Meet Rushana Mametova, a seventeen year old girl from Karakol, Kyrgyzstan who is currently spending a year in Amherst as a junior at Souhegan High School. Thousands of miles away, on a completely different continent, Karakol clearly has its differences with Amherst, New Hampshire. Curious to understand what exactly those differences are, I asked Rushana to tell me a little bit about her hometown and how it compares with what she’s experienced here.
Hi Rushuna! Let’s start from the beginning. What made you decide to come to the United States?
I grew up in a place with people from many different nations: Poland, Russia, China, and several others. We share our cultural traditions and customs like the Russian holidays…and most other holidays are shared together. The world is big. There are thousands of cultures and countries. It’s interesting to me to see how people really live and what they do, so I decided to start with the United States.
What was your journey from Kyrgyzstan to the United States like?
It was a very long trip. The flight took three days. First, we flew from Kyrgyzstan to Germany, then from Germany to Washington D.C., from Washington D.C. to New Jersey, and finally from New Jersey to the Manchester airport. I was really tired and jet-lagged. I was so excited that I didn’t even sleep!
What was your first impression of Amherst? Did it live up to your expectations?
When I thought of the United States, I would think of the big cities like New York and Los Angeles. I never thought of a small town in New Hampshire. I pictured tall buildings and a busy city, not this big, open country that we have here. It’s a really big country. Recently, I went on a hiking trip. The nature and trees were really beautiful.
Before this trip, had you ever traveled outside of Kyrgyzstan?
I went to Kazakhstan once, but it’s so close to Kyrgyzstan that I don’t really think it counts. Coming to the United States was my first real trip.
Did you experience any culture shock or find anything really different here in Amherst?
People talk fast, like really fast. I tell them to slow down so that I can understand them, but they don’t slow down much. Also, school parking. It’s so big and there are so many cars! In Kyrgyzstan, we don’t drive to school. We just walk. I kind of like walking better, because you get to meet your friends on the road. School is different too. Here, we can choose our own classes. In Kyrgyzstan, we can’t. We’re also stuck with the same people. At Souhegan, the people in my classes are switched around, so there’s a change to meet new people.
Speaking of school, what is school like in Kyrgyzstan?
At home, I would wake up at 7 to be at school by 8 AM. Here, I wake up at 5 to be ready for the bus at 6:30 AM. School ends around 12 to 1 PM. The school days is shorter, but we go to school on Saturday. I like it better to have two days on the weekend. It’s sooooo nice!
Did you have any difficulties getting used to the new environment?
I was sick for the first couple of weeks. It was even hard to drink water. Maybe it was the different climate? So that was difficult for me.
How is the climate different?
There’s something about the air in New Hampshire that seems different. I’m not sure how to describe it. New Hampshire seems to have a new smell. The smell of the air is…fresher? Because of the trees maybe?
What do you miss from Kyrgyzstan?
I miss my mom’s cooking and our traditional dishes like manty, plov, lagman, samsy, bulochki, and borsok.
Manty- Kyrgyz Dumplings filled with meat (usually lamb) and vegetables like onions and potatoes
Plov- Fried rice with onions, carrots, and chunks of meat
Laghman- Noodle dish with meat and vegetables in a broth
Samsy- Popular fast food sold by road-side vendors. Similar to a meat pie.
Bulochki- Russian bread rolls, often with a sweet apple filling
Borsok- Fried dough, almost like a doughnut without all the extra frosting. Can be eaten with fresh cream.
While we’re on the topic of food, what’s food in Kyrgyzstan like compared to food in America?
Here, we sometimes have cold meals like cereal for breakfast or salads for lunch, but in Kyrgyzstan, we usually have three hot meals. It’s the same thing with drinks. Here, people like cold drinks like iced tea or soda. People drink a lot of soda here. In Kyrgyzstan, most people drink hot water or hot tea. Also, here, there’s many different kinds of food. In my host family, every meal is different. We had Italian food, Mexican food, and other types of food from different cultures.
What are some of your favorite “American foods”?
At first, my favorite was pizza. Then it was peanut butter. I’d never tired it before. It was soooo good. People here have it with everything.
Have you tried any candy with peanut butter, like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups?
No, I haven’t, but that sounds delicious!
How do you feel about the upcoming holiday season and what are the holidays like in Kyrgyzstan?
I’m sooooo excited! I just know that there’s going to be a lot of food! In Kyrgyzstan, we have a big New Year’s celebration that is very popular. We also have a Muslim New Year in the spring. We gather the whole family together and say good things to each other, like how you appreciate them and love them.
Lastly, what’s your favorite part about being here?
Hmmm… There’s no real responsibilities, so I just get to be here to enjoy the experience and learn new things, and that makes me happy 🙂
By the end of the interview, I found myself smiling quite a lot, partially because of the contagiousness of Rushana’s cheerful personality, and partially because of her answer to the last question. Her ability to find happiness in a strange and unfamiliar environment, and continue laughing, as she did so often during our conversation, was an inspiring story that made me want to smile right along with her.