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Campus News / News

Learning and Leading: The Path to Change Starts Here

04/06/2020 10:37 am

Altynai Erkimbekova was just a toddler when her love for learning blossomed through her mother’s efforts to teach her how to read. “I was only two years old—I can’t believe it myself,” she stated, recounting her neighbors’ tales of how she would read newspapers for fun in her hometown of Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan. This passion would eventually bring her over 10,000 miles away from home—here, to Rockford University.

As a child, Altynai struggled to find a place for herself in spite of her early advancement and precocious nature. She was unable to enroll in kindergarten because the school had run out of space, but instead of lagging behind, she endeavored to learn everything she could. “My sister is two years older than me, so she was going to school already. Every day, my mom would do homework with her, and I would do whatever my mom was saying. I completed those classes with my sister.”

Top (left to right) Isa Askarbek, Julie Griffith Bottom (left to right) Altynai Erkimbekova, Maria Diemer, Orianne Ayekoue, Alona Buhai

When she was finally able to begin her formal education, she soared despite her sense of displacement. Since she was a practicing Christian, it was challenging for her to grow up in a mostly-Muslim community. Even so, she has always been a leader of her community, whether at school or with friends. She has lead  different teams and managed projects that have changed lives of many people. Anything was possible for her, since she had the biggest support of her family and an inherent belief that she would succeed by being her best self. Her determination to get the most out of every day led to her acceptance into the International University of Central Asia (IUCA), where she was invited to join the foreign exchange program in her first year at the institution. “You need to be the best in English and in grade point average as well,” she explains. “Of course, seniors have a higher chance of being selected—and I was a freshman! I was so lucky.”

This is how Altynai first learned of Rockford University, and she felt immediately that this was an environment where she could finally find her place. She noted that in her first few days here, she could already tell how globally oriented and sensitive to culture the University is. Through various activities and events, she embraced her new campus community and found herself thriving, supported by and connected to her fellow students in a way she had never experienced before.

Rockford University student Altyani
Altynai at Rockford University’s International Food Festival in 2017

As someone who has continuously had to forge her own path to success, she knows first-hand that progress cannot happen on its own. After an eventful semester here, she went back to Kyrgyzstan and put even more effort into her goals, including a successful business project that employed several local seamstresses. At the same time, she worked to earn her bachelor’s degree in business administration, determined to come back to Rockford University as a graduate student.

Altynai has returned to the University and is currently studying to complete her MBA with a concentration in finance. She is also working alongside the Office of Global Affairs (OGA) to help connect other students like her with the opportunities the University has to offer. Her work has led to some strong friendships, too. “OGA is my home here. I can freely talk to everyone in the office like they’re my own family.”

Following her graduation next spring, Altynai hopes to bring her experiences and knowledge from her time at Rockford University back to Kyrgyzstan. She plans to work within her community to share the empathy and determination that she has refined throughout this first chapter of her life. When asked what advice she would give to students who, like her, come from a growing society and find themselves wanting to leave in search of a way to make a difference, she says, “You should surely go and find what your heart wants. Sometimes you have to leave your environment to be able to learn and grow, but then you should come back home ready to apply your new skills and experiences to make a difference. Don’t worry if you are not able to go abroad yet. It means you are not ready, and when you are ready, nothing can stop you from achieving your goals and dreams!”