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Khazakhstan – Graduate Comments

Regarding Kazakhstan, I would tell anybody who wanted to teach there to “go for it”. The main things I enjoyed were meeting some very lovely people and being submerged in a totally different culture. Having said that, once was enough for me. While it was interesting, personally I prefer something a little closer to home. Anyway, here are some details .

* The country is still establishing its own identity after being under the thumb of the old Soviet Union for many years

* It’s re-emergence is built on huge natural resources, chiefly oil and gas.

* The Westerners there tend to be Americans and Germans connected with these industries and live in the major cities like Astana (the new capital, where I was) , Almaty (the old capital) and Karaganda.

* These cities are also where the language schools are concentrated and they seem to be run by Americans. They pay in U.S. dollars and the salaries seem to be good, bearing in mind the much lower cost of day-to-day living compared to western Europe. They sometimes also offer long contracts – one ad I saw wanted someone to commit for two years!

* The Kazakhs’ aim of becoming part of the international community carries with it the desire to learn English and, consequently, motivation levels among students tends to be high. The school I taught at was tacked onto a travel agency and the resources were good enough to teach general English, working from the New English File series of books and CDs. Resources in the large language schools would be, I imagine, much better.

* The everyday language is Russian. Kazakh is not used very often and is not widely spoken, expecially by the younger generation. This is a result of earlier Soviet surpression. Anybody wanting to teach there would benefit from a basic understanding of Russian, as without it your experience there will be quite limited. I learned a few courtesy words and phrases but not enough to participate in Kazakh life.

* An English person in Kazakhstan is something of an oddity and they were very curious about me. Once they’d checked that I hadn’t really got two heads I found them to be a charming and hospitable people, very keen to please and passionate in telling visitors about their culture and the strides they have made since independence.

* If you enjoy vodka, be prepared to pay the immense sum of about £5 to get a decent bottle. It is sold cheaper, but is probably better used as lawnmower fuel.

* The food is very bland and uninteresting – and some of it looks very strange. The Kazakhs eat a lot of horsemeat, which I found tasted a bit like mutton but without the greasiness. Not at all unpleasant. You can also buy sturgeon from the supermarkets. Just choose one – they’re all swimming around in a glass tank!

For those who like burgers and pizza etc, these are obtainable from the foodcourts in malls. However, forget trying to get a Big Mac – there isn’t a branch in the entire country. The Kazakh government won’t let them in – nor Burger King, KFC etc. The major cities have a wide variety of international restaurants.

* Kazakhstan is a vast country – the ninth largest in the world, I was told – and it takes days rather than hours to get from A to B. How much you’ll see depends on your available time and transport resources. For example, it takes 23 hours by train to get from Astana to Almaty. In Kazakh terms, this not considered to be a terribly long journey. They’re taking about introducing high-speed trains, something like the TGV, which will cut the time down to a more manageable eight hours.

* The weather is extreme. Winter temperatures reguarly hit -30 and -40 is not unknown. I only experienced a balmy -16 – cold enough. Serious outdoor gear is needed in these temperatures – North Face etc. In summer, the heat can easily match Spanish summer temperatures.

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