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Aliya Sultanova, Kazakh FLTA 2016-2017

Recently the IAUNRC sat down to speak with Aliya Sultanova, the 2016-2017 FLTA from Kazakhstan. She has been teaching Kazakh language classes for the 2016-2017 Academic Year. These classes are offered through the Department of Central Eurasian Studies. For more information please contact


1. Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background?

I am the Kazakh Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant at Indiana University. I was born in Aktobe, which is in the western part of Kazakhstan. It is translated to mean “White Hill.” For the past two years, I have lived in Astana, where I have worked and studied.

I come from an ordinary, simple family. My father is a crane driver and my mother devoted her life to raising me and my younger sister. My background is rather diverse. I got my bachelor’s degree in the foreign languages of English and German at Aktobe State Pedagogical University. I was then offered a position in the school where I had my teaching practicum as an English teacher. Later I got a job at a Nazarbayev Intellectual School. These are modern schools in Kazakhstan where the students take rigorous entrance exams to be admitted. I taught there for one year, and then applied to Nazarbayev University in Astana, where I graduated with my Masters of Science in Educational Leadership in 2015.  After I graduated, I worked for the United Nations Development Program as a Project assistant.  The project was called “The Africana Project,” and we organized seminars in the fields of agriculture, public health, and oil and gas.  We invited experienced specialists from 24 African countries to Kazakhstan to boost their professional development.



2. What do you hope to get out of your experience as a FLTA?

I always dreamed about coming to America. When I was a younger student, I wanted to come here but my dad was against it at the time due to financial reasons. Also, my family is very close and he was afraid of me going to the states alone. However, he later encouraged me to apply for scholarships to come here.  After my graduate studies, I felt I was ready. My friend Damesh Satova, who was an FLTA before, encouraged me to go for it. 

So, I’m here teaching Kazakh now but I also think of myself as a cultural ambassador. I knew America was full of diverse cultures and I want to add to that and share about Kazakhstan. I think IU provides a good platform for many different cultures to mingle and learn about one another.


3. Is this your first time in the U.S.? Have you had any culture shock?

Yes, this is my first time to the U.S. but no, I have not had any culture shock.  Honestly, maybe it’s because I’ve seen a lot of Hollywood movies. It feels very familiar here to me.

4. What is your impression of Indiana University thus far?

I’m so glad to be here! I think IU is a great fit for me because of all of the opportunities for language instructors here. There are a lot of opportunities for professional development and workshops, as well as seminars and trainings. The Center for Language Excellence (CLE) is great, and the CLE Center for Language Technology provides foreign language instructors with the resources where we can make videos and use digital technology, which I have used with my student. This is really a great place for language instructors.

5. Have there been any places that you have enjoyed visiting or new experiences you have had since you have been in the U.S.?

There have been a lot of things. I promised to challenge myself when I came here, whether it be trying a new sport, taking a new course that might be unfamiliar to me, or experiencing a different culture. For example, I have traveled a lot. We (FLTAs) have traveled to several states and cities, including Washington D.C., New York City, Chicago, Miami and Key West. I’ve also been taking jazz classes, and I am enjoying it very much because I am a professional dancer in Kazakhstan. I’ve also been swimming a lot. Every day, I go to the Student Recreational Sports Center to swim in the pool or sometimes join group exercises. It seems everywhere I go here, there are people willing to help you. I feel like I am discovering myself and learning new things that I like to do.

6. You have danced at several outreach activities this semester and you like to dance in Kazakhstan. What are the names of some of the dances you perform and where did you learn to dance?

When I was in the first grade, I started dancing.  I graduated from a dance academy in Aktobe when I was in high school. We learned different dances, including Uzbek, Indian, Polka and Russian dances. Some popular Kazakh dances I learned in school are Asatayak, Akku, and Zhas Khanat. My favorite is Zhas Khanat. Before coming here, I was very serious about preparing to be a cultural ambassador, so I brought several costumes from Kazakhstan because I knew I was going to be invited to different cultural events to dance and I wanted to show my culture. I think dancing is a great way to do this.

7. Are there any hobbies or activities you like to do in Indiana?

I like attending different cultural events and educational events because it is a good opportunity for me to meet new people and make friends. Again, I am taking several different university classes – some theatre, some global studies – and now all of my classmates know where Kazakhstan is. In one class, we’re doing a research project on Kazakhstan in global studies. We are writing a group research paper, and my American classmates find Kazakhstan interesting.

8. Do you think studying Kazakh is difficult?

I think there is no language that is difficult if you have great passion and willingness to study it.

9. What would you like IU students to know about Kazakhstan?

Kazakh people are very hospitable and generous, and they have a rich culture. We have a good leader and we have good potential to improve. People here keep inviting me to different cultural events, and they are always asking me to perform a Kazakh dance. Many times, members of the audience will participate and learn the dances. I’ve been really excited about all of the events because people get to learn about Kazakh people, and I’ve even been called the “Kazakh Queen” because of my costume.  It is very interesting to me when people come and ask me “What are you wearing?” At one school, there was a long queue of people who wanted to take pictures with me in my costume. I was really happy.

10. Anything else?

I just want to thank the U.S. government and the American Fulbright Program for providing people with the opportunity to come to the U.S. to study and to get a glimpse of what the American dream is all about. It’s a nice opportunity for students who want to study and learn something new and become the best version of themselves.  Also, I want to thank my colleagues from the CEUS department for all of their support and continuous help.

I would also like to mention that my birthday is on October 5, which is also International Teacher’s Day.  I always viewed this as a sign that I was meant to be a teacher.  I love teaching, and I love sharing my experience.