As⁠i⁠⁠i⁠a⁠t⁠ Sha⁠i⁠khal⁠i⁠eva

October 4, 2023

October 4, 2023

I believe that there are two groups of people. 

People who always criticize, but don’t do anything to change things.

And people who criticize for the sake of solving an issue and drawing more attention to the problem.

I want to be associated with the second group.

I could never have dreamt of coming to the U.S. It is extremely hard for Russians to even get a visa. 

When I was a senior at my university, studying English, my professor told me about a program called YEAR, or Year of Exchange in America for Russians. 

Out of all the students who applied, only 70 would be considered for the opportunity. It was a very long process. First you submit the application and recommendation letters, then you have to pass an exam, and then you have an interview with the State Department.

I did all of that … and I got in!

I didn’t know anything about U.S. politics or generally how things operate. The only thing most people know about the U.S. is that the country is free.

There is actual freedom of speech in this country. People here truly have a chance for their American dream to come true, whether it’s the white fence, the house and a family or maybe something completely different.

In 2019, I met the man who would become my husband, and I began the immigration process. The K-1 fiancée visa process took two and a half years.

After the long immigration process, I got here to the States. 

And some Russians were very unhappy with me when I criticized Russia for some things and would be like, “Don’t ever come back to Russia.” But if I would criticize things that were going on in the U.S., people would then say, “Then go back to your country if you don’t like it!”

I want to break the stereotype that if you criticize your country, it means that you don’t think it does anything well.

I care about things that happen here. 

I hope that my story and my example of a person who knew nothing about this country and within four years got involved in activism can make a difference. Even if I only inspire one person in the world, I still think it’s worth it.

And I still have hope for this country.

Asiiat Shaikhalieva
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Asiiat is a Regional Field Coordinator for the Leadership Institute’s Campus Leadership Program, advocating for freedom of speech on college campuses.