Kyrgyz student learns to adapt to college life in U.S.

Abdullah Karaman

Imagine traveling to a new country for college only to discover no other students from your home country.

That is exactly what happened to UNA student Abdullah Karaman.

Karaman moved to Florence from his home in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan two years ago to study computer science at UNA.

Bishkek is the capital and the largest city in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan.

No one in the international office knew where Kyrgyzstan was, Karaman said.

He said moving was difficult at first because there was no help. He soon realized it was more of an advantage.

“You learn the language quickly, and you feel proud because you’re the only one from your country,” he said. “Most people will remember you because you are the only person from that country.”

Karaman is now the Russian Language Partner for the Critical Languages program.

“He’s done a great job and hangs out with his students after class,” said Director of the Center of Global Engagement Craig Christy.

Alumna Laura Francisco-Lopez said she recalls meeting Karaman when they were both Navigators. A Navigator is a student who acts as a mentor for the international student body.

Being Hispanic-American meant having to learn differently, Lopez said, so she understood Karaman’s situation and was able to help him adjust to life at UNA.

“Meeting Abdullah has been life-changing,” she said. “I see him as a little brother.”

Karaman said he moved to Florence because he has an aunt who lives in Tuscumbia.

“My mom didn’t want to send me alone to some unknown place,” he said.

Moving from a place with a population of nearly 1 million people to Florence with 40,000 was enlightening, he said.

Karaman said he imagined the entire U.S. to be more like Los Angeles and New York, so he was surprised when he arrived in Florence.

“When I came to Florence, I was like, ‘Is this even the United States?’” he said.

The smaller size of Florence makes it a good place to study, he said.

“It makes you feel comfortable — like you are at home,” he said. “I like the people in Florence. They’re really nice.”

The people of Bishkek are friendly too, he said. They enjoy treating guests in their homes to home-cooked meals and tea, but they do not greet people on the street.

“In my country they don’t smile at you,” he said.

Karaman said moving so far away from home was good because he learned to do things for himself.

“I think it was difficult because in my country I have my mom,” he said. “Here, I learned to be independent.”

Karaman said he likes to spend time with his friends watching movies, playing games or going to concerts.

Lopez said once Karaman bought an Easter card for a friend because he thought it was a birthday card.

“We have so many holidays that we have cards for,” she said.

He wanted to return it but she talked him out of it, she said, because it is something that his friend will always remember.

“Abdullah is very nice and genuine,” she said.

UNA houses students from all around the world.

“I really learned a lot about my South Korean roommate’s culture, and he learned about my culture,” he said. “It’s really nice.”

The weather differences have also taken some getting used to, he said. It snows in the winter in Kyrgyzstan, so he was surprised when there was no snow his first year here.

The summers are different too, he said.

Karaman said his favorite place to go when the Alabama heat is too harsh is Wal-Mart.

“It is always cold there,” he said.

Lopez said though Karaman used to be shy, he has found his place at UNA by teaching others about his culture and learning about other cultures himself.

“He’s learned to adapt, but he’s never changed his identity,” she said.