Archive for January, 2008

Pilgrims ProGRESS in Kazakhstan!!!

Sometimes, living in Kazakhstan feels like we are living out John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrims Progress while darting and dodging the many spiritual minefields and obstacles.  Especially true in affluent Almaty which is very different from the rural areas of Kazakhstan.  Fortunately, we WILL preVAIL, according to a sermon I heard on Hebrews last week.  The pastor admitted being stuck in the book of Hebrews, he highlighted 2:1 “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.”   

He related while living in Kryzlorda, Kazakhstan that he and a friend of his swam across a seemingly slow moving river.  Though they reached the other side, he was very tired.  A half hour later they began swimming to join their families who were anxiously waiting for them.  Unfortunately, in the middle of the river he felt he was about to go under in the strong current.  He had fixed his mark on the river bank ahead of the jetty where they needed to land.  So swift was the flow and so low on strength was he, he cried out to God and he was miraculously saved. He looked to Hebrews 2:10 where Jesus is the author or “CAPTAIN” of our salvation made perfect through sufferings. 

What was heartening about these verses from Hebrews is first of all, Jesus is NOT ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters.  Second, He has also been tempted, but unlike Jesus in succumbing to temptation, we often turn our gaze away from Him while residing in Kazakhstan. (“For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” Heb. 2:18) 

Recently, I’ve been returning over and over again to II Chronicles 14-16 where King Asa was a good king for 35 years but then he went adrift. He died in his 41st year of reigning Israel.  The Bible is replete with examples of those who started out well yet didn’t end so well.  The pastor’s theme of victory with having the captain of our ship in charge definitely hit a resounding chord with me. We ARE on the winning side!!!  “Looking unto Jesus, the AUTHOR (captain) and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Heb. 12:2 

The other morning I landed on the same pithy verse but from two places in the gospel accounts, Luke 7:35 “But wisdom is justified by all her children” which is the same in Matt. 11:19.  That is worth holding on to, to help me be a better pilgrim while residing in Kazakhstan. 

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Curiosity Helps Modernize Technology in Kazakhstan

A 32 year old businessman confirmed that the latest development in Kazakhstan’s technology is “Almaty Techno-Park” and “High school computerization” projects carried out by Kazakhstan government. Accordingly are the promising signs of their [future] willingness to invest in technological development.”  A much younger but highly qualified librarian who works in Astana, the nation’s capital, wrote about more positive developments in her discipline, “Presently there is a new project in our country called “National Electronic library of Kazakhstan” that is being provided by the National Academic Library… In fact, the project needs qualified IT specialists and professional support now and in the future.” 

This 24 year old female librarian further explained about her personal aspirations: “During the shortage of modern access to information, in this crucial stage of my life, I was given a great opportunity to join the newest digitalized library of Kazakhstan.  I saw the whole world inside.  The library for a librarian is not the same as for a reader.  It is like a big factory with different departments and functions.  There is a lot of hours of work beside any information the reader has found.  Every page of book, newspaper, website, article from database, has its own way to his reader. And I realized that an effective library system is one of the most important factors of science development, culture and quality of education.” 

This young librarian was careful to say in her interview that even though there are only 100 librarians under the age of 30 throughout Kazakhstan who understand the power of technology, those older librarians who don’t use computers are very well trained at cataloging under the old system.  One such woman whom we interviewed was 51 years old.  She wrote the following in her application about what is accessible now in her library to those in the medical field: “Our users are able to work with such English electronic databases as EBSCOhost, Springer, Blackwell, Medline, which are provided by Consortium of Libraries.  In recent years there is a problem of info providing for medical libraries.  Specialized medical libraries in research institutions led by the Republic Scientific Library of Almaty work using mostly old traditional methods of service that, does not meet the growing needs of the users…this is because of a lack of professional schools and knowledge in the area of modern digital librarianship.” 

Thankfully there are young people who are inheriting the methods of service from the older generation to combine with an insatiable curiosity to do successful keyword searches for their clients.  Curiosity is also the key for those in Journalism and Mass Communications who want to tap into modern technology.  One such journalist said she was trained by her media trainer who said “that the job of a journalist is to know nothing and talk about everything.  To me, curiosity is an obligatory feature for a good journalist.” 

