It was early February, one of the coldest weeks in Almaty. The wind blew past my teacher, program director, and me as we searched for the Physics building on the main campus of our university. I could feel my nerves heightening, but this day had been long awaited. We found the lecture hall, but having arrived early, we decided to search out my professor to clarify the details of my class. However, upon finding out that I had not in fact been enrolled in the introductory physics class in Russian as planned, but rather a more specialized class taught in English, we had to alter our game plan.
After a couple hours of asking a lot of people a lot of questions, we found out the Mechanics department was the Kazakh equivalent of Mechanical Engineering and were given a tour of many of the labs. While I wasn’t overly impressed by the robotics lab, I felt welcomed by a professor who vividly described the experiments conducted in the Fluid Dynamics laboratory. Since her class fit in with my schedule, we began the needed documents, paperwork, and agreements to get me enrolled.
I arrived on my first day of class having no idea what to expect. My professor, Dinara Turalina, showed me the material for the first set of experiments which study the flow of oil through various tubes. I was relieved when the theory she began to explain included equations I had used during my thermodynamics class last semester. The lab handbook, which consisted of about 60 dry, black and white typed pages was intimidating. She left me to read about the first experiment when a group of Kazakh students came in to ask questions. I had only read half a page out of 10, taking my time to carefully translate technical terms, when Professor Turalina returned and introduced me to a student who would help me conduct the first experiment.
I stood up, nervous that I wouldn’t understand anything and end up breaking the lab equipment. Upon turning on the machine we were greeted with a loud and continuous metallic grunt. I stood and recorded data when instructed, and 15 minutes later we turned off the machine, hit by the absence of the loud roar. Professor Turalina explained step-by-step how to calculate the average speed of the oil from the collected data and I sat for an hour, hacking away at the data on my cell phone’s calculator.
I walked out the Mechanics department feeling like a knight who had conquered a beast. I proved to myself that my level of Russian is sufficient not just to use on the street, but in an engineering laboratory. Having long feared that it would be impossible to connect my passions, I realized that although this was just the beginning, it was possible.
The next week I nervously handed Professor Turalina my first lab report, feeling unsure if I included everything she expected. Writing in a scientific style was new so I had a few people check over my work to make sure it was grammatically correct and understandable. To my relief she told me that everything was correct. We did another two experiments that day.
I can’t say that taking an engineering class in Russian has been easy. I’ve been lucky to get a lot of individual help from Professor Turalina throughout the semester. Concepts that would probably be easy to understand in English take a couple explanations to sink in, sometimes leaving me feeling like I come off as very incapable. However, through the struggle I have gained a much more concrete understanding of fluid mechanics concepts that I believe will make studying it in depth at home much more tangible.
The support of my professors at KazNu has directly contributed to my success studying Fluid Mechanics in Kazakhstan. It is clear from working with Professor Turalina that she is passionate about instilling interest confidence in her students through real life applications of fluid mechanics. A few times after class I chatted with her about the differences between our academics systems, and about the development of green energy in Kazakhstan. Our conversations were very genuine and casual, making me feel as if this wasn’t simply an interesting experience solely for me, but for her as well. Around the holiday, Nauryz, which celebrates the coming of spring, students from our class hosted a party for the department’s faculty which I also attended. It was heartwarming to see how teachers and students in Kazakhstan act as a family both outside and inside of their classes. While classes are conducted professionally, holidays are celebrated with warmth and energy that I’ve never witnessed in the American academic system.
Although at times my mechanics class has been a stressor in my life in Almaty, studying engineering in parallel with my intensive Russian courses has made me realize that engineering and language challenge me in similar ways. Some might say that speaking in a second language is learning how to feel and rationalize through a different set of cultural norms and perspectives, but in a way, one could say the same about engineering. Math is like a language built on logic, while language is like a science which relies on intuition. Both engineering and Russian have allowed me to find more ways to cherish the little things in life that we often don’t even notice. Often feeling as if life would be incomplete or dull without one or the other, I am grateful to have enough patience to realize my dream of combining language and engineering into a single discipline.
By: Anna Sklenar
Term: Spring 2016