Student Spotlight: Kate Herrington-Kobekpaeva

Kate Herrington-Kobekpaeva

Kate graduated from MU in 2017 with degrees in Anthropology and Russian Studies with a minor in English and a Multicultural Certificate. In 2016, she left to study abroad in Almaty, Kazakhstan, as a David L. Boren and Benjamin A. Gilman scholar, and she hasn’t returned yet. 

Finding my way

I grew up in a somewhat oppressive religious denomination and was homeschooled from kindergarten until I reached high school, when my parents sent me to a private religious school. There, I was taught that evolution is a hoax, "The Diary of Anne Frank" was too risqué for me to be reading as a teenager, and that it was more important for me to learn how to be a good wife and mother than to study world history or literature.

Fortunately for me, I decided not to follow my friends to small religious colleges, and I enrolled at Mizzou in 2013, a choice that would turn my life around in a truly fantastic way. My sophomore year, I took “Intro to Biological Anthropology,” where my deadlifting, vintage dressmaking, unabashedly self-actualized professor, Dr. Libby Cowgill, got me hooked on evolutionary theory and showed me that it’s more than possible for a woman from a rural background to succeed in academia.

The same semester, when it came time to choose which language I’d be studying to fulfill my degree requirements, I stumbled into Russian. It was the best accident I could have made. Not only did I forge tremendous friendships and realize that I had a knack for language, but I also met the professor who would become a mentor to me and push me to apply for the Department of Defense’s Boren Scholarship later on — Dr. Nicole Monnier.

Светлое будущее (the bright future)

Once at home in the GRS Department, I started thriving in some of the innovative courses offered, like Dr. Martha Kelly’s “Pepsi, Putin, Pussy Riot and Protest” course on post-Soviet literature and Dr. Monnier’s “Soviet Civilization.” It occurred to me for the first time that the possibilities for studying post-Soviet societies extended far beyond the borders of present-day Russia. So, when Dr. Monnier nudged me to consider studying abroad in Kazakhstan, rather than in Russia, I gave it a shot.

Spending nine months abroad on state- and university-sponsored scholarships was a tremendous privilege, and it was only possible because of the tireless guidance of MU’s Fellowships Office, directed at the time by Tim Parshall. While studying in Almaty, I saw my Russian language skills improve drastically, and I realized that I didn’t want to return home at the end of my program.

Where I am today

After graduating long-distance in 2017, I started working as a research assistant at a local, North American-style institution, KIMEP University, which was founded by Kazakhstan’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, not long after the country became independent from the USSR in 1991. For the last three-and-a-half years, I’ve been continuing my language studies and working on other projects while contributing to academic writing at the university’s DPRK Strategic Research Center.

Last year with a local friend, I co-founded the first LGBT+ literary/arts zine in Kazakhstan, a project that was aided by my experience working on MU’s undergraduate literary journal, EPIC, as a junior. I also do translation for a Kazakhstani popular science magazine for students. I witnessed Kazakhstan’s transition of power in 2019, and my writing has been published a couple of times in outlets like The Calvert Journal and Adamdar.

My goal is to return to the U.S. soon to pursue a graduate degree in Russian/Central Eurasian studies and, eventually, I'd like to work in the field of human rights and international development in the post-Soviet space. Wherever I end up, I’m sure that the foundation laid by the GRS and Anthropology departments will keep me steady, and I hope that my experiences can show other students from Missouri that their potential has no boundaries — theoretical or geographical.