Gulbahor Nematova ’95
Kuybirshev, Tajikistan/ Altus, OK

17 years is half of my life. If I were born 17 years ago, today I’d have just graduated from a secondary school and would be going to a university. I am not sure whether it would be a university of my choice, but I’d definitely be enrolled as a first year student. Most likely I’d be studying in Kurgan Tyube, Tajikistan since this is the town where most of my relatives live. It would be Kurgan Tube because I’d have a place to stay and a lot of people to control my life. But when I look back and remember the difficult times in which I studied at the university, I thank God for his blessing to have great parents who invested their last savings into my future – the present that I have.

Gulbahor Nematova has the unique opportunity to work with eight other FLEX alumni

What I want to speak about is not about my educational path. It is about 10th November 2012 – that special day in my life. If I lived and worked in a capital city since 1995, the time I’d make it to 10th November 2012 would be much shorter and perhaps this day would not be so special.

Yes, it took me 17 years before I was able to join the event attended by people united with one common year – the year they participated in the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program. The core of the event was the speed networking exercise that immersed me to the old and good memories of my teenage hood before and after FLEX year.

The event itself lasted for three hours, but this was more than enough for me to look back at the path I have made and agree with myself that life gave me much more than I expected. First of all, thanks for my parents’ wisdom and courage to let me go to US for whole year, despite the difficult times we had after the Civil War. Secondly, I remember February 1994 when the interviews were postponed for three days because the local authorities could not get hold of me (the landlines were non-functional, the public transport was not regular and of course there were no mobile phones not speaking of internet or else communication tools such as Facebook which nowadays are an integral part of our life). When I finally made it to the interview, I realized how special I was because everyone was waiting for me – that special 14 years old me, who they could not find for entire week. I felt myself like a superstar without whom the story would remain untold, the movie would not be shot, OR the novel would remain unwritten…

From Tajikistan to New York – 17 years later!

Recently, I joined alumni of various years of the FLEX program in a speed networking event. During the event I talked with over 30 FLEX alumni who come from all over the country and have diverse educational and professional backgrounds. Some were older than me and well established in their lives with a promising career paths be it with international community, the government, or the private sector. Others are students or fresh university graduates in the search of jobs and still others are in their final year at secondary school. We were given three minutes to talk with one alumna or alumnus. There were no 3 minutes in which I talked about the same thing. Each time I was reflecting on my life after FLEX from a different angle. Some alumni I talked to were interested about my career, others were interested about how I balance my work and life and still others were reminding me how old I am while saying that the year I have joined FLEX community was the year they were just born…

The youngest – freshers, as they call themselves, have impressed me most. They looked so young to me, but at the age of 17 they know exactly where they will be in 5 or 10 years’ time. I don’t think at the age of 17, I was able to look into my future as confidently as they do and I don’t think I was able to see my future as clearly as they do. The most remarkable was the fact that they want to stay in the country and build the nation’s future. This sounded impressive because most of my FLEX-mates are now out of Tajikistan and only few of us remain in the country…

As I left the event, I am constantly thinking of all people I’ve met on Saturday. So different from each other, but at the same time have so many things in common: all confident, bright and enthusiastic about their future. That day the common year that we all had in the US, has brought us to Ismaili Centre. As I was looking at each alumni and observing how closely they interact with each other, I realized how much more power they have when they are together. Some married to each other, others work with each other and still others are part of one family. Luckily, I fit into two of these categories: I have 8 colleagues – FLEX alumni whom I interact with on daily basis and I have my sister who is a FLEX alumna. How many FLEX alumni do you see every day and how many of them bring more colors to your life?

By Gulbahor Nematova
FLEX’ 1994-95