An ocean away from home

Jessica Sprowl

Student from Turkmenistan enjoys Ohio, Olive Garden

Eduard Junelov, a junior finance major from Turkmenistan, has been attending Kent State since 2003. Junelov competed in the Future Leaders Exchange Program for a year and was picked to become an exchange student in America during high school.

Credit: Steve Schirra

For some students, adjusting to college life can be difficult, but home is just a hop, skip and a jump away if there are any problems. For Eduard Junelov, a junior finance major, home is across an entire ocean.

Junelov hails from Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, a country located in Central Asia.

After competing in the Future Leaders Exchange Program for about a year, Junelov was one of only 35 students across Turkmenistan chosen to become a foreign exchange student in America during high school.

Turkmenistan, which is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Iran and Afghanistan to the south, Uzbekistan to the east and the Caspian Sea to the west, has a population of about 5 million.

Having declared its independence on Oct. 27, 1991, Turkmenistan has become the fourth largest republic in the former Soviet Union and the second largest in Central Asia.

“Our region is so unique. We used to be part of the (former) Soviet Union and now there are all these little countries managing on their own,” Junelov said.

While Turkmen and Russian make up most of its population, Turkmenistan has more than 70 different nationalities, while its two primary religions are Islamic and Eastern Orthodox.

“That is one thing I really miss about home,” Junelov said. “There is no divide among the different races and religions. Neighborhoods are really close back home, no matter what they are made up of.”

Back in 2001, Junelov had recently turned 15 when he was chosen and set up with a host family in Newcomerstown, Ohio, to attend Newcomerstown High School.

“I knew it would be hard to leave my family and friends, but my host family ended up being great,” he said. “I still visit them during breaks and on weekends.”

While Junelov was attending high school, Theodore McKown, Kent State assistant director of admissions, spoke to Newscomerstown’s students about attending Kent State, which piqued Junelov’s interest.

After completing a year at Newcomerstown High School, Junelov returned to Turkmenistan for a year. His parents encouraged him to apply to Kent State because they wanted him and his older sister, who was already attending a college in Texas, to become more internationally well-rounded.

Now at 19 years old, Junelov has been attending Kent State since the 2003-2004 school year and enjoys the people and atmosphere here.

“Ohio is so beautiful, and the people have been so open and friendly,” he said. “I know it sounds cheesy, but I have met some great friends and it has been a great experience.”

Junelov, whose mother is Armenian and whose father is Turkmen, grew up speaking Russian as his native language, but is also fluent in Turkmen (Turkmenistan’s native language). He began learning English, as well as French, in elementary school.

Because of his educational background, Junelov joked that adjusting to the English language was not as hard as adjusting to the different food in America.

“I do enjoy American pizza, and I love the Olive Garden!” he exclaimed.

Junelov has also done some traveling in the United States, the farthest being Texas to see his sister.

“New York City was my favorite place,” he said.”It has such a great mixture of people.”

Junelov has been fortunate enough to go home every summer to see his family and has seen his sister every year for Christmas.

Since living in the United States, one issue that has bothered Junelov is Americans’ lack of knowledge of world geography.

“Some people I have met here (at Kent State) did not even know the Soviet Union didn’t exist anymore,” he said.

After graduation, Junelov would not mind getting a job in the United States, but he is not sure if he’d want to leave his family behind in Turkmenistan.

“I really just want to explore different things,” he said, “Go wherever my life takes me.”

Contact features reporter Jessica Sprowl at [email protected].