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John Curran is a political science major at Washington College in Chestertown, MD. He is an Irish citizen and spent the majority of his childhood in New Hampshire and even lived on the Caribbean Island of Dominica. After graduation, John aspires to seek a career in diplomacy and human rights advocacy. Through the America’s Unofficial Ambassadors program, John will complete 180 hours of service interning in Tajikistan. Read his first blog entry below!
New Challenges in Tajikistan
By John Curran
My trip to Tajikistan in May of 2015 will be my first time visiting Central Asia, the Middle East, or East Asia. From that perspective alone I am highly motivated to explore a new culture and region that is completely different from the United States or Europe. Everything from dress to food will be completely unfamiliar to me, and that presents an exciting challenge. Prior to reaching Tajikistan I will be travelling to Dubai where I am extremely interested in seeing the divergence of so many different cultures who are all passing through. After Dubai I will be flying to Dushanbe where I will be spending a total of six weeks experiencing the culture, working for an Internet advocacy NGO, and doing my best to learn as much Tajik as possible.
Beyond visiting Tajikistan simply to experience the culture, I am also excited to spend time working for Civil Internet Policy Initiative (CIPI), where I will get experience working for a “real world” NGO. CIPI is concerned with improving the Internet infrastructure within Tajikistan, which includes writing, transcribing, and translating documentation, as well as writing programs and creating online platforms for Tajik citizens to report crimes or for school administrators to maintain attendance records. In the United States, we’ve accumulated many years of experience using the internet, and it has become a resource that is nearly impossible for most of us to live without.
In contrast, there is much less internet penetration in Tajikistan, and people have had much less time to develop how they use it in their everyday lives. Many of functions of the internet which Americans take for granted simply are not practiced or do not exist yet in Tajikistan. As a result, CIPI has been and continues to be integral in establishing a more robust platform for Tajik citizens to utilize. With all this in mind, the chance to work with CIPI is a very exciting prospect, and sure to be a challenge.
Outside of my volunteer work for CIPI, I am also very interested in Tajik culture and what it will be like to live in Central Asia for six weeks. In 2007, I spent a year living in the Caribbean island of Dominica. While culturally different I expect that Tajikistan will be comparable. In particular, the infrastructure within Dominica was much less developed than compared to the United States. Tajikistan, and Dushanbe in particular, appear to be in a similar situation, and I am very interested to see how the less developed infrastructure of Tajikistan impacts day-to-day life within a populated city such as Dushanbe.
Additionally, from a cultural perspective, Tajikistan is incredibly exciting. With Tajiki, Persian, and Russian all spoken within the country. The cultural identity of Tajikistan is therefore a very complicated matter, and I’m looking forward to the chance to visit some of the museums and cultural sites within Tajikistan. In the past, my travels have only brought me throughout the United States and Europe. Asian culture and history are largely unknown to me.
I am expect my time in Tajikistan to be extremely helpful in allowing me to develop a better understanding of how NGOs operate. As a taste of the type of work I am interested in pursing in the future, this is an invaluable opportunity. Likewise, Tajikistan represents a place that few Americans are even aware of, which provides the benefit of experiencing a culture that most Americans have no knowledge of. Finally, as an English speaker and individual who is entirely accustomed to Western culture, Tajikistan is the perfect challenge.