Advice from International Alumni: Sayyara Huseynova

Please introduce yourself to our readers. 

My name is Sayyara Huseynova. I enrolled in KAIST in September 2009. My major was Industrial and Systems Engineering. I  later decided to minor in management science. And also I wanted to mention that I was lucky to receive the KAIST scholarship and I was exempted from the tuition fee. Later, I decided to apply for a masters degree and again, luck was on my side and I was admitted to the Techno-MBA program.


You mentioned that you majored in Industrial Systems and Design and Business Management in KAIST when you were an undergraduate student. Why were you particularly decided on those two majors?

The reason was that I am from Azerbaijan, one of the main gas and oil exporter countries. Back then, I decided that the most common and related major that I can do in KAIST to use it in Azerbaijan is Industrial Systems and Design, because it’s all related to the plants and the factories. That was the main reason why I decided to go that way.


What kinds of classes or activities did you take or pursue when you were an undergraduate at KAIST?

The most important classes for me were Supply Chain Management and manufacturing classes. I believe that they all [helped me] understand the whole picture of what I wanted to do. Statistical analysis classes were also important to learn how to integrate numbers and to see how things actually work. Regarding extracurricular activities, I was part of the Korean classes in KI House (I hope it’s still the same). I attended the classes in Korean [there], and I think it was a wonderful experience for me.


You also mentioned to us that you were a consultant for international freshmen at OASIS, which is now ISSS. Could you tell us more about what kind of work you did there? 

My work was mainly getting to know the freshmen coming from other countries (non-Koreans) and helping them with all the visa issues and procedures related to their stay. I was really honored to help them because I know how much I suffered in the very beginning, when I was starting over. That was really interesting for me, to help other people as well.


In your four years of undergraduate studies, what are some of your favorite memories while you were at KAIST?

I want to add that it was four and a half years, since I [did] a minor. I believe that the [best] part was that the university cared about all of us and all the diversity that we bring with our culture. We had very interesting culture food festivals, mostly during the spring season. I remember the days when we gathered with all the Azerbaijani guys and cooked our traditional food, trying [our] best [even though we were]  only undergraduates. And also in the international kitchen, along with other students, we joked about different cultures, and the next day, we delivered food and had the chance to talk to Koreans to show specialties about our cuisine with other people. That was a really interesting experience because we could share our culture and get to know more about others.


During your stay at KAIST, there must have also been a few difficulties or challenges you encountered. How did you overcome these challenges?

My first year in KAIST was hard because I had to integrate into the new academic sphere and also had to understand a new culture. [Culture is about food, tradition, and everything] and when I go out of the campus, I need to face that people don’t speak English that much. I can say that it was a little tough for me in the beginning. Then, I realized how lucky I was to be in such a great university providing so many different great options for students to learn the latest breakthroughs and information, and I think that [made me] understand that I had to [endure] all the difficulties and do my best to continue.


How did you decide on your career after your undergraduate studies?

I joined a Korean company (Daelim Manufacturing Company) for one year, and after that, I joined KAIST for masters. I think it is a really good chance for undergraduate students to do internships in their third year, because you pretty much understand the realities of life besides taking classes and grasping information from lectures only. You can also understand how the industry works. I had a chance to work in HOWSOL Manufacturing Company in Korea for my internship. After that, I made a clear decision that after my graduation, I wanted to work in the industry. That was the reason that I applied to [Daelim] through a process that took five or six steps, and I was lucky enough to be one of the few foreigners [who got] a chance to work in Daelim.


A lot of international students are worried about working in a Korean company for many obvious reasons (language barrier, cultural difference). What made you decide to work at a Korean company instead of somewhere overseas? 

I checked all of the information, and Daelim was quite interesting for me for the oil and gas sector. But also, I have to admit that [I felt] quite secure [living in Korea], and after studying undergraduate here, I started to understand the country’s regulations and traditions that all made me feel safe, and that I wanted to continue my career in this country.


How many years did you work in [Daelim]?

One year.

Within that year, what made you decide to pursue masters?

As I mentioned again, learning something and doing something in real life are two different things. When I worked as a quality control specialist, I was able to see the industry from a whole aspect, and then I realized that the part of business management was more interesting for me than the technology and marketing part. That’s why I thought that it’s time for me to learn more about managerial part and business management, and return to school to learn about it. I applied to two universities: one in Manchester and the second one was KAIST. I was accepted to both of them, but even though my first goal was to move to London, I realized that I have some strong feelings for my alma mater, KAIST. I decided that it was better for me to stay here and continue my masters in KAIST.


How long did you pursue your masters?

It’s supposed to be two years, but I managed to finish it in a year and a half.


So in that time frame, could you share your experiences in the Seoul campus? 

The most interesting part was that the Seoul campus is much smaller than the Daejeon campus. [There are more] activities and possibilities in the Daejeon campus [compared to the] Seoul campus. But we were very close with international and Korean students, and we tried to share our knowledge and culture, and this time I can also say that most of the students already came with experience from companies. So it wasn’t just sharing information that we can learn from books, but real information that they brought with them from the industry or from other areas. 


What did you do after your masters degree?

I had quite a journey, I can say. I moved to Turkey, in Istanbul, and continued to work in the petroleum and gas [industry]. I worked in the Renaissance Heavy Industries company in the business development section. I was a specialist there for two years in Istanbul. By that time, I started to think more about IT technologies and I felt like it was time for me to [go] home and try to bring all the insights I had and share my knowledge to my home country. So now, it’s been almost three years that I work in B.Est Solutions, an IT company [in Azerbaijan] which [specializes] in mobile identity and mobile signature. I work in the business development and marketing department as the marketing and communications manager.


I also read that you are a member of Femmes Digitales, an organization for Azerbaijani women in the IT industry. Could you share to our readers more about that?

Surely. Well, I think my main motto in life is that when you are able to receive valuable information, you also have to learn how to deliver that to those who are not able to. The organization that I am secretary general of, which is quite huge and established in Azerbaijan, [consists of] representatives and founders that are well-known people from industries in Azerbaijan like banks and IT companies. Basically, the idea of this foundation is delivering  information about IT [to women and girls], so they can be successful in this [area], because mainly people believe that IT is only [for] men, and that men can achieve enormous results while women [cannot]. With all the training, seminars, and conferences we deliver in the capital Baku and also in the rural regions, we try to bring the idea to school girls and young women that they need to think about this sphere and that they can achieve results if they try to. Also, of course we cooperate with other UN organizations to make our impact more valuable and to achieve as much as we can.


Did your view of KAIST change when you were studying there compared to now that you are working outside?

The very first year, I can say the first semester was very tough for me, because I had to learn many different things besides just university lectures, and try to [compete with] my Korean classmates. But beyond that, I had to understand the culture and stay apart from my family, so that was kind of tough for me. But when I realized how great the possibility is of studying at the world’s top university, and getting all this positive feedback from other people, I realized that this is the place that I have to be in. Now, I am fond of the thought that I am a graduate from this university, and I try to follow all the emails that I receive from KAIST. I watch the inauguration and the ceremonies online. I keep everything, all the t-shirts, I have with me even though they’re really old. The feeling that I am somehow connected with my university makes me feel very warm and nice. I think there will be a day where I will come after this pandemic to visit my university, and I believe that I will be able to tell my daughter that [KAIST] is such a great place and she should also maybe give it a chance.

If you could give the international community at KAIST any piece of advice, what would you tell them?

I know it’s quite challenging in the very beginning, but let’s view it from a bird’s-eye view and try to emphasize the reasoning on why we are in the university. Make the best out of it even though it’s hard to stay apart from your family and from the delicious meals that one is used to. It will pass, even sooner than we expect, but [you’ll realize] that it was a great place that taught us a lot of things to help us in the future; we are already trained [with] how to manage [problems and challenges] (like studying at night in the library and returning back to dorm with three or two hours of sleep, preparing for exams). This will pass, but learn how to feel the moment and feel the best of it. Also, I just wanted to say how the [former] president of KAIST,  Nam-pyo Suh, mentioned in the inauguration ceremony, “Dream big dreams”. You are in KAIST to dream big. After you graduate, you won’t be able to do it a lot.