Although I had studied in Kazakhstan in the past, my travels were largely limited to the two most populous cities and their various tourist traps. During my internship this summer, I had the opportunity to visit a smaller town to work with high school students who might apply to U.S. universities. I only had four days in Taraz, but it was an unforgettable experience.
Taraz is a historical city, said to be the place where Janibek Khan and Kerei Khan first established the Kazakh Khanate. All over the city, there are monuments to represent Kazakhstan’s history through the ages. There are mausoleums that date back to the 11-12 centuries as well as newer monuments that recognize the history of the Khanate and the Soviet period.
Taraz is also a city with an energetic population that comes to life in the evenings. Every evening during summer, they close one of the main avenues that sits in front of Taraz Square, and they set up different kinds of entertainment for residents. There are bicycles, hover boards, tiny remote control cars that toddlers can ride in, and other various wheeled-contraptions that people can rent. Kids can also play carnival-style games, like throwing darts to pop balloons, or fishing for prizes. For teens and young adults, there was also a station to play a virtual reality game with an Oculus Rift headset. Featuring both traditional carnival rides and games as well as more high-tech, modern additions, these evening gatherings attracted a large amount of people—seemingly of all ages. I have seen similar events in the U.S., but they are usually festivals that come to town for only a week or so. I was amazed when the students told me they do this all summer.
My native Kazakh boss who traveled with me was also amazed by the night life in Taraz, but it was an entirely different aspect of their evening activities that struck her. She noticed that many of the small children who came out to play in the evening were shepherded by their fathers rather than their mothers. Throughout our days in Taraz, we noticed that during the daytime, we would see mothers walking around with their children, but fathers seemed to largely take over that role for all the fun and games. My boss thought this was a bit unusual for Kazakh men, but we were both encouraged to see all of these young fathers playing with their kids and enjoying their childhoods with them.
Of course, the most memorable part of the trip was the students we worked with. Throughout my time in Kazakhstan this summer, I have enjoyed getting to know bright teenagers and hear about their visions for the future as well as their impressions of America. Despite the fact that we only had four days in Taraz, I got to know each of the students, and I hope I was able to impart some helpful knowledge to prepare them for their futures. It is no surprise that teens who sign up for a camp to learn about applying to U.S. universities would be intelligent and high achievers, but I was pleased to get to know kids who are also thoughtful, creative, talented, and kind.
By: Abigail Mayhugh
Term: Summer 2017