Guest Blogger: Will Bezbatchenko “Fulbright in Action”

We recently caught up with one of our graduates, William Bezbatchenko, during his time in Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan as part of his Fulbright Grant. His story is a great example of what a Slavic degree can do for you!

Hint: It’s far and beyond what you think 🙂 

Although I started studying Russian seven years ago, I never thought I would live and work in Central Asia. In fact, the path to my Fulbright was as strange as it was long but I am happier with the outcome than I ever thought I would be.

After transferring to The Ohio State University and after a year of studying economics major, I decided to change my major to international studies. The program at Ohio State requires students to graduate with at least a minor in a foreign language, and after completing two Russian courses, I needed more Russian study to use the language in a professional setting. To address this issue, I majored in Russian and in turn, continued my study of the region as a graduate student at OSU’s Slavic Center.

Between my first and second years as a graduate student, I worked as an intern at the US Embassy in Tashkent. This was the first time I used Russian in a professional setting: reading articles, and speaking to Embassy guests in Russian. The Embassy provided Russian lessons, giving me additional practice, and working in the political/economics section gave me my first experience working abroad. I highly encourage students who are interested in a career in the US State Department to apply for positions in the former Soviet Union. Too often students apply only to Russia where they receive hundreds of applications while embassies in other countries only receive a handful.

Armed with my knowledge of Central Asia and experience living in the region, I applied for an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) position in Kyrgyzstan. Although Russian fluency is not a requirement for a grant in Kyrgyzstan, my knowledge of Russian and Uzbek allowed me to stand out from the rest of the applicants. The other ETA Fulbrighters also know Russian, and one had lived in Central Asia before.

For the duration of my Fulbright grant, I have been living in Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan and work at the International University of Central Asia. A young university, it is one of only a few institutions of higher education in Kyrgyzstan that is free of corruption. This transparency makes my job easy and stress free. My colleagues are very dedicated to their jobs and committed to bettering their students’ lives. The university and US Embassy have also been very supportive of my projects to collect more resources for students and instructors.

I hold many English talking, debate, and movie clubs throughout the week at the university and I also help the university with projects and curriculum development. While these activities are conducted in English, understanding Russian allows me to live in Kyrgyzstan and connect with people in the community. It also helps me identify and understand some of the mistakes my students make, as Russian can interfere with their expression of English.