After flying into Osh our law-professor host collected us and we sped out of the parking lot. We were pulled over by the traffic police with a warning to obey the traffic rules before we had even reached to the main road. At breakneck speed we careened into the city of crowded streets, low buildings and green parks. ‘1000 professors will be there,’ our host promised. What?!!’ Ariell said, ‘Will we be in a stadium??’ ‘Oh, wait, I mean one hundred,’ the professor laughed. There were many calls to Ruslan, the director of international studies at Osh State University, to organise our visit. Plans were set for our two-day Academic Summer School.
That evening Anara came to our hotel to review our presentations in her role as translator. But more than this she was an enthusiastic representative of the university’s academic community, a professor of philology and US Fulbright Award winner. Anara provided interesting background to the event, explained how the university worked, that most academics wrote in Russian and had to pay to be published. The research context and system were so different from the UK; our challenge was to convey how the international [meaning English language] academic publication system functioned. Anara became our co-teacher and helped us to translate not only words from English to Kyrgyz and back, but the academic culture and wider research context.
The next morning, our venue was buzzing with excitement. A grand room with long curtains framing the wall-length windows featured rows of curious academics in the process of signing in, waiting, talking and checking phones until the event began. Microphones needed batteries and the presentation was formatted for the large screen. We were introduced by Anara to a crowd of professors and researchers and welcomed by Ruslan. Approximately eighty participants were from several universities in Osh Province, including Kyrgyz-Uzbek, Osh Medical faculty and Osh State. The majority of participants were women – they appeared to be the backbone of the staff.
Ariell began speaking and at her second slide a ‘poof’ sound turned the presentation screen black. No matter, she continued her talk as the event chairwoman scurried about looking for a technician. The audience were attentive, listening to descriptions of theory, research design and discussed what research meaned to them. Anara translated questions and comments; with warmth Ariell encouraged engagement and writing. Her questions to the audience and their varied responses kept the room alive in the summer swelter. Concepts, literature, grounding research in current themes and debates and encouraging a Kyrgyz perspective echoed around the room. After a short break, Troy’s ‘Academic Literature’ and ‘Writing Expectations’ presentations were shortened to half an hour. That was enough for definitions, emphasising ‘original, robust and repeatable’ research and stressing clarity and directness in writing. Then it was time for lunch by the fountain.
The streamlined afternoon flew by. Soon it was 4 pm, time for goodbyes and photos. The geography staff remained and we had an hour to discuss our shared interests. Several researcher spoke about their work in the mountains on pastoralism and the environment, giving hope for research related to Mongolia. Was land fenced, did herders move, what were the policy restrictions? The director spoke of degradation and landslides and their department’s efforts to rehabilitate the local environment. The palpable enthusiasm was rewarding; here we could discuss ideas.
In addition to English-language challenges, the professors spoke about difficulties that were hard for us to decode. Lecturers talked about the requirement to publish in Web of Science and Scopus-listed journals and the importance of Impact Factor. Soon we realised that our reference points for impact factor were quite different, with some referring to measures quite unfamiliar to us. The process sounded exploitive as researchers said they had to personally pay money for publications required for their degrees, where the cost of publication was often more than $500.
Yet they had not published in English-language journals and the cost was not for open access. Who was taking the money? The target readers were Russian-language readers, even just the university, as ‘points’ were needed to complete a PhD. What did this mean? It opened our eyes to the different pressures faced by academics in this area of the world and the barriers for publishing.
Impressively, the 75+ students were ready for Day Two to begin and arrived early. Our plan was to give feedback to individuals who had shared their draft papers with us the evening before. Gremlins again made the audio-visual system malfunction and delayed our start. With Anara’s support, Ariell discussed draft papers from several of the women one-one-one. With another volunteer translator, Troy answered questions and explained publishing details to other participants. The screen and microphones returned for the last hour so Ariell could review a paper on the screen for the group and discuss techniques for literature searching on Google Scholar.
The draft research papers shared by participants included valuable, contemporary topics focusing on public health institutions, health finance, water pollution and sanitation in urban contexts, poetry and literature, and environmental dynamics. We highlighted the gap in English-language academic literature on Kyrgyzstan and the exciting contributions that our participants were poised to make. The enthusiasm for potential collaborative research and finding points of synergy was mutual, with ideas bouncing around the room. Several researchers showed photos of their recent fieldwork to bring their work to life further. This suggests the summer school’s benefit was in broadening perspectives for all parties, demystifying publishing in English-language academic journals and encouraging international engagement and collaboration. The summer school also highlighted the value of in-person exchange of ideas and engagement, which is not possible to replicate on the 2-D surface of the computer screen.
After wrapping up the final session, then came the excitement of graduation. Each participant was called to the stage to receive a certificate signed by both the Osh State University and Oxford team. We all stood proudly for many variations of group photographs. A final group photo [below] captured the spirit of the days. We wish our new Kyrgyz friends all the best with their writing efforts and look forward to meeting again.