How many Americans have ever heard of my home country, Kyrgyzstan? It has been about two months since I arrived in the United States, and in that time I’ve gotten used to people being surprised when I tell them where I’m from.
Kyrgyzstan is a little, mountainous country that is located in Central Asia. It borders other Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, and also with China in the east. The population of my country is only a little over five million people, and less than one million people live in the capital city Bishkek where I come from. My country is quite small and is not well-known in the world and among Americans, in particular.
In my college in the U.S., and in towns where I go, people ask where I come from. When I say that I am from Kyrgyzstan, many people laugh and think I made up such a country, or that the name is misspelled. I know it may sound funny, but this is true!
I really did not expect that Americans would react this way. Nor did I expect that so very few people here would have heard of my country.
I arrived in America very recently, and I sometimes feel that to a certain extent where I come from defines who I am in some peoples’ eyes. But, as I get better adjusted and used to America, I start interacting normally with people once we get past the part where I say where I’m from. Nevertheless, I do feel that my experience has been quite different – because I am from an unknown country – versus someone from France, Britain or somewhere else very well known.
One day, the president of my college, Mira Costa, came to meet us, a group of international students. He was asking everyone where they were from. And he also was surprised to hear about Kyrgyzstan. But as I had already got used to such a reaction, I simply talked to him and the other students about my country and its location. I found that people wanted to know about Kyrgyzstan’s geography and culture, and in particular, people were curious if Kyrgyz culture is similar to Europe’s, or to the Asian culture instead. So, from this meeting I learned that people are really interested in meeting other people from different parts of the world, especially from not well-known countries.
As I am living outside of my country for the first time, I never thought before that I would take such a role of a “cultural ambassador.” I feel now that I can be a useful and important bridge to other people who are interested to learn more about my country and my region. There are some people who would like to know more about that part of the world for various reasons – doing international business, tourism, cultural exchanges, etc.
Now that I am getting used to teaching people about Kyrgyzstan, my surprise comes from the other side when I meet someone who actually does know about my country.
Once, when I came to business class my classmate Jeffrey asked about my country. I was very much surprised when he said that knew my country and had some friends there. I was truly amazed to meet such a person in the U.S. who not only knows about Kyrgyzstan but actually has friends there!
It is so cool to represent my little country Kyrgyzstan in the United States. I try to do it in best way I can and let people know more about our culture and traditions, and perhaps make at the same time important connections for my future business relationships. And I am very proud of this.