Using Skype, Kyrgyzstani Law Student Reaches Out to University Back Home
Baktygoul Koubanytchbekova was amazed by the issues her fellow students raised in classes during her first few weeks at Columbia Law School. “Back in Kyrgyzstan we are very limited to the statutes and regulations,” she said. “[In the US] it’s more about critical thinking and applying the norms of international law.” She adapted quickly, earning a 3.57 GPA her first semester, but wanted to do more.
“I thought it would be great for the students back home to experience the same challenge that I was experiencing,” said Koubanytchbekova, who received her master of laws degree from Columbia through the US Department of State’s Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program. With just a simple web camera and an internet connection, she shared her insights in real time with 60 students in Kyrgyzstan.
Koubanytchbekova and a friend who was teaching a spring 2009 international law course at International Ataturk-Alatoo University in Bishkek got approval from the dean to incorporate biweekly online discussions into the curriculum. Using Skype, a free video-calling application, to talk to the students from her apartment in New York, Koubanytchbekova covered subjects like the conflict between Russia and Georgia, the status of Kosovo, and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which she believes are discussed from a different perspective in the US.
While on a short vacation back to Kyrgyzstan in March 2009, Koubanytchbekova met with the students for an in-person lecture on democracy and good governance, which generated lively debate and resulted in mock elections for student leadership. She and the students also discussed plans to develop mock trial and moot court programs at the university.
"There are those who may never have the chance to come to the United States, but they do have the chance to talk to you and get the slice of knowledge they can by working with you side by side."
During her Muskie fellowship, Koubanytchbekova focused on human rights, criminal justice reform, and the rule of law and interned with the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative. She returned to Kyrgyzstan in September 2009 and is seeking opportunities to lecture at public and private universities in addition to her new job working on anti-corruption and legal reform projects with the Millennium Threshold Account Program.
“It’s such a great honor to be a Muskie fellow… but it’s also a huge responsibility to share the experience and knowledge you’ve gained with others back in your home country,” she reflected. “To fulfill that commitment, you do not have to wait to be back at home, rather, you can start it as early as possible.”
Established by the US Congress in 1992 to encourage economic and democratic growth in Eurasia, the Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program is a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State and is administered by IREX.