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By Anna Cherkasova

 
Imagine that after two years of hard work and sleepless nights there is only one semester left until your graduation. Then all these dreams disappear because you can’t come back to your university to finish the last semester.

Sound like a nightmare?

All of this has been very real for Oleg Valiev, an HPU student from Kyrgyzstan, who, despite all these hardships, will earn his bachelor’s degree in international business by the end of this semester.
Kyrgyzstan is a small country in Asia that used to be a part of the Soviet Union. After the giant Communist regime collapsed, every country of the Soviet Union, including Kyrgyzstan, became independent and some of them, isolated.

Valiev came here from Kyrgyzstan two years ago. After a year of study, he decided to go as an exchange student to South Korea for one semester in spring 2005. And that is where the story begins.

“The only piece of information I had about [South] Korea was that in 50 years it went from being a Third World country to one of the most prosperous nations in the world. This fascinated me, and I wanted to find out more about how Korea managed to do that,” Valiev said.
“ I also became particularly interested in a Korean program because of the added benefits it offered to students like me. The Korean host university reimbursed the airfare from the United States to Korea and back, offered free dorm rooms, and provided students with a stipend. This is how I could afford going on an exchange.”

One month after his arrival in South Korea his home country went through a revolution. On March 24, 2005, opposition forces took power in Kyrgyzstan.

“ I was actually very deeply concerned with the well-being of my family. My mom, dad, and 17-year-old sister still live in the south, in a village called Aravan, where the conflict actually started. I was afraid that because my family is considered a minority in that region, they might face persecution,” Valiev said.

His own problems began when U.S. officials announced that the passports of Kyrgyz citizens were no longer valid for travel to the United States. How could he return to Hawai‘i to finish his degree? “This announcement sounded like a prison sentence to me because now I had to go back to Kyrgyzstan, get a new passport, come back to Korea, and then fly to Hawai‘i,” Valiev said.
“ When I went to my home country to get a passport, I found out that it’s not that easy. Officially, the government was not issuing any passports at the time. Evidently, corrupt officials were eager to make money on the situation. They knew that the demand for passports would soar after the revolution and after the announcement by the U.S. Embassy. So, they got their hands on 10,000 passport blanks, bankrupted the printing house to eliminate competition, and sold passports to those who needed them.”
Even though new legal passports were being issued, it was almost impossible to obtain them. He tried everything. “I turned to all of my connections at Hawai‘i – friends, teachers, HPU international office staff, etc. Some of them even talked to senators, but nothing could be done,” Valiev said.

“I would have to stay in Kyrgyzstan or go back to Korea and wait while things quieted down. You see, it was only the United States that stopped honoring Kyrgyz passports. I had an opportunity to go anywhere else but Hawai‘i, and I needed to get to Hawai‘i because I had only one semester left before my graduation in December. Now that I think about it, if I had stayed in Kyrgyzstan, I would have had to go into the army because it is mandatory for those who are not attending college. And if I fled to Korea I would probably have had to find a job teaching English, as ironic as it is. English teachers are in big demand there.”

After graduation, Valiev had planned to return to Kyrgyzstan and work for an international business organization. However, he said, “Now I have decided that it is better for me to obtain work experience in Europe and come back to the United States for my graduate degree. Whatever it is, after all I went through, I’m not afraid to take on challenges like these.”
 

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