Central Asia

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The Central Asia program has expanded considerably over the last four years. What began as a small team in Almaty, Kazakstan has now grown into a program that covers three countries – Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan – where CEP placed thirteen Visiting Faculty Fellows and five Local Faculty Fellows in 1998–99. In addition to having Fellows in the capitals, CEP is gradually increasing its placements in provincial universities. In 1999–00, CEP is expanding into Osh, Samarkand and Chimkent, where problems associated with the lack of exposure to international contacts and aid, as well as the deficiency of resources, are more acute. Particpants from Mongolia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are also becoming increasingly involved in CEP Central Asia project activities.

A huge geographical area, Central Asia poses a challenge to developing coordinated activities and a cohesive group of Visiting Faculty Fellows and Local Faculty Fellows. But geography is only the beginning of the challenge. Central Asia is a region that has long suffered from minimal exposure to the international community. Transport links are unreliable. University libraries are poorly stocked, and low wages dampen academic discipline and dedication. State and university administrations are often cautious of reform. Yet it is precisely because the challenges are so great, that CEP is so needed here. It is a difficult, but ultimately a highly rewarding place to work.

In 1999, CEP moved its Central Asia office from Almaty to the American University in Kyrgyzstan, in Bishkek. The supportive nature of this institution has allowed Fellows to have an impact on every level of university life: from designing curriculum to the university logo, from forming a faculty senate to helping students get into graduate school. The university has also served as an excellent host for a number of CEP’s regional academic events.

“Life in the American University in Kyrgyzstan (AUK) changed dramatically when CEP Fellows arrived. They raised academic standards and increased our study options. Academic life in Kyrgyzstan seemed isolated before CEP; now traditions and contacts are being established that will be CEP’s enduring legacy. In AUK at least, we now feel part of the international community.”

Elina Manjieva
student at the American University
in Kyrgyzstan

CEP Fellows have also had an important impact at the Department of Political Science at Tashkent State University. In 1998–99 Visiting Faculty Fellows secured the donation of more than 1500 books, and with the help of two Local Faculty Fellows, used these books to set up Tashkent’s largest English language academic resource center. This collection continues to grow and the facility has become a focus for students conducting research. It will also be used to host seminars and workshops. CEP Fellows in Tashkent also organized and conducted two academic events in 1998–99, including a two-week intensive Summer School in political science. The Summer School program attracted students from a number of universities, and applications exceeded the space available. The Central Asia program has also been an integrating presence in the region, hosting a number of multi-country academic events. Two interdisciplinary student conferences were held in the spring semester of 1999. Central Asia: The Twin Processes of Continuity and Change in Almaty and A Comparative Analysis of Five Central Asian States in Bishkek gave more than fifty students the opportunity to meet and share ideas with their peers in the five countries of Central Asia. In addition, economics students from the countries of Central Asia, Turkey and Azerbaijan discussed economic policy at Central Asia: Development Issues, another CEP conference held in Bishkek. At a time when the region is enduring on-going tension and conflict, these CEP conferences provide a unique opportunity for talented young citizens to cross borders, to discuss contemporary issues, and to better understand their shared identity and dilemmas.

“The CEP conferences have so enriched my life. Through them I have met people from all around Central Asia, and this has made me re-evaluate myself and my culture. The conferences helped me to break down national prejudices and see people as individuals – wherever they come from. Three days of such interaction can change a person – and they have changed me.”

Jildyz Eshimkanova
student at the American University
in Kyrgyzstan

The majority of the work of CEP Fellows goes on in the classroom. Perhaps the most immediate impact of their efforts is on the students, many of whom have described their CEP courses to be nothing less than inspiring. In addition, almost all members of the CEP Central Asia team are actively involved in outreach work. Those projects mentioned above are just a few examples of the contribution they have made toward higher education reform in 1998–99. A number of new and follow-up projects are planned for the 1999–2000 academic year. In addition to the annual Central Asia Student Conference, planned projects include a Research Skills Seminars in Mongolia, a Gender Studies Conference in Osh, a Winter School for Faculty in Samarkand, a Teaching Methodology Conference in Bishkek and a second Summer School for students in Tashkent.

CEP has a lot to offer Central Asia. It is not always an easy environment in which to work, but CEP does meet a real need in the region. This is why, in the end, the work is important, rewarding and worthwhile.

“My CEP experience in Central Asia was one of the most eye opening, thrilling, fulfilling periods of my life. I am very grateful for my CEP lecturer fellowship. I would do it again, in a heartbeat.”

Martin Nowicki
Visiting Faculty Fellow Alumnus
Almaty, Kazakhstan

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