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From Kazakhstan to Greenville, Aruzhan Sakhariyanova ’26 keeps her family and culture close

Aruzhan Sakhariyanova ’26 in Thingvellir National Park in Iceland during a MayX trip.

Last updated February 21, 2024

By Kelley Bruss

Being away has taught Aruzhan Sakhariyanova ’26 how important it is to keep a part of herself tethered back home.

Since leaving Kazakhstan at 17 to finish high school in Japan through her application to the United World College, Sakhariyanova has developed a pattern of weekly calls home. The calls are as important for reinforcing her first language as they are for the therapy of connecting with family. Speaking to the people who love her “makes my brain reconnect.”

Her international high school offered introductions to colleges and universities around the world and Furman rose quickly to the top of her list.

“To be fair, it’s the good weather,” she said, laughing.

Woman smiles

Aruzhan Sakhariyanova ’26

Even more, though, she was intrigued by the emphasis on sustainability that she found in both the academic offerings and the campus culture.

Sakhariyanova is pursuing a double major in sustainability sciences and communication studies. She is also a recipient of recipient of the Bell Tower Scholarship and Davis Scholarship. Her first months at Furman confirmed her interest in sustainability and clarified her direction for the future: Her goal is a career producing environmental documentaries.

The first semester of college wasn’t easy. On top of adapting to college, she had to adapt to a new culture and new environment.

Still, “I adapted pretty quickly,” she said. “I’m used to being away from home. I’m used to being independent.”

Woman in winter gear smiles against background of stream and mountainThose skills helped her again at the end of her first year year when she traveled with a May Experience class to Iceland. Study away is a central part of The Furman Advantage, the university’s educational framework grounded in faculty mentoring, reflection and engaged learning, such as research, internships and study away.

The three-week trip focused on geology and involved extensive field work at multiple sites. The class analyzed geological patterns in salt deposits – the hills were formed by volcanoes and are records of how the land keeps changing with time. The geology emphasis wasn’t specific to Sakhariyanova’s major, but her professors made the material engaging and approachable.

Waterproof notebooks the students received during orientation helped Sakhariyanova keep track of her observations. But it was a challenge to contend with the cold rain that fell during much of the trip. The extended daylight – 20 hours or more at the end of May – was surreal.

For Sakhariyanova, it was just one more chance to adapt. Life in another country is “a constant adjustment,” she said. And it’s not only the new culture that presents challenges. When she has chances to visit her family, she realizes, “I’m just forgetting how to live back home sometimes. … It doesn’t feel the same when we go back as it did before.”

She’s found that successful international students both adapt to the new culture and retain their own culture – the easier it is to blend in, the more you have to work to not forgot your own language and culture. “Do not get lost,” she said.

Furman makes that easier with a tight-knit international student group and events that give opportunities to introduce her country’s fashion, music and dances to the Furman campus.

“I find it important to represent my country well as I am often the first-person people meet from my country,” she said.

Calling her family and inviting them into that experience helps her process everything she’s both learning and teaching.

“It sort of grounds me,” she said.

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