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【ALUMNI INTERVIEW】 From Kazakhstan to CUHK Darkhan Dildakhan takes on ambassadorship to help Central Asian students settle in Hong Kong

From Kazakhstan to CUHK
Darkhan Dildakhan takes on ambassadorship to help Central Asian students settle in Hong Kong

Darkhan Dildakhan (20/UC/Computer Science) was among the first group of three students from Kazakhstan whom CUHK welcomed in 2016, and the only one who has stayed in Hong Kong upon graduation, after securing employment as a software engineer. Looking back, his decision to embark on his first adventure to study abroad in Hong Kong was inspired by a senior student in his high school. Darkhan believes that it is one of his wisest decisions – not only did his experience broaden his mind, it also turned a new page in his life. Having recently received his permanent Hong Kong identity card, the city has become his second home. Darkhan has also undertaken the role of Overseas Students Ambassador to help other Central Asian students wishing to study in Hong Kong, encourage those who are already here to persevere and stay on track to achieve their dreams.

Having stayed in Hong Kong for seven years, Darkhan has received his permanent HKID card. He sees the city as his home away from home.

Studying at a renowned boarding high school in Kazakhstan, Darkhan was one of the students yearning to go abroad for undergraduate studies. While Korea was the most popular destination among the Asian countries, Hong Kong was lesser known. In early-2015, when a teacher introduced a former student who had studied in Hong Kong, Darkhan became instantly fascinated like a bell has rung in his mind. He connected with the senior student and searched for information online in order to piece together his imagination of the city. Perhaps due to insufficient preparation in his first application for CUHK, he did not obtain the scholarship he had hoped for. Instead, his life as an international student began at The Education University of Hong Kong in September 2015. With favourable recommendations from professors who had taught him, Darkhan successfully obtained the scholarship and articulated to CUHK in the following year.

Going on exchange to the University of Liverpool in the UK was also a fond memory of Darkhan's time at the CUHK.

Fostering cultural exchange on campus
Located in Central Asia, Kazakhstan has an extremely cold climate. In the moment when he first landed, Darkhan felt startled by the heat in Hong Kong. However, it was the dining culture that is the most challenging. Adhering to the advice from the senior student in his high school, Darkhan shared a rental flat with five to six other Central Asian students rather than the hostels. “Muslims are forbidden to eat pork, and only consume Halal food. As the university canteens rarely provide these on the menu in those days, we would buy our own food and take turns cooking at home. Although the rental is higher than the hostels, savings in food costs would make up for the difference,” he explains.

In an effort to promote diverse cultural exchange, CUHK students from Central-Asian countries, including Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, formed a student society and regularly hosted activities to showcase specialty foods, traditional costumes, as well as folk music and dance to local students. Darkhan also enjoyed inviting classmates, professors, or colleagues from the Office of Student Affairs to visit his apartment to personally experience the life of Central Asian students.

Darkhan (centre) with traditional costumes and music instruments at the Central Asia cultural activities at CUHK.

Being one of the first students from Kazakhstan, Darkhan suggested CUHK participating in education fairs in his home country. During the summer break in his third year of studies, he began taking on the role as Overseas Students Ambassador and travelled with the CUHK staff to Kazakhstan to share his rewarding experience with potential students there. This mission has continued until today, and Darkhan has helped many Central Asian students deal with complicated issues they face in Hong Kong.

Darkhan (right) with the CUHK team at an education expo in Kazakhstan.

Genuine care to nurture his interest
In his first year of study in CUHK, Darkhan enrolled in a broad-based curriculum in the Faculty of Engineering before deciding to pursue computer science as his major. “The average monthly salary in my home country is about USD $500, which is a huge gap compared to the standard of living in Hong Kong. This means I had to study very hard to retain my scholarship,” he says. “In my first year, I was hospitalized for 10 days with a stomach illness. I became very worried about the progress of my studies. Thankfully, the professors showed their genuine care for me. With their coaching, I was able to pursue the subject that fits my ability and interest – computer science.”

Darkhan also reaped benefits from precious internship experiences, which are instrumental in charting his career development direction. “I got to experience the life of a software engineer at a large-scale accounting firm as an intern. After my graduation, I was fortunate to get a job offer at a mid-scale finance company. Since I needed to wait for three months before starting there, I made use of this gap and secured another internship at a start-up company and became their second staff member! In a month's time, the management asked me to stay and offered me full-time employment. With a huge opportunity for growth, the company has developed to the scale of around 40 staff in just over two years,” he adds. “I have come to Hong Kong for seven years already, and have just received my permanent Hong Kong identity card. This adds to my sense of belonging and I look forward to further developing my career here. Once the pandemic settles down, I would love to get my parents to visit me for the first time to Hong Kong – a place I call my second home.”

A member of the football team of Pak Chuen Hall, United College, Darkhan (front row, fourth from right) won the championship of College Head's Cup.

Published on "CU Alumni Magazine" Issue 112 by Alumni Affairs Office 2022

Read online: CU Alumni Magazine Issue No. 112 (Chinese Version Only)
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