International perspective: an American student in Kazakhstan

After living in Kazakhstan for a few years, US student Anthony Heykoop decided that he wanted to pursue an MBA and was pleased to find a university that matched his requirements in the capital city of Nur-Sultan

February 21 2020
Kazakhstan, university, higher education, America

In 2016 I visited some friends who were working in humanitarian organisations in Kazakhstan. I soon fell in love with the country and moved there for work in early 2017.

By late 2018 I was engaged to be married, and realised that I was at a point where I needed professional development. I wanted training in leadership and management, and an MBA programme sounded like exactly what I needed. I had a couple of universities in mind when I started researching programmes, but when I looked into their academic rigour and accreditation status, none measured up to my expectations.

I hadn’t originally considered Nazarbayev University (NU) but it kept popping up on top of lists for high academic standards and top-quality international faculty. It has a partnership with Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and it is the only school in the region at the end of the process to receive AACSB accreditation.

After applying, I visited the university in the capital of Nur-Sultan to meet faculty and take the entrance exam. While the capital is very cold (the second coldest capital city in the world!) walking into the university is a different experience. The main atrium is 1,000 feet long, with palm trees and fountains.

There were little cafes and coffee kiosks, and everything is connected by a network of skywalks – the dorms, the faculty departments, fitness centres. 


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The full-time MBA programme is structured as a cohort model with case study-based learning. This means that in my cohort of 25 students, we do all our classes together with lots of class discussions about business cases, and time in class is split evenly between lectures and discussion. The students come from diverse backgrounds and industries providing different and unique perspectives. The professors are also highly qualified, with degrees from Harvard and Stanford.        

Since joining the MBA programme, I have had the opportunity to meet business leaders in Central Asia, the chairman of Royal Dutch Shell, representatives from KPMG, McKinsey, Schlumberger, SoftBank, and many other companies. Nazarbayev University's Graduate School of Business has a wide alumni network as well, with graduates working for Amazon, Google, Facebook, the United Nations Development Programme and other industry leaders.

Comparing my experience in Kazakhstan with my undergraduate course at a small university in Oklahoma, the camaraderie between students is quite similar, as is the academic freedom to ask any question in the classroom and challenge conventional thought (this is unique in most post-Soviet contexts!).

While the programme is taught entirely in English, the biggest difference is outside the classroom, where all of my classmates speak either Russian or Kazakh. They are quick to include me in activities such as going out on weekends or playing soccer. The International Students Association is active and engaging and has helped to attract students interested in NU.

I have found Kazakh culture to be hospitable. The food is very savoury but unfortunately not as spicy as I’d like and they eat a lot of meat. Given Kazakhstan’s geographical location, and its multicultural diversity, you can find a mixture of cuisine from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, China, and South Korea in most parts of the capital city.

The city of Nur-Sultan is full of eclectic modern architecture and there is even a growing coffee shop culture among Kazakhstani youth. 

Throughout my life, I have visited 21 countries but have found myself most comfortable and welcome in Kazakhstan, and I believe that NU’s Graduate School of Business is a fantastic place to study.

Read more: Best universities in the emerging economies: top 100 

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