For the last few months, many of my conversations either begin with or ultimately lead to me saying, "well I'm moving to Kazakhstan soon, so..." which is followed by one of three reactions:
1) A blank stare, and, "...where?"
2) A big smile, and, "My cousin/friend/colleague lived there. What an amazaing adventure!"
3) "Why would you ever..."
I was surprised by the number of people who had difficulty pronouncing the three-syllable country name (KAZ-AK-STAN), but less surprised by the number of people who had no idea where it is, or only know the name from the movie Borat.
Kazakhstan is a big country located smack dab in the middle of Asia, bordering Russia to the north, China to the east, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to the south, and the Caspian Sea to the west. I knew almost nothing about it before I decided to move there. The book Apples are from Kazakhstan by Christopher Robbins, and the Lonely Plant's Guide to Central Asia are my only sources of information. From these books I've discovered that Kazakhs are known for their skills as horsemen, and were nomadic herders until Soviet days. From what I hear, Kazakhs are extremely friendly and hospitable people.
I'll be living in Almaty, which is in the southeastern part of the country, very close to both the Kyrgyz and Chinese boarders. To the south is the Tian Shan mountains, which, like the rest of the Himalayas, run east to west. Most mountain ranges I've ever seen run north-south, and I'm excited to see how this axis influences the ecology (science nerd that I am). Exploring these mountains is what excites me the most.
I'm going to be teaching at Almaty International School, a private day school that is designed for children of expatriates from around the world. Almaty International School is one of 36 schools run by an organization called Quality Schools International (www.qsi.org).
My goal in keeping this blog is to keep everyone in my life informed on what and how I'm doing while away on the other side of the planet. Central Asia seems to be a big blank spot on the mental map of the people I know. I'm excited to fill in some of this area for you. I have also heard a lot of anxiety in the voices of my friends and family members when they talk about me moving to the blank spot on their mental maps. I hope that by sharing how I'm doing and what is going on, I'll bring light to this dark area and quell these anxieties that stem from the unknown.
Please feel free to ask questions and tell me what you want to hear about! I also welcome emails (firstname.lastname@example.org) and hearing about how everyone is doing back in the US.