From Turkmenistan to Russia with Studies in Mind
Turkmenistan is often compared to North Korea based on the level of the country’s isolation. There is very little information about the state, and its reliability is often hard to check. For instance, not a single COVID-19 case has been registered there, but rumours say petrol is shared freely among citizens. Leyla Aliyeva, a student at Saint-Petersburg Mining University, explains which stories are real and which are only imagination.
As Leyla Aliyeva says, "I often come across various news telling about something that is supposedly happening in my country. As such, I have read that opera and circus are banned in Turkmenistan, all healthcare facilities - but for those located in Ashgabat - got closed. And even more, the President's biography is taught as a separate subject at educational institutions. None of this is true by the way. Our State Circus gave at least a few performances over the last month, hospitals work as usual, and the 'History of Turkmenistan' discipline tells the story of the whole country's development. Some of the stories are nonetheless real, although they might seem quite unlikely. For example, until 2014 each car owner had been provided with 120 litres of petrol per month. All free of charge! Housing services came at no cost as well. Even now, when this privilege is taken away from us, monthly fees are unbelievably low - apartment owners living in the capital pay less than $ 20/month. If we had not been ranked 4th in the list of countries by natural gas proven reserves, none of this would be possible! Besides, we are a small state - there are only 6 million of us."
As the student says, her country has been actively developing - with each year, more and more plants, factories and new companies are being established.
"I have heard an opinion that very few people can be seen on the streets of Ashgabat because most Turkmens live far from the city, under totally different conditions. There is, however, a simple explanation - daytime temperatures in summer may reach 40 to 45 degrees Celsius. At this time of the year, being under sunlight can be dangerous: even locals can get a skin burn if they stay outside for more than 10 minutes," explains Leila.
Despite a somewhat closed society the Turkmen are living in, and with all the benefits they are given, the country's youth tends to prefer foreign education to the local one. The most popular destinations are Russia, China, Belarus and Kazakhstan. There are also study opportunities in Turkmenistan, with dozens of state universities to choose from (commercial institutions are nonexistent). In addition to tuition-free education, fee-based education exists too. Prices are at least twice as low as in Russia. Still, it does not prevent young people from applying to Russian universities. Rossotrudnichestvo, the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation, provides study places to foreigners under a quota system it administers. Each year the organisation accepts more than 1,200 applications from Turkmen graduates willing to study for free in one of the Russian universities. As only 56 quotas are allocated for the whole country, the rest of applicants usually go to study on a contract basis.
Leila used to study at school with an advanced curriculum in chemistry and biology. At nearing the graduation date, she found out she could apply to a Russian university and sent in an application.
"We, the Turkmen, believe that 'Made in Russia' tag is proof that a product is of high quality. The same is true for education - people from my country think high-level specialists are trained in Russia."
"As for me, I wanted to be a doctor. All of my life, I wanted it. I passed the competition, but none of the specialities I was suggested had anything in common with medicine. My choice was thereby limited to two options. I could either try to enter Turkmen State Medical University or leave for Russia and become a student in a completely new area for me. At home, my parents and I went through everything we could find about those universities and institutions I could commence my studies at. The one that particularly stood out was the Mining University, at which the quota was allocated to a future student of the Faculty of Power and Mechanical Engineering. The university's website, positive feedback from graduates and employers - they made a big impression on us. Therefore we decided I should not miss out on the opportunity I might never have again," recalls the Mining University's student.
Leila was admitted to the programme 'Operation of transport-technological machines and systems'. As she admits, at first she felt some prejudice towards 'male-dominated study field', but she soon became keen on it.
"Taking into account a highly technical nature of my area of study, teachers have to demonstrate us the processes we are learning. Yet they do not only show us how the equipment works, but we also take part in laboratory work ourselves. We perform such tasks as, for example, engine disassembly and assembly. Or we can manufacture some parts with using a numerically controlled lathe", says the student.
When she was about to complete the Bachelor's Degree, Leila decided she wanted to continue education and pursued a master's degree. She passed the entrance exams and got accepted. This time she, however, switched to the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Talking about her plans, the student from Turkmenistan says she has been thinking about it a lot. Several major Russian enterprises are present in her home country, and she believes she could start a career by entering one of those companies. Anyway, Leila will be missing St. Petersburg, its museums, snow-covered wintry streets, and bridges raised at night.
This year, Turkmenistan hit the news because of the coronavirus. The Government of Turkmenistan claims that even WHO representatives could not find a single person infected with COVID-19. Authorities state that there are no infected people in the country because it is hard to enter the republic even under normal circumstances. And with the pandemics spread throughout the world, it was decided to close the borders back in February.