Azerbaijani students abroad: Preparing a national leadership for the next generation

As part of its effort to train a new generation of leaders, the Azerbaijani government supports many young Azerbaijanis who want to study abroad.  Azerbaijan in the World talked to four students about their experiences abroad.  Portions of some of their answers to seven questions as given below provide a portrait of this remarkable group of people.

Azerbaijan in the World:  Describe some significant differences between the life of a student in Azerbaijan and one in the country where you studied. 
Anar Rahimov [MA in Theory and Practice of Human Rights, University of Essex, UK]:  While the life of a truly committed student in Azerbaijan is rather boring and too academic, studying abroad means a combination of theory and practice, science and worldview, discovering a new culture and opening up your own country to others.  These are the challenges and opportunities one does not face when studying in his/her home country.   

Narmin Hashimova [Certificate of Proficiency in Chinese, Beijing Language and Culture University, China]:  Students in China both work in libraries more often than do students in Azerbaijan, and they engage in more university-based extra-curricular activities, including sports. 

Tabib Huseynov [MA in International Relations and European Studies, Central European University, Hungary]:  Life in foreign universities is often more dynamic and fast-paced than that in Azerbaijani schools.  There is a greater cultural diversity of students, and all are encouraged to a richer study environment.  The faculty is highly trained, there is no corruption, and students are encouraged to, and learn to, be more independent and self-reliant.  
Ruslan Mustafayev [MA in Business Administration and Finance, Hokkaido State University, Japan]:  Students in Japan are committed to studying far more than many students in Azerbaijani universities.  I may not be able to say much about public life of a student in Azerbaijan, but in Japan, students feel compelled to become a member of one or several of university clubs which helps them socialize with their peers and gain self-confidence.  

AIW:  Which elements of the teaching and learning process in the country where you studied do you think could bring positive changes to the educational system of Azerbaijan?
Rahimov:  Teachers in foreign universities are committed to dialogue with students and encourage people to think for themselves rather than simply giving back whatever the professors have said.  European universities practice free attendance which should be applied in our schools as well.  Their teaching methodology is also very diverse involving, in addition to standard lectures, power point presentations, movies, and simulations; something that makes a learning process more dynamic and effective. 

Hashimova:  My language classes were shorter which ensured that students kept concentrated over the course of the entire class.  More technology was used in teaching, and professors seemed more committed to teaching rather than seeing it as a burden keeping them from their own research. 

Huseynov:  Students in foreign universities are encouraged or even required to take a broader range of courses.  Students are taught to think, rather than memorize.  They are also taught that learning how to ask the right questions is just as important if not more so than having the answers.  Students have a certain level of flexibility in choosing the courses they wish to cover over the period of their study.  And professors provide extensive feedback throughout the courses. 

Mustafayev:  Japan’s highly disciplined universities are certainly not perfect, but they have much to teach Azerbaijani institutions.  They promote attention to the individual, discussions and debate. 

AIW:  What are your mid- and longer-term goals, and how does your study abroad contribute (or has already contributed) to attaining these goals?
Rahimov:  My training in the UK gave me the perfect foundation for working in Europa House and the European Community delegation to Azerbaijan. 
Hashimova:  Having gained a good grounding in Chinese, I want to develop that skill further and thus be in a position to provide analysis for my country. 
Huseynov:  My goal is to excel in my work as policy analyst.  I would not be able to develop the skills necessary to achieve this goal without foreign study.  

Mustafayev:  My main goal is to succeed in what I am doing, continuously working on improving myself.  Education abroad is the beginning not the end of the process.  And I look forward to working and learning more as I assume various positions. 

AIW:  How do you evaluate the compatibility of Azerbaijani values with the ones of the culture you lived in when studying abroad?
Rahimov:  As a human rights specialist, I believe there are no distinctly national values but rather common human ones.  Nonetheless, there are variations: Hospitality is not nearly as highly valued in the UK as it is in Azerbaijan.  But politeness is far more spread there than here.  
Hashimova:  Azerbaijani values are very different from Chinese values overall, but those of elderly people are close to ours. 
Huseynov:  Azerbaijani values are fundamentally compatible with the values of a civilized world and vice versa.  Most of the values are universal, applying throughout the world to all humans, and include first and foremost respect for human dignity and freedom.  On a separate but closely related matter, studying abroad makes students more patriotic and attached to their country, its history and culture.  Through the exposure to a wide diversity of cultural influences, students learn to respect others’ viewpoints and culture while developing a more acute sense of belonging to their own culture.   

Mustafayev:  Japanese and Azerbaijani cultures are indeed very close.  Notions of family and friends, for example, carry a similar meaning for the Japanese as they do in Azerbaijan.  

AIW:  Briefly describe things that impressed / surprised you most in the country where you studied. 
Rahimov:  The British are unbelievably committed to the queue.  If there are two people anywhere, they will form a line.  Moreover, you seldom see any police.  But the downside is that it is hard to find shops open on weekends; bus services also become rare, and to get a proper medical service may become problematic on those days.  
Hashimova:  The rector of my university came to work on a bike, an affirmation that he did not see himself as superior to others.  At the same time, the Chinese respect foreign visitors enormously and do everything they can to please.
Huseynov:  Faculty members were in almost every case outstanding, and university facilities were great, from libraries to student lounges.  Only having studied abroad can one realize how much we lose in terms of the quality of education in Azerbaijan.  

Mustafayev:  Japanese universities are very concerned about promoting values and not just knowledge.

AIW:  Were you involved in Azerbaijani diaspora activities in the country where you studied?  If yes, what was the nature of your involvement?  
Rahimov:  Few Azerbaijanis took part in such activities, often because no one provided them with the information they would need to do so.  In recent years, thanks to the formation of the AUKAA (Azerbaijan-UK Alumni Association) with support of the British Embassy, British Council and BP, that situation is improving as regards to the Azerbaijani students in UK.  
Hashimova:  While there are few Azerbaijanis in China, I did many things on my own, providing an Azerbaijani dimension to many student functions.  I have also attended events organized by our embassy there, as well as those arranged by the Shusha Cultural Center in Beijing.       

Huseynov:  During my stay in Hungary, I published a number of articles on Azerbaijan, participated at various conferences focusing on Azerbaijan and/or the Caucasus. 
Mustafayev:  There were only two Azerbaijanis in Sapporo, but we were quite active, frequently giving talks about Azerbaijan and its neighbors to schools and public organizations. 

AIW:  What were the general impressions and opinions of Azerbaijan among your peers in the country where you studied? 
Rahimov:  Most students and faculty knew a great deal about Azerbaijan, but some exchange students from other parts of the world did not.  I did what I could to “enlighten” them.  
Hashimova:  Few people knew about Azerbaijan unless they had contacts with the oil sector. 
Huseynov:  Most Hungarians with whom I spoke did not know much about Azerbaijan.  Those who knew associated Azerbaijan with Russia or oil.  

Mustafayev:  Many Japanese knew about Azerbaijan, about its Soviet legacy and its oil wealth.