The attached photo is a wonderfully warm, Kazakh teacher who got hurt by her own educational system while teaching at a westernized university in Almaty. I knew her to be a good, motherly type mentor to her university students. She is neither a bad writer or bad teacher but her superiors dismissed her without any explanation. I’ll withhold her name but let it be known that I witnessed several painful injustices (my own included) within this so-called institute of higher learning while teaching three and a half years in Kazakhstan.
I want to highlight the writings from two Kazakh women in this blog. One I know only from reading a website titled “Vox Populi” and the other is a former student of mine. I think the two go together because they are suffering the same angst of living in a country of Kazakhstan that is going through phenomenal growth spurts. There’s baggage from what used to exist from the Soviet Union, yet hopeful anticipation in what could be their future in Kazakshtan. The first one is named Madina and a summary of what she said in Russian in an interview to Vox Populi after I used Google translation.
“A typical dream for us 30 year olds in Kazakhstan is to go where we feel our rights are not violated, where there is law and order and where the government works for its citizens. I am part of an astonishing generation, we were born in the Soviet era where we grew up during the breakup of a single state (USSR) but have taken off running during the construction of a new nation (Kazakhstan). Therefore, many of our own parents will never understand that we have a sense of choice.
When I was 27 years old, I began to choke on what surrounded me, the country, the people, our laws. My friends and I found the easiest way out, we just ran away and left for a half a year to the United States. America seemed at that moment a bulwark of democracy. I left Kazakhstan with the underlying idea of staying in the U.S. This is so typical of us to dream to go somewhere else…but experience showed us all the same problems in the U.S. Eden, NO! I went back to Kazakhstan but I came back more relaxed. I learned to accept the imperfections of the world.
Even with blatant injustice in Kazakhstan, my contribution is to keep working on this project to uncover everything that happens in our country to show a different life, to expose social problems and talk about difficult situations. Unfortunately, I am not a revolutionary in spirit, to ride with a sword. Also, I do not like publicity, but I admire people who are active citizens righting wrongs. If we had a “Swamp,” I would have walked out. No, instead I have gotten up on a stage, not to be encouraged but to be listened to and supported. Civic engagement in Kazakhstan doesn’t happen because the majority believes that stability is better than change.”
Here’s the second one from Aigerim, a former student of mine who nails it about where the problem of slavery works into the mindset of the Kazakh citizen. She was a teacher who got in trouble with her superiors for pointing out some errors in her contract. They are to teach critical thinking to their classes but at the same time they are to obey and not object to injustices. She is NOT a bad person, teacher or writer…read on:
“Bad writer is a bad English teacher. I want to be a good teacher, or at least not another person reciting same old song or grammar rule. I stand firm on the point that any skills or knowledge taught should be relevant.
When I conducted IELTS classes at my former work place, which is an elite focused and fully funded from President`s fund, I committed to turn this extra-curricular free of charge classes into a writing experiment. We watched and reflected on films, then wrote on blogs. Some of students created and posted their own poetry. Indeed, learners came up to a stage where they reflected on their lives. They wrote great essays about teenage suicides and problems of education in our country.
While my students were making their best in critical thinking, my own free speaking brought me into trouble with a department manager as I enquired too many questions on controversial points in a contract. Well, I don`t regret appealing against bosses, I am quite happy with my new job. When my writers learned about my resignation due to my being a wrong format, one student replied with a phrase that still warms my heart, “If you’re A4 format and they’re A5 (smaller), that doesn’t mean you’re a bad teacher, you’re just different.”
Young people can think critically until they are framed into stupid rules. Nowadays it is common to think that you have to say what your teacher wants to hear and you get a point, do what your boss wants and keep your place of employment. The problem of slavery exists not only on construction sites and massage parlors, but in thoughts and enslaved wills of ordinary people.
My colleagues were obedient and got another year of their teaching contract. However, I wonder whether these teachers are able to teach young people to think critically and act globally.”
I love my former student’s writing about being different and indeed she is NOT a bad teacher or a bad writer. On days like this, I feel the same where it is difficult to write and English is my native language. Some days I feel defeated in trying to explain from my “A4 framework” that I don’t fit in with the A5 environment whether it is in the U.S. OR in Kazakhstan.