A Kazakhstani Conversation Connects Two-and-a-Half Green Knights

Yerzhan Nauruzbayev ’13 (left) with Simon Bergner.
Yerzhan Nauruzbayev ’13 (left) with Simon Bergner.
When Joe Bergner ’86 and his 10-year-old son Simon met Yerzhan Nauruzbayev ’13 for the first time at a downtown Green Bay restaurant, Simon didn’t sit on his dad’s side of the table. Instead, he sidled up next to the stranger for lunch. Joe found himself glancing back and forth between his son and the young man, struck by their similar features. “It was cool to look across the table and see kind of who my son might become someday,” says Joe. The newfound friends shared not one but two special connections: one to St. Norbert College and another to a country halfway around the world. 

Nauruzbayev came to the United States from his native Kazakhstan on an exchange program during his senior year of high school. During that year in Green Bay, he applied to St. Norbert College and was accepted. After college graduation in May 2013, he was offered a full-time position at Breakthrough Fuel, the Green Bay-based company where he had been interning. During that internship, Nauruzbayev remembers reading a St. Norbert College Magazine article about an alum who had adopted children from Kazakhstan. He reached out to Joe Bergner via email back then, and they made a pleasant connection. Their plans to get together, however, fell by the wayside until recently, when Joe bumped into one of Nauruzbayev’s co-workers from Breakthrough Fuel. 

“I happened to ask her, do you still have a person working there who’s from Kazakhstan?” recalls Joe, whose marketing and advertising agency, Imaginasium, is located just a few buildings away. He gave her his card, and the connection was made once again.

As soon as Joe’s son Simon heard about Nauruzbayev, he was eager to meet him. “I was excited to meet someone from Kazakhstan, who looks like me,” explained Simon. He was just eight months old when Joe and his wife, Joan, brought him home from a Kazakh orphanage. Simon joined his parents on a return trip to his birth country about five years later, when they adopted his younger sister, Audrey. 

“I want them to have a connection to the country of their birth. I want them to know about it,” says Joe. “It’s great to find someone from there they can meet so they can feel that connection.” 

During their lunch meeting, the conversation wasn’t limited to their Kazakhstan connection. In fact, Simon was even more curious about Nauruzbayev’s experiences with his favorite topic: aviation. “He asked me how often I fly to Kazakhstan, which airlines I had flown on, and he even asked me which hubs I flew through,” Nauruzbayev says. “For a 10-year-old, he has lots of knowledge of the airline industry. I was truly impressed!” 

Nauruzbayev was also impressed with the Bergner family’s commitment to their kids. He knows the deep challenges facing kids in the state-run orphanages in his home country. “I’m grateful to families from around the world who take this risk and welcome these kids from Kazakhstan into their families,” he says. “I think this is great.” 

The new friends now plan to stay in touch. Simon wants to watch Nauruzbayev’s soccer games, and Nauruzbayev has offered to help Joe plan his family’s next trip to Kazakhstan. “It is good to find fellow Kazakhs in the area – to know you’re not the only one,” says Nauruzbayev. “It was just cool that we found each other right up the road.”


June 3, 2014