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From the Steppes to the Mountains: Central Asian Students unveil rich heritage at “A Night in Central Asia”
Dec 08, 2023
Peking University, December 7, 2023: "If I really wanted to reach you, beauty moon, I would, I would wade blue sea of clouds." Cholpon Kyzy Nurzat, a Kyrgyz freshman at Peking University (PKU) School of International Studies, delivered a heartfelt rendition of a song titled “Moon Floats” from her homeland. Together with her Kyrgyz friend Kalmamatova Saamai, their voices carried the audience to the breathtaking plateau in their distant home. The enchanting lullaby painted a vivid picture of the majestic mountains and pristine alpine lakes of Kyrgyzstan, creating a mesmerising ambiance for "A Night in Central Asia".

On Dec. 1, 2023, Central Asian students at Peking University organized “A Night in Central Asia”, the inaugural event of the Central Asia Students Association (CASA). The event was held in Zhongguanyuan Global Village and was attended by approximately 30 students from different countries and faculties. The founders, Mahmudova Gulandom and Shernazarova Rukhsora, warmly welcomed the attendees and introduced their vision for CASA. As a student initiative driven by Central Asian students, CASA seeks to foster a collective effort among Central Asian students to enable a broader PKU student audience to gain a deeper understanding of the diverse region.

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CASA student founders Ruxsora and Gulandom (seen from left)

They proceeded to invite Su Huangyi, a Singaporean junior from PKU School of International Studies to give an overview of Central Asia. Su's fascination with the region began during his participation in Model United Nations in high school, prompting him to delve deeper into its complexities through extensive reading. Likening Central Asia to an onion, Su explained the need to “peel away its layers”, including its history under the Soviet Union and the Mongol Empire, as well as its Islamification to truly grasp its complexity. He encouraged students who are interested in the region to understand more about it by learning its history, discovering the unique and unexpected connections between their own country and Central Asia, or simply by visiting Central Asia. 

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Su shares about his fascination with Central Asian history

To facilitate a comprehensive understanding of the diverse Central Asian region, members of CASA took turns sharing insights about each of the five countries. The informative session included vibrant cultural displays that showcased the traditional costumes in the region. 

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Saamai wears traditional Kyrgyz costume
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A student participant wearing the Tajik Toqi (Токии)

Additionally, attendees were treated to an auditory journey as representatives from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan presented the rich musical traditions of their respective nations. The melodic tunes offered a glimpse into the cultural tapestry of Central Asia. 

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Central Asian students present about their countries

To further tantalize the senses, the event featured a delightful exploration of Central Asian cuisine, allowing participants to savor the flavors distinctive to the region. Students were able to try unique snacks such as the bogirsoq (butter dough balls), hworost (sweet crisp pastry), and some dried fruits.
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Central Asian delights!

This multifaceted approach, incorporating visual, auditory, and gustatory elements, provided students with a holistic and immersive experience, fostering a deeper appreciation for the cultural richness of each Central Asian country.

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Participants enjoy the snacks

During the sharing, two Chinese students were also invited to share about their personal connection with the region. Zhang Tinghao, a doctoral student from PKU Institute of Area Studies (IAS), shared about his friendship with two Kyrgyz students, who visited his high school for an exchange. This fateful encounter with them not only inspired his interest in Central Asia, but also led him to switch from his original decision to study chemistry to pursue a major in international relations, and later a doctorate in IAS with a specialization in Central Asian studies. As fate would have it, their paths would cross again at PKU, when the Kyrgyz students chose to enroll at PKU for their undergraduate studies. 

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Zhang shares his affinity with Central Asia

Zhang Jiajie (Jack), a junior from the College of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering, shared about his recent trip to Uzbekistan, providing a detailed account of his observations and encounters in the country. He showcased the mesmerizing Islamic architecture he saw and also recounted his culinary adventures, sampling local Uzbek dishes such as plov (a rice dish with meat, carrots, and spices), manti (dumplings), and shashlik (meat skewers), enhancing his appreciation for the rich cultural tapestry of Uzbekistan.

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Jack shares about his trip to Uzbekistan

Established in October 2023, the Central Asia Students’ Association is a student-led organization that gathers students from five Central Asian countries, namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, as well as PKUers who are interested in Central Asia.

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A group photo of CASA members

Written by: Shi Xinyao
Edited by: Su Huangyi