[Audio] Meet Maftuna, a Murray State International Student from Uzbekistan
Murray State University has a large and diverse population of international students from more than 60 countries. In our ongoing Sounds Good series meeting some of them, Matt Markgraf speaks with Maftuna Tojiboeva, a graduate student from Uzbekistan studying for a degree in public administration in the political science and sociology department. They discuss her hometown, learning English, Uzbek food and cultural history and her dreams of studying abroad from a young age.
Studying Overseas and Future Opportunities
Maftuna says ever since she was a young girl, around the age of 12, she dreamed of studying abroad. First, she thought she'd go to the UK, since she had a perception that the United States was dangerous, which she attributes to growing up watching movies. She ended up studying at Idaho State University and realized after coming here that her mind changed. She decided on Murray State because she was drawn to the green nature and fresh air.
She said she was surprised coming to Murray State to learn she was the only person from Uzbekistan. She is also the first person from Uzbekistan to attend MSU. She says while she hasn't met anyone else from her home country in Kentucky, she has connected with other students on Facebook.
After graduating, Maftuna plans to return to Uzbekistan to contribute towards the country's ongoing development. She dreams of working in Tashkent, the city's capital, with the United Nations or with an international organization.
Tashkent is a large, modern city with numerous districts. Contruction projects are underway for more buildings and skyscrapers, she says. Over the past few years, the government has been involved in developing youth entrepreneurship, she says, where she can get a loan to pursue business opportunities.
Uzbek and Russian are the main languages of Uzbekistan, but recently English has been added to the national curriculum from the first grade on. Growing up, Maftuna learned English at her boarding school. She says she knows some Russian, but isn't as fluent as her English.
Coming to the United States for the first time, she had a difficulty adapting to English. She said her friends talked so fast it looked like they were chewing gum. Learning English from native speakers and learning from someone else who learned it is different, she says.
Watching English movies were a big help in learning the language, she said, adding that Home Alone is particularly popular. She also said Harry Potter had a great influence. She says she practiced speaking by reading the books out loud to her teachers.
Maftuna's hometown is in the Fergana Valley in the far eastern part of the country, along the Kyrgyzstan border. She lives in Namangan, but studied in Andijan. Tashkent is also in the eastern part of the country, but it can be an eight-hour drive to get there, driving through the mountains. While some people take the airport, she says many prefer the scenic mountain drive and yogurt drinks along the way.
Her hometown specializes in agriculture and crops like cotton, wheat and corn. They are also known for handmade crafts like knives and colorful hand-sewn skullcaps (Duppi). Arts and crafts and agriculture... not too different than western Kentucky.
Young people study a lot back home, addicted to education, she says. Getting into an Uzbek university can be competitive.
While studying her undergraduate degree, Maftuna was an English teacher in the TESOL program at the Andijan Development Center. After classes, she volunteered at the language center, teaching small kids beginner level English.
Her father owns a small farm with her uncle growing cotton. Her mother is an English teacher. She credits learning watching her mother teach the language.
While she loves American pizza, she misses food back home. She says the food looks a lot like Arabic and Turkic food. Traditional Uzbek food is plov (beef and rice pilaf), somsa (samosas - savory stuffed pastries), shawarma and doner (lamb and beef, gyros), lagman (a noodle soup), also numerous bread and pastry dishes [Editor's note: Google image search "Uzbek food" ...seriously, this needs to be more famous in America].
From Soviet Union to Independent Nation
Maftuna was born in 1991, the year Uzbekistan gained independence. She recalls her parents saying the first couple of years were hard to adapt, like separating from a family. Over the past 10 to 15 years, she says the country has developed significantly.
There is still some effect to the country, primarily among the older generations. The younger generation has grown up with a sense of "Uzbekistan spirit" she says.
An Ancient Culture
Samarkand is a popular tourist destination to see the historic culture and buildings. The ancient city was once along the Silk Road. She said it's amazing to see the ancient culture of her ancestors.
Model United Nations
Maftuna recently attended a model United Nations event in New York, with seven Murray State students. They represented themselves as diplomats and practiced negotiation and came up with resolutions. Her area of focus was on environmental relations. She says students from 150 countries were in attendance. She says she made a lot of friends and it was an experience of a lifetime.