Kyrgyzstan is located in Central Asia and although not an obvious first choice for a study destination, it will absolutely surprise you with its incredible mountainous scenarios, nomadic traditions and simple life. It borders Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. It became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, and is one of the more progressive (aka westernized) countries in the region.
Most of the universities were founded after the independence, which means you will have access to relatively new facilities, but this also means some of the programs may still be going through an evolution stage. However, a lot of international institutions work in cooperation with Kyrgyz institutions to ensure the latter offer internationally recognized education and skills.
Kyrgyz Russian-Slavic University: Credited by several sources as the top ranked university in the country, it has more than 11,000 students, spread across 8 faculties (the strongholds being Natural and Social Sciences, Humanities, Engineering, and Biomedical Sciences). Russian is the official teaching language, but you can earn anything from an undergraduate degree all the way to PhD.
American University of Central Asia (AUCA): This liberal arts institution features a unique education program based in an US-style system of hour-credits and liberal arts curriculum. Some of the key programs offered are: American and European Studies, Anthropology, International and Comparative Politics, Psychology, and Sociology. Students are awarded Arts degrees fully accredited in the US, and the teaching languages are Russian and English.
Kyrgyzstan-Turkey Manas University: With around 2,000 students, it is one of the leading universities in the country. At your disposal are several undergraduate, masters and PhD courses in areas such as: Sciences, Engineering, Veterinary, Agriculture, Arts and Theology. Turkish and Kyrgyz are the teaching languages.
Osh State University (OSU): With around 27,000 students, OSU offers several undergraduate and Masters degrees in areas such as: Law, Education, Social Work, Economics, International Relations and Medicine (the latter being the area which OSU is most renowned for). Furthermore, there are two medical schools affiliated with OSU.
Jalal-Abad State University (JASU): With around 5,000 students, JASU is known for its courses related to Electrics, Electronics, Mechanical Engineering, and Hydrotechnic and Industrial building. These faculties are all boosted by the needs for technical skills required to build and operate the Toktogul hydroelectric power station, the biggest in Central Asia and built in the 1960’s. Other areas of study are: Languages (mainly Kyrgyz, Russian and English), Business and Economics, Zoology and Veterinary, and Oil and Gas Development and Operations.
Issyk-Kul State University: With between 5,000 and 7,000 students, it offers 36 courses spread across 7 faculties, the main ones being: Economy, Tourism, Environmental Sciences and Ecology, Arts and Culture and Computer Sciences. The university also features a Nanotechnology Center and a Botanical Garden where the students can do their practical researches.
Most universities in Kyrgyzstan have their academic curricula organized according to Russian or US standards, as well as the Bologna Treaty. Meaning, the type of course structure, type / frequency of exams, accreditation requirements and so on would be very similar to a huge number of universities worldwide. If you receive a degree certificate from universities created in cooperation with a foreign institution, chances are that your degree will be valid both in Kyrgyzstan and the native country of the foreign institution. In terms of degree offerings, they can range from a 4 to 5 years undergraduate degree, a 2 years Masters degree or a PhD program.
The majority of the courses are taught in Russian or Kyrgyz. However, universities founded by overseas institutions will teach their courses in Kyrgyz (or Russian) and their native language. The majority of universities will allow and encourage you to learn Russian or Kyrgyz as part of your study program and will offer on-campus courses in English, Chinese, French, Spanish and German.
One housing option is to live in a shared apartment off-campus with a few other students, where you will be responsible for paying rent and expenses. The second option are student residential halls, where you will pay a monthly fee and live on-campus (similar to any other university in the world).
Bishkek: Located in the Tien Shan mountain range in the Chui Valley, Bishkek is the capital of Kyrgyzstan and it has an interesting mixture of pleasant public parks and Soviet-era sites. Some of the main attractions include the National Historical Museum, Ala Too Square (where you will be able to watch the Kyrgyz take on the Changing of the Guard), and the Osh and Dordoy bazaars.
Osh: Located in the Southern part of Kyrgyzstan, Osh is the country’s second largest city and it harbors Central Asia's biggest and busiest outdoor bazaar. You will also be able to visit such sites such as: one of the few remaining statues of Lenin in the country, the largest Kyrgyz mosque, Solomon’s Sacred Mountain - the country’s only World Heritage Site - and according to legend, the burial place of the Prophet Solomon.
Jalal-Abad: Named after Jalal, a 13th century warrior, Jalal-Abad lies in the south of the Kugart valley and very close to the border of Uzbekistan. One of Kyrgyzstan's main branches of the Silk Road passed through the city and the region has played host to travelers for thousands of years. Jalal-Abad is also famous for its spas (there’s even a legend that the water from the Hozret-Ayub-Paigambar spa cured Lepers) and you will find the city very welcoming in its famously laid-back, easy-going vibe.
Karakol: Located to the east of Lake Issyk Kul, Karakol is the perfect destination if you are passionate about the outdoors and photography. There are breathtaking sights which you will be able to discover through trekking, mountaineering, horse riding and skiing. As in other locations in Kyrgyzstan, there is also a big range of spas and hot springs, and you will also be able to contemplate the beautiful Dungan Mosque, completely made of wood without nails and painted in numerous colors.
Planning your Trip
If you are from a Non-Visa Regime Country, then you won’t need a visa. All other countries will need a visa, but not necessarily a visa-supporting letter; make sure you check into which category your passport country falls and any required documents, by visiting your local Kyrgyz embassy/council or their websites. The universities in Kyrgyzstan will usually provide the visa-supporting letter, but the information they need varies from institution to institution. For visa extensions, make sure you apply at least 30 days before the expiration date – your university will be able to help with this as well. You will have to register your arrival with the Ministry of Internal Affairs or its territorial offices within 2 days of arriving. Keep in mind that tourist, religious and private visas are usually not extended by the universities.
Social Life and Student Culture
Because life is not all about studying, you will need to take some time to explore the cultural gems of Kyrgyzstan. Most cities will have a bazaar, which is always a popular gathering place for everyone and usually with really quirky places where you can enjoy traditional and worldwide foods. Although cities tend to be somewhat limited in terms of sights and places to go (keep in mind that Kyrgyzstan is a relatively recent country).
The best in-country offerings by far are the outdoors experiences, such as mountaineering and trekking. There are quite a few companies that will offer tours to the mountains and the mountain huts, and universities may organize such trips as well. Prices tend to be cheap compared to Western standards, so you will be able to do quite a lot of exploring and live the Kyrgyz countryside life for not that much money. Although Kyrgyzstan is a Muslim country, the Kyrgyz people are highly westernized, so no special dress code guidelines are necessary to abide by, although women would be advised to dress more conservatively in the south.
There are a few scholarships available to study in Kyrgyzstan, the most well-known being:
- Fulbright Applicants must be graduate students or advanced level scholars, and must have a very specific academic intention. The grant is usually quite generous and includes travel and living costs, as well as tuition fees.
- School of Russian and Asian Studies Available for graduate and post-graduate students through the School of Russian and Asian Studies, it provides funding for up to a year of research in Russia or Kyrgyzstan. However, you must be enrolled in one of the school’s programs to be considered.
- International Research and Exchanges Board Provides advanced scholars and students funding / collaborative environments in which to conduct research or network with fellow scholars in Kyrgyzstan.