Faces behind the flag: Toghrul Alakbarov

By Bob Cunningham

Toghrul Rizvan Alakbarov of Azerbaijan believes in destiny. That’s why he was destined to attend Bowling Green State University as a Fulbright scholar.

His given name, Toghrul, is a broad term for bird in his native language, specifically falcon. Also, it didn’t hurt that orange has been his favorite color since childhood.  

“I didn’t choose Bowling Green in as much as Bowling Green chose me,” Alakbarov said. “BGSU was one of three universities where my Fulbright documents were sent, and it was the first university to accept me. Basically, my embassy told me there is a university in Ohio that has accepted you, but we don’t know much about the university. I started researching BGSU and then I understood it was the place I was meant to be.

“I feel very special here because everyone speaks about the Falcons. From the first day of my life, I was a falcon, so I’ve always felt comfortable here.”

Alakbarov, 29, has a very outgoing personality, which suits his area of study, Workforce Education and Development (WFED).  

“My first idea was I wanted to focus on training the trainers but once I got here I decided on career coaching and life coaching,” he said. “I am interested in helping people to define their goals and to be more fulfilled about their life and to be happier. I feel very comfortable helping people and I enjoy the process. I also believe each individual in this life has a unique calling and probably my mission is helping people.”

Alakbarov speaks four languages — Azerbaijani, Turkish, Russian and English — and has developed a passion for public speaking.  

“I am aware of the fact that communication is not an option — it is essential,” he said. “From the perspective of an international student, English is usually their second language. In my case, it’s my third language. You don’t feel comfortable speaking in front of native speakers because you’re afraid you’ll be mocked or laughed at. For the majority of international students, the U.S. is not just a place for study but a place to stay and development themselves. If you want to get the job, you have to be very confident in English.”   

Alakbarov is proud of his home country and enjoys talking about it because, he said, not too many people in the United States have heard of it.  

“Azerbaijan is the country in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia on the shore of Caspian Sea,” he said. “We got our second independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Due to our geographical location, we have very mixed ethnic and religious diversity. I love it because it gave us a chance to inherit rich cuisine and traditions. When you add in amazing nature and hospitable people to it, you have a place which definitely should be on your travel list.”    

Something else Alakbarov takes pride in is being the president of the Muslim Students Association (MSA).   

“We have a couple dozen members and we are quite an active association,” he said. “For me, it’s very important because one of my missions is to be a good role model. I am sure many people who have a negative approach to Muslims is because they have never talked to any Muslims before. One of my identities is to being a Muslim and being proud of it. Being the MSA president was one of the most challenging things for me and it was one of the most critical in my development.”  

Alakbarov enjoys helping other international students as a volunteer at the Career Center. He has devoted 10-15 hours a week since his first semester.

“I try to help international students who are on campus because the majority of students who are coming here from other countries are trying to stay here and get more experience, but they are not prepared for the competition here,” he said. “It’s very difficult competition and what I tell them is you need to start your development on Day 1.”

Alakbarov will graduate in May but will continue working at BGSU in the School of Teaching and Learning.

“I really enjoy working for the University,” he said. “I know as an international student, we need to have more leaders on campus to advocate our needs and to create a community where we have a chance to meet with local students. I want to help international students to integrate in the society here.”