International Students Feature: Central Asia

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

Central Asia, also known as Middle Asia, is a region in the core of Asia that is framed by the Caspian Sea in the West, China in the East, Afghanistan in the South, and Russia in the North. There are many students attending Illinois Tech that come from this group of countries. Madina Tahmas, a second year undergraduate student studying business finance, was born and raised in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan had previously been a part of the USSR, and in Tahmas’ words, “it’s very Russianized.” Wayiti Kawasaier, a second year undergraduate student studying Mechanical Engineering, is from an ethnic minority group in China called the Uyghurs and attended school in Urumqi, a city in China near Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan's border. Because of Wayiti’s proximity to Uzbekistan, when Waiti and an anonymous Uzbekistani student who wished to be referred to as Murod were interviewed together, the two were able to communicate in Uyghur and Uzbek because the languages sounded remarkably similar. According to Murod, Uyghur and Uzbek are about 80% the same.

One major difference between life in Central Asia and life at Illinois Tech is, predictably, the diet. “I miss my food mostly,” Wayiti said. “Back home, we spend a lot of time cooking. My mom, she comes home from work and she spends 2-3 hours cooking.” According to him, the food back home consists of a lot of vegetables served upon noodles or rice. According to Murod, “the food is completely different.”

Additionally, the three students remarked upon the absence on holidays and celebrations that they were used to at home. Tahmas first mentioned Navros, a celebration on the 21st of March that she said was, “basically new year’s.” Navros celebrates the beginning of the year, with spring as a fresh start. “On the night of the 21st,” Tahmas described, “we make a special dish made out of seeds from a certain plant.” According to her, the dish, called sumalack, is stirred constantly the whole night. At the end, the eldest of the family throws in a rock, and when the dish is distributed, whoever gets the rock will be the luckiest that year. The night is full of tradition, singing songs, and making wishes. In addition, Wayiti and Murod noted the absence of Eid, an Islamic festival in which the family sacrifices a sheep or a cow.

From an academic perspective, the differences are abundant. According to Tahmas, in Uzbekistan, the schools are “more focused on how the group does. It’s more focused on overall achievements, overall success. It’s very school oriented, nothing beyond that. Here, what I like is that … professors have an approach for every single student [and] make sure you understand the material.” School in Urumqi was very different for Wayiti, who went to a boarding school-style high school there. According to him, the rooms there were a little bigger than the ones at McCormick Student Village, yet eight people lived in each one. Wayiti explained, there were “four beds, with one stacked on top of each.” There was no shower in the building; students walked to a public shower instead. Wayiti remarked upon the fact that there weren’t electrical outlets in the rooms, something he couldn’t imagine living without now. Murod, a transfer student who attended university for some time in Uzbekistan, said that both high school and university held classes on Saturdays. Additionally, Murod claimed, the “teachers here act more friendly. It makes class more interesting.” All three students had nice things to say about attending school in Chicago. “I like [Illinois Tech]; it’s not that big,” Wayiti said. “There are people from all over the world. I meet a lot of friends.”

Another difference, according to Tahmas, was the “vibe itself. We treat each other as if we are family ... If you’re on the street and you’re carrying really heavy bags, someone will come up to you and say ‘hey sister, can I help you with that?'” However, while the countries may be, as Tahmas said, “completely, 180 degrees different,” when people from different cultures meet, they can learn a lot from each other. In Tahmas’ words, “the more different someone is from yourself, the more you learn who you are. It makes you look at things from a different perspective.”

Next week, watch for an international students feature focusing on various countries in Africa!