Why would a young woman from Central Asia go through the trouble of learning English, getting a passport, saving her money, and traveling to a country more than 6,000 miles away to attend West Liberty University?
Natasha Muhametzyanova, 22, is just one example of an international student that selected WLU for college. Her journey began after high school, when she became fascinated by the college education available in the United States to nearly everyone.
First though, she had to work on her English, explaining that she studied English while in high school with the Peace Corps, who had tutors in her area.
After researching schools, and while she worked several paid jobs over about four years, she applied to three universities, WLU, Troy University (Alabama) and Westminster College (Utah).
WLU won out because of its outreach to international students, its scholarship opportunity and its small size.
“I appreciated the personal approach of the small university and once I received a scholarship, I was confident that WLU was the right choice,” she said. “The financial opportunities made it affordable and the personal attention made the process smooth.”
Muhametzyanova took part in a college preparation program at home where the director introduced her to WLU, then contacted WLU InternationalStudent Recruiter and Advisor Mia Szabo. Next came placement tests and the whole admissions process, which took about a year.
Finally, on a cold winter’s day, she boarded a plane alone in her hometown, with high hopes for her future far away. She had never been abroad before.
“I flew into Dulles Airport in D.C., on a flight from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. We stopped in Istanbul, then went onto D.C.,” she explained. Her first thought on landing in America was the thrilling realization that she had made it.
“I felt rewarded for the hard work and years of planning to get my college education,” she said. There was little opportunity for her to attend college in her hometown of Turkmenabat, located an hour by plane from the capital city of Ashgabat, and with a population of about 234,817.
There were other educational obstacles there as well, with few libraries and state-controlled Internet service.
In D.C., she got on a Greyhound and took an eight-hour bus trip to Wheeling, traveling through the night. When she arrived early in the morning in downtown Wheeling, Szabo picked her up and took her immediately to Kroger to purchase groceries, then transported her to campus to check into her room in Krise Hall. It was winter break, so the campus was quiet, covered with snow and not much else going on.
But she hasn’t regretted her decision to enroll at WLU for one moment.
Though she misses her family, friends and native food, she knows that she can build a prosperous future now. She has made friends, found campus employment and achieved Dean’s List honors all three semesters that she’s been here.
“I’m happy. I like how approachable the faculty are and I like that I can do a lot of other things on campus, like write for the student newspaper, work in the media relations office and the tutoring center. The technology is good here too.”
Her parents, Rashit and Valentina, are Russian but moved to Turkmenistan some years back. Natasha talks to them via text, Skype and social media. Her father works as a photographer and her mother is a salesperson.
Muhametzynanova is surprised at how casual the atmosphere is here, saying that there is lots of freedom. She also has enjoyed a chance to travel a bit, going to Niagara Falls, Philadelphia and many times to Pittsburgh for the ballet, opera or other entertainment.
“I love the Honors College here, they care about our cultural education,” she said. She filled out an Honors College application prior to her arrival and based on her grades and interests, was accepted to the academic high achievers group.
Muhametzyanova is majoring in Public Relations and expects to graduate in 2018. After that she hopes to go to graduate school and eventually teach in college. With her determination, she’s likely to do just that.
“A lot of people I know don’t believe that if you want something you can get it. They say, ‘You don’t have money or you don’t have this or that.’ But I was teaching kids in the non-profit organization, ACCELS, many who can’t even afford English classes. I was one of those kids when I was young. So I wanted to be an inspiration to the younger students that I used to tutor. I wanted to show my students that you can pursue your dreams,” she explained. “No dream should be laughed at.”
(ACCELS stands for the American Councils for International Education. Muhametzyanova coordinated events with alumni and taught English to high school students and some middle schoolers during her time there.)
Though Muhametzyanova will not be able to return home to her family until after college, she is proud to be a Hilltopper and feels at home in the West Virginia hills, working hard and earning a degree on her long journey to a strong future.