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IAUNRC Interviews Visiting Scholars from Tajikistan and Kazakhstan

Ramila Mukshairoeva came to Bloomington this January as a Junior Faculty Development Program (JFDP) fellow.  Originally from Khorog, Tajikistan, she currently works as a manager and librarian and at the University of Central Asia’s Resource Center in Dushanbe.  Intent on continuing her education and ultimately pursuing a graduate degree in information and library science, Ms. Mukshairoeva saw the opportunity to spend a semester as a visiting scholar here at IU as an important first step towards achieving her goals. 

In between classes and her own research, Ms. Mukshairoeva took the time recently to chat with the IAUNRC’s e-News about her experiences at IUB, her academic objectives for the semester, and what she has found most surprising so far about America.

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IAUNRC: What led you to apply to the JFDP program?  What goals did you set for yourself before coming to Indiana?

Mukshairoeva: This was the first time I applied to the JFDP program – fortunately I was very successful!  My main goal when I applied to the JFDP program was to increase my knowledge of my chosen field.  I wanted to gain additional theoretical knowledge and practical experience about being a successful librarian.  Of course, I also was interested in learning about American culture, making friends, and developing my language skills.

IAUNRC: Which classes are you taking here at IUB?  Are these meeting your expectations?

Mukshairoeva: I am taking 3 classes at IUB. These are “Collection Development and Management,” “Introduction to Research,” and “Library Management.”  All of these classes are very much meeting my expectations!  Also, I have attended 2 classes on computer-based information tools, which provided me with some information on how to conduct library database and internet searches.

IAUNRC: Other than coursework, what have you found the most valuable so far at IUB?  

Mukshairoeva: I have been very impressed by the Students Recreation Sports Center. I see how students here are interested in sports and a healthy lifestyle. I have also signed up for swimming classes, and am now enjoying these classes very much.

IAUNRC: What do you think of Bloomington and the IUB campus so far?  What has surprised you about it?

Mukshairoeva: I liked the place right away. Even though it is winter, it is very beautiful – and I can imagine how it is in Bloomington in the summer! This is my first visit to the US and when I saw the university I was really surprised. The campus is very big with interesting buildings, lots of people and students almost from all over the world.

What has impressed me here the most is the Library. It is very large, modern, and you can find any sort of book or information that you will need there.  I quite like working in the library reading room: it gives greater courage and desire to learn and study.  I really like the place.

IAUNRC: What have you found difficult to adjust to here?  Or, alternatively, easy?

Mukshairoeva: At first I thought I would have problems understanding people here, but I quickly found that I could easily catch what everyone was saying. And I got used to the American culture very quickly. The most difficult thing for me here is the food; I still cannot eat out. I like fast food, but maybe it is just because food is so different here than in my country – I’ve had trouble getting used to it.  I cook at home mostly and make myself sandwiches that I take with me to the university.  

Overall, though, I’ve been really happy to be here.  In general I’d like to thank the JFDP program and Indiana University for considering and accepting my application.  I’m very glad for the opportunity to realize my goals and make my future brighter.

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A leading scholar and writer on Islam in Central Asia, Ashirbek Muminov arrived in Bloomington for the second time this past September.  Currently the Director of the Kazakh Academy of Sciences’ Department of Eastern Studies, Dr. Muminov has for years been at the forefront of research conducted on Islam’s place in Central Asia, whether in Russia, the US, or in the region itself.  As a Fulbright scholar and researcher attached to the Department of Central Eurasian Studies, Dr. Muminov has also dedicated his time here at Indiana University to these goals, working to finish up a series of articles and books and putting to full use the academic and archival resources available on the IUB campus.  These efforts have paid off, with Dr. Muminov’s most recent work, The Genealogical Tree of Mukhtar Aezov, published in November 2011.

On a recent afternoon Dr. Muminov was kind enough to find time in his busy schedule to sit down with the IAUNRC e-News and chat about his experiences in America, Indiana University, and the differences he has noticed in life here when compared to Kazakhstan or elsewhere.

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IAUNRC: What have you found surprising so far while living in America?  Has anything changed since your last visit to Bloomington in 1996-1997?

Muminov: By and large the country hasn’t changed. This time through, however, I have spent a longer amount of time in the USA, and certain things have struck me more: volunteer movements, for example, or the philanthropic efforts of churches.  The level to which people desire to help others and demonstrate kindness, when compared to other countries, does often impress.

Not too long ago I spent some time in the city of Birmingham in Alabama, where I was at a Fulbright Research Conference.  Representatives from around the world attended, and one Indian academic expressed a point of view about life in America that I would agree with fully.  He noted that the way society is structured in America tends to direct an individual towards systematic, creative, and important labors, insofar as one always knows that such labors are rewarded.  Secondly, he remarked on the orderly and honest character of society, and finally on the overlap between declared ethical norms and the actual rules governing social order.  

IAUNRC: You were able to come to Bloomington with your family and children.  How have your children adjusted to American schools and life here?  Is there anything that they have particularly enjoyed, or alternatively found difficult to adapt to?

Muminov: More than anything we have been impressed by Americans’ approach to children.  Children’s safety, their health, and concern for their future – these are Americans’ real values.  Our children have received especial help at school when it comes to mastering the English language; I have really been pleased by this.  Children, of course, get used to nice things very quickly, and here they have made many friends at school, we too have become friends with their parents.  

IAUNRC: As an already established and well known scholar in your field, why did you choose to participate in the Fulbright program?  What resources in particular have made Indiana University valuable to your research?

Muminov: Fulbright interested me insofar as it provides researchers with the opportunity to fully realize their plans and projects, and to expand their coordinative efforts with leading American universities, research centers, and academics.   When I applied to Fulbright, I had a concrete, exact plan in mind: I was facing some issues in terms of access to world literatures and primary sources.  Now, however, the conditions for my research are ideal – you can work here twenty-four hours a day if you want!

So I’ve been trying to finish up as many books and articles as possible.  Indiana University’s document collections, microfilms, manuscripts, magazine and academic articles, book collections, as well as the highly qualified professors and librarians with whom one can consult – all of this eases and assists my research.  I was also able to visit Princeton University and to work there with the collection of Eastern Manuscripts.    Following this trip I have begun to work out the idea of writing a new article entitled “The Value of American Manuscript Collections for the Study of Islamic Culture in Kazakhstan.”

IAUNRC: Other than research and writing, how have you been spending your time in Bloomington?  Is there anything in particular from the last year that you have enjoyed that you would want to share with the IAUNRC e-News’ readers?

Muminov: Other than research, I frequently go out into town with my family and have tried to get to know different Americans, representatives of the different cultures than have arrived here in the hospitible land of America, and to learn about many of the local sights.  In particular, we’ve really enjoyed Bloomington’s natural beauty: spring here is lovely, and the trees bloom very prettily.  My wife has named Bloomington “Gulistan,” which means “the land of flowers.”