Exploring Kazakhstan Steppe by Steppe

It has been around five weeks since my last blog and I have felt so much progress in my language and regional studies since then that even my peers have noticed. As I write this, I am currently on my second regional field study. My first one was in Sakpek, a village in southeast Kazakhstan which has amazing nearby such as Charon Canyon and the Three Lakes. This current regional field study is in the capital, known by most as Astana but which has recently been renamed Nur-Sultan, the namesake of the former President of Kazakhstan.

The American Councils pre-departure orientation gave me the opportunity to explore Washington, D.C. and enjoy beauties such as the National Mall. To my surprise, Nur-Sultan has a similar style to the National Mall! The location of the important government buildings forms a straight line similar to the one in D.C., and there is a giant courtyard through which people can walk and enjoy the nearby sights. Right in the middle stands Bayterek, a tower which represents peace and the role that Nur-Sultan plays in Kazakhstan, and the role Kazakhstan plays in the world. We had the opportunity to go up an elevator and see all of Nur-Sultan in a 360-degree view. Inside the tower, one can see themes of peace and religious unity. A feature I found interesting was the handprint of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The city of Nur-Sultan prides itself in juxtaposition. It is a booming, growing city with a Western style within the flat, Central Asian steppe, within a county familiar with Soviet-era Eastern European architecture and street style. An important thing I learned about Kazakhstan is the concept of “Kazakhstan 2050” which is a goal for people to speak the Kazakh, Russian, and English languages by that year, as well as other advancements for the country since its independence in 1991. Nur-Sultan’s architecture is very futuristic in terms of color choice and lighting, with lots of green and gold, which are similar to the Kazakshtani , and lots of big screens everywhere with advertisements and lists of achievements such as the nuclear proliferation accord. We also had the opportunity to visit the Nur-Astana mosque, a big beautiful mosque adjacent to the U.S. Embassy, which is open to tourists of all faiths, further representing Nur-Sultan’s message of peace and unity.

Although Nur-Sultan is looking forward and working towards the future, it has not forgotten about its country’s past. Around a 30-minute drive away from the city center is Alzhir Memorial Museum, the place of a former women’s gulag. It was a very emotionally touching experience to see the actual places where these women were forced to work and live and to look at documents which recorded their living conditions. It was very saddening to read and understand the letters that children wrote to their missing moms and the confusion they felt about them missing along with their dads. We ended the visit by watching a documentary about the children of these women, one of whom was even born in the camp! I am extremely thankful for the experiences that American Councils has provided during RLASP this fall.

Camilo Blog 2 photo 1 - RLASP Kazakhstan

By; Glenn Camilo

Program: Advanced Russian Language & Area Studies Program, Almaty, Kazakhstan

Term: Fall 2019

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