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Joey Shepard Interview

Joey Shepard is a graduate student in the Department of Central Eurasian Studies and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He recently wrote an article for the IAUNRC telling us about his research interests and giving us an insight into his experience as a CEUS student abroad.


This academic year I have been studying Kyrgyz language and conducting research for my master’s thesis in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Last year I received a Boren Fellowship which I am using to study in the Eurasian Regional Language Program (ERLP). One of my teachers here helps me with conversation practice and another teaches my language class. My conversation teacher was the Fulbright Language Teaching Assistant for Kyrgyz at IU in 2014 and really helped me make a lot of progress before, so I was glad to be able to work with her again. With my other teacher, I was able to make a plan for the content of the class, since I am the only student. One thing I really like about the ERLP is how flexible the lessons are. My goal this year is to achieve a level 3 on the Speaking and Reading sections of the language test administered by the US Department of State, so our classes are focused on reaching that goal. At the moment, we are working with articles from a newspaper that covers national politics in Kyrgyzstan.


This year I am also working on research for my CEUS master’s thesis. From 2012 to 2014 I was a Peace Corps volunteer here and I became really interested in the system of behaviors I saw that we might call corruption in the US. Definitions of the word corruption mention misuse of power or inappropriate behavior, but of course what is considered appropriate varies by culture. My advisor in CEUS, Dr. Nazif Shahrani, told me about a survey that the UN carried out in Afghanistan asking people how appropriate they would find various hypothetical situations, and he suggested I could gather similar information in Kyrgyzstan. To me that kind of survey is really interesting because the questions avoid the word corruption and skip straight to the acceptability of the behavior. From what I have read about corruption in Kyrgyzstan, it seems that some people do not understand what the word means and others use it to refer to other phenomenon such as political intrigue. The really important thing to me is to understand the values that underlie people’s decisions to engage in these behaviors. Now I am working with a professor at a university here in Bishkek. We have developed a survey, and pending approval, we plan to administer it to students at her university. We also have interview questions we will ask small groups of students to try to hear in their own words how they understand the term corruption.


It has been really interesting and productive to return to Kyrgyzstan after studying Central Asia at IU the last two years. When I was a Peace Corps volunteer, I lived with a Kyrgyz family and was able to learn a lot about culture and day-to-day life. It was really useful in my IU classes to have this practical experience I could relate to what we were learning. This year I feel like the process is happening in reverse, since I am taking the concepts and frameworks we learned about in class and using them to understand what I see here. Studying at IU definitely changed the way I look at the world analytically, and I know I would not have gained some of the insights I have this year without the classes I took in CEUS.