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Rustem Zhumagaliyev

Rustem Zhumagaliyev is a young Kazakh man with ambitions of improving his country and making it a better place to live. His areas of interest lie at the intersection of water and food insecurity, corruption, healthcare and systemic discrimination based on race and religion. Rustem is steadfast in his pursuit of personal growth through multifaceted education and real world experience.

The Story

In 2019, as a 12 year old, Rustem participated in the final of the International Math and Science Olympiad in Hanoi, Vietnam representing the Kazakhstan national delegation. The olympiad consisted of multiple rounds and before the first and the third round his team, which was one of the 24 delegations, had full-day study sessions.  They were all stressed after the first two rounds, as they all thought they failed badly. This made them lose concentration and motivation for the third round. Before the third round, which is considered the hardest one, they were preparing with the Thailand delegation, and they were shocked by how concentrated they were: all of them were young and they could not keep their focus on one thing for longer than an hour. As such, their team got curious about how these children work so hard together, without distracting each other. Then, they saw their group leader talking to the Thai group leader, and both teams decided to work together to better understand how children can concentrate and deal with stress and pressure. 


Turns out, most of the children on the team were brought up in very traditional Buddhist households, and therefore their perception of the world through their buddhist prism differs from that of Rustem and his team. These children were able to deal with stress, control themself, their emotions and thoughts because of their unique spiritual education that is not taught in non-buddhist countries. Finding out about this made him think differently about buddhism, because back then he thought of it as an ancient religion of monks, not a practice of the modern world. More importantly, he also began developing a sense of self-reflection and self-awareness which still benefits his pursuit of intellectual curiosity to this day. 


To further expand his spectrum, something of interest to Rustem has been on the heroes and warriors of the 19th century anti-colonial conflicts of Kazakh and Northern Caucasian people against the Russian Empire. Specifically, he enjoyed learning about the leaders of these rebellions, Kenesary Khan and Imam Shamil, and stories about their battles against their oppressor. This topic has piqued his intellectual curiosity because of his personal interest in ancient eastern philosophy. It attracts him because of how overlooked it is, as the philosophy and cultural values of these regions are rarely studied and talked about despite how interesting they are.


Looking ahead, Rustem aims to further his interests in philosophy, economics and social impact to better prepare his generation to meet the rising demands of tomorrow.

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