Media Literacy and Beyond: My Inspiring Journey with the SUSI

A big blue sky with wispy white clouds, a cluster of SUSI scholars in the foreground, and dozens of Saguaro cacti

Ten years ago, when I worked at a cellular company, my colleagues and I bought cacti and placed them on our desktop, next to the computer. We had a strong belief that the plant would protect us from harmful computer radiation. But then I couldn’t even imagine that in the future I would fly overseas and be amazed at the huge number of cacti in the Сactus Forest.

This incredible story was made possible thanks to the SUSI (Study of U.S. Institutes) Scholars initiative, a six-week academic program focusing on topics in the U.S. for groups of foreign educators and scholars.

Endless surprise and admiration

In March of this year, I received a letter stating that my candidacy was selected to take part in the Summer 2024 Study of the U.S. Institute on Journalism and Media. Then I started receiving email messages from program coordinators.

The first thing that struck me was how thoroughly the program staff prepared for our arrival–everything was thought out to the smallest detail. While still in our countries, we received the Program Book in advance; all events were included in it, educational programs were scheduled by day. In addition, the Program Guide describes all the nuances down to the smallest detail; everything was written out in 84 pages (!). This was done for the maximum convenience of the participants. In our countries, we already had the opportunity to read the biographies of group mates in detail, find out where to eat nearby, go shopping and where to go if we are not feeling well.

We’ve been in Arizona for over a week now, and during this time my brain is simply exploding with a huge amount of new information.

Rich program, new acquaintances, new location, beautiful places and English speaking people around you. 

I was on the road for about two days and suddenly found myself in hot Phoenix; the time difference with my native Bishkek is a full 13 hours.

Once in Arizona, I couldn’t stop admiring everything: the developed, beautiful life in the desert, the excellent conditions provided by students in Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the impressive 18 000-seat sports stadium.

And the Grand Canyon… it was incredibly magnificent, and the moment of its beauty at sunset cannot be conveyed in words, photographs or videos.

The majestic beauty of the Grand Canyon at golden hour, with sunset approaching, and SUSI Scholars taking it all in
SUSI Scholars in the Grand Canyon

Media literacy in the spotlight

Various projects are being implemented in Kyrgyzstan to improve the media literacy of the population. For example, trainings are constantly conducted for various groups, the QLever game for critical thinking has been introduced, akyns-improvisers are being taught critical thinking so that they can sing about it in the future for their large audience (all these important and necessary projects are being implemented with the financial support of international organizations). Since I am constantly involved in these processes, today’s topic  was as close as possible to me. Dr. Dawn Gilpin, Academic Director, announced and talked about the week’s activities, after which Dr. Kristy Roschke spoke in detail about the concept of media literacy and its importance for the modern world. Dr. Kristy Roschke, like Dr. Dawn Gilpin, was very attentive to the participants.

The scholars take careful notes and use tools on their laptops while Dr. Kristy Roschke addresses them in Cronkite room 444
Media literacy session for SUSI Scholars

During today’s session we also shared our opinion on what media literacy means to us. Today I heard for the first time about the concept of malinformation” and learned to distinguish it from the usual concepts familiar to me “disinformation” and “misinformation.” I will definitely tell future participants in my training about this.

And yes, I really hope that at the end of the SUSI program I will be able to develop the most effective and applicable project for Kyrgyzstan, which will serve as an impetus for increasing media literacy of the population and will be able to reach a huge audience and become a country project.

More than a program…

The program involves 18 scholars from 18 countries, but for me it is more than a program. This is not only an opportunity to learn how journalism is taught in the USA, meet interesting people from different countries of the world, learn a lot about their countries, gain new knowledge, hone my skills, immerse myself in this rich program and get a lot of useful information.

To be honest, SUSI represents more than just an educational opportunity for me — it’s a chance to break free from my usual information bubble. The arrest of my colleagues, the most skilled investigative journalists in our country, left me disheartened for six long months. They weren’t just coworkers; they were my friends, my allies, individuals who shared my passion and principles. Together, we attended various events, fought against corruption and nepotism, and strived to advance the progress of our beloved Kyrgyzstan. Their absence weighed heavily on my mind during this time. However, the change of scenery and lifestyle provided by SUSI offered a temporary distraction from my routine, allowing me to momentarily shift my focus.

I thank the program staff for the opportunity to become part of SUSI and gain invaluable knowledge, emotions and new acquaintances, for the opportunity to visit the USA for the first time. And, as it turned out, 75% of scholars flew to in the USA for the first time thanks to SUSI. We have five more incredibly interesting weeks ahead, so to be continued…