Take more pictures—especially of the everyday. Even while living in a completely different part of the world, some things became routine, and I didn't notice them after a while. These include the streets, the metro, food, my room at my host family's house, and my host university. One tip I have for students studying abroad: take pictures of (almost) everything! You might think, "But I see this every day and am actually kind of sick of it," but once you come back home, you'll realize that it was also a lot of the little things that made up a big portion of your wonderful time abroad.
Probably my favorite story is about my first day in Kazakhstan. It seems awfully simple and mundane, but I think it is a feeling that many a study abroad student can relate to and relish. Recalling your first day in a new country bring up those feelings of excitement, anticipation, and ready-to-take-on-the-world inspiration. So here is my first-day story:
Setting: I flew into Almaty International Airport at one in the morning and took a cab my host family’s apartment. After a quick tea and a tour of the house, I went to bed-physically tired but mentally buzzed-and slept a solid five or six hours. In the morning, the first thing I remember opening my eyes is looking up at the high ceiling of my bedroom in my host family’s Soviet-era apartment, thinking, rather anti-climactically, “ok, this is new…” It was around seven A.M, and I was ready to get up, even though that meant I’d have to drudge through my two suitcases for my toothbrush, face wash, and contacts. This not having deterred me, I made my way to the bathroom and fumbled around until I figured out how the shower worked (read: a good six or seven minutes).
Showered, teeth brushed, and hair combed, I went to the kitchen and, lo and behold, was a grown man, possibly hung-over, and surely just sitting there. I asked him (in Russian) if he also wanted tea and proceeded to make him a cup, as well. The funny part was that he didn’t even ask who I was, what my name was, or what I was doing there. He just grumbled a couple times, and I sat down and had breakfast and tea with the stranger in silence. Before I finished my breakfast, he got up and left the kitchen. The sound from across the hallway was him apparently flopping back down on the couch, most likely to fall right back asleep
I washed the dishes and got dressed in my street clothes (read: Pac Sun plaid shirt, scruffy sneakers, and some ripped jeans) and made my way out the door and out of the enclave of apartment buildings and to the main boulevard. It bustled with a certain energy that I could never have been prepared for. It was an amazing feeling to walk out of the house and into the city of Almaty, Kazakhstan.
We went on one weekend trip to Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan. The trip was organized by my host university, KIMEP (Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research). We traveled on an overnight train to Astana with a group of around 10 international students who were also studying at KIMEP, but on a different summer program. The 12-hour train ride took us across the Kazakh steppe, which one may think is boring (it was pretty much the same view for hours on end), but I thought it was beautiful! Many Kazakh folk songs describe the beauty of the vast, open skies and the sun setting on the expansive steppe, and now I have seen with my own eyes why it is, in fact, so captivating.
We spent two days in Astana, which is completely different from Almaty; It is a newly-built city, where most of the government buildings and offices are located, and where many people in business and government live and work. I would highly recommend to anyone going to Kazakhstan to see both Almaty and Astana in the same trip because it will really put a lot of Kazakh current events, policies, and social and cultural aspects into context and completely increase your understanding of this fascinating Central Asian country.