January 14, 2016
Cholpon Chotaeva, the Coordinator of the Anthropology and Sociology Departments and a professor of Anthropology at the American University of Central Asia (AUCA), tells about her career path, work at AUCA, and about students of Anthropology department.
Tell us about your professional background, your career path, and your education.
I graduated from the Department of Oriental Studies and International Relations at the Bishkek Humanities University. My major was History of the Middle East. I speak three foreign languages: English, Arabic and Japanese.
I received both a Candidate’s degree and a Doctoral Degree in Bishkek. My Candidate’s was on Social Philosophy, while my Doctoral Degree was on the history of Kyrgyzstan.
I worked as a Research Assistant for five years in Tohoku University in Japan and spent two semesters as a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University in the USA.
Why did you decide to work at AUCA? How long have you worked at AUCA?
After I came back from Japan in 2004, I decided to find a teaching position at a university in Kyrgyzstan. The first university I was hired for was the International University of Kyrgyzstan. I taught a Cultural Studies course there. However, I wanted to teach in English and so I applied for a teaching position at AUCA. I was offered a job in 2005 and worked as a part-time instructor, first in Anthropology and then in the ICP Department. In 2007, I became a full-time professor in the Anthropology Department.
Which courses do you teach? How would you describe your teaching method?
I teach a course on the history of Kyrgyzstan for all sophomores, as well as the required Ethnicity and Identity and Anthropology of Kinship courses for Anthropology students. In addition to those courses, I teach a number of elective courses such as Peoples and Cultures of the Middle East, Religion and Culture in Japan, the Politics of Nationalism, and Race and Ethnicity.
The methods I use in my teaching are quite traditional for AUCA: lectures, discussions, oral presentations, essays, and exams. Like many other instructors, I teach my lectures using Power Point presentations, and I conduct discussions on the readings that are available through the e-course. My students are supposed to give an oral presentation during the course and write various kinds of papers: reflection papers, research papers, museum essays and some others. Like many other instructors, my courses also have exams (both a midterm and a final).
How should a professional teacher act?
In my view, a professional teacher should be a good lecturer, intelligent, kind and strict when it is called for. The most important quality of a professional teacher should be their teaching skills. He should treat all his students equally and respectfully, regardless of their level. Students are adults and kids at the same time and they intuit things about teachers very well. They feel the weaknesses and strengths of each teacher and immediately act on that.
Who are AUCA students? How do they differ from students of other universities?
AUCA students are very different from their peers at other institutions. They come from different countries and social groups. There are students from the close-by and quite far away, from Central Asia, from Kyrgyzstan, from well-to-do families, and from poorer families. At the same time, most of the students are smart, hard-working, organized, and ambitious. Comparing our students to those from other universities, AUCA students are usually much more active, innovative, creative, and competitive. Many of them work inside and outside of AUCA and pay their tuition fees.
Why is your department interesting? And how do students from your department differ from other students at AUCA?
Anthropology is always interesting because it is the study of humans, cultures, and societies. Anthropologists travel a lot to other countries to conduct research on different cultures and societies. Anthropologists speak different languages.
Students in the Anthropology Department have much more interesting lives. They have the opportunity to go to other regions of Kyrgyzstan (Naryn, Issyk-Kul, Osh) for archaeological fieldwork and to other countries (Turkey, Mongolia, Georgia, and Russia) for anthropological practice. They are engaged in various research projects, initiated either by themselves or by a faculty member. Anthropologists are much more in demand in local and international markets than economists or lawyers.
What advice can you give to potential students of AUCA? How can they successfully apply to your department?
Don’t be afraid of entering AUCA! AUCA is the best university in Kyrgyzstan and one of the best in Central Asia! Only AUCA can teach you not only knowledge but various skills you can apply in your future! Think hard about what you want to be and then choose the appropriate department at AUCA!
The Anthropology Department is the best option. Why? Because only in the Anthropology Department will you find a really interesting and rich life! You will travel a lot, meet different people, and learn about different life stories.
What do you think about the new AUCA campus and the opportunities it opens up?
The new AUCA building is very nice and comfortable. It is located in a very beautiful place in front of the mountains. It opens up a lot of opportunities for both faculty and students. Many different events are now being hosted by AUCA, so faculty and students can be engaged in various extra-curricular activities while still working and studying. The atmosphere inside the building is very friendly, too. Faculty meet and talk in the various cafes, while students have a lot of space to sit and study.
How do you spend your free time? Do you have any hobbies?
I usually don’t have free time. I am the mother of three kids. The time I am not in the office I spend with my family and kids. We walk and play a lot outside in the summer and spring time. In winter, we go to shopping malls to play and eat. My kids love eating pizza and hamburgers.
I love reading but now have less time for it. I still read but mainly it’s what I need for my academic life and teaching.
What is your life motto?
My motto is “What happens is for the best” and “If you do something, do it best.”