Global Connections Profile: meet the Lucky and Brave Baktygul Issabekova

Do you know anyone who has won the United States Diversity Visa (Green Card) lottery? If your answer is “No,” Global Connections has a surprise for you. Allow us to introduce a very lucky woman, Baktygul Issabekova. But, besides being lucky, she is also remarkably strong, smart and brave. She is a Global Connections member from far-off Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital where she worked as a sales manager. 

Baktygul moved to the USA almost three years ago with her husband Darkhan and two beautiful daughters, Darina (14) and Yasmina (8). They chose State College because her husband, an architect, was hired by a firm in the area.

“My first impressions of America were great. I really loved New York City, but America is not only New York, right? The easiest part of moving was making friends with other Kazakh and Russian (her second language) speakers who live here. The hardest part was facing COVID 19 just a few months after we arrived.”

While Baktygul loves living in the US with her husband and children, she does get really homesick at times. “I miss my mom, my dad and my sisters, my other relatives and friends.” She also misses the food and the restaurants in Kazakhstan and the physical and natural beauty of her homeland. “The Kazakh mountains are true works of beauty,” she says.

Baktygul recalls that she heard about the possibility of getting a Green Card from a friend. “My husband really wanted to move to the USA. I just filled out the form and forgot about it. I didn’t even hope for success. Now that I know how difficult this Lottery is, I understand that I’m really lucky.”

Baktygul has been a valued member of Global Connections for almost one year. She met the organization after an invitation from her Brazilian friend, Sabrina Lima, Global Connections’ outgoing Public Relations Officer. She tells how GC is helping her. “I met my great tutor Bruce Truitt, who helps me to learn English on a charitable basis. Also, I met a lot of other international citizens.” She says that her favorite things about GC are the in-person thematic meetings and the opportunity to experience a little bit of how other people from around the world live. “Walking in another person’s shoes is one of the biggest favors you can do for yourself.” 

She plans to keep studying English even harder, make new friends in America and build a career for herself. With all her luck and courage, she will certainly succeed. Fly high, Baktygul!

Sign up to Amazon Smiles and help Global Connections at no cost to you

Did you know that you could help Global Connections simply by using Amazon? When you shop at smile.amazon.com, Amazon donates 0.5% of the price of your eligible purchases – at no cost to you. So, if you want an easy way to contribute to Global Connections, please just use Amazon Smile. 

First, sign in using your existing Amazon account or create a new one. Second, just go to smile.amazon.comNext, pick your charity by searching for “Global Connections.” Then, select Global Connections in University Park, PA from the list on the screen. You may also be asked if you understand that you must start at smile.amazon.com to support Global Connections. Finally, start shopping!

Thank you for considering this. We really appreciate it. 

Know the elected Global Connections’ officers

Robert (Bob) Persiko was re-elected Global Connections’ president at the November 9 general membership meeting. This is Bob’s third term as president. 

Anna Borisova de Valdez was chosen to be the new secretary. Marco Damasceno is the new public relations officer. Kieran Holland will remains the vice-president, and Bruce Truitt will continue as treasurer. All the elected are volunteers. 

During the meeting, the members also approved changes in the Global Connections bylaws.

English Teachers Needed

Global Connections currently offers one weekly English class, conducted virtually, whose members are at the intermediate-to-advanced level. We might offer a more basic English class if we have a teacher and sufficient students to justify the offering. The target audience would likely be immigrants whose children are taking ESL classes in school. The other possibility is one-on-one tutoring in English. We already have a couple of GC members who are serving as tutors in this way. Having a “stable” of teachers who feel capable and are willing to engage in this way would enable us to respond to requests from public institutions. If you are interested, please contact Deb Leo, [email protected].

Volunteer interpreters and translators

We are often asked if we have any members who could volunteer to interpret for an individual in the community who doesn’t speak English. The need is occasional, and most requests come from the State College Area School District for cases involving immigrant families of enrolled students. So far, the languages have included Portuguese, Farsi, Vietnamese and Thai. We would like to establish a list of volunteer interpreters in Global Connections. If you are interested or know someone who is, please contact Bob Persiko, [email protected].

GC annual membership meeting is coming

All active members are invited to attend the annual membership meeting and officer election on Wednesday, November 9, 7:00-8:00, via Zoom.  Two items of business require approval:

  • 1.     A temporary suspension of the one-year term limit on the office of President in the Bylaws to enable Bob Persiko to run for a third term.
  • 2.     A change in the Bylaws as follows: 

Current text: IV.D.4 Duties of the Treasurer. The duties of the treasurer will include receiving and collecting membership dues, maintaining membership records, receiving and collecting programming fees, receiving and disbursing monies with the approval of the executive committee and keeping the financial records of the organization.

