to Kazakhstan, Ruslan looks forward to applying gained knowledge to improve his country law enforcement system.

Also, I would like to add that just a bit prior my visit, Ruslan was elected as president of Alliance of Kazakhstan students in the USA (Kaz Alliance). Kaz Alliance is the organization that unite twenty one smaller Kazakh students associations across America. In Ruslan's view, the main priority of Kaz Alliance should be promotion of Kazakh culture. He believes that through promotion of Kazakh culture and unification of Kazakh students, he would be able to effectively serve his homeland. Ruslan is a true believer in JFK famous saying - “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”. Ruslan also pointed out that Kaz Alliance is currently working on creating website for their organization, as well as improving organizational structure of Kaz Alliance via virtual division of all Kazakh students communities into 4 groups – west, east, north, and south. Each group will be assigned representative, whom will coordinate group activities with Kaz Alliance president and other groups' coordinators. Finally, yet another innovation, Kaz Alliance is currently developing, deals with idea of grouping all Kazakh students by their area of expertise and creating Facebook portals supporting each group. Ruslan believes that creation of particular groups would improve quality of education Kazakh students receive in USA and also would provide to be a strong point of assistance to newly arrived students.

After graduating from the language school Zhibek plans to enroll in masters program in law somewhere in U.S. As far as her other plans for the future, let me quote her answer here: “Jean Jacques Rousseau once said "“wise legislator does not begin by laying down laws good in themselves, but by investigating the fitness of the people, for which they are destined, to receive them”. Personally, I would like to figure out the structure of a legal framework of American society, what makes it what it is. I would like to understand whether we, Kazakh citizens, can effectively adapt this framework toward our country, Kazakhstan. It is important for us not to allow simple copying of western laws. The experience I gained while working in prosecutor's office in Kazakhstan, clearly has shown me that no law is perfect. However, with that being said, still, I would like use my time to perfect our laws as much as my skills and knowledge would let me.”

Sometime ago Zhibek has became the president of Kazakh community of Upenn. I think at some point, I shall write another story about Upenn Kazakh community – a deeper one that time.

As for Dauren, after graduating from the language school, he plans to continue studying his tourism specialization at masters level somewhere in USA. In the future, Dauren hopes to use gained knowledge for improving tourism state in his homeland - “Kazakhstan has a significant potential for providing an effective tourism programs – they just need to be developed. I am confident in my ability to contribute to the tourism improvement in Kazakhstan with the help of a knowledge I would gain during my studies in USA.”

Same as Dauren, after finishing Upenn language school, Rauan plans to continue studying his specialization at masters level somewhere in USA. Someday, Rauan hopes to be able to serve Kazakhstan needs somewhere in chemical industry.

That would be all – at the end I would like to wish to those four students to be successful in their educational goals, and of course I hope they will be able to contribute to the improvement of life in Kazakhstan.