Welcome to my Blog! I cannot believe that in a few short weeks I will be flying out to Kazakhstan! September 5th to be exact. The summer has definitely flown by, and it has finally dawned on me that I am not returning to school in the fall. Instead, I am jet setting out to Central Asia without any idea of what to expect. When I tell people my post-graduation plan is to spend a year in Kazakhstan teaching English, they give me a puzzled look because a) they have never even heard of the place or b) they wonder why on earth of all the places to travel I would pick KZ. Well, my answer is why not?
In college, I took many Russian history, culture, and language classes that all focused primarily on the Russian Federation. Most of my knowledge and understanding of Central Asia is from the vantage point of Russia. During my studies in college, I never really looked into region until I studied abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia. My host mother in Russia was a 60-year-old woman who lived by herself along with her old cat in a small high rise apartment. The first question I asked her while sitting on the couch in her kitchen was “Where were you born?” Turns out she was born in Kazakhstan (which was then part of the USSR) in the 1940s when the war broke out. She and her family are ethnically Russian, but remain scattered between St. Petersburg and Kazakhstan. Over the course of my six week study abroad, I learned bits and pieces about this country as I tried to translate in my head her stories about her past. She spoke in rapid Russian and at the time it was very difficult to pick up all the details of her stories. However, from what I did understand I got a better grasp of life in the Soviet Union versus life in post-Soviet Russia and Kazakhstan. These small anecdotes made me curious about Central Asia. By the time I decided to apply for a Fulbright, I knew I wanted to take this as an opportunity to explore that part of the former Soviet Union.
I would not say I am an expert in Central Asian or Kazakh politics, history, and culture. This summer I have spent my time doing what I can to familiarize myself with the region. I recently watched the BBC series “Welcome to the Stans” where each 45 minute episode was devoted to a different country in Central Asia. The International Relations nerd inside me got really excited when they discussed all the geo-politics in Central Asia! I have also looked through Foreign Policy, the Economist, BBC, and other sources to understand the politics and economics behind the country. No amount of reading though will prepare me adequately for what to expect while in KZ. I’ve also been trying to keep up my Russian this summer by watching Russian TV and movies along with listening to my favorite trashy Russian pop songs. I know four years of studying Russian in college will not be enough to converse fluently with Kazakhs. The best way to understand Kazakhstan is to dive head first into the country. Along the way, I know I will make a complete fool out of myself as I make numerous cultural gaffes in front of locals and fail at times to communicate with others with my limited Russian. But good stories aren’t made from all the times things went smoothly. It’s the moments you mess up you’ll remember and laugh about later.
These next few weeks will be spent saying goodbye to close friends and family and attempting to pack my life into a few suitcases. Normally, I am a horrible procrastinator when it comes to packing, but this time I am trying to stick to a schedule. Hopefully it goes well, and I am not scrambling around my house trying to find things the night before I fly out.