(Written September 9, 2011, however I was unable to log onto WordPress here until now)
I arrived in Kazakhstan last Friday and now have officially been in Kazakhstan for a week. I started Kazakh classes on Monday. They are 1-on-1 classes five days a week for 3 hours a day. So far, I have only had Kazakh lessons, but American Councils promised me that one day a week would be allocated for Russian lessons. Hopefully that will happen soon. At KIMEP (http://new.kimep.kz/) everyone speaks Russian. The teachers and students are fabulous, but I don’t think the environment is conducive to learning Kazakh. In Almaty too I mainly hear Russian and my host family speaks in a jumbled mix of Kazakh and Russian, although they’re obviously taking great pains to speak to me in Kazakh, which I greatly appreciate.
My host family consists of a mother, father and 27- year-old sister Jamila. Another sister, Augerim, is married and has an infant daughter. The family was not really home until Tuesday night, which made for an extremely unremarkable first weekend in Almaty and a not exactly ideal “homecoming.” Still the family has been kind and welcoming. One lingering issue is that I don’t have a bed. I assume this is coming soon, but for now I am sleeping in the living room on the sofa, which is a huge pain because my sleeping habits infringe on their social time and TV-viewing habits. Additionally, I want to sleep in shorts, but can’t really tell if wearing shorts in the house is acceptable or not. Surprisingly lots of girls in Almaty are sporting “daisy dukes.” I don’t have a good handle yet on if these girls are viewed in a positive light.
My Kazakh classes are alright. The teachers are focusing intensively on pronunciation, which is probably a good thing since I am sure my Azeri and Turkish knowledge is influencing how I speak Kazakh. One problem I can foresee with the classes is that the teachers teach Kazakh in Russian. In truth, I really should have had much better Russian before coming here. My three semesters like 10 years ago at UNH are not really cutting it.
I met with the Dean of KIMEP’s law school, Terrence Blackburn, yesterday. He is a very nice guy from Pittsburgh (!!). We discussed possible ways to collaborate. One possibility is working with KIMEP’s Vis team and another is working with the European Law Students Association (ELSA). I am not sure how I feel about working with the VIS team as my forte tends to be public international law, but I am open to giving it a shot, especially since it’s a way not only to learn something different, but also to meet people. Meeting people at KIMEP has been incredibly difficult without Russian. Even the cafeteria lady gives me a dirty look when I try to order in Kazakh. She barks the Russian back at me as if she is correcting me. Working with the ELSA might entail helping them organize a city-wide moot court competition which would also be interesting. In my interactions with the law school, I also came across another American student. He is in KIMEP’s Masters in International Relations program. He introduced himself to Dr. Blackburn and me by telling us he plans to attend Stanford Law and is currently testing around a 169 on his LSAT. Congrats to him, but I want to be at Stanford if he continues to introduce himself by telling people his LSAT score (haha!).
There is a lot more I could write, but I am short on time. I have been granted permission to workout at KIMEP sports gym and must get there at my assigned time. The gym is very simple, but it does have three treadmills which makes me happy. My use of the gym is very strictly regimented by the university staff. I can only attend three set days a week and at a set time. My assigned time is MWF at 2:30.