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2011 Program & Events

American University Students Experience Uzbekistan

01/26/2011

“We don’t have anything like this in America.” That was the echoing refrain throughout a meeting between a group of American university students and their new Uzbek friends at the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent. On January 26, ten students and two professors from Linfield College in Oregon had the opportunity to expand their perspective on Uzbekistan through two very different encounters at the embassy. First, the students heard a short lecture given by Nicholas Berliner, the head of the Political and Economic Section at the embassy, and then had a long and productive question and answer session with him. Next, they met for almost two hours with around ten Uzbek students who had participated in U.S exchange programs at either the secondary or post-secondary level.

After an informative introduction to the region from Mr. Berliner, the students had a large number of questions for him on topics ranging from U.S. Central Asia policies to life as a diplomat. Their professors, Dr. Dawn Nowacki and Dr. Scott Smith, both wanted the students to have a more formal educational experience in Uzbekistan, and arranged the meeting for that purpose. “The students were more like tourists on this part of the trip than they were in Latvia and Russia, so we were happy the embassy could provide this opportunity for them,” said Dr. Nowacki.

Prior to arriving in Uzbekistan, the group had spent one week each in Riga and Moscow, learning about the political and economic changes in both countries since the fall of the Soviet Union. They met with members of Parliament and toured government buildings for a course designed to compare nation building in post-Soviet space. Each of the three nations provided a distinct view of how the different cultures, peoples, and states defined themselves after the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

Uzbekistan, of course, provided a very different perspective for the students, who had a chance to visit Bukhara, Samarkand, and Shakhrisabz before returning to Tashkent on their final day of the course. The schedule allowed the students to experience the country before having their discussion with Mr. Berliner and their conversation with the Uzbek students. This travel undoubtedly enriched the interactions.

When asked about their impressions of Uzbekistan by the Uzbek students, the praise was unanimous, especially for the historical artifacts and architecture. “The gate in Shakhrisabz is really quite extraordinary,” said Dr. Smith of their trip to the former palace of Amir Temur in the city of his birth. “Stunning” was the word used repeatedly by one student to describe the experience of seeing the city from the gate of the palace. “It was amazing to imagine what the whole palace must have been like,” he said.

The “White Palace” of Amir Temur was started in 1380, and though only traces of the 65 meter gate remain, they leave quite an impression on visitors. As the admonitory inscription over the gate reads, “If you challenge our power – look at our buildings.” 

The students, who came from all over the United States to study at Linfield, were deeply interested in all aspects of Uzbek culture and history, and were very excited to be able to spend time in Uzbekistan. One student from Washington said that people in the U.S. have “certain negative ideas about the ‘stans,’” but she is very glad to have come. “I’m definitely going to leave here with a much more positive impression of this formerly blurred area on the map,” she said.

Professors Nowacki and Smith, who teach in the Political Science and History departments, respectively, and have traveled extensively in the Former Soviet Union, were not ignorant of Uzbekistan’s allure. “We had never been to Uzbekistan,” they said when asked why they chose it as one of the course’s destinations, “and we really wanted to come.” Not incidentally, Uzbekistan offered the perfect contrast to the Baltic state of Latvia and the hulking, heterogeneous Russian Federation, providing a fantastic end to the course.

All of the students were reluctant to leave Uzbekistan after experiencing the sights and the culture unique to the region. After spending time in Moscow, they were more than delighted by the people in all four cities in Uzbekistan. “The people have been very welcoming and positive and helpful,” said one student. They ate in homes several times and had a lot of fun interactions with locals along the way.

To finish their trip, they spoke at length with the Uzbek students about everything from cultural differences and education to politics, sports, weather and music. They all enjoyed talking with students from the opposite side of the world who shared so many of the same ideas and interests, and at the end of the evening they exchanged email addresses and names, promising to “Facebook” each other as soon as they could.

The group agreed that they were given a unique opportunity in visiting Uzbekistan, and were glad to have had the chance. “I’ve had a great time here,” concluded one of the Linfield students at the end of the three-week course, “I’d come back in a heartbeat.”

Linfield College is a four-year liberal arts undergraduate institution in western Oregon that is known for its excellence in teaching and science programs, and a distinctive international emphasis. Students regularly participate in study abroad programs, including month-long January term courses that teach a curriculum through travel and direct experience with the course material.