By Gulnur Muratova ’18 (Astana, Kazakhstan, placed by World Link in Dinuba, CA) 

On November 26, 2022, I co-organized the first official Anthropology Student Conference for International Education Week in collaboration with Aidana Bikenova ’16 – an anthropology teacher at an IB school in Astana – Nazarbayev University Anthropology Laboratory, and Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS). High school juniors and seniors interested in anthropology gathered in Astana together with professors in the field for an academic discussion of anthropology. 

Approximately 70 guests attended, including FLEX alumni, university students, faculty members, and university representatives. Alumni of NIS invited professors with various backgrounds to discuss the expansive field of anthropological research in four current academic spheres: cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, archaeology, and biological anthropology. In addition, professors who received their education abroad offered attendees the chance to discuss field research opportunities abroad, such as in Georgia and France.  

In the second part of the event, alumni of the NIS International Baccalaureate program who study at the University of Hong Kong gave an interactive presentation, which included a mix of stress relief exercises and tips on how to pass the IB exam in anthropology. The seminar helped paint a picture of what each anthropology field entails and gave tools to get started in their career path. 

When planning and executing the event, I couldn’t help but relate the study of cultural anthropology to the values of FLEX. Currently a senior at Nazarbayev University with this major, I believe I gained relevant experience long before I entered university or knew that such a degree existed. In fact, Aidana, the event’s co-organizer and a friend I met through FLEX, motivated me to choose anthropology as a major. In so many ways, my exchange year and the FLEX alumni family have helped me come across anthropology and fall in love with it.  

During my exchange year, I learned how to navigate a new school, family, and country by understanding a different culture while focusing on our similarities. My exchange taught me how we, as humans, are similar except for how we are different. Later I learned that this is a quote by journalist Nancy Banks-Smith, who said the same about anthropology.  

The FLEX program upholds the values of cultural exchange, storytelling, sharing opportunities, linguistic exchange, and creating a network. The network we build as a community of fellow alumni of FLEX and other U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs is comparable to what cultural anthropology studies in community behavior. I am grateful to FLEX for introducing me to what I am passionate about and providing a way to experience it firsthand as a high school student abroad. I hope there is a reader somewhere in our FLEX community who also finds a spark in this field, or any other field, that they can connect to their FLEX community. 

Featured Alumni:  

Aidana Bikenova ’16 (Astana, Kazakhstan, placed by AFS in Atlanta, GA) 

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