Higher education in Kazakhstan might not seem like the most obvious choice for foreign students. Only a few local universities promote themselves as ‘your future alma mater’, and there is still not enough online content for international high school graduates to discover Kazakhstan as a land of opportunity. The schools need advocates – and who else could a better job than their own students.
Isaac Mutambala is on a mission to change things up. The 27-year-old from the Democratic Republic of Congo studies in Almaty and leads his YouTube channel, IsaaCoach, where he posts content on travel, lifestyle and, most importantly, education. QazMonitor talked to the aspiring content-creator to find out what motivates him to hit the record button.
Changing careers or chasing adventure?
What did you do before coming to Kazakhstan?
"I have been a student of Narxoz university since 2021. I’m doing my bachelor’s in Digital Engineering.
I finished a 5-year law school program in Congo, but I couldn’t get a great job. Of course, I had one, but I didn’t like it. Then, I decided to switch to a practical sphere, like IT. I started from scratch. There was a choice to study master’s or just a short 2-year bachelor degree, but I said ‘no’ to myself. I figured that four years would be much better than two to acquire new skills.”
Why did you choose Kazakhstan?
“As I learned Russian before, I thought that it is better for me to go to a Russian-speaking country [the Russian border was closed at the time]. I considered Kazakhstan and thought ‘Hmm, what is there? Let’s try it!’ [laughs]
In Kazakhstan, the cost of education in English, Kazakh or Russian is the same. So, it is more convenient for me to study in English, but, of course, I can practice other languages with people at university.
I hadn’t heard anything about the country before [coming here]. Probably, Kazakhstan is not well known outside of Asia or CIS countries. In Africa, even when I was at the airport and said ‘I’m going to Kazakhstan’, the reaction I got was ‘Where is Kazakhstan?’ [laughs]”
One subscriber, one potential student
Why did you start vlogging?
“I got this idea when I was looking for information about education in Kazakhstan. I couldn’t find any student reviews. When I wanted to study in Russia, I found one YouTube channel where a guy shared his experience and studies.
For Kazakhstan, I thought I might try something similar myself. I have just started so the channel is not so popular yet. But when I got my first 100 subscribers, it meant that there are potential students or people really interested in the country.”
And you started actively promoting universities on your channel?
“I came up with an idea to talk to universities. [Besides Narxoz] I was at Satpayev University; I made a video for them and visited all their facilities. When I come back to Almaty [from my summer break], I will shoot a video on the new campus at Narxoz."
I want to show foreign students that there are good schools in Kazakhstan, too. I know most of them dream of studying in the UK, the US and so on. But even here, people may study and have a good experience. That was my purpose for sharing the videos.
"Also, there are some financial benefits - not from YouTube, but from the universities. I’m working as a recruiting agent at my university, helping people to apply to Narxoz. I was expecting [support] from other universities also, but I just realized that they are not so cooperative and open.
They want foreign students, of course, but the problem is the lack of [Kazakhstan] embassies in other countries. The main problem is that they cannot admit every student from every country because of visa issues.”
Even though some students may struggle contacting the embassies directly, Isaac often emphasizes in his videos that it is possible for a student to receive a visa on arrival.
Study hard, party harder
Making the most of his student life, Isaac does not let countless hours of IT classes drag him away from having fun.
He uses his free time for visual storytelling, through which he offers a fresh perspective on life as a foreigner in Kazakhstan. The most insightful videos include ‘Being Black in Kazakhstan’ which documents his interactions with locals and ‘Kazakh Hospitality/A Black Man in Kazakh Family’ where Isaac celebrates Nauryz at a family party.
How did you end up at the Nauryz party?
"A fellow student invited me to their house. I spent a whole day there, all 24 hours. There were great people, many from the same neighborhood."
What I noted at that moment was not just hospitality, but the attention I got. People were so happy that I was among them. [laughs] That’s why I say that Kazakh people are great people.
"I’ve been to Europe, I saw some indifferent people. You never know if they like you or not. In Kazakhstan, it’s different. I understand it’s because [the family] saw me for the first time, and later we would get used to each other. But there were such good impressions at the very beginning.”
Earlier QazMonitor wrote about a student from Somalia who has been living in Kazakhstan for six years.