Vantage Student Check-in: Aizhan Myrzabekova on Scholarships, Political Science and Second Year

As the 2016-2017 recipient of Vantage One's prestigious Excellence Award, Aizhan Myrzabekova relocated from Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia to join the Vantage Arts program. Here she discusses her growing interest in political science, the importance of participating in student activities, and how much she has grown in one year.

What motivated you to choose UBC's Vantage One program?

Having come from Kyrgyzstan, life is completely different compared to here in Canada. Kyrgyzstan was part of the Soviet Union and is still a developing country so the economy isn't strong and educational opportunities are limited. However I grew up in a family where my parents, especially my mother, were very supportive of me getting a university education and pursuing a career.

I always felt there was much for me to explore outside of Kyrgyzstan so in ninth grade of high school I participated in an exchange program where I spent a year living in Seattle in the United States. It was then that I knew I wanted to study abroad. Due to finances though, my options were limited so I researched international programs with the best scholarships, which is how I found out about UBC.  

I didn't initially know about Vantage One until it was recommended to me but I'm so thankful it worked out that way. I was also able to apply for the Excellence Award, which I was lucky enough to be accepted for. Only two students got it this year but it's really popular because it covers the full cost of your undergraduate degree at UBC, including living costs, so I'm very grateful.

Vantage has certainly opened the door to so many opportunities that I wouldn't have been able to experience otherwise.

What have been the major benefits of doing this pathway program?

The best thing about Vantage is definitely your academic development. I know the program can be very rigorous and stressful, but it's also one of the best things about it because you're always challenged and pushed to achieve things you didn't know you could. For example, I always struggled with my writing skills but there is so much focus on writing essays here, the skill level I have now compared to one year ago is completely different and I'm continually improving.

The other great thing about Vantage is how it supports connection, with both other students as well as professors and TAs [teaching assistants]. The classes are generally very small so you get a chance to actually talk with your professors or go more in depth during their office appointments.  They're really supportive and you can talk about coursework, assessments, if you're struggling, and build a friendship of sorts, which I found very helpful.

As an international student, what has been the biggest challenge you've faced here?

I didn't have that much of a cultural shock when I arrived because I'd already lived for a year in the United States during a high school exchange program, and there are many similarities. But I think the main challenge that every new student faces, wherever they're from, is that it's a completely new environment, you're alone at first and you don't have any friends, so you have to go out of your comfort zone to meet new people and be open.

In the beginning, I found it difficult to find my place and where I fit in this community, but then I realised that UBC is so big. If you just stay in your room feeling scared, you'll never make new friends. You have to take initiative to make new connections, search for new opportunities and actively get involved with student life. During Term 1, I focused on settling in and getting used to the academic component then in Term 2 I started to look for new ways to involved, like during the AMS Election I worked as a poll clerk, directing people on voting day.  Now I've been accepted to join the Vantage Peer Mentors Program and I'm also helping as an orientation leader at the UBC Welcomes You event.

What has been the biggest surprise at Vantage?

When I first applied to UBC I was very passionate about studying Media Studies. But since completing the Vantage Arts program, it has opened up my eyes to so many different majors that I hadn't considered before. I could really see what I like, what I don't like, know my weaknesses and work on them, and make a more informed decision about my major. Now I'm really interested in Political Science — it's the field I can definitely see myself working in in the future.

What is it about Political Science that interests you?

I've learned that political science is an area that affects the lives of every person, even if not every person realises it. Especially in Kyrgyzstan, because it's a developing country that's still trying to improve, I'm really interested in learning how I can help my country. By studying Political Science and Gender Studies I really want to work towards helping women in Kyrgyzstan because there are still some serious problems like domestic violence and bride kidnapping that I'd like to help eradicate. I love my country so it's amazing that I can get a full education here in Canada and gain all the necessary skills to apply them back home.  

How do you feel about going into second year?

I'm not sad because I think Vantage has played its role in my life and I've gained as much as I can from this opportunity. Vantage has really prepared me for my integration into second year and I'm really excited to take everything that I've learned from here and build on it further. It's like a video game and once you finish one level, you need to go on to the next with new challenges and new obstacles, but you keep getting better and better.

Where is your favourite place to study on campus?

In the beginning, I liked peace and quiet so I'd study in my room, but now I prefer more interaction so I usually study in the Vantage Commons or in one of the upstairs classrooms or study spaces. 

Where is your favourite place to eat on campus?

I live in Totem but I always go to Open Kitchen in Orchard Commons. Even though I struggled at first to adjust to the new food — Kyrgyz food is always very hot and meaty — I like trying all the international cuisines like Chinese food, Indian food, and vegetarian food.  

In all of Vancouver, where is your favourite place to visit?

Campus is so big, there's absolutely everything you need here, so you don't really need to ever leave. But whenever the opportunity arises, I always love to go to Stanley Park, where I like bike riding or walking across the Capilano Suspension Bridge. I also like walking through Pacific Spirit Regional Park next to UBC — the surrounds are so beautiful. In fact, I think the thing I love most about Vancouver is the nature, everything is so green and pretty, especially in summer.