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From the Apartments of Kyrgyzstan to a College Degree in America; One Young Man's Journey

Kurman Rysal immigrated from Kyrgyzstan with his brother at the age of 16; the Drury University student is about to graduate and become an accountant
The Tien Shan Mountains as seen from Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. (Photo credit: The CIA World Factbook)

Welcome to Around the World, Here at Home. I’m Jennifer Davidson.

Today, we hear about a Central Asian country with strong, nomadic traditions that have made it tricky for ethnic groups to get along since its independence from Russia in 1991. Kyrgyzstan boasts majestic mountains and rivers flowing from glacier snowmelt; occasionally, you can still find a traditional “yurt” tent, and the country has ventured into capitalism by relying on its exports of cotton, tobacco, and gold.

Kurman Rysal is from Kyrgyzstan, and now goes to Drury University in Springfield.

“My mom, she was a tailor, and my dad was a police officer,” Rysal said. His father still lives in Kyrgyzstan.

His mother first came to work in the USA in 1999 because of work opportunities, Rysal said. She did housekeeping work and occasional babysitting.

“She just wanted to stay here for a couple of years, make some money, and go back to Kyrgyzstan,” Rysal said.  However, his mother liked life in the US so much that she began the naturalization process that would allow her two sons to join her.

“Our first landing was in Chicago’s O'Hare Airport. It was very exhilarating to finally come to the United States. Just walking around the airport in Chicago was probably one of the best moments in my life…finally realizing that you were here in the US, and that you were here to stay permanently,” Rysal said.

He was 16 years old, and he soon became homesick. He began class at Kickapoo High School in Springfield, but his English was very weak.

“I didn’t know anybody in high school for the first couple of months,” he said.

A boy named Tyler befriended him, Rysal said, and the teachers and staff were very kind to him.

There are enormous differences between the cultures in America and Kyrgyzstan, Rysal said. The biggest one is related to guests:  in Kyrgyzstan, he says, having a guest stop by, even unannounced, is treated like a celebration. The family will cook its best, often the traditional Besh Barmak, or “five fingers.”  Guests always feel highly respected and honored;  here in the US, he says, it’s much more formal. Guests feel like they must call before stopping by, and it’s not such an honor.

The economy of Kyrgyzstan, he says, is centered around the ideal of capitalism, although corruption is a major problem there. He says there are improvements in government accountability and transparency.

When he was a boy growing up in the capital city of Bishkek, he spent a lot of time doing homework. The schoolwork was difficult, he said, and it operated under the old Soviet style of education.  He played soccer with other boys in the neighboring apartments, which he says got very competitive.

Rysal has created an iPhone application, or “app,” that allows people to see how much energy they’re personally consuming each day. He doesn’t graduate until May, but he already has a job lined up to be an accountant at a firm in Fayettville, Arkansas.

Kurman Rysal became a United States citizen last summer, and proudly voted in the November presidential election.

This has been Around the World, Here at Home on KSMU.

If you're feeling adventurous in the kitchen, you can try cooking the traditional Besh Barmak yourself; you'll find the recipe here.

The Tien Shan Mountains as seen from Bishkek. (Photo credit: The CIA World Factbook) A mare and foal in the hills around Bishkek. The Kyrgyz are notoriously fond of horses. (Photo credit: CIA World Factbook) Statue of Mikhail Frunze, the Kyrgyz Soviet hero, in Bishkek. Frunze was the name of the capital city from 1926 to 1991. (Photo credit: CIA World Factbook) A view of the Tien Shan Mountains from an open air museum in Chopa Ata on Lake Ysyk Kol. (Photo credit: CIA World Factbook) A typical Kyrgyz yurt, a portable, bent-wood framed shelter covered by layers of fabric, typically felt. (Photo credit: CIA World Factbook) Statue of Aaly Tokombaev (1904-1988) in Bishkek. Tokombaev is probably Kyrgyzstan's most famous writer. He was not only a poet and novelist, but also a composer. (Photo credit: CIA World Factbook) A typical Kyrgyz yurt, a portable, bent-wood framed shelter covered by layers of fabric, typically felt. (Photo credit: CIA World Factbook) The national game of Kyrgyzstan, Ulak Tartush, is a version of polo played with a headless goat. Note that some of the riders wear old Soviet tank helmets for head protection. (Photo credit: CIA World Factbook) A river outside of Bishkek. Note the milky color as a result of glacial sediments. (Photo credit: CIA World Factbook) Preparing to race at the Hippodrome in Bishkek. Colts - male baby horses usually under 18 months old - are used in these contests. Because these animals are too young to hold adults, they are raced by boys. Note that not only do they not have helmets, many do not have saddles. (Photo credit: CIA World Factbook) A view of the massive Tien Shan Mountains. (Photo credit: The CIA World Factbook) Another view of the imposing Tien Shan mountain range. (Photo credit: CIA World Factbook) A goat herder on horseback with his dogs. (Photo credit: CIA World Factbook) A man inspects an orchard in rural Kyrgyzstan.(Photo credit: CIA World Factbook) Kurman Rysal, a senior at Drury University, poses in front of Chinese calligraphy on campus. He immigrated to the US from Kyrgyzstan at the age of 16. (Photo: Mark Miller, Drury)