I have only been in Kazakhstan for three weeks, yet I feel like I have already learned a semester’s worth of knowledge. I have traveled to other countries before on vacation and have felt out of place, but never before in the state of culture shock and later cultural euphoria as I have in Almaty. During the orientation in Washington, many topics were briefed upon such as adjustment, culture shock, finding your place, etc. Little did I know that they would be extremely relevant especially to me. At first, I felt out of place even within my own group of Americans; everyone had taken at least two years of Russian language studies, some even since high school and many had studied abroad before. I have had only two semester beginner courses under my belt, and at first questioned my own placement in the program as I felt juxtaposed to my peers. Being an Air Force ROTC Cadet, I came in with the mindset of being a team player, and when appropriate, putting the needs of the group before my own, similar to the concept of the “коллектив” common in many post-Soviet states. I figured that the mindset would be perfect to execute the “storming-norming-performing” in group dynamics that is briefed on at orientation. However, I felt that I needed to work on myself first. It was a bit disappointing to realize that I felt I could not contribute much to the team or the classroom environment due to not possessing more advanced knowledge. Thankfully, both the American and Kazakh American Councils community has helped me find my place in RLASP.
The first thing I had to do was take a leap of faith and trust the system. Even if I sometimes feel like I do not know or understand anything, the process will take effect in the long run. The Americans and the language partners here have gotten close since the beginning, which has helped the group dynamics specifically. The magic about this program is that any event, big or small, becomes a learning experience, one that cannot be found unless one leaves the United States. During my first couple of days, I was invited by a host family language partner to play cards. At first, I felt dumb for not understanding basic rules and even words I had learned in school, but their patience and Kazakh hospitality helped me learn in many different ways, something I will appreciate for the rest of my life.
After arriving at Almaty International Airport at 4:45 AM my first day here, I had breakfast at home where I began to ask what everything in the kitchen was called, confirm how the colors were called, etc. Host families are great help at this adjustment and out of school learning. And of course, did you really study abroad if you didn’t have a linguistic miscommunication? During one of my earlier meals, I accidentally called sausage (колбаса) dog (собака) which lead to a little awkward explanation to my host mother that I do not eat dog. We laughed it off and accepted that those small moments were inevitable, but that through making those mistakes I will learn to be a natural Russian speaker, and not just memorize statements I learn in my textbook. I finish writing this segment with optimism about the next three months and remembering that since I have the least amount of knowledge, I have the most to learn. To anyone considering study abroad, I highly recommend it and to have the courage to ask all the questions and put yourself in awkward situations.
By: Glen Camilo
Program: Advanced Russian Language & Area Studies Program Almaty, Kazakhstan
Term: Fall 2019