The first time I left my apartment to go to school, I told my host mother “До свидания”, which means “goodbye,” or literally translated, “until we meet again”. As I shut the door behind me and headed to the elevator, my host mom came running out the door and said, “До вечера, Грейс” (until evening, Grace) and explained that “До свидания” was for a longer goodbye. I did not completely understand the difference until recently. I’ve had almost seven weeks of “До вечера,” and now, the imminent “До свидания” awaits me.
I’m not sure how to articulate how I feel about this. My time in Almaty has challenged me beyond belief. I got lost in the city after my first day of school, and wandered the city trying to find the correct bus stop. I have been unable to articulate my thoughts and feelings on several occasions. I’ve gotten lost in the flow of Russian around me and found it hard to ground myself. However, my time in Almaty has also blessed me beyond relief. I have been placed with the most wonderful host family. I have been privileged to be taught by phenomenal professors. I have discovered kiwi ice cream, shashlik, and pelmeni. Life has been amazing here.
Reflecting on this, it’s impossible to forget that I struggled to get on the plane to come here. I was terrified of the immersion environment. I was terrified to try Kazakh food (I’m a terribly picky eater). I was terrified of the academic program. I’d like to take this moment to thank all of the people who told me to get on the plane—without your help, I would not be here.
I’d also like to advise anyone feeling anxious about their study abroad plans. My best advice: get on the plane. You may be scared, you may feel inadequate, you may feel like you won’t be successful—but get on the plane. The world is not as scary as we make it seem; there is more out there than what you see on the news. The people of Kazakhstan welcome travelers as members of their family. I have had my check paid for at restaurants by patrons who discovered I was an American. I have been offered a cab ride by a driver, and when I turned him down, he called my Uber driver to make sure my Uber would come directly to me. I have been privileged to experience the hospitality of Kazakhstan- the rumors are true. Kazakhs are the most hospitable, most cheerful, liveliest people I have ever met. So, get on the plane. Try new things, see new places, eat all the shashlik you can. Adventure is out there.
And thus, the time comes for me to get on a plane back to the states. Once again, I’ll need help from my friends to get on the plane. However, I’m not scared this time; I’m sad. I intend to walk down the aisle to my seat, and stare out the window until Kazakhstan is no longer my home. I’m so sad to leave my host family, the mountains, and the beautiful city of Almaty, which has only been home for two months, but will be a part of my heart forever.
До свидания, Almaty, and thank you. Thank you for everything.
By: Gracen Blackwell
Term: Summer 2018