Proposed amendment:  delete the phrase “maintaining membership records” and add it to the responsibilities of the Membership Committee Chair in the Standing Rules.

Reasoning:  This is not a fiscal responsibility and therefore not relevant to what the Treasurer does. The Membership Chair is already fulfilling this function through the upkeep of records in Wild Apricot.

The slate of nominees for the 2023 officer positions will be distributed at least 15 days prior to the annual meeting, as required by the Bylaws.

GC highlight: Bruce Truitt

“I live my life like a dog,” says Bruce Truitt.  “I sniff all the corners for something new.” This was the amazing quote from our interview, and it describes exactly how brave he is. Gutsy, enthusiastic, dynamic and bright in everything he does. He is a multi-lingual auditor, analyst, consultant and educator. We dare to say he is also an excellent musician and a curious person thirsty for knowledge, who has spent his life working hard, studying, and learning around the globe. He seems always to be “brainstorming” with himself, looking for new combinations of ideas and perspectives. He speaks three languages fluently and is learning a new one. He seems non-stop.

Bruce Truitt is from Houston, TX, but spent most of his life in Austin, where he really developed his connection with the music industry. “To make a living playing music required doing a whole bunch of different things to make ends meet. So, I was head of the Musicians Union, playing music, doing sound reinforcement, sound design, music for plays, booking bands, writing jingles, and producing music for myself and other players.”

After somehow finding time to earn a BA in Honors English and MA in Foreign Language Education, with minors in foreign languages and computer-assisted instruction, respectively, Bruce went back into music by working in a recording studio as manager, engineer, and session musician which then led to developing skills in media production and media/public relations. “It was also a time when public information was moving from paper to electronic media, especially in government agencies.  So, I became the head of Public Information and Health Education for the Austin Travis County Health Department and then moved on tobe Public Information and International Protocol Officer and head of the Sister Cities Program for the City of Austin.”

After realizing that media and public relations were somewhat self-limiting, he returned to school to earn a master’s degree in Public Administration, during which time he specialized in Soviet and Russian Economics, operations research, and applied statistics.  He then went to work for the Texas State Auditor’s Office and later for the State of Texas Office of Inspector General where he became a health care auditor and resident statistics expert. He has been in business for himself for the last 12 years as an expert witness, consultant, and instructor in healthcare fraud, auditing standards, internal control, and applied statistics.

Bruce also studied, lived, and worked in the USSR and Russia. “I studied Russian for two years as an undergraduate. I just could not believe that all Russians wanted to kill Americans.  So, after graduation, I sold pretty much everything I owned and studied in Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev. I then worked in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia off and on for about five years and, ultimately, returned to college and took a master’s in Russian and East European Studies.  He adds, “My wife has forbidden me from returning to the university, but anything is possible!”

What does Bruce enjoy most?  Without hesitation, he said, “Playing music, spending time with my family, learning new things, and being able to enter another culture by learning its language. Knowing another language is a passport to another world.”

He adds, “Learning a new language is a courageous act and one that can silenceus when we don’t know how to say something – an experience I call ‘stubbing your brain.’ When you hit your toe on a door or something, it stops you dead in your tracks, right? The same thing happens when you mess up with grammar or vocabulary–you stub your brain, and you stop. But, that’s exactly what you should not do. Push on. Talk yourself out of the corner. It is just like playing music.  Both music and language are improvisation. We shine and learn when we make mistakes.  Even when things don’t go right, everyone on the planet is beautiful in their own way, regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, and all that other stuff.”

Bruce and his family came to Pennsylvania five years ago, mostly to be closer to his wife’s (Kate) family. “Kate’s mom is 89 – still driving, still living on her own, still going to the gym, but someday she will need some help.  We’ll be here.”

Bruce’s involvement with Global Connections (GC) began three-and-a-half years ago. “Somehow, Board Member Susan Steinberg found out about me. When we met, she told me Global Connections was looking for a new Treasurer.  Since what GC was doing was a direct extension of my background in International Protocol, I could hardly refuse.”

When we asked about how GC has helped him, he noted that, “It gives me a meaningful way to connect with other people and  other cultures, continue my background in international relations and keep my language skills alive. I have really enjoyed trading Russian-English lessons with a couple of other members of Global Connections.  Global Connections also creates a forum in which the spouses and children of Penn State’s international cohort can learn about and interact with the State College community.

The best part of being a GC  member is that Global Connections is an organization that is trying to facilitate and develop an international presence in a largely monocultural environment.” Regarding why he decided to be a volunteer, he observes that he is at a point in his life in which giving is more important than getting. “I don’t really need to be paid for something. I feel like I have more control over my time and, as a result, am more free to contribute to the community.

