On behalf of S.M. who is currently pursuing his Associate degree in Applied Sciences in the USA:
Everyone has a story to tell, whether it is a story of love, friendship or family. My story relates to a pursuit of educational dreams, which started in my hometown Dashoguz a few years ago. I remember seeing tourists in the local bazaar, listening to them speak in a different language and being completely fascinated with their language and background. I tried to understand what they were saying and where they were from. My curiosity later transformed into a passion for English language.
In my teen years I was lucky to meet influential individuals who helped to transform my life forever. Those influential individuals were Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV). They taught me various ways of communicating from formal English to American slang, all of which I appreciated immensely.
However, there were also a number of hardships that I faced. Not having a book for my beginner level English was a significant obstacle. All I had was an old Russian-English dictionary, which I treasured immensely. After months of memorizing words from the dictionary, and most importantly trying to use them in class, I started forming basic sentences. Derek Wood, a PCV, and my first English teacher told me that I had to master Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to be accepted to US schools. As our English club had only one TOEFL book, we had to rotate the book among students. I was excited about my turn which always fell on weekends because it meant that I could practice TOEFL for a few days.
It took me years before I was comfortable with TOEFL. Shortly thereafter I applied to multiple US colleges and was accepted to a few. However, the next biggest hurdle was finding the funds to pay for my education. Surely enough those were schools that were international student friendly and offered financial aid or merit-based scholarships all of which were extremely competitive. After few years of unsuccessful attempts, my second English teacher, and a good friend - Kenyon Weaver, also a PCV, suggested that I take a detour: apply to American University in Central Asia (AUCA) located in Kyrgyzstan. I applied, and unfortunately was rejected because of my “incomplete” high school degree. Turkmenistan used to have a nine-year educational system, which was not accepted by many international universities, and required additional preparatory training prior to applying.
Upset and heartbroken, I continued on to mandatory service in Turkmenistan's military. AUCA was still my goal. However, the obstacle was still there: my high school degree did not suffice.
With the support of Arzuw Foundation, I decided to enroll into AUCA’s preparatory program, which covered my first year. There were no funds for the following years of the program, but I decided to take that first step. Due to political instability in Kyrgyzstan at the time, I was forced to withdraw from the program and seek other options. A year later, I left to Russia, but my dream of studying in the US followed me. Shortly thereafter, through another PCV named Owen McMullen, I found out about a new program supported by US Embassy, called Prep4Success. The program prepared students for admission to US colleges and universities. Six months after completing the program, I attempted to apply to several U.S. Universities again. But this time with one big difference: I had financial aid from Prep4Success. I applied to schools in Texas and Minnesota. One of the main factors, I chose Universities in those states were friends who were willing to help with housing.
Today, I am happy to announce that I am proud student at a community college in Minnesota. My friends have become my second family here. Their names are Larry and Patty Longards. For almost two years now we have shared one roof over our heads, and exciting new adventures.
Closer to the end of my second year in Community College, my scholarship from Prep4Success was exhausted. Yet again, I was lucky to receive Education Bridge Fund Award from Arzuw Foundation. The scholarship and zero-interest loan provided to me was extremely helpful in continuing my Associates degree in Applied Sciences. Thanks to these programs, students like me receive hope that achieving our simple dreams of higher education are possible.
Looking back, I realize how lucky I am to have the support of my family and friends. My friends inspire and empower me. Ironically, I now live 30 minutes away from Derek Wood whom I met in Turkmenistan. Only this time, we are half way across the world our original location. Derek often tells me “What you have done is incredible!” The odds of me receiving higher education were slim, but my perseverance helped. I hope my story empowers those who feel that everything is irrelevant because they face significant financial hurdles.
My story of educational pursuit will come a full circle when I return to Turkmenistan with a Bachelor’s degree at hand. I look forward to the days when I can give back to my family, community, and friends. I am also grateful to such an organizations as Arzuw Foundation, US Embassy, and all the supportive people in my life. They keep reminding me that as long as the dream is alive, they will be there to support us when needed.