Will Bezbatchenko’s Path to Central Asia

Will Bezbatchenko is a 2016 dual graduate of the Center for Slavic and East European Studies and the John Glenn College of Public Affairs. He is currently living and working in Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Fulbright. 

An acquaintance once told me that you’re either born into a professional interest or you fall into it. In my case, it is a blend of both. My path to my work and studies of Central Asia was long and winding but I have found an area of the world I love to study, live, and work in. Growing up in Akron, Ohio, my family and I attended a Russian Orthodox Church. It was there that I was introduced to Russian culture through the foods we ate at holidays, and the church’s balalaika and folk dance groups. These experiences were very important when I decided to study Russian at the college level, seeing a Russian major as an opportunity to advance my career interests and learn more about my family’s background.

Initially enrolling at a different university, I transferred to The Ohio State University as an undergraduate student, first studying economics. After quickly learning that this area was not at the core of my interests, I decided to begin studying Russian and International Studies. By the time I was able to start studying Russian, however, I was already in my third year of college. Wanting to graduate with a Russian major, I studied abroad the next two summers to complete the equivalent of four years of in-class Russian instruction, traveling to Moscow and St. Petersburg in the summers of 2011 and 2012, respectively. These experiences gave me a wanderlust and since spending that first summer in Moscow, I have tried to leave the United States at least once per year.

Graduate School at The Ohio State University

After I graduated from Ohio State in the spring of 2013, I wanted to continue my Russian studies, and saw an opportunity with Ohio State’s Center for Slavic and East European Studies. Not only was the program multidisciplinary, I was also able to complete a second at Ohio State’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs in three years rather than four through the Center and College’s dual-degree program. A combination that has prepared me for international work and (hopefully) a career in the United States State Department.

Having decided to enroll immediately after completing my undergraduate degree, I started the Slavic Studies and Public Administration programs in the fall of 2013. While it is not a requirement, it is highly recommended that students at the Slavic Center have knowledge of two or more languages before graduation. In high school I studied five years of Spanish (a language in Romantic language family), followed that with Russian (a Slavic), and wanted to study a Turkic language. Initially, I planned to study Turkish, but at the insistence of former Slavic Center Director Yana Hashamova, instead enrolled in Uzbek. At the time, I knew very little about Uzbekistan and Central Asia, but immediately became enamored by its diverse history, Imperial and Soviet Russian influences, and the countries’ divergent paths since independence.

Encouraged to apply to internships for the summer between my first and second years of graduate school, I applied for an internship with the US State Department in Uzbekistan. Correctly assuming I would be the only student applying with knowledge of Uzbek, I was offered an internship position in the political/economic section of the US Embassy in Tashkent. I accepted and spent the summer of 2014 in Tashkent, traveling throughout the country on my weekends. Not only did this experience further inform me about my future profession, it also exposed me to the region’s interconnectivity and the political problems that arise when infrastructure and communication paths meander between sovereign nations.

Fulbright

Unfortunately, the ETA grant is not offered in Uzbekistan, so I turned to the countries surrounding the nation when I applied for an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Fulbright Grant. I cannot isolate one reason for why I applied to Kyrgyzstan, but my knowledge of the country’s development of electrical power dams that could have a negative effect on downstream communities in Uzbekistan, my thesis advisor’s research work in the country, and an interest in Kyrgyzstan’s nomadic and Sufi mysticism history all contributed. Obviously, I was awarded the grant and arrived in Bishkek in August, 2016.

Upon arrival, I moved to a small city on the border of Kazakhstan named Tokmok. Located about one hour away from Bishkek, I teach English at the International University of Central Asia, a private university founded in 2008. In addition to teaching, I have started an English conversation club at the university, and traveled to Bishkek, Cholpon-Ata, and other smaller cities to learn and experience Kyrgyz culture. Kyrgyz people (and especially my students) have been incredibly friendly and helpful, and the country as a whole has been extremely comfortable to live in. I have already been able to attend the World Nomad Games, a concert of traditional Kyrgyz and Central Asian music, and a Kyrgyz ballet. Needless to say, I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience in the region, and look forward to my remaining time in this beautiful country.

Learn more about Will’s work and travel in Kyrgyzstan on his blog

0