“I used to be stressed because I thought I was the first person from Kyrgyzstan to go to Harvard,” says Bekmyrza Asanbaev, half-chuckling. “I was like, ‘Damn, I need to step up my game. I need to make sure that people here don’t think that everyone in Kyrgyzstan is a fool.’”\r\n
After doing some research, Asanbaev found out that he was actually the second Kyrg to be admitted into Harvard College, which came as a relief. “Pressure was gone. Saturday nights, a little bit of too much dancing—I could afford that.”\r\n
Asanbaev sports a snug fox hat, its original long tail now a short stub.\r\n
“It got broken off after one aggressive night of dancing,” Asanbaev tells me. We’re on the Weeks Footbridge, and it’s frigid. He brings piping hot black tea to make up for it.\r\n
Despite the cold, Asanbaev appreciates the water that surrounds us. “By home, there is this lake called Issyk Kul that I have many wonderful associations with,” he explains. “Just sitting on the bank, looking at the water, thinking very positive, happy thoughts.... It always clears my head.”\r\n
The coolness with which Asanbaev describes the Charles River barely matches the paths he has taken. A ballroom dancer since age 12, Asanbaev has flourished in the unexpected. At that time, his best friend from judo, with a competition coming up, couldn’t take his sister to her first ballroom dance lesson. Asanbaev, not having placed at the match, went in his friend’s place. He thought, might as well. Asanbaev laughs. “It was the last thing to absolutely humiliate myself, this girly dance thing.... Then I absolutely fell in love with it.”\r\n
His prolific performances came to a pause the summer after his freshman year of college, however.
Training for the national championships, he sprained his ankle, and was confined to his room. “I spent half my summer binge-watching ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Entourage’ and reading ‘Dante’s Inferno’ [in translation],which contributed to my English fluency,” he says.
The break with ballroom brought a realization. “Ballroom dancing was my huge comfort zone,” Asanbaev states. “I was winning competitions, I was always the center of attention. It did not help me concentrate on my humility.”\r\n
After ballroom, Asanbaev tried City Step, On Harvard Time, and is currently the vice president of the Signet Society. “Most of the things at Harvard happened pretty serendipitously, and with the help of my friends,” Asanbaev elaborates. “I was never that big of a human connection guy,” he says. “But coming here, I’m drowning in the beauty and just, friendliness, warmth of all these incredible people. I want to be friends with all of them.”\r\n
Because of either friends or, as Asanbaev puts it, helpful “weird Kyrgyzstan mojo,” Asanbaev has moved fluidly through the Harvard maze. After switching his concentration to government last semester, he decided to write a thesis right away, focusing on water conflict in Central Asia.\r\n
“I was really shaken by [the Kyrgyz Revolution of 2010],” he says. “It also made me think, ‘I need to make something of myself and try to be useful to [Kyrgyzstan].’ If I feel like there is need for me, and I think there might be, I’ll definitely try to do my best to be useful.”\r\n
Writing his thesis has now turned Asanbaev’s eye toward the research world. He wants to work for a think tank or a research institute next year, with the hopes of later applying to graduate school. Eventually, Asanbaev definitely sees himself going back to Kyrgyzstan.\r\n
“If the Ph.D. thing works out, I would love to be a professor; I love teaching,” he says. If that doesn’t play out, Asanbaev has a solid plan B. “Just go back home, work as a professional sheepherder for a little bit, settle my mind,” he jokes. “As long as I’m next to water....”', )