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Darya Belkina

2006 Alumna
BA Politics and Society

Darya Belkina, our 2006 AAU Alumna, was interviewed by Stephanie Lachman. Darya has had an exciting journey since graduating from AAU, and it was really touching to hear from her and learn what she’s achieved.

You seem to be a very happy and busy person recently. Tell me something about your current career and how you got into it?
Towards the end of my 10 years of tertiary studies I decided to take a film directing and script writing course in Moscow. What I learned during those two years of studies has greatly helped me move my career forward, but it was also the hardest experience of my life.

Living in a dorm with 500 artists was an experience I’ll never forget. One day, one of my peers received an international award, the next day one of them would jump out of a 16th floor window because they were unable to cope with the dead-end they felt their life had become. I went through similar stages of acceptance and unacceptance of myself as well.

In 2014 I filmed my first short film: “Man in my Life,” about my son, Arystan. I received the 20:20 British Council Hitchcock Film Award at Encounters International Short Film and Animation Festival, Bristol, UK. It’s interesting that Alfred Hitchcock made films to overcome his fears and I made my film to overcome mine: being a single woman and mother. I wrote the script, directed photography, added music to the film, and shot it. It helped overcome heartache I was feeling.

Now I am a Sales Agent for Kazakh Films and a film producer for 3 social justice films. I am also the founder of an association of young Filmmakers in Kazakhstan, and founder/director of the public “National Center for Development and Distribution of Kazakh Films” fund.

You went on to study quite extensively after your graduation from AAU, what made you choose to study in here in Western Europe, and how did it affect your current life?
At first, I wanted to continue my studies in Prague, but was unable to find an MA program at the time that would develop my potential. Therefore, I chose Buceirus Law School/Otto Beisheim School of Management in Hamburg, one of the most prestigious universities in Germany. I received my Master of Law and Business degree in 2008.

After 4 years of working for different film companies following my return home in 2008, I decided to create a totally new business model for the promotion and sale of Kazakh film. My previous life experience made me realize that changes happen when you make them happen-you are the film director of your life. From then on I have been my own boss, selling Kazakh-made films. It’s not easy, but I learn new things every day. Besides the national studio of film production, I am the only person that has the kind of expertise required to promote our cinema worldwide.

You graduated from AAU in 2006, can you tell me about what AAU was like then?Between the age of 17 and 20 (2003–2006) I studied at AAU which, in my opinion, has the best study environment, peers, and education practices in the world, all in the magical city of Prague.

I remember writing great English pieces in “Composition II” with Tony Ozuna, enjoying political discussions with Don Fuller, taking part in the “20th century Social Theory” course taught by Douglas Dix and of course Jana Krásenská at the Student Services office, who was always so kind and helpful!
In my opinion, these people are not just faculty and staff; they are representatives of the AAU brand.

My spring and winter breaks were spent in cities around the Czech Republic: Karlovy Vary, Olomouc, Brno, etc… Every weekend was spent on the dance floor!

While at AAU I learned how to be a student, a girlfriend, a friend, a mother and a sister. I gained so much experience living abroad; it was the happiest time of my life!

Are there any funny/interesting/moving moments from your time at AAU that really stuck with you?
There were so many moments over the course of my studies at AAU, I could go on for ages about them, but this story sticks with me to this day:
While studying at AAU I lived in the dorms with 10 other AAU students, who were like my family.
One day I opened my dorm room and saw three yellow Tulips lying on the floor in front of me; someone had left them for me while I was inside. I was so moved, but I had no idea who they were from.
Strangely enough, I received the same type of Tulips four years later on my birthday the same way: anonymously, on the floor outside of my dorm room door…but this time I was in Germany!
Years later I found out they were from two different guys who had warm feelings for me, but unfortunately not the courage to tell me face to face!

Are there any professors or staff who made an interesting impact on your life? If yes, how?
Milada Polišenská taught me to be an ambassador of my country, and of myself. Tony Ozuna recommended invaluable internships to me-indirectly teaching me to improve my professional skills.
Douglas Dix helped me analyze myself and my surroundings through literature and film in order to succeed in life. Donald Fuller made me believe that one person can do so much. I really love the guy! Our conversations outside the classroom were the most interesting and energetic political conversations ever!
I have tears are in my eyes, there is no way to thank all those who helped to teach and support the 17-year-old-Darya, so far away from home. I couldn’t think of a better study environment than AAU.

What made you ultimately decide to go back to Kazakhstan after spending so much time away during your early adult life?
After my studies finished in Prague, all my peers wanted to stay and the same occurred after my studies finished in Germany. I think about my choices to this day. The turning point for me was in January 2006: I celebrated New Year’s in Prague with my Kazakh relatives, who returned home afterwards. My younger sister Dana, who also studied at AAU and had gone home for New Year’s Eve did not bring any presents from Kazakhstan except a collection of Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen and Uzbek films that I watched one after the other… I realized that I missed home and my parents so much! I missed the smell of steppe and snow in the mountains, Kazakh trees and grass… Upon my return home, I wrote a set of poems in Russian about my love for Kazakhstan and called them “Kazakh Steppe, My Sole Mother.” I made the right decision when I decided to return back home, because I feel it is where I belong.

Last question, anything other interesting things happening in your life since graduation? (Volunteer work, travels, family, etc…)
Giving birth to my son – Arystan, which means lion in Kazakh, is one of the most amazing events that has happened to me; taking care of him is the most extensive learning process of my life.