Interview with Nuran Kerimov

Nuran Kerimov, MUSKIE Program Alumnus, Partner of Deloitte & Touche in Azerbaijan

Did you ever imagine, before going to the US, that one day you would go there?

– You know, I was born and grew up in a very interesting time, USSR time. Obviously, when I was a school student, I could not even imagine that one day there would be an opportunity for anyone, not just for myself, to go abroad and to study out of USSR. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, I did my first degree, bachelor degree, in Law in Russia. Even at those years there were no programs or initiatives that would have given opportunities to young people to study abroad. So, at those times I could not even think about studying somewhere abroad, especially in the US. All happened after I returned to Azerbaijan. The country opened up for foreign investment. The country started making its own independent foreign policy. So, different sorts of civil programs began in the country, and one of them was Edmund Muskie scholarship program, which was quite famous at that time. I met few people who would be successful with that program, who would win the scholarship, studied and returned to Azerbaijan. I could see what a substantial turn around happened in their lives. That immediately attracted my attention and became my dream and my wish. I started to intensively work on it, how to get in and, also, have an opportunity to go to the US. But, anyway, when I was a university student, I could not even imagine that I would study in the US.

– Who encouraged you to go to the USA?

– Generally, in my family and, I suppose, in most Azerbaijani families, to promote education, to get attracted by education, to make sure that young people in families have a good education. My father has always been so keen in pushing us, me and my brother. As a result, now we have a great education. So, still, every day, every single day, he spends evening together with my daughter, his granddaughter, doing her Maths together. So, he is helping her a lot. Obviously, I had a huge support from my family. Although it seemed a bit frightening to them to let a young person go independently to a foreign country. When I went to the US I was just married. And when I moved to the US our first baby was only two weeks old. And I am so thankful to my wife because she said, “You have to make it. Go and study. That’s good for you. That’s good for the family”. So, I got a great support from my family.

– What did you think about the USA before going there? Was it difficult to accustom to the US?

– You always imagine of something you’ve never seen. So, you have an imagination from movies, from stories you’ve heard before how the place will look like. When I arrived to the US it was not a total shock to me at all. So, I felt that I knew this country before. So, most of the thing were in the way I expected them to be. There were certain things that were obviously new to me. For example, public transportation was terrible, it was so poor. First I went to Virginia and spent two months there. Then I moved to Georgia, the place of location of my University where I did my Legal degree. It was an interesting time in terms of understanding the southern accent. I studied in Georgia. And Georgians have a very sweet but not very simple to understand accent. So, I had a challenge in term of understanding the people living there. Apart from that, overall, I very easily adapted to new environment and maybe that happened partly because I mentioned before that when I was 16 went to study in Law School in Russia and from my early years I was independent and so, I think, that helped a lot. So, that was not a totally new shock to me.

– Did the society you lived in know about Azerbaijan?

– Well, we need to appreciate that I studied in a college town where generally most of the population is very educated. So, to many of them Azerbaijan was a known place. But while speaking to someone in supermarket or in restaurant or to someone outside of academic circle there were lots of cases when people could get confused about location of my country. I tried to tell them the right name of the country, that it is AZERBAIJAN. Sometimes people, just for the sake of convenience, said that I am from Russia. But I tried to explain that I’m from Azerbaijan. There were many cases when people were laughing or even someone said, “It is somewhere in the US” or “Azerbaijan, what is that?” Azerbaijan is now known as Italy as Mexico as Japan. But again there were many people who did not understand. Most of them differentiate that it is somewhere in the Middle Eastern region, close to Turkey, Iran. Some think that Azerbaijan is in Central Asia, they think that we are next to Tajikistan or Kirgizstan.

– What happened after you returned to Azerbaijan?

– I returned immediately after finishing my Law school. I did my Master Degree in Law in the University of Georgia and I was hired as legal consultant for an oil company here. I worked there for a year. And, I should mention, before moving to the US I was working for a consulting firm, so I knew what that was to be a consultant, to do an advisory work. So, after one year I left that oil firm for Deloitte, because work there was extremely boring for me, it was so routine, it was just repeating over and over every day. It was not too challenging to me. Being young with great education gave so much inspiration, so many plans in life. And when you were are spending your time from 9 to 6 without doing anything interesting and challenging. That’s why I left quickly and since then, it’s been ten years that I enjoy working at Deloitte. And, you know, there are two primary things that fill my life: my family and my job. I feel so fortunate that I am happy about both of these parts.

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

– When I came back to Azerbaijan I experienced kind of cultural shock. I think it was more difficult for me to get adapted after the return to Azerbaijan than when I moved to the US. The reason is that civil society, life and generally Azerbaijan and the States are so different. Actually, they were very much different 10 years ago. Yes, it was not too easy to accept things as they were. I think, what has changed was the way I began viewing myself, the perspective before me, the way how certain things should happen, the way how companies used to be managed, the way how young people should live their own life and so on. So, huge system of values in my mind has changed, thanks to that time I spent in the USA.

– If you get an invitation to work in the US now will you accept it?

– No. US is not for me. It is really a great country with awesome people. But I like Azerbaijan more than United States, more than any country. It is my home. It is hard to describe what I like in Azerbaijan more than in the US. Well, the culture is different. However, it is not about which culture is better. It is just my culture is closer to me than any other foreign country’s culture. Besides this, I think that we, the people of Azerbaijan are very unique in the sense that we tend to stay closer to our own routes, own country. I, as many other young people who decided not to leave Azerbaijan, decided to stay closer to my family and my country. I felt this obligation before my family, before my parents, before my friends. And these kinds of things made impact on my decision to stay in Azerbaijan. And, to be honest, I also faced the restrictions of the program. Even if I wanted to stay in the US, I would not be able to do this. Anyway, once those restrictions were lifted and I had a theoretical opportunity to move to the US, I did not do that. I feel happy to live in Azerbaijan.

– Would you like your children to study in the States?

– Definitely. That is my dream. As a parent, that is one of my wishes that my children (one daughter and two sons) could get education in the United States, because I am strongly convinced that the US higher education, postgraduate education is the best in the world. I am convinced that it is better quality wise than postgraduate education anywhere in Asia or in Europe. That is definitely a dream for me. As for the Bachelor degree, I think my sons should study in Azerbaijan, as I would like them to become lawyers. Of course, the choice will be theirs. But if they choose to study Legal degree, something that is specific for each country, they should better start their studies in Azerbaijan and then continue with a Master degree in the USA. Anyway, we will see.

– What would you like to say in the end of our interview?

– I’d like to give a recommendation to young people in Azerbaijan. I encourage every person, every young person in this country to seek an opportunity to study abroad, especially in the US. Frankly, my education in the United States did contribute to my technical knowledge, it extended my knowledge in Law, Taxation. That is great. But the biggest contribution to my life was that I opened up my eyes to the world. I started to understand people of different backgrounds, different cultures, and to understand the world better. It gave me lots of self-consciousness. It helped me to understand and to define more clearly what I want to achieve in my life. I am convinced that foreign experience and studying abroad are great things and I am calling on young people in Azerbaijan to try to study in the US or in another country.