When Talgat Duisenov first heard of USC, he was 7,000 miles away in his native Kazakhstan. Interested in computer programming from an early age, he quickly discovered that USC has the best game design program in North America.
“My wife and I realized that this is our thing, a place we belong,” he said. “We decided that we were going to get in, and we didn’t apply to any other universities.”
Duisenov was accepted to the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Master of Science in computer science (game development) program and awarded the Bolashak Scholarship, an honor bestowed on the best and brightest in Kazakhstan.
After the Republic of Kazakhstan gained its independence in the early 1990s, President Nursultan Nazarbayev established the scholarship.
“Bolashak” means “future,” and the program offers scholars an international education in exchange for five years of work in Kazakhstan after they’ve completed their degrees. Applicants must first be accepted to a highly ranked university and outline specific educational and professional goals.
“You have to have something in your mind that you want to do, that you want to dedicate to your country,” Duisenov said. “We need good education and good, qualified specialists to move our country forward.”
When he arrived at USC in the fall of 2011, he had only viewed the campus via Google Maps. He was immediately struck by the beauty of the campus, particularly by the new cinematic arts building, and also by the continually warm weather.
“When it’s sunny every day, it’s like Groundhog Day!” he joked. He knew he’d come to the right place. “I felt that USC was going to be my home for the next two years,” he said.
Duisenov immediately began taking language classes and meeting other international students through the USC Language Academy, the intensive English program at the USC Rossier School of Education.
“It was super easy to make friends,” he said, adding that “the Language Academy staff is very helpful. Some have lived abroad, and they know how it feels.”
According to Kate O’Connor, director of the Language Academy, Duisenov took it upon himself to maximize his USC experience.
“Talgat not only did very well academically, but he was also an ambassador in that he was very interested in knowing people from other cultures,” she said. “He became much broader in his thinking and in his multicultural skills as well.”
Through the Language Academy, Duisenov learned the technical English necessary for his master’s program. For the past two semesters, he and a team of about 30 others have been developing a PC fighting game called Scrapyard. Having worked with a variety of students — musicians, composers, cinematic artists and interactive media specialists — Duisenov can pinpoint what makes USC’s game design program the best.
“When you come here, you meet people who are as passionate about games as you are,” he explained. “You know that they’re dedicated, and they will do everything to have a quality product.”
Now that graduation is drawing near, Duisenov plans to complete his five years of service and to expand the Kazakh game industry. Even though he will be 7,000 miles away, Duisenov knows he’s a Trojan for life.
“I have lots of good memories,” he said. “Here it’s always ‘Fight on!’ I love the Trojan spirit.”