Interview with Elgun Mammadov


– How would you introduce yourself to the alumni community?

Well, most alumni recognize me as the photographer since I have shot their photos in the networking events and projects led by U.S. Embassy, AAA or alumni. For some, I am the “Lezghinking guy” as I dance Lezghinka in the events to contribute to their perfection, and get the participants hyped up. For the others, I am just Elgun Mammadov or Egu – kind of nickname. In terms of profession, I am the Director of Translation and Event Management Company although my contract terminates soon. So, I would be happy if everyone calls me Egu – just friendly – this is what I prefer to be called.

– Did you ever imagine before going to the U.S. that you would one day study there? How did it happen?

To be honest, USA has been – and still is – my dream country since I watched “Spiderman”. I fell in love with the US in my early childhood through this movie. Growing up in town, I was unaware of the opportunities the US government provided. Additionally, given the fact that I didn’t have access to the internet, I found it extremely impossible to go to the U.S and even study there. Financial matters had impact on the way I thought, as well. However, coming to Baku for Bachelor’s degree was one of the turning points in my life. When I was a freshman, my professor told me about Global UGRAD program and I started researching it and I realized that I could make it to the USA – Can you imagine? Dream country – for one semester – everything is covered by the US Department of State. What else would I want?! This is how it all started. Then all the standard processes such as application, collecting necessary documents, interview, and excitement began. I failed in the interview when I was a sophomore – maybe it was because I wasn’t ready for it. I tried and tried, worked smart and improved myself and applied again and became one of the three finalists when I was a junior student. The 127-day USA adventure was waiting ahead.

– What did you think about the United States before going there? And how was the U.S. in reality? Was life difficult there?

I thought all positive before going to the United States – anyway, it is the country I fell in love in my childhood after my Motherland and I researched about it whenever I had chances – like in the computer classes at school (winking). I also learnt about the USA a lot in the history class at school that later in the US I sometimes ended up knowing more about it than the American students – but sometimes. This country is amazing in reality, too – not only in the movies and TV. All the buildings, streets, Coca Cola lorry that I have seen in movies only, decorations, statues etc. were right in front of me and I looked at them through my own eyes without any digitalization. It felt like a dream – but that was a reality.

I wouldn’t say the life was difficult there; it just took a reasonable amount of time to learn ins and outs. My American friends helped me a lot, too, with a bunch of stuff. They made it easier.

– How did studying in the US change in your life? Did it have any impact?

My major here was Translation and apart from that, I volunteered and worked in Baku 2015 European Games. I used to organize “Knowledge Competitions” at Azerbaijan University of Languages. I would say that was all I have. However, studying in the US opened my eyes. I studied different subjects which gave me a variety of knowledge, made friendships with American and international students, broadened my network with friends, comrades, professionals here in Azerbaijan as well as all over the world, experienced the US spirit, re-explored the US by visiting some major cities and states, lived in Washington D.C. for three days which is worth a million years, attended seminars organized by World Learning, grew professionally and personally, improved my skills and abilities and as a result, I gained lifelong experiences and get equipped with American experience of almost everything. Now you ask me if it had any impact or not – What kind of question is that (winking)?

– Did the society you lived in know about Azerbaijan?

I lived in Castleton Town of Rutland County in Vermont State. Unfortunately, most people didn’t know about Azerbaijan – even some of them couldn’t pronounce the name properly. Interesting point is that the Americans generally ask about where international students are from and the way they live – the Americans wonder. Only five people knew or at least, heard of Azerbaijan. Two students knew it because their teacher was Azerbaijani woman – by the way, I had a chance to meet her; I was striving to find her and did after certain struggle – then she invited me to her house to have a dinner with her husband and her. So, I experienced Azerbaijani hospitality in Rutland which was great. Let’s get back to the topic. One guy knew Azerbaijan because of its success in wrestling – he was interested in sports games. One American friend learnt the location of Azerbaijan in Global History class. Most surprisingly, the fifth one was the bus driver – he knew a lot about the post-Soviet countries as well as Land of Fire. He talked a bit about Heydar Aliyev – which I found absolutely shocking. However, when I left Castleton, the number of people knowing Azerbaijan had already drastically increased because of my efforts to promote our country.

– Have you been back to the U.S.? What kind of feelings did you have? Do you want to go back to live there?

I haven’t been back to the United States since I returned. So far, it is the first and last country I ever visited. But one day, I would love to visit my friends there and come back again. I still want to contribute to our community a lot.

– Was it difficult to come back to Azerbaijan? Did you experience any difficulties with adapting back to your Motherland?

To tell the truth, it was impossible to “pack” all the memories when I left. It was a bitter-sweet feeling to leave the US where I lived in for four months and experienced a lot. However, my family and friends were waiting for me back in Azerbaijan and I had to graduate from the university. Apart from that, I psychologically and emotionally prepared myself to leave the US. Furthermore, I knew that a big network of alumni is waiting for me back here. Return to the Motherland was just a beginning – even though it sounds like a cliché. I experienced reverse-culture shock more than I did culture shock. Moreover, I had a tough time with sleeping after coming back. I kept myself involved in different activities to make the re-adaptation process smooth – I thought it was the best way to solve any challenge in this case, especially with reverse culture shock. Although two years have passed, I still remember the time and feeling when I locked my dorm-room for the last time knowing that I leave the USA – a dream country.

–         It would be interesting to know your future career aspirations. What are your career plans? What are your plans for the future?

I already said my contract with Translation and Event Management Company terminates soon. Anyway, I work as a freelance translator, not an interpreter, for a foreign company. I will still continue to do so. Apart from translation, I love to manage stuff – and this gives me enthusiasm to be a Great Event Manager in the future. I have background experiences, by the way. I am eager to get Master’s degree in management – that is the number one reason why I accepted the offer when I was offered to be a Director. Right now, I am planning Sports Event project for the alumni together with AAA and we have already started the first step. I am negotiating with some entities to promote Global UGRAD program and will do as long as possible. I sometimes organize knowledge competition and took a break recently from those competitions for some reasons and will resume later on. I will get involved in as many volunteer activities as possible. I also joined my friend Sabina Sharifova in her initiative to implement “TinY (Talent in You)” project aimed at promoting the talented teens who live in rural areas, come from low-income families and don’t have access to many opportunities that we have in urban areas. Shabnam Valiyeva, Sabina Suleymanova and I are planning to implement a video project devoted to women empowerment – but we are all busy these days and will discuss its format and details in late November-early December. Many more to come!

–         What advice would you give to young people in Azerbaijan?

Well, as I studied in the US, I would advise my peers to study there, too, at least in any other foreign country so that they would get equipped with many tools. Furthermore, I would particularly encourage girls to study well. Do you want to ask why girls? – Without the educated women it is hard and even impossible to take the society to the next level and advance it. I would also ask them to be engaged in seminars, training and volunteer activities as these help broaden their network and give them a variety of experiences.