Seventeen Questions about Astana from a Well-Seasoned Westerner

I’ve been very distracted by events in our neighboring country, my former home in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I have friends there who are reporting they are okay, waiting on one other couple to give me a thumbs up.  Sorry, I have no photos, pictures, poems or pithy sayings for today’s blog. I almost didn’t get it done today, so much else to do.  I did answer 17 questions from someone who has applied to our new university.  This person has lived in many different countries so he knows the right questions to ask.  I’ll give you all the questions but will be very discrete with the answers I gave him.  On top of writing about what is going on in northern Kazakhstan I’m thinking about what is happening south of us, it still feels too close for comfort.

1.  Do they hire teachers who are married, or do they prefer only single teachers?

3.  Is there a British high school for the children of expatriate workers such as us?

4.  How is the housing for a family of three?  Do you live in a compound, or are you assigned rentals?

5.  Is there high-speed WiFi Internet connection at the University, and can you access it in your apartment?
The common Internet connection is Megaline, which we used in Almaty but there are some other providers as well such as KazTelecom.  We have to pay on our own for the Internet at our flat.

6.  How do you get around? bus, train, taxi, hired driver, or do you have to buy a vehