Summer 1997 (5.2)
The Tables Turned
Impressions of Azerbaijani Youth Studying Abroad
by Maryam Galybina
I've learned many things here in the U.S. Perhaps, the most important is the realization that you have to work very hard if you want to reach your goals. And if you do, most of the time you'll succeed. But even if you don't succeed, you should never give up. It's critical to be able to say to yourself that you've done everything possible.
During my stay here, I've become much more self-reliant and gained a lot of respect for myself. I realize now that this is my life and nobody else's. I'm the one who has to take responsibility for making decisions.
One thing I wouldn't want to take back home is the prejudice I see of white people towards blacks. It just doesn't make any sense. In my country, there is no "black" and "white" distinction. Maybe, that's why it seems so strange to me. In each nation, there are people who represent the best and the worst in every race. So, why even bother paying attention to the color of someone's skin? I think that people all over the world should get to know each other, instead of blaming each other for their problems.
Another thing that concerns me here is the lack of awareness about other countries, people and international political issues. Many times at school, kids ask me questions like, "Do you have TVs where you're from?" or "Is your country overseas or in America?" I wish American kids would learn more about countries like mine-there's so much to learn. True, our way of life is different from the American way, but we still breathe, eat and sleep just like other human beings!
I strongly believe in a great future for Azerbaijan. I believe one day with hard work and sacrifice, Azerbaijan will become a strong, stable, powerful and truly independent nation. Then parents won't have to worry about tomorrow, or where to find good jobs and feed their children. They won't have to be concerned about sending their kids abroad to get a good education. I just believe everything will work out for Azerbaijan-not only because it's my country, but because our people really deserve it. To me, Azerbaijan has always been like a beautiful flower which, from time to time, has been plucked by various "bad guys." But the time has come for us to grow stronger, and with the will of the Almighty, to move forward toward a great future.
Freedom Support Act Scholarship
Barton High School
West Helena, Arkansas
Competitiveness Destroys Trust
One of the most important lessons I've learned while in this country is to rely on myself. This is very different from what we learn growing up in my part of the world.
I've discovered that the U.S. provides many opportunities for its residents. No, I haven't confused the word "resident" with the word "citizen.' having traveled a bit throughout the world, I realize that the difference between "citizen" and " non-citizen" is often not very tangible at all. The fact that I don't feel like a foreigner here proves it. America is indeed a country of equal opportunities.
However, I find some aspects of life here, which may be invisible to Americans, themselves, rather disturbing. It seems to me that the overwhelming spirit of competitiveness in everyday life endangers relationships and trust between people. I understand that in the world of supply and demand, such situations are probably inevitable.
I'd love to see my country as developed as the United States, but I want us to retain the cultural and traditional characteristics of our openness and candor.
Undergraduate student in Finance
Newbury College Recognition Scholarship
Friendliness-Even to Strangers
While here in the U.S., I've learned that people can be very kind, even to someone they've never known or seen before. People that I've met here have been very friendly to me-a total stranger. In return, I've also learned to be very grateful and to appreciate the help and cooperation of others.
There are several things I would not want to take back with me to Azerbaijan. One of them saddens me very deeply. It has to do with the great number of American teenagers abusing drugs. In spite of anti-drug campaigns, there are so many young people involved with them. It's a great tragedy. Every country seems to have some problems with drugs, but in Azerbaijan, the problem is not nearly as severe as it is here.
Two other things I'll gladly leave behind-Alternative Rock and Taco Bell fast food. I really can do without them!
I wish all Americans could learn the history of Azerbaijan. If they knew my country's history, they could better understand our traditions and people. Our history is full of changes, drama and excitement, just like that of any other country in the world.
Aydin K. Kadirov
Southeast High School
Pleasant Garden, North Carolina
One of the most important lessons I've learned here in the U.S. is how to work efficiently and how to view problems as just another challenge.
What bothers me is the amount of ethnocentrism I find here. Americans, in general, have so little knowledge about other cultures, histories and geopolitical situations in regions other than North America. There are so many reasons for them to learn more about other nations. In my opinion, having a broad sphere of knowledge outside one's own specialization is one of the greatest human achievements.
I also wish Americans would learn more about close family relationships. Maybe that would result in fewer divorces and broken homes. Children should be shown more care and concern, even after they reach age 18. They should not be left to struggle on their own so much. In turn, people should not have to worry about growing old, as the elderly should be taken care of by their children.
Georgia State University
Remembering Our Origins
Living in a different culture has enabled me to discover more about myself. It's so wonderful to hear the voices of my classmates when the say "A-zer-bai-jan" and when they jump in to answer that classic question, "Where's Azerbaijan?" I'm very proud that my stay in the U.S. has given me the chance to share some of our ideals. I've also learned that human beings are the same all over the world. When I show respect to them, they reciprocate.
Foreigners are surprised at the depth of our culture and historical background in Azerbaijan. I hope this is something that we will never lose. We don't need for our people to become ignorant of our ethnic values that were established centuries ago by our ancestors. Modernization should not mean forgetting our origins and who we are.
It seems to me that the most problematic issue in American society relates to the weak family unit. In every society, the family is fundamental. Without strong family relationships, there can be no healthy country. All of the political leaders in the U.S. are talking about possible solutions to this problem. I wish them success. If I could give Americans one thing from my culture, it would be the concept of stronger families
One of the most wonderful things about this exchange program is that it allows us the chance to recognize and preserve the strengths of our own country, while at the same time becoming more conscious and concerned about our weaknesses.
Bill Bradley Scholarship
La Porte High School
La Porte, Texas
Dealing With Stress
American society has many things that ours lacks. It seems Americans are somewhat "naive," but that very trait is what makes them more wholesome, clean and more willing to follow codes of honor. Some students in my country would think nothing of cheating on exams, projects or in situations of everyday life. In general, I don't find that to be the case here. There is more trust and a greater expectation of honesty.
It becomes very obvious, for example, when it comes to something like personal disease. In Azerbaijan, it's rare for people to tell even their best friends when they become seriously ill. They're afraid someone might use this information against them. But here when people feel close to you, they disclose everything about themselves, even negative things about their families.
Sometimes I feel so close that I forget that I'm in a different country - people are so warm, open-hearted and supportive here. It didn't happen immediately when I arrived, but did evolve gradually. In the end, it seems to me that human beings are the same everywhere.
Regarding the things that concern me, I was shocked and saddened to discover that so many young people here have nervous and psychiatric disorders. Even some of my closest friends have been taking anti-depressants for years, even though they're only 20-years-old. Something must be wrong in a society when physicians prescribe medicine for patients to take for the rest of their lives just because they get a bit stressed out. Such drastic solutions! It seems strange that young people have no one around to lean on or to advise them. Some students I know walk around spaced out like robots because they've become so dependent on these prescription drugs.
I understand that people in this country have a lot of stress. They live a more luxurious life than we do, but, unfortunately, they have to pay for it-not only with their money, but with their health. I think our way of living in Azerbaijan has made us very strong and resilient. We've learned how to cope and how to rely on people around us, despite the amount of stress we have to deal with.
Americans take so much in life for granted. Could anyone here live on the $10-20 per month like so many of us do in Azerbaijan? Everyone here would die, as they are used to luxury cars, a nice house, pets and a wide selection of clothes and food. So few can comprehend the hardships that we have to deal with on a daily basis in Azerbaijan.
I'm also worried about alcohol consumption among undergraduates. Every Friday, the parties begin, and there's always a lot of drinking. This, in turn, leads to violence. Of course, not everyone is involved, but the problem is serious enough to be a major issue on campus.
What else would I not want to take back to Azerbaijan? The violence that dominates so many aspects of this culture. I wouldn't want my children to be exposed to it.
What would I wish Americans could learn from us? To be closer to each other and to do good deeds and actions without thinking of personal gain-just to do these things for the sake of goodness and with genuineness from the depths of their hearts.
Graduate student in Library Science
Edmund Muskie Fellowship
University of North Carolina
Raleigh, North Carolina
From Azerbaijan International (5.2) Summer 1997.
© Azerbaijan International 1997. All rights reserved.