This same female journalist wrote the complications of protecting journalists in their profession while they carry out their message using the Internet. “I conducted some scientific research about legislative regulation of Internet in Kazakhstan.  According to Kazakhstani legislation, websites refer to mass-media and under the regulation of the law of mass media, which doesn’t include special norms for websites, except recent rules of its registration.” 

Another articulate woman in journalism wrote the following:  “I am also interested in developing online journalism in Central Asia region.  However Internet is still not available for most of the population because of quite high prices for telecommunications service.  Another problem is local regulations of web sources.  Last semester I had worked on a CAJ (Central Asia Journalists) website project…Online journalism – some theorists think, that it will help people to integrate online society and create their own civil communities where they will feel free in discussing that which is not possible in analog print or broadcasting media.” 

Thus ends my compiling of quotes from aspiring, young Kazakhstanis who want to improve their great country of Kazakhstan. I wish those Muskie candidates who pass their TOEFL exam and eventually succeed in studying for their MA degrees in the US, to return home to their native land to make a positive difference.  I am hopeful for the future of Kazakhstan after reading the Muskie applications and seeing the talent from the 53 interviews we conducted last week. 

If you have missed any of the earlier blogs concerning Kazakhstan, they should be read in reverse order starting from a week ago.  I welcome and encourage any feedback you may have on the following.  Please leave a comment, especially those who are FROM Kazakhstan!!!:

1) Quotes from Ambitious Kazakh Students

2) Kazakh Lawyers’ Thoughts on Education

3) Kazakhstan‘s Inheritance from the Soviets

4) Corruption and the Typical Kazakh Family

5) Kazakhstan‘s Geography and Old Silk Road Legacy

6) Kazakhstan’s Economics Affect ALL Disciplines  

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Kazakhstan’s Economics Affect ALL Disciplines

Following in the footsteps of their highly effective national leader, Nursultan Nazarbaev, many Kazakhstan students from almost all disciplines had something to write about economics.  Economics touches every aspect of Kazakhstan. According to a very articulate Muskie candidate in Public Administration, he wrote that President Nazarbaev recently addressed the Kazakhstan nation highlighting “issues of organizations’ leadership and the necessity of implementation of global standards of corporate social responsibility and raised the role of organizations that serve public interests.”   

I have a strong hope for Kazakhstan to accomplish their goals after we interviewed a fluent 26 year old woman in Public Policy.  She wrote the following about surveying citizens in Taraz in 2006:  “We discovered that 87% of people don’t have any mental picture about civic society and NGO sector.  Most of them don’t want to understand the role of the political institutes of executive and representative powers.  That is why our Kazakhstan people are passive and indifferent to politics. Why I decided to devote my life to politics?  This is my calling.  The fundamental sense of calling I took from Max Weber’s great philosophy in The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.  The great quotation of Max Weber:  “Basically three qualities are deciding for the scientist.  They are passion, feeling of responsibility and knowledge.” I seek the best methods of management with my resources; these are the time, the knowledge, the information and the people.  I make SWOT analysis every day.  The motto of my life is “burst out my weakness.” 

A 25 year old woman in business admitted that her country is classified as an emerging market…Kazakhstan has been a part of the world economic community for just 17 years so the knowledge in the sphere of investments in our country is rather poor.” However, if all of the Muskie candidates have a passion to succeed and make a regular SWOT analysis, the country of Kazakhstan will eventually succeed economically.   

Several successful Muskie applicants in International Affairs and Business, noted that Kazakhstan has a goal to be ranked in the top “50 most competitive economies of the world by 2012.”  Also, as Kyrgyzstan has already done, to join the WTO.  To help diversify the economy and reach this goal of being one of the 50 most developed countries in the world, Kazakhstan plans “to organize a Regional Financial Center of Almaty (RFCA) which will help bring a lot of foreign investments to the republic and support its involvement in the international integration processes.” 

These economic goals can be reached by energetic young people in environmental studies as this 23 year old wrote:  “I will do all my best to lead Kazakhstan on the way of sustainable development which is urgently required according to our President [Nazarbaev’s] words.  I want to help my native republic to join the 50 most competitive countries of the world.  Nowadays, economical growth of our republic is supported by price increase in the World Markets and increased use of considerable volume of natural resources.  GDP is accompanied by high emissions to environment.  Existent assessment shows that about 75% of country’s territory is exposed to abnormally high risk of ecological destabilization.” 

However, according to a more mature, 29 year old male with valuable insight into his field of environment, he wrote what obstacles he thought need to be surmounted:  “Working in the projects with Kazakhstani specialists of different backgrounds who in the end came into environment, I was a witness of their improper decisions taken for certain problem solving.  Some of them were economists without knowledge of chemistry, while others were chemists but had no concern about the economical component of the problem.  They considered the problem only from their professional point of view.  I realized they are short of knowledge on complex approach of problem solving and they missed the basic knowledge in environment management.” 

Despite the mismatch with professionals not knowing the complexities of all the problems, according to a young lawyer, “the World Bank included Kazakhstan in the top 20 of the most attractive countries of the world for capital investment.  Due to Kazakhstan’s establishment of proper commercial infrastructures is recognized as the regional economic leader.  These are mainly results of the Oil and Gas industry.” 

A 29 year old woman in business proudly admitted she works “for the National Atomic Company “Kazatomprom” (in the Head office) whose main activity is uranium mining.  Today, the company is the third largest uranium producer in the world.  Kazatomprom has more than 20 subsidiaries and affiliates and realizes uranium mining projects with Canadian, French, Japanese, Chinese and Russian partners.” 

A young, ambitious lawyer at the age of 23 wrote the following related to WTO and the importance of dispute resolution.  “Today most of the trade and commercial transactions take place inside such an institute as the World Trade Organization.  The WTO is the main organization regulating commercial relationships between the country-members within the WTO.  Presently, there are more than 150 countries in the WTO, or 75% of the total number of countries in the world, 135 of which are trade partners with Kazakhstan. This is why we will and must settle our trade relations with those countries under acceptable and favorable terms and conditions…Dispute resolution is an important aspect of the WTO’s work.” 

Naturally the actual Economic applicants for the Muskie grant had much more to weigh in on because of what they witnessed up close and personal as Kazakhstan’s real problems such as the crisis of liquidity in their own banks in August of 2007.  One 27 year old male wrote there was an acute felt need for “specialists with mathematical background.  They told me that their attempts of the creating of market of derivatives failed due to absence of people who know how to model prices of options.  There are not even trade of derivatives on Kazakhstan Stock Exchange, although at this time during Sept. 2007, the number of the traded contracts of stock options on Frankfurt Stock Exchange is 21.460.196.  The crisis of liquidity in banks in Kazakhstan in Aug. 2007 is the result of the absence of good risk managers; investment funds don’t have specialists to calculate risk of losses.  The conclusion of all is that Kazakhstan has need for professionals of risk management and mathematical option pricing. 

A 23 year old female in economics added one of the causes for the liquidity crisis “was sub prime crisis in the US, but if our banking system were to predict and take measures, it would be less harmful.”  A 25 year old female wrote what she understood the problem to be from a business point of view: “Because of the high level of foreign borrowings, mostly in the US dollars, Kazakhstan became dependent upon the economic situation in the US.  The collapse of the mortgage bonds market in the US led in short to the liquidity problems within the Kazakhstan national banking system, which in its turn negatively reflected on the economic situation of the country.” 

A young man of 24 years who was one of the top candidates we interviewed among the lawyers wrote the following concerning laws and financial markets:  “Well known and outstanding Law “on securitization” based on which couple of Kazakhstan banks closed a great deals, was adopted by Parliament of Kazakhstan within six months after our officials first heard about securitization on the conference in Vienna in 2005.  All Kazakhstani banks and financial organizations should have to pay big amounts of money to foreign consultants in order to understand the laws which have been already adopted in Kazakhstan.  Isn’t this absurd?  Frankly speaking, there is not any strangeness.  If you look through our laws related to financial markets and financial organizations, you will see the key points and ideas which were stipulated in relevant laws of the US in early 1970 and ‘80s.  The first securitization transaction in the World was closed in the US in 1970.  The first Kazakhstan transaction was closed in 2005.” 

Finally, the 29 year old environmental specialist further explained his concerns about the vast natural resources Kazakhstan has been blessed with and how that will ultimately impact the economy positively but possibly harm the environment if precautions are not taken.  He wrote:  “It would be very good also to take part in the activities related to Kyoto Agreement signing in Kazakhstan managers of big industrial enterprises should realize the inevitability of CO2 emissions reduction and the old technologies replacement.  However, one should transform economy into “transparent” form which is a difficult task so far….In terms of high growth of Kazakhstan economy and GDP which is closely connected with natural resources intensive use and consumption, specialists in the field of Environmental Management will be valued a lot.  Those who justified diplomas abroad will be in great demand among big industrial companies.” 

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Kazakhstan’s Geography and Old Silk Road Legacy

According to a 28 year old single female practicing law, she observes the Old Silk Road from a Kazakh’s point of view:  “With recent developments, Kazakhstan took the leading role in the Central Asia region.  However, this region is jammed between such powers like Russia and China.  Therefore, it is imperative for Kazakhstan to use momentum and develop itself to be among developed countries for the following couple of decades so we become politically and economically independent from our gigantic neighbors.  For this purpose, it is necessary to improve our legal system and legislation so that it allows our economy to grow fast in the most efficient way.” 

Unfortunately, the Kazakhs need better laws to deal with illegal drug activity that continues to hamper their growth as a viable nation.  According to an ambitious 41 year old married female in Public Health, she wrote the following:  “Today Kazakhstan is facing national drug abuse problem, Aktobe is situated at the crossroads of automobile, rail and air traffic from Asia to Europe.  Illegal narcotics make their way through Aktobe from such places as Afghanistan and Pakistan to Russia, Ukraine and other countries further west.  There are drug-related health consequences.  According to the Kazakhstan Republic AIDS Center, over 5,000 people are infected with HIV.  80 per cent of those who carry HIV/AIDs are drug addicts.”  Another 30 year old single male in Public Health confirmed the report about Kazakhstan is one of the endemic HIV/AIDS regions in the world.  We have about 5,000 registered HIV cases, with more than 250 people living with AIDS.” 

Fortunately, Kazakhstan’s economic development is based on natural resources such as oil and gas in an independent country four or five times the size of Texas. The Kazakhs are also blessed to have seas and lakes. A 45 year old female in environmental studies said she was born and raised next to Lake Baikal in the Zhetysu region which has huge tourism potential.  A lawyer who is 27 years old wrote the following of her origins:  “I live in Aktau – a small but rapidly growing town located on the Caspian Sea shore and referred to as an international seaport.  Due to the oilfield development in the north part of the Caspian Sea, there are many national and international companies supporting oilfield operations and engaged in transportation of cargo and personnel to the offshore oilrigs. 

Another similarity with Texas is that Kazakhstan has their own Houston NASA launch site.  A 34 year old Kazakh male journalist proudly noted the Soviets had their first manned flight into space in 1960.  The Baikonur launch site is located in Kazakhstan Kazakhstan is rich with their geography and natural resources and a 24 year old single female in International Affairs noted: “Nowadays there is a plethora of multi-ethnic states on our planet.  In particular, Kazakhstan has representatives from more than 100 nationalities, which succeeded “to practice tolerance and live in peace with one another as good neighbors.”  

“To practice tolerance” is an old Soviet concept to live in peaceful co-existence with other nationalities and is embedded in the United Nations Charter. I believe that Kazakhstan is also rich in human resources as our best candidate of all the 53 candidates we interviewed for the Muskie MA program was another 24 year old single female from International Affairs.  She has already experienced Chinese culture and its “deep culture” along with reporting on the “Andijan events” with radical Islam and Uzbekistan’s conflicts.  Kazakhstan will survive with their young, bright students who continue to solve Kazakhstan’s international-scale problems encountered on the Old Silk Road.   

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Corruption and the Typical Kazakh Family

Apparently corruption is still rife in the former Soviet Union as witnessed by a 30 year old female who wants to study in an American MA program in Public Administration.  She wrote:  “The reason why I want to work on corruption is that this is the root of all problems in Kazakhstan.  The amount of money that we have owing to our natural resources could support many social projects and programs.  But everyone here knows it does not.  And “everyone” would do the same, in case he/she would have access to profits from natural resources, because it is normal in everyday life of every Kazakh citizen to give or receive bribes.  It happens everywhere – at a pay desk in a railway station, in a consulting room, at university, at an organization, if one wants to work for it and gives money to an employer to be hired, and what is the most terrible – when it bears relation to a life – in a court.  Due to corruption on a high level, suffers not only one person, but thousands and millions of people – we just cannot see it distinctly.” 

A single 24 year old woman in Public Health wrote how corruption has negatively impacted the health professions:  “One of the reforms that failed in my opinion was the decision of the [Kazakh] government to abolish the pay services in the state medical establishments.  That breeds such negative factors like extortion and corruption among medical workers.  I think that in the conditions of the developing market economy pay-free medicine is not actual any more.  In the state medicine establishments, where the services are free, the quality of the services is the first to suffer.  If the patient wants to get high quality medical help and attentive attitude from the personnel, he must “persuade” the doctor personally.  I am convinced about it not only on the example of my own family while getting medical help…but the other patients suffered financial expenses (they bought bandages, injectors, medicaments, they gave gifts)” 

While the above woman in Public Health saw abuses towards her family regarding medical care, a 29 year old married man in environmental studies wrote about his concern for his family and the damaged environment they live in in Kazakhstan.  I would like to work in the Ministry of Environmental Protection.  I cannot be indifferent to the situation in my country.  I have a family, my son and my parents who live here.  And I don’t want rocket heptyl or other industrial contamination influences in their health.” 

Another 23 year old single male in law had this to write about his family from humble origins:  “I desire to glorify my family’s name.  The fact is that I am the first to take higher education in my family.  My father is an ordinary taxi driver and my mother is a housewife.  Notwithstanding that my parents did not take higher education, they did their best to ensure that my younger brother and I were well educated, respectful and worthy citizens of Kazakhstan.  Due to my parents’ all around support, I have achieved many accomplishments.  Accordingly, one of the reasons to study in the US is the justification of the hopes of my parents.” 

Another ambitious 26 year old single female economist was a good problem solver and discovered something about her leadership abilities when she didn’t rely on her parents’ support:  “Once I lost my purse with the money for my one month living.  I was a student at that time and was supported by my parents.  My action to solve the problem was not to call my parents, asking to send me additional means for living but the announcement in the newspaper about giving English language lessons.  This way I got my first earnings and assurance that I can provide for myself.” 

How difficult for us, as westerners, to understand that giving bribes and experiencing corruption are a commonplace occurrence with the typical Kazakh family.  Who you know and not what you know is important in order to survive in the steppes of Kazakhstan.     

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Kazakhstan’s Inheritance from the Soviets

A bright, 25 year old single woman who is a journalist wrote:  The most popular literature genre in the [former] USSR was scientific fiction.  Carried away by robots and space mysteries, people tried to escape their reality.  Our university teachers told, that at the moment of acute deficit on goods in the USSR, the number of mass media reports about UFO and yeti was suddenly increasing.  Actually, “the suddenness” in reality was caused by the authorities, eager to change people’s attention to something else instead of the economic problems.  Journalists call this method “information corridor.”  The most tragic was the fact people often didn’t want to hear the truth as it was an uncomfortable truth.” 

Another 26 year old single female journalist further explained:  Mass communications is a new science in post-Soviet countries.  Studying and translation of great American and European theorists was forbidden in Soviet period.”  According to her a media theorist expert and practitioner is Josef Dzyaloshinskiy, the director of Independent Institute of Communication Studies in Moscow, Russia.  She wrote:  “He is the first person, who used “civic journalism” expression in CIS countries and started talking about present conditions of post-Soviet media pointing out the issue of quality and credibility.” 

However, the other 25 year old journalist stated when she was interviewing Kazakhstani opposition politician Zauresh Battallova, she expressed an interesting opinion:  “Our government uses such destructive methods of working, that being credibly informed became impossible for it.  Our executives have been in a self-deceive situation for a long time because of their own fault.”   The journalist stated further, Frankly, my colleagues and I agreed that sometimes we don’t like our own reports as “their truth” is uncomfortable for us too. 

One of the 30 year old female journalists who had very poor English skills while speaking in her interview wrote the following:  The journalism of the CIS countries in many respects still lives by rules of the Soviet journalism.  And it is radically incorrect.  The world has changed, the USSR has remained in the past, vital principles have changed, the world became more cosmopolitan.  And all this should affect on journalists work. 

She further explained what she saw was a policy issue:  “In our country understanding of “democracy” in my opinion, not absolutely true.  Many people count that abusing the government, not offering something in exchange, and not analyzing policy – it is all called “democracy.”  But it is in my opinion, incorrectly.  Democracy is a pluralism of the proved opinions.  It is impossible to tell simply – “work of our government is bad.”  The explanation and proofs are necessary.” 

A 33 year old married male who was actually in Policy Administration and not a journalist wrote the following in his application:  What have I learned?  From my daily interactions I see that Kazakhstan has a wealth of talented and dedicated people but lacks competence in a number of areas required to adequately deal with the challenges of transforming the country’s economy and society.  A serious issue is the traditional approach inherited from the Soviet past.  For example, Kazakhstan is trying to reform its health and education systems.  The outdated mentality, however, finds it difficult to sanction the delegation of autonomy and responsibilities to sub-national governments or to institutions such as hospitals and schools.  In my view, however, development is not possible without decentralizing and democratizing public sector governance…” 

A 29 year old environmentalist wrote the following as he saw how certain policies inherited from the Soviet era continue to damage Kazakhstan: “Environmental problems in Kazakhstan appeared quite a long time ago.  In the Soviet time most of the industries have been built up here, due to Kazakhstan was rather remote from the USSR frontiers.  Those industries have been operated for decades, leaving behind contaminated soil, surface and groundwater, air environment.  Even today some industries out of operation represent environmental threat…Almost all Kazakhstani specialists working in the field of environment are chemists, biologists, hydrology scientists or economists.  Only few could take their degrees in environmental disciplines.  In Soviet time, the fact of industrial wastes impact on the environment was not taken in consideration thus there was no need to train such specialists.” 

Finally, a 24 year old in Public Health weighed in on what happened to their health care system after the Soviet Union was dismantled:  “I think that one of the main reasons of the failed reforms in public healthcare is the absence of professional management due to the fact that in the years of the Soviet Union, nobody prepared specialists-managers of public healthcare…Besides, our textbooks for the fundamental sciences in the medical universities are hopelessly obsolete.  And accordingly obsolete are the knowledges of our students.”       

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Kazakh Lawyers’ Thoughts on Education

A 29 year old Kazakh lawyer wrote the following concerning his education in Kazakhstan: “I wanted to have an even deeper understanding and hands-on field experience in a real wild world of corporate sharks…I had to apply all my knowledge and experience at the leading and biggest branch office even though I was not a member of the “Incredible” cartoon family.”  Many of the applicants to the Muskie program had their own ideas about the disparity of their education within the former Soviet Union.  The following was from this same lawyer, a married male, “Hard work, crazy at times, made me stronger and forced me to use everything I knew. It also gave me an understanding of the fact that even the best-written books do not always contain a direct answer to all questions ….Legal education in the US is mostly based on case-studies, it gives more room for creative thinking.” 

A much younger male law graduate at age 22 chimed in with similar thoughts: “I can say that in Kazakhstan we have a quite strong theoretical direction in education.  The practical aspects remain after experienced practical lawyers.  The opposite situation is referred to in American system.  I was impressed by American methods of teaching and was glad to feel the atmosphere of real work … In Kazakhstan such branches or spheres of law such as Internet law, e-commerce, intellectual property law, and dispute resolution are rather new and it is hard to find specialists who can share their knowledge.” 

However, a very articulate young male attorney of 23 would disagree with the two above lawyers (it’s what lawyers DO!) by answering the question of why he applied for a Muskie:  “The answer is very simple:  I don’t want to be ashamed of answering such a question:  “What have I personally done for the state? What contribution have I done for its development?”  I was often asked, “Why do you really need an excellent education, creative and active social life.  You know theory is not practice at all and at work you can forget everything you have been taught.”  But I have an absolutely opposite opinion.  I believe this is exactly what our problem is:  students are taught one thing but do another.  I don’t understand how a person can spend their life aimlessly without striving to be the best and for reaching real success.  Yes, I am an idealist and believe it is impossible to live without faith.” 

A single female who is an experienced educator and NOT a lawyer wrote this as her reason to study in the U.S.  “I want to learn American system from the “inside.” The matter is that we often just formally, mechanically copy the forms and the methods of foreign educational experience, without real deep understanding of its essence.” 

Whether or not the teachers have studied in the U.S. and come back with new and fresh ideas, they are still saddled with an old Soviet mentality that does not seem to grasp the monumental changes which have taken place in the rest of the world.  A 34 year old single female teacher wrote the problems she encounters while teaching English with the two variant methods: “Russian and Kazakh teachers want their students to speak perfect English without any mistakes.  They want their language to be as like that of native speakers as possible.  While in American classes the main goal is to make yourself understood.  And then I had an idea: why not do both things at the same time?  Why not combine the two approaches and make our classes serious and ingenious at the same time?” 

Perhaps this teacher is the idealist while one of our strongest candidates for the Muskie in education was much younger and full of energy as a classroom English teacher.  This 25 year old single female wrote the following: “The so-called “teachers’ associations” are not so widely spread and fully developed in our country.  I would like to learn how teachers can work together: discuss new methods of teaching, new ways of lesson planning (this is a big problem for our teachers too).  This is because we have a lot of new subjects here, but we still don’t know how to teach them because we have old methods of teaching.” 

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Quotes from Ambitious Kazakh Students

The following quotes were culled from 55 applications of the Muskie applicants who we interviewed last week.  The discipline of study most represented by these Kazakhstanis were ten from the business sector, many hoping to get their MBAs in the U.S.  There were also seven lawyers who applied for the masters program with an equal number of journalists and economists and also those from education.  A few applicants each in Public Administration, Public Health and Public Policy along with International Affairs.  Finally, there were two in Library science, one about my age who had been trained in the old Soviet system of cataloging.  Unfortunately, she had a difficult time speaking in English while the other younger applicant was a breath of fresh air, she had learned how to use e-journals on the research databases.

Applicants who used quotes the most in their Project Statements were in International Affairs.  A 26 year old single female wrote about leadership but didn’t give her source: “Have the courage to have a vision greater than yourself, and let that vision sustain you.”  She also used another English proverb, “A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner.” 

These young Kazakhs are ambitious to successfully lead their country, but there will be difficulties.  Yet Kazakhstan has come through so many obstacles already after the Soviets devastated their natural resources.  Another single female aged 23 quoted a Chinese proverb: “The one who wants to move a mountain, should start by moving the little rocks.” This ambition may start with Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbaev who was quoted as saying “I am asking you to look forward to the future.  It’s not possible to stop it but it’s wise to plan it.”  In my cursory search, I was not able to pin down the source for his quote but when the interviewees were asked who they thought was a good leader, President Nazarbaev’s name came up more than once.

The same International Affairs interviewee who quoted Nazarbaev, took a quote from the U.S. founding father, Benjamin Franklin, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” She was a strong candidate at the age of 24, but our strongest one in the whole group of 53 interviewees was an International Affairs applicant who had studied in China and had already published two journal articles.  The future of Kazakhstan is very hopeful with more applicants like her.

 A Kyrgyz proverb was used by one applicant in Environment but the original meaning had been changed.  It should have read “A man without a horse is like a bird without wings.”  Instead the applicant wrote what presumably could have been misquoted from Salvador Dali “A person without a goal is like a bird without wings.”  Dali had earlier written: “Intelligence without ambition…”

Yes, ambition seemed to be the main theme of many of the quotes used and I believe that is healthy for this country of Kazakhstan.  However, there are old, pre-existing attitudes that pervade, such as a quote used by a young single female in business that I was not able to isolate: “It is faintheartedness to be laid up when you can get up.”  Another by a young journalism student who quoted Shakespeare in Measure for Measure: “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft may win by fearing to attempt.”  Yet another journalism major used the cynical quote from George Bernard Shaw: Liberty means responsibility.  That is why most men dread it.”

The same journalism student who quoted Shaw also paraphrased Henry Thomas Buckle and his thoughts on liberty when she wrote: “people would never be free if they weren’t trained for freedom.”  I would take issue with this jaded approach since I believe all people are born with an innate sense of desiring freedom.  Another lawyer paraphrased Winston Churchill but I was unable to locate the exact quote:  “Ambition is the major power of a person.  Ambition excites imagination as well as imagination of ambition.”  I was encouraged overall in the strong ambition of our Kazakh students who want to go to the U.S. to study in an MA program.  Those 13 or so who will eventually study in the U.S. will do well and ultimately the country of Kazakhstan will profit by their efforts.


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Four Movies in Two Hours

Last night for English club I showed four little vignettes, mostly about dysfunctional families.  Some were sad and one was absolutely silly.  Damah Film Festival puts these out annually and some can be viewed on  They always provide great discussion afterwards and though they are short, they have the added surprise ending or provide a punch-in-the-gut type of feeling.  The students just HAVE to talk to reveal their thoughts and feelings after watching them. About 15 students showed up last night and despite the usual problems with the projector cooperating with the laptop, we were able to watch “17 Down,” “Longbranch” “Bybee” and “The Machine.”


“17 Down” is an all black cast except for ONE white guy who is the bearer of bad news.  An older gentleman is working on a crossword puzzle on a lonely, old train and has flashbacks to his earlier life with his family.  Afterwards with the light turned back on, when all aspects of the movie were discussed out, it helped when I told the story my husband tells when his mother died in Colorado 14 years ago.  He was in Almaty at the time and he had a vision of her passing at the exact hour which was 12 time zones away.  Photograph memories of her in a wheelchair, then a walker, a younger woman to young girl gave him the assurance that she had gone home to be with the Lord.  This movie dealt with life and death but it’s not clear if this old man had figured out life’s biggest puzzle, besides answering 17 Down.


“Longbranch” dealt with life and death too but in a suburb and in a very silly way.  The scene starts out with a cowboy wannabe in his living room watching a talk show host telling how to make a burger on the grill.  The cowboy is a very intense, unsmiling young man, serious about tying ropes and lassoing his ketchup or other objects in his house.  Meanwhile, an elderly, blind gentleman at the curb wants to cross a busy street while a younger man in the backyard tries to hang himself from the tallest tree.  You have to see it yourself to find out how there could possibly be a moral to this strange story.  The students laughed all the way through it even when we watched it a second time.  Both of these movies were only 13 minutes long.


I was trying to find “The Machine” to show another dysfunction in our society but remember I was having computer problems, things would show up in Russian and I could not tell what the titles were, it was a haphazard guessing.  So we landed on “Bybee” about a girlfriend and boyfriend in their illicit sexual relationship and the collateral damage that happened especially with the girl.  That movie lasted 11 minutes and was so intense nobody wanted to watch it again.  Lots of discussion about guilt, sin, abortion, lust, you name it.  The girls had been squeamish but “The Machine” made the boys equally so because it showed a man who had found a briefcase on the street and the contents eventually enveloped him and destroyed his life as it had of the former owner.  It alluded to pornography but it could have been any addiction that makes the user a slave. No one had the stomach to watch this 18 minute movie again but we had a good discussion about pornography which wreck men’s lives and those around them.

  At the end of our two hours, I promised these 15 students that next week I’d provide a comedy.  They were grateful to hear that even though these short clips gave them much to think about and talk about with their friends.  I anticipate we will have many more students who will show up next week. 

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“None can give to another…”

I stand corrected about changing temps from Celsius to Fahrenheit by a blog reader from the Philippines (I spent two years 1981-83 close to Kalibo, Aklan as a Peace Corps Volunteer)  He wrote the following:  9°F = -12.8°C; -16°C = 3.2°F.  To change °F to °C: (°F – 32) x 5/9; to change °C to °F: (°C x 9/5) + 32; don’t forget the 32. Turns out the other day was COLDER in Almaty than I thought!!!  Thanks for the correction. 

I liked the following quote by C.S. Lewis about Christian education in schools.  “If the younger generation have never been told what the Christians say and never heard any arguments in defence of it, then their agnosticism or indifference is fully explained.  There is no need to look any further: no need to talk about the general intellectual climate of the age, the influence of mechanistic civilization on the character of urban life.  And having discovered that the cause of their ignorance is lack of instruction, we have also discovered the remedy.  There is nothing in the nature of the younger generation which incapacitates them for receiving Christianity.  If any one is prepared to tell them, they are apparently ready to hear…The young people are un-Christian because their teachers have been either unwilling or unable to transmit Christianity to them…None can give to another what he does not possess himself.”


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