Turkmenistan is a unique land boasting a wealth of natural resources. The vast Karakum Desert covers approximately 80 percent of the country. Bordering Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan has a population of approximately five million people. The capital city, Ashgabat, has a population of roughly one million.
Turkmenistan is a special environment with very strict rules. Scholars should be prepared to have a lot of flexibility when it comes to living and working in Turkmenistan, starting with the moment their nomination is submitted to the Government of Turkmenistan for approval, and ending with the last day of their stay in Turkmenistan.
In general, centralized state control remains the rule in Turkmenistan. The president controls the parliament and the judicial branch, while the civilian authorities maintain effective control of the security forces. Although the constitution provides for freedom of the press, there is virtually no freedom of the press or of association. The government has taken some steps forward in human rights reform, such as lifting the exit visa requirement and allowing the registration of some religious minority groups. However, its overall human rights record remains poor.
The government provides educational support at the secondary, undergraduate and graduate levels. Education is universal and mandatory through the secondary level for a total duration of 11 years (a 12-year school system was introduced in 2013, but returned to the 11-year system in 2016 due to the fact that although two additional years were added to the curriculum, there were no textbooks or study programs developed for the added years, and teachers struggled to find materials to fit the "assigned" topics). Though the Government is interested in promoting the study of English and it is now taught as a mandatory foreign language in schools and universities, along with Russian, the level of English language skills in the country remains at a very low level.
The academic year starts on September 1 and concludes around June 15. There is one break between the fall and spring semesters that starts at the end of January and ends around February 10, and another week-long break in the second half of March.
Turkmenistan offers a unique and exciting experience for adventurous scholars. As a country with few American visitors, however, special attention must be placed on the strict rules and regulations regarding academic placement, working environment, and everyday life. Flexibility is vital to being a successful Fulbright U.S. Scholar in Turkmenistan; all applicants will be expected to demonstrate their willingness and ability to work with the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat to understand and adhere to local laws, cultural norms, and professional expectations. As unofficial representatives of the United States, Fulbright Scholars are given a rare opportunity to engage with Turkmen people and society--an incredibly rewarding experience. Similarly, Scholars are asked to understand that many within Turkmenistan will see their activities as a reflection of U.S.–Turkmen relations and U.S. policies and priorities.