We then asked him about the meaning of life. He quickly noted“Community!”Adding that you can’t have community without communication. “Better communications would solve the great majority of the world’s problems.” He continued,“ that’s what GC is trying to do by creating a community beyond Penn State, an effort which I wholeheartedly celebrate.”

A month full of events for GC members

On Sep 18th, Global Connections celebrated our annual membership picnic at Tudek Park with a catered luau. We had the chance to interact with long-term members and newcomers, both international and American residents, we usually do not have the opportunity to see in person. Attendees shared their backgrounds, interests and inspiring visions of our world.

The luau also provided an opportunity to recruit new members. It was an amazing time we spent together eating, talking, and having fun. One of the two cakes was decorated with a picture of our members. Tudek Park was an ideal venue for the picnic, with its splendid natural surroundings. It was an occasion to say good-bye to our warm summer time and say hello to the upcoming fall season.

September also provided various opportunities to publicize Global Connections. We set up a display table at the annual State College Lion Bash on Sep 8th, joining scores of other community organizations in promoting their programs to the thousands of visitors.

Similarly, we were present on Sep 17th at the Municipal Building for the Multicultural Unity Fair. Heartful thanks to those GC members who volunteered for several hours at both events. We are working closely with the State College Area School District offering help – especially interpretation – to families in need of assistance.

GC highlight: Kiyomi Masamune uses the education as a way to transform the world 

This gentle yet influential woman has found in education the opportunity to contribute to society and transform the world we live in. We recently spoke with Kiyomi Masamune, a Ph.D. candidate at Penn State University, about her long experience living abroad.

Kiyomi is from Tokyo, Japan. Before coming to the United States, she lived for a few years in England and Italy. Living in Europe, she could understand personally the challenges of living abroad. It also brought her knowledge about the diversity of cultures due to her contact with different communities in the West.

Kiyomi and her family arrived in the United States 17 years ago. Her first home was in Worcester, MA, because of her husband who got a position as a visiting professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). We asked about her first impression here in the US, and she said, “I made a lot of mistakes when I first came to the United States because I didn’t speak English so much. And the first impression, the first morning I went to a supermarket and I got a box of donuts and they were so tasty. I thought, oh, I think I can survive here. It has such good food.” She laughed and continued saying, “Also, there are a lot of green spaces in big cities, which reminded me of Tokyo. So, that first impression was good.”

We asked if she ever felt sad or lonely living in the US, but due to her previous experience abroad she did not find it so difficult. She said, “I had already experienced being away from home. So, when I first came to the United States, I didn’t feel so sad because America can offer a feeling of welcome. Meanwhile, Europe for me is like Japan with a long history, which for me makes them similar in some aspects.”

Even after living so many years abroad, what still makes her feel homesick “definitely food.” She said, “So, I started to feel it when I got older. I left my country when I was 24, and until recently, I didn’t miss Japanese food so much. However, nowadays maybe my body system is getting older and I would like to go back to my original, I think. Yeah, so I do not want to eat out because what US restaurants can offer cannot satisfy me anymore. So, today, I prefer to cook a simple Japanese meal for myself.” Also, in order to avoid and reduce homesickness, she talks with her family in Japan at least once a month by video call.

Three years after having arrived in the USA, she moved to Altoona. She expressed with a smile that she fell in love with that place, and she decided to specialize in early childhood education. Her desire to work and start her research in the education field emerged from the experiences that she faced raising her daughters in the US. These experiences came from the challenges to raise bilingual children, which not just involve the relation between home and community but also the relations in the school that demand daily effort for foreigners.

Her involvement with Global Connections is recent; actually, she started nine months ago when she felt the need to enhance her writing skills due to some issues that she faced on her academic journey. Besides that, she had the opportunity to meet Bob Persiko, who encouraged and helped her with her academic writing.

Regarding Global Connections, she mentioned being very grateful and appreciative for the opportunity that the program gave to her to deliver a presentation about herself and her cultural experiences at the GC general membership meeting in April. In addition, she recalls one moment when delivering the presentation where a woman from the audience told her, “I’m really glad you presented today because my experience is very similar. And I didn’t have any chance to recognize it.”

Until that moment, Kiyomi was not sure if the audience was listening to her presentation. When she heard that comment, she felt honored and emotional because her story could be valued and encourage other people. She also felt pride in motivating other Asians to break out of a stereotype. She says, “That’s one of the reasons I wrote my paper to encourage others, especially East Asian women who tend to be very quiet and have the reputation to be very obedient and quiet in class. We can go out of that stereotype. So, if I can inspire at least one person, it is wonderful. So that is the thing I appreciate a lot about Global Connections.”

To conclude the interview, we asked her about the best part of being a Global Connections member, and she said, “The best part is that I can connect with people around the globe, and also to get to know people from other countries personally, not just through the media.”