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Born in landlocked Kyrgyzstan with a dream to one day travel the world, Busazhida Kasymbekova landed in Dubai for the first time one week ago to represent one of the country pavilions at Expo 2020.
Though a proud Kyrgyz, you won’t find her at her home pavilion located in the Opportunity district.
Instead, just a few hundred metres away in the Mobility district, she is welcoming people through the doors of the impressive wooden structure representing all Poland has to offer.
She is one of a 150-strong international cast of students acting as guides and offering a warm welcome to visitors to the pavilion.
Studying Tourism and Recreation at Vistula University in Warsaw for two years, 23-year-old Ms Kasymbekova called the country her second home — despite being more than 4,300km away from the place she was born and bred.
“So many cities in Poland have their own different culture. Krakow is known for its history, Warsaw for its modernity and Gdansk, well, it’s quirky and so interesting,” she told The National, standing beneath the flock of metal stylised birds swaying with the wind at the Polish pavilion.
“So many people who have visited the pavilion are curious to know why I’m representing Poland and not Kyrgyzstan.
“I just explain that what we are doing is unique. There are students here from countries like Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and Armenia, and they’re teaching people about Poland’s culture, technology, because they live there and love it.”
Tough application process to secure spot
Ms Kasymbekova, who speaks six languages including Russian, Korean and Polish, went through a gruelling five-month interview process to secure her spot at the Polish pavilion at the world’s fair.
Like all students who qualified for the three-month internship, she had five interviews, from February to June this year.
“For one part of the application we had to send a video telling them about what we represent,” she said.
“I actually hired a videographer to film and edit the piece because I was so desperate to be a part of this opportunity.”
Opening a door to a new life
Studying at the same university, 20-year-old Renata Kokeyeva from Kazakhstan has lived in Warsaw for three years.
In late June, she was told that she had qualified for the three-month internship.
“Opportunities like this open doors for a new life. I thought if I don't take it someone else will, so I went for it,” she said.
“I was in Turkey with my family when I found out I was coming to Dubai. It was late at night, my family were all in bed and I saw the email and screamed.
“I even ran into my parents’ room and woke them up to tell them.”
With plans to stay and work in Poland when she finishes her last term at university at the end of the year, Ms Kokeyeva said the country’s “culture, nature and people” made her fall in love with it.
While she has visited her home pavilion at the world’s fair, she said being positioned in the Polish pavilion narrating the country’s rich culture feels like the place she belongs.
“If people ask why I am waving the flag for a country other than my home country at Expo, I will tell them we are from one planet, there are no borders and we are all human, so why not champion somewhere that has become a place you love?”
From Poland to Dubai, via Uzbekistan
Born in Uzbekistan, Tolibjon Khamrayev made the 3,600km trip north-east to Poland just six months ago to study a master’s in management at Vistula University.
Just three months into his new life, he managed to get a good grasp of the Polish language, which has deepened his understanding of the country and its people.
“Just this year I relocated to Poland and now I’m living temporarily in Dubai, life is good,” he said.
“During my application for this internship I was asked questions about Poland’s history and language, which was lucky because I am someone that loves to visit museums. Poland has so many.
“While I’m at Expo I want people to definitely visit the exhibitions we have at the pavilion, which change every two weeks.
“It showcases the diversity of Poland’s nature, culture and design and it’s really interactive, you stand in a room with 360 degree projections.”