One of the things that I have come to appreciate more since arriving in Kazakhstan earlier this summer is personal space. Growing up I had my own room. As a 26 year old adult I haven’t had to share my living space with a roommate since my sophomore year of college. In the several instances when I have lived in the former Soviet Union, including my current stay in Almaty, Kazakhstan, I have been lucky enough to always have my own room, whether it be in a university dormitory or with a host family. As anyone who has spent time living in the former Soviet Union can attest to, living conditions are usually cramped.
Currently I am sharing a three room apartment with a family of six, and often there is a relative or two who spends the night as well. This means that all the family members have to share sleeping space. Some of the family have their own bed, some sleep on a pull out couch, and some sleep on the floor. At times I am struck with pangs of guilt over the fact that I have one of the three rooms to myself, with my own bed. However, the same time I am very thankful that I do have my own room, and a bed as well. The privacy it affords me helps to counteract the crowded nature of the apartment. This crowdedness has caused me a lot of stress and I think that it would stress out the average American as well. However, the family takes such crowdedness in stride, seemingly without a lot of stress.
The obvious reason for this is that they have simply become accustomed to such living conditions. But a few weeks ago when I was home with my host family I thought about these conditions for some time. A family of six in a three room apartment means that none of the four children has ever had, or will likely ever have their own room. As someone who has always had a room of his own, I found it very difficult to comprehend a child growing up without a room to call his or her own. The idea caused a mix of emotions and thought. On one hand the prospect of growing up without out your own room or much privacy at all seemed terrifying and impossible to fathom. On the other hand, I had noticed that this family is relatively close, much closer than I was growing up with two younger sisters and my parents, and much closer than almost any family I know back in the United States. From this it would appear that the lack of privacy and cramped living conditions can have positive effects and enhance the emotional bonds between family members. This experience of living with a host family has reinforced my appreciation of privacy and personal space within the family unit. At the same time I wonder how my family life would have been different if instead of living in a house in which my parents, my sisters, and I all had our own rooms, (which also included a family room, a living room, and a yard) we had lived in tighter quarters.
By: Jonathon Dreeze
Program: Eurasian Regional Language Program
Term: Summer 2015