TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan -- Each week, volunteers from the Transit Center at Manas help bring a little corner of America to the Kyrgyz people.
The Transit Center's Theater Security Cooperation social cultural branch is responsible for hosting English language clubs at libraries in Bishkek and Kant as part of the American Corner.
American Corner, sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek, is an American-styled information resource center providing comprehensive and up-to-date information about the United States, and thus promoting mutual understanding between the American and Kyrgyz people.
At the Bayalinov National Library of Kyrgyzstan, the social cultural branch hosts two weekly talking clubs. They also host a monthly talking club at the Chui Oblast Library in Kant. Each time, they take volunteers from the Transit Center to engage the participants in conversation on that day's topic.
"Each week we go over a different topic and share American ideas through the language exchange," said Staff Sgt. Robert McGonagle, NCO in charge of TSC's social cultural branch. "It's an opportunity to see a different culture with different views and beliefs about the American way of life, all while promoting English language conversation skills."
A typical talking club has anywhere between 20 and 40 Kyrgyz participants, mainly high school and college students. Meerim Suiundukova is a 23-year old student finishing her final year in university. She has been attending the American Corner talking clubs regularly for the past four months.
"I come to practice my English and learn more about American culture and compare it to our culture," Suiundukova said. "I try to come every time. There are a lot of interesting topics. It's helpful because I get to practice more; I learn new words. If I don't know, I ask and they explain it to me."
Suiundukova studied English in high school and has taken additional English courses, but the opportunity to practice the language with native speakers has been a huge benefit, she said. While Kyrgyz participants may gain the opportunity to improving language skills, there are many more benefits to the program for both Kyrgyz and American participants alike.
"We want to learn about their culture," said McGonagle. "We want them to learn about us. I think we all walk away with a better understanding of each other. It's an eye-opening experience and one many people don't normally get. I encourage everyone to participate; it's an amazing experience you will never forget and the chance to build new friendships."