A journey to the world will start from a village

A journey to the world will start from a village

This is the story of a girl from Kyrgyzstan who wanted to see the world.

Ааламга сапар айылдан башталат

My name is Astra Rakhmatilla Kyzy, and I am 27 years old. I am originally from Kyzylbel, a small village in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan. Since I was born and grew up in a small village, I always wondered how big the world is and how people live in other countries.

I was super curious as a child and used to read a lot of books. I learned to read really early with the help of my mother. She was a librarian, and instead of telling me stories or reading to me, my mother taught me to read and gave me a bunch of books. I became a bookworm at an early age and had my own world. That’s when I started to dream of seeing the world and studying somewhere other than my country.

I was nine years old when my oldest brother told me that if I study hard and get all A’s, I can study in a private school for girls where they teach many languages, including English. From there, if I learned new languages, my brother told me that I could study in other places like America, Turkey, Japan, and Europe.

America sounded best for me, and I wanted to learn English. That’s when I started wishing, and then my wish turned into a plan.

My brother and I planned my future. He told me that I need to improve myself in any possible way. He even said to me that I need to learn to play komuz, a traditional Kyrgyz instrument. If I study in another country, I can show my talent, and I need to represent my country. So, I started going to music school when I was ten years old. I also transferred to another middle school, which is a Russian school in the city of Batken.

We had only one school in the village, and it was in the Kyrgyz language. As we wished and planned, I studied hard and passed the entrance exam to a private girls’ high school in the state of Osh.

We had a little bit of a hard time since the private school was out of my father’s budget, but I was so stubborn to go there. My two older brothers also went to that kind of private school, but it wasn’t a problem since they were boys, and they would support their own family in the future.

For me, it was the opposite.

It would be fine if I get a regular education since I am a girl. We had that stereotype that girls don’t need to be smart or get a higher quality education since they will get married and leave the house.

Even the way girls were raised was different from boys. I remember that my mom would always tell me to learn cooking, cleaning, baking, babysitting, and house chores since I will get married one day and it would be a shame for her and me if I didn’t know how to do those things.

I was told that if only I could somehow finish high school, maybe college and successfully get married and raise my kids, that’s all that matters, but for me life was more than that. Life has to be more than just being able to get married and raise kids.

So, I put an ultimatum to my parents that I will either go to study in that private school and get a good quality education, or I won’t study at all and just stay at home.

Fortunately, my family agreed to send me to that girls’ school, and I learned English, Turkish, Russian, and Kyrgyz. Also, I kept going to music school. After high school, my brother helped me to apply to college in the US.

My dream turned into a wish, the wish into a plan, the plan into action, and my dream came true, and I began to study in college in Dallas, Texas.

When I started at Richland College, I was so excited, but I also was homesick and had culture shock. In my first week of ESOL (English as a Second Language) class, the dean of ESOL, Diana Urrutia, came to our class, introduced herself, and asked us our names and our country.

When I said Kyrgyzstan, she said that there is an ESOL teacher called Alice Lee, who had been in my country. Later in the lab class, she was introduced to me, and I was so happy that I met one of my people.

Alice went to Kyrgyzstan back in 1999-2001 with the Peace Corps, where she taught English in a small village in the state of Issyk-Kul. I believe we were destined to meet, and I am still so thankful that I met her. She was a huge supporter for me in my hardest days.

I understood what she had been through in Kyrgyzstan, and she understood what I was going through at that time. She knew how important it was for me to get an education as a girl because she knew how women were treated back in my country.

Alice and I even talked about the “Bride Kidnapping” in my country and how young girls can be victims of that tradition. I also came from a family where my sister was kidnapped twice and forced to marry a guy whom she never talked to before, only because of harsh societal judgment.

Some very important events in my Richland College life are that I was finally able to represent my country and play komuz in the intercultural festival day. Another important thing is that Alice and I signed a paper, requesting to set up a peace pole, with the saying “Дуйнодо тынчтык болсун” which means “May peace be on earth”.

I think that “Дуйнодо тынчтык болсун” is a very hot and active topic nowadays in the year 2020 where everything is turned upside down in the world.

Richland College has an intercultural festival day on behalf of international students, and every year, they put up a peace pole in English and three other languages. It was Alice’s idea, and we made it real.

I finished my associate degree at Richland College and got a full-tuition scholarship to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. It was another challenge for me because it was a super expensive private school in the Dallas area.

Though I love challenges because I get stronger when I overcome them, SMU was tough for me, but I was tougher than SMU since I had already come a long way.

Alice helped me with buying my books and became my American mother and supporter. I finally graduated and got my degree in Accounting and am now working in Crypto Accounting in the Bay Area.

I am so proud of how far I have come and how much I have achieved. Of course, with the support of my family and friends.

The famous Kyrgyz writer Chyngyz Aitmatov said: “Ааламга сапар айылдан башталат” which means, “a journey to the world or universe will start from a village.” Aitmatov said that and, I lived that quote in real life.

Astra Rakhmatilla Kyzy

Astra Rakhmatilla Kyzy

Astra is a Kyrgyz national who studied abroad in the United States where she made RPCV friends and changed her life.

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