26th April 2013 Dushanbe, Tajikistan

A Chevening Scholar Writes…

The following is a post by Tojiniso Olimnazarova, Chevening Scholar for Tajikistan 2011-2012.

In 2011, I succeeded in receiving the Chevening scholarship funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in the UK to do my master’s degree in Education (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) at the University of Birmingham. My one year in Birmingham was an exciting and unforgettable experience in my life. I had been abroad before that, but this was the first time I was away from home for a whole year, leaving behind my three children.

Tojiniso Olimnazarova

Although I had been teaching English for 11 years and knew the language, I felt lost and depressed at the beginning. Looking for accommodation, opening a bank account, registering at the university and doing other things related to my studies seemed so difficult for me at that time.

I thought I would never feel comfortable in this new place. I remember my first visit to the library: a building which was twice as big as my whole university back home. I felt scared. Everything was new and strange to me and I felt out of my comfort zone. I did not want to go out and stayed at home all the time. I lost weight and had frequent headaches.

Every day for the first two or three weeks, when going home from university, I was dreaming that it was my last day!

Gradually, I started to get used to my new environment. The friendly attitude and helpfulness of the staff at the university as well as the other people I met helped me a lot, to feel safer and more confident. It was amazing to see people always so ready to help and trying their best to make me feel at home. I was also really surprised and pleased with the modesty of my professors at the university. Their constant support and understanding made us – the international students – feel much more comfortable.

Although the system of education in the UK is completely different from the one in Tajikistan, with the professors’ invaluable academic assistance and patient encouragement and after a lot of hard work and sleepless nights, I started to enjoy my studies at the university. Especially after finishing the first three modules with distinction, I became really confident and got deeply involved in university life.

Since I was born and grew up in a bilingual environment, I have always been interested in bilingualism and wanted to do my research work in this area. In the small town of Khorog in Tajikistan we speak Shughni (a variety of Pamiri languages), Tajik and Russian. Shughni is our mother tongue.

Tajik is the language of instruction at schools and university and Russian is another language we learn at school. At the University of Central Asia in Khorog where I work, all our English teachers are local and share the same language and culture as our learners.

Although it is widely accepted that when teaching English, only the English language should be used and that the learners’ mother tongue should be prohibited, I always believed that learners’ existing languages can actually help them with learning English.

Therefore, I wanted to explore the potential possibilities that using the students’ existing languages in the English classroom presents and so I decided to do my research in this area.

This was the first time I was undertaking academic research and to be honest, I was frightened. However, with the help of the inspirational instruction and guidance of my supervisor, Professor Angela Creese, a well-known professor of educational linguistics and Deputy Director of MOSAIC, the Centre for Research on Multilingualism, I successfully finished my research work and was awarded the best TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Dissertation Prize.

I was also nominated by the University of Birmingham for the ‘ELT (English Language Teaching) Masters Dissertation Award’, a United Kingdom-wide competition organized by the British Council, which recognizes work with the best potential for impact on ELT practice.

My one year at the University of Birmingham was a wonderful and unforgettable journey into the academic world and made me a more open-minded and confident person, as well as a more professional teacher. I am really thankful to the Chevening Scholarship as well as all the professors at the University of Birmingham for helping me make my dream come true.

2 comments on “A Chevening Scholar Writes…

  1. Dear Mrs. Tojiniso Olimnazarova,
    you ´ve wrote really an interesting and honest report about your “1 year in Birmingahm” and your “Chevening Scholarship”. There are some sentences of you in which you ´ve described honest your real inner feelings and impressions of the UK and esp. the University of Birmingham. I.e.: ” I thought I would never feel comfortable at this place”. Or “Everything was new and strange to me and I felt out of my comfort – zone. I didn ´t want to go out…”. There ´s a reason why lines like these immediately caught my eyes. When I started to work in the UK for the very first time (Londoner Docklands), I really felt similar. But I also had an old German – Saying in my mind : ” Der 1. Schritt ist der längste, denn jeder Anfang ist schwer.” ( “The 1st. step is always the longest one and every new start is hard to do.”) On the other side you took the right words out of my mouth by writing about the friendly attitude at the University. Or in my case : At the working – place. The new colleagues were warm-hearted and gave me a lot of support. So it ´s great to read that after a 1st. period of mixed emotions you also had a “wonderful” and “unforgettable” year and a journey into the world of the University of Birmingham. For this, I swear : Sooner or later, you surely will visit them again. Like I visit some of my former colleagues , now friends , at the Londoner Docklands again.
    Best wishes and a peaceful weekend, liebe Grüssle,
    Ingo-Steven Wais, Stuttgart

    1. Dear Ingo-Steven (if I may),

      Thank you very much for the post-it was very interesting to read your message and learn that there are other people who had the same experience. It was indeed the friendliness and helpfullness of people around me that helped me to get used to and actually enjoy the new place. You are right-I’d love to visit the University of Birmingham and all the great professors there. I hope I’ll have the chance as you did. I’m actually thinking of finding a scholarship to do my PhD at this university. Hope my dream will come true one day:)
      Best wishes,

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