My choice to studying abroad in Almaty, Kazakhstan was an unusual pick considering I was a Russian major. But when I went to Moscow for a 6 week study abroad program at Moscow State University I was exposed to Central Asian culture. I took a liking to their cuisine and became interested in this region, especially after learning Russian remained a lingua franca in this region after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
After my program, I toured Almaty. I did research and learned that Russian and Kazakh are the official languages of Kazakhstan. I figured this would be a great opportunity to practice my Russian and understand this mysterious place. I also learned that Kazakhstan has one of the most highly developed infrastructures and economies in Central Asia. Therefore, accessibility would not be a problem. I was immediately met with the hospitality of Kazakhstani people. Most impressionable was their patience towards a foreigner trying to conjugate verbs and decline nouns into the right cases. For many Kazakhstanis, Russian is a second language, so, they tend to be more forgiving. I remember my first taxi driver helping me piece Russian words together in order to have a conversation. It was a memorable experience. Consequently, I wanted to learn more about this underappreciated and understudied region.
Another factor that influenced my decision was the natural beauty of Almaty. I was inspired by the Zailiyskiy Alatau Mountains that overlook the city, and the endless opportunities to explore. While hiking and biking are popular activities almost year round, in the winter it is possible to ski, sled, skate and snowboard, especially at Medeu, a popular outdoors destination in southeastern Almaty. Almaty offers a balance of suburban and rural culture. There are many cafes, restaurants, shops and bazaars scattered throughout the city. Medeu is perfect for cultural and language engagement which is essential for increasing proficiency. This engagement is why I chose Almaty.
A question I am often asked is why I chose to study in Kazakhstan instead of Russia. Generally, I found that Russia, although a multicultural society, tends to be introverted, or reserved. As an introvert, this makes it hard to find friends. Also, Russians seem to have a higher standard of Russian. Russians would often switch to English or not talk when I ran into language roadblocks. This was preferred than to endure poorly articulated Russian. I became discouraged because after all, I was there to speak Russian, not English.
Almaty has a different social landscape. People tend to be more sociable and engaging. For example, I often would be asked about my ethnicity, my hometown and why I am studying Russian in Kazakhstan. I become so engrossed in the subject matter that speaking Russian flows naturally. In my opinion, this is the ideal environment for learning a foreign language.
My most recent experience in Moscow was reassuring that I made the right decision. Although my study abroad experiences in Russia have always been great, I always wanted an environment conducive to learning outside of the classroom. Kazakhstan has that, especially in terms of my field of interest, hobbies and personality. I am almost 3 months into my program and have no regrets. Kazakhstan is where I belong for now.
By: Telmo Falope
Term: Academic Year 2018-19