Kazakhstan is an emerging destination for international study, and is a fascinating blend of Asia and Europe, Islamic culture and Russian influence.
You can choose to complete your entire degree (or graduate studies) in Kazakhstan, in which case it would be useful to know Russian or Kazakh, although English is increasingly be used as a language of instruction. Alternatively, you can join a shorter study abroad program, which are usually focused around Central Asian Studies and/or Russian language studies.
The cities of Almaty, Astana, and Shymkent in particular offer an exciting mix of ancient culture and modern development, and there are mountains and vast empty spaces close at hand for exploration in your free time.
The best part of all? Very few American students study in Kazakhstan, meaning you won't need to worry about breaking out of your bubble and interacting with the locals. It'll come naturally!
Kazakhstan is home to around 150 universities throughout the country, but if you want to experience the best Kazakh universities, with the liveliest student culture, head to the bigger cities. Eight universities in Kazakhstan have recently featured on the QS World University Ranking list. Most of the best are located in Almaty and Astana (the former and current capitals, respectively). The southern city of Shymkent is also a good place to consider studying.
Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan (population 1.8 million), and is probably the name that you would guess as the Kazakh capital at your typical pub quiz night! It was the capital between 1929 and 1997, but now the capital is actually Astana, although it continues to be the cultural and commercial capital. There are lots of cultural and historic sights in Almaty to check out, such as Zenkov Cathedral and the Central Mosque. The city is also in the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau Mountains. Almaty is where most international programs (such as the American Council's Russia Abroad program) are based in Kazakhstan.
Astana has been the capital of Kazakhstan since 1997. It's in the north of the country, about 12 hours by train from Almaty. It's home to a lot of impressive ultra-modern buildings, such as the iconic Bayterek Tower. Great efforts have been put in to making Astana a capital for the whole Central Asian region, so it would be an interesting place to focus on Central Asian Studies.
Shymkent is Kazakhstan's third largest city and is located in the south of the country, near the border with Uzbekistan. It is a very old city, founded in the 12th century and sitting on the Silk Road. Therefore, it's full of history and culture. There are mountains on the outskirts, for weekend explorations, and a lively student scene.
Your study abroad needs are as unique as you are, but here are some tips for helping your arrival and stay in Kazakhstan go as smoothly as possible.
Choosing a Study Abroad Program in Kazakhstan
Picking the right study abroad program in Kazakhstan for your academic and personal needs will largely depend on your reasons for wanting to study in this country.
A major factor to consider is your language needs. A growing number of universities offer courses in English, such as Nazarbayev University in Astana, which teaches entirely in English. However, to complete most degree programs at universities in Kazakhstan, prospective students will need to demonstrate proficiency in Kazakh or Russian. This means that Kazakhstan could be a good choice for students of the Russian language, or students of Central Asian Studies.
Kazakhstan has put special effort into growing its science, technology, and innovation sector over the past few years. So, if you're studying in one of these fields (or want to), Kazakhstan may be a good choice for you, especially at the graduate level.
It's not necessary to complete your entire degree in Kazakhstan, however. Kazakhstan hosts about 50,000 foreign exchange students throughout the country, although a very small number of these each year are from the USA. All the more reason to dive in and enjoy some real cultural immersion! US colleges that have links with and programs operating in Kazakstan include Bryn Mawr College and UCLA. Further, the American Council's Russia Abroad program expanded into Kazakhstan a few years ago.
As in many other countries, there are two main options for where to live when studying in Kazakhstan: in student housing provided by the university, or in private rentals. Home stays may also be available through select study abroad programs.
Most international students need a student visa to study in Kazakhstan. You will be issued with a letter of invitation by your university once your place has been confirmed, and this can be used to secure your visa from your nearest Kazakh embassy.
Social Life & Student Culture
Kazakhs are known for their warm personalities and great hospitality, so international students are likely to feel welcomed and provided with kindness and assistance when they need it.
Health & Safety
Kazakhstan is not generally a dangerous place, although like anywhere, incidents can occur. Foreigners have occasionally been targets of crime in the big cities, so it's always a good idea to take sensible precautions regarding the safety of yourself and your property. This is especially important after dark.
Regarding health, traveling in Kazakhstan does not pose any particular risks, but it is a good idea to stay up-to-date with all the usual immunizations. Further, some parts of the country are at high altitude (above 10,000ft in elevation), so if you're intending on hiking in the mountains, be aware of the risks of taying at high altitude.
Kazakhstan is generally a very affordable destination, but will still require budgeting and an awareness of costs and funding options before you arrive.
Typical Program Cost
Costs of studying in Kazakhstan vary widely, but fall between $200-$4,000 per year, depending on whether the university is public or private. If studying in Kazakhstan through a program in your home country, costs are likely to be higher to cover administration fees.
The cost of living in Kazakhstan is generally low, so it's easy to get by on a minimal budget, and certainly less than you would need at home.
Funding Options & Scholarships
Most universities in Kazakhstan offer scholarships for high academic achievement or financial hardship.However, not all of these may be available to international students coming to the country for a short time.
Seeking scholarships from your home institution/country should be your first option.
The Boren Awards in the USA are intended to fund undergraduate students in their studies of less commonly taught languages. Eurasia/Central Asia is one of the regions they cover. Boren Awards cover up to US$20,000 for a year.
The American Council's Russia Abroad program also offers diversity and need-based scholarships, and also lists resources regarding other sources of funding on their website.