Irene Onayeva

All about one of East’s most interesting students

She came all the way from Almaty, Kazakhstan as an exchange student to win the hearts of East High Students. She swept the stage with her outstanding performance as Heather McNamara. She helped push East along to victory in IHSSA events earlier this year. Meet Irene Onayeva, an exceptional young woman who’s showing off everything that makes East great.
Onayeva grew up in Almaty, a bustling city in the south-east of Kazakhstan. In her younger years, she was regarded as a calm and introverted girl. Almaty is a very diverse city, and She did well in school, and had a passion for learning, being particularly interested in science and languages. Despite having a lot of work and expectations put on her in school when she was young, Onayeva was able to flourish and explore herself as a child with the encouragement and support of her family.
“In my culture, family always comes first, and I think that’s why my family is very united and supportive of each other. We solve every problem together, I really like that about us,” Onayeva said.
When Onayeva was 14 years old, she applied to the Future Leaders Exchange program (known as FLEX). After undergoing multiple rounds of testing, she was granted a scholarship and arrived in the United States when she was 15. She was interested in living in the United States and wanted to learn about American culture while teaching others about Kazakh culture. Kazakhstan has a history of colonization, and Onayeva says she wants to keep its culture alive despite that.
Since coming to East as a junior, Onayeva has become very active in the school community. She played Heather McNamara in “Heathers” and participates in IHSSA events. The Adam’s family has hosted her since her arrival, and Onayeva says she’s settled in nicely to their cozy home. Onayeva’s made a lot of friends in the U.S., and she says her favorite part of living in the U.S. has been spending time with the people she’s gotten close to.
“I wouldn’t say I have one specific [favorite memory], generally just spending time with my friends that I met here,” Onayeva said.
In her free time, Onayeva likes to write poetry and practice playing music. She’s explored many hobbies in the past including chess, baking, and various athletic pursuits, but music is one of the only things that has kept her interest throughout her life. She regularly records covers of songs, Onayeva also has a longstanding interest in poetry and prose, and enjoys writing her own poems and short stories.
Onaeva’s trajectory in life has been heavily influenced by her politics. She’s deeply passionate about feminism and says that it has helped her become more confident and secure in her identity. It made her feel free from the gender roles and beauty standards that she saw around her and let her value her female friendships more.
“I’ve loved singing my whole life and started playing instruments when I was 13. After that I started writing prose and poetry and became interested in feminism, which played a big part in who I am today,” Onayeva said