With a surprising turnout, the first lecture in a four-part series about the Post-Soviet region was deemed a smashing success.
The MU International Center held the event in cooperation with the Central Missouri Peace Corps Returned Association on Tuesday. The lecture covered the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan.
Event organizers estimated at least 70 people in a standing-room only crowd of mostly students.
"I was really happy we had such a great turnout, especially with the snow, we didn't really know what to expect," International Center Director Jim Scott said. "The lecture was really revealing. I liked how they spoke so plainly about the culture."
The presentation was given by Damian and Katherine Kostiuk. The Kostiuks were Peace Corps volunteers in western Uzbekistan from 2003 to 2005. Damian is a graduate student studying journalism and Katherine is an MU spokeswoman.
Uzbekistan, a nation of 27 million people, is located in central Asia south of Kazakhstan, north of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan and to the west of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The nation became independent in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The Kostiuks said Uzbekistan's dominant product is cotton, which is grown in the western half of the nation. Agricultural practices common in the United States, such as crop rotation, are not practiced in Uzbekistan. The nation also has a somewhat dry climate, which causes the need for a great amount of water irrigation.
The excessive amount of water needed to grow the cotton has diverted water away from the Aral Sea in the north part of the country and caused it to shrink.
The Kostiuks showed pictures of a former fishing village, where the water of what had been the fourth largest inland sea in the world could no longer be seen.
Darin Enderton, a graduate student studying horticulture, attended the lecture to learn about the region and how he could help.
"I came because I am thinking about working in Kazakhstan to help farmers grow apples," Enderton said. "It gives me some idea of what to expect."
The Kostiuks spent a great amount of time describing their experiences with their host families and what they did with the Peace Corps. They left the country in 2005 after a popular revolt in Andijon was suppressed by order of Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov and resulted in the deaths of 1,000 protestors. The Peace Corps was ordered out in June 2005 and the U.S. Army was forced out one month later. The U.S. military had used a base in the southern city of Karshi during its operations in Afghanistan.
Much of the lecture focused on what life is like in the Peace Corps.
The Kostiuks said they would recommend the Peace Corps and living overseas to anyone.
"I would definitely become a Peace Corps volunteer again," Katherine Kostiuk said. "It gives you an insight into another country and how they live. It was a very educational experience."
The lecture also focused on the nation's food and traditions.
Damian Kostiuk said he wanted people to learn that though foreign countries might have different cultures, they still have many things in common with the U. S.
"It's different," Damian said. "But you can still find love, you can still have a good meal, you can still find piece of mind. It is different, but there is still a lot of humanity."
The next lecture in the series will be held at noon on Feb. 20 in Memorial Union and will focus on Kyrgyzstan.