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Freshmen bring MIT ties to Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia

Freshman Enkhmunkh Zurgaanjin is the first citizen from Mongolia to attend MIT.
Freshman Enkhmunkh Zurgaanjin is the first citizen from Mongolia to attend MIT.
Photo / Donna Coveney
Freshman Meder Kamalov is the first citizen from Kyrgyzstan to attend MIT.
Freshman Meder Kamalov is the first citizen from Kyrgyzstan to attend MIT.
Photo / Donna Coveney

This is the second in a series of profiles of members of the freshman class.

Just five years ago, freshman Meder Kamalov of Kyrgyzstan viewed coming to MIT as an impossible dream.

"I thought there was no way for a normal person to come to MIT," Kamalov said. "I thought only geniuses got in."

When Kamalov met a group of MIT students from Kazakhstan two years later, he listened to them talk about the campus. The more he heard, the more he liked it. But he still was not sure he would get in. "I didn't think that people from our country could be accepted," he said.

After applying, Kamalov waited anxiously for news. He knew that acceptance letters were mailed via DHL while the rejection letters came via regular mail. When he called DHL and confirmed that a package was on its way to his address, he was elated.

"I was just staring and holding the phone," he said. "I knew so many who applied and were rejected. I was prepared for that."

Both Kamalov and Enkhmunkh Zurgaanjin, from Mongolia, hail from Central Asian countries that are new at the Institute. Both members of the class of 2009, they are proud to be the first citizens from their countries to attend MIT.

"There are a lot of people who don't know about Mongolia," said Zurgaanjin. "It is a big responsibility."

Though he had never been to the United States before, Zurgaanjin attended high school in England. He said the boarding school prepared him well for the challenges of studying at MIT.

Zurgaanjin spent a couple of days at the international student orientation prior to freshman orientation. "It was a nice way to start meeting people and be able to talk with them," he said.

Some of the challenges Zurgaanjin sees in the year ahead are the same ones any college student faces.

"I am going to have to learn how to cook," he said. Living in Senior House, there will be plenty of opportunities for him to make his own food.

For Kamalov, who had also never visited the States, the food has been one of the biggest surprises. "When I tried it, I was surprised, but I really liked it," said Kamalov, who said he has mostly eaten at Anna's Taqueria and the food court in the student center.

Even before classes started, Kamalov knew he wanted to major in chemistry. "It's my favorite subject," he said.

Though English is his fourth language -- he also speaks Russian, Turkish and Kyrgyz -- Kamalov was not especially nervous about classes held in English. "I don't feel like I am different from the other students," he said.

And, neither Zurgaanjin nor Kamalov said he'd had a bout of homesickness yet.

"It is hard sometimes," said Kamalov. "But I am just so happy to be here."

Class of 2009 by the numbers

Most represented countries:
Korea - 8
Canada - 8

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 21, 2005 (download PDF).

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