Longtime CIB member and Russia expert studies abroad in Kazakhstan

Madison N in KZMadison Nowlin first joined the CIB in the spring of 2016. Since that time, she has served the organization from multiple positions: as an analyst (twice), Chief Finance Officer, and editor of the CIB’s journal, The Intelligence Review. During that time she undertook research into Russia’s domestic security policy, Russia’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War, and Russian-American relations. She is the recipient of the CIB’s Intelligence Analysis Award, for delivering the highest-quality oral analytical product, and the CIB Achievement Award, among other distinctions.

As of September 12 of this year, Madison is studying International Relations at Narxoz University in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where she will be staying until December 18. She has added this destination to a long list of study-abroad experiences, which have previously taken her to Norway, England, and the Republic of Georgia. We caught up with Madison via email and asked her a few questions about her current study-abroad experience.

Q: Kazakhstan is not a country you hear much about. Why did you choose to go there?

A: I chose Kazakhstan for a few reasons. First, I was studying the Russian language at Coastal Carolina University and wanted to improve my language skills. The dominant language here is Russian,

Madison N in KZ

Madison (center) on the outskirts of Almaty

and Coastal has an exchange program with Narxoz, so it seemed like a logical choice. I had also visited the country of Georgia and fell in love with its beauty and culture, and wanted to see more of the Eurasian/Central Asian region. As it turns out, I’m also learning a little bit of the Kazakh language as well as Pashto and Farsi, since I am studying here with other international students.

Q: Can you describe some of the more surprising things that you have found in or about Kazakhstan?

A: One of the most surprising things I have encountered here is that freedom is just a facade. At first glance, society seems similar to that in the West. However, their president has been in office for almost thirty years, most of my classmates are afraid to speak out against the political regime, and my curfew for the dormitory is 11 o’clock –no exceptions. But I think the thing that surprised me the most is that most Kazakhs are more worried about the United States invading their country than they are about the possibility of Russia invading.

Q: You have been studying Russia and Russian-related security issues for several semesters at the CIB and in your broader studies at CCU. How has your experience in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet Republic, augmented your in-depth knowledge of your subject-matter expertise?

A: One thing that is undeniable about Kazakhstan –and especially Almaty– is its Soviet legacy. It is everywhere: in architecture, infrastructure, and most importantly in its political institutions. Being here has allowed me to witness many things I previously only read about. For example, my National and Regional Security course has taught me the true security priorities for the Central Asian region, which often differ from those reported in Western specialized literature.

Q: What would be your advice to other CIB members who may be hesitant about studying abroad?

A: My advice to any student –including CIB members– hesitant to study abroad is to just go for it. Choose a region that will be academically beneficial as well as personally enjoyable. You may underestimate yourself when it comes to adapting to new cultures, but that shouldn’t stop you. Trust me, no matter how different the culture is to your own, you will one day wake up and realize that it’s not so foreign anymore. The streets will feel familiar, you’ll stop thinking about how much you miss Chick-fil-A, and you’ll start singing along to the country’s most popular songs (even if you don’t totally understand them). It’s not a permanent situation. Plus, the benefits of international experience are invaluable to any career path.