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Two Kazakhs start education-, job-recruitment businesses to help their countrymen go abroad

14 сентября 2015, 10:23

A lot of Kazakhs go overseas these days for business, diplomacy, education, to work or take a vacation.

A few optimistic souls with an entrepreneurial bent actually start their own companies to build bridges between the country where they’re living and their homeland.

That’s the case with Gulzhan Nakipova, whose company helps Kazakhs find educational opportunities in Spain, and Asem Shabdarova, whose firm helps Kazakhstan natives find jobs in Dubai.

Both said that starting their businesses has been a step-by-step, trial-and-error process. But they’re making progress. And both said they’re building their businesses slowly with an eye toward the long term.

Gulzhan, who is from Kyzylorda, came to Barcelona three years ago to get a master’s in business analytics at the Global Business School.

Gulzhan Nakipova, whose company helps Kazakhs study in Spain, jokes that her exotic looks prompt some of them to ask: “Are you really Kazakh?” Photo courtesy of Gulzhan Nakipova.

She noticed that the number of Kazakhs studying in Spain was growing, and sensed a business possibility.

So she started Education Best last year to acquaint Kazakhs with educational opportunities in Spain, lead them through the application process, help them obtain immigration documents, and get them situated once they arrived.

The website for her operation is www.education-best.com.

Gulzhan has a three-person office in Almaty to help students on the Kazakhstan end and had plans to open an office in Astana this summer.

“The first year we helped 20 to 30 Kazakhs and people from other CIS countries study in Spain,” said Gulzhan, who is wrapping up her master’s this summer. “This year it’s going to be about double that – 45 to 50.”

Some of the students are coming for bachelors or master’s degrees, others to learn Spanish and still others to get short-term business training, she said.

One of the delights of the job, Gulzhan said, is traveling back and forth between the countries she loves – Kazakhstan and Spain.

Gulzhan started her business after noticing that the number of Kazakhs studying in Spain was increasing. Photo courtesy of Gulzhan Nakipova.

She’s developed a particularly close partnership with one of the best-known educational centers in the area, Barcelona Center Universitari. It helps international students with educational issues of all kinds in the four-province Catalonia area of northeastern Spain.

The amazing thing about the growth in students using her agency, Gulnar said, is that she’s done little advertising.

“People find me by word of mouth,” she said. “They hear from friends that we’re an agency that provides a good service and keeps its promises, and they contact us.

“I didn’t expect there would be so much demand,” she added.

Although word-of-mouth has been her mainstay, she plans to ramp up her Internet advertising to see whether an intensive campaign will be effective. “Radio is costly, and it doesn’t work,” she’s found.

Gulzhan said many agencies recruit students for overseas study, help them complete their application and immigration paperwork – but leave them in the lurch when they arrive at their destination.

She insists that the schools which admit her recruits either have accommodations lined up for them when they arrive or help them find housing quickly.

The accommodations can be a dormitory or a reasonably priced off-campus apartment, she said, adding that Barcelona Central University has been able to negotiate apartment prices for Kazakh students that are considerably cheaper than the going rate.

Part of the fun living in Spain, Gulzhan says, is visiting castles, forts, cathedrals and other landmarks. Photo courtesy of Gulzhan Nakipova.

In a “people business” like student recruiting, customer service is crucial to a company’s survival. Gulzhan, who admits to being a perfectionist, said she continually frets about whether her clients are satisfied. That’s an approach that will go a long way toward her agency prospering, business gurus would note.

“I’m always worrying about my clients,” she said. “I don’t think about the money we get from them. I think about their satisfaction. I want them to be 100 percent happy.”

Because she’s so conscientious, Kazakh students who have worked with her only over the Internet are surprised when they arrive at Barcelona International Airport to find someone in her early 20s.

“I look young and have a little girl’s voice,” she said. “Many of them ask, ‘Are you really Gulzhan?,’” she laughed. “And a lot of them add: ‘You don’t look Kazakh, either.’”

Gulzhan adores her adopted country of Spain.

“The people are lovely – so warm and friendly,” she said.

It’s taken time for her to get used to the Spanish tradition of siesta – businesses closing in the early afternoon so everyone can nap during the heat of the day.

“You can’t even find a good coffee shop open,” she said. “The ones that are open are tourist traps with bad coffee and high prices.”

Like Gulzhan, Asem got the idea for her business after living in her adopted country of Dubai for a while.

A job at a hotel in Dubai led to Asem Shabdarova recruiting Kazakhs and other Russian speakers for hotel and shopping-mall jobs in the kingdom. Photo courtesy of Asem Shabdarova.

The gem of the United Arab Emirates has built a global reputation as a reasonably priced vacation and shopping spot. Its biggest fans are Russian speakers, particularly those looking for shopping that’s cheaper than at home.

But many visitors from the former Soviet Union can’t speak English, so a lot of tourism-related businesses in Dubai hire Russian speakers to accommodate this important customer base.

The number of Russians visiting Dubai has plummeted this year because of drops in the price of oil and the value of the ruble and the sanctions the West has slapped on Russia. But the number of Kazakhs and Russian speakers from other countries has held up.

Asem’s business involves recruiting Russian speakers from Kazakhstan and other countries who want to work in Dubai’s hotels, shopping malls, restaurants and other businesses that cater to tourists. She is redesigning her company’s website, so if you want to reach her, go to her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/asem.shabdarova?fref=ts.

Asem relaxes in one of the sand dunes that are a hallmark of the United Arab Emirates. Photo courtesy of Asem Shabdarova.

A longtime Almaty resident, Asem graduated from the city’s University of Foreign Languages, worked for Caspian Gas as a translator for four years, then got a master’s in hospitality management in Spain.

One of the graduation requirements at the Les Roches International School of Hotel Management in Marbella was that students do a six-month internship. Asem had offers from hotels in Madrid and Dubai. She chose Dubai so she could see another part of the world.

The idea of an employee-recruiting business came during Asem’s six-month internship and an additional six months as a permanent employee at the Grand Hyatt Dubai Hotel.

She and a friend, Zhanar Smailova of Pavlodar, started their operation two years ago.

“When we first opened, it was very hard,” Asem said. “We had to find money to start the business, we had to learn to do work contracts and we had to become acquainted with hotel managers and others who needed Russian-speaking employees.”

Another obstacle was horror stories about women from the former Soviet Union being forced into the sex trade when they arrived overseas to take what they had believed to be a legitimate job.

“It has taken a lot of time to convince people in Kazakhstan that what we’re offering is legitimate and safe,” she said. “The hardest part of getting our recruiting going was breaking through this mentality.”

The company has recruited more than 100 Kazakhs, mostly from northern Kazakhstan -- particularly Pavlodar, Petropavlovsk and Kostanai, where Asem spent part of her childhood.  

The jobs are good deals for Kazakhs, Asem said. They pay better than similar jobs in Kazakhstan. In addition, employers provide the recruits with medical insurance and housing, transportation to and from work, and meals.

Asem said her company recruits new university graduates, but the average age of those who come to Dubai is 25 to 30.

These colorfully decked-out camels are one of surprises – and delights – of the Emirates where Asem works. Photo courtesy of Asem Shabdarova.

She said she’s enjoyed Dubai so much that she plans to stay at least 10 years.

“The people are friendly and helpful, the lifestyle is laid-back, it’s safe and there’s a lot of opportunity here,” she said.

And “Dubai has an international feel to it, yet there’s a distinct local culture as well.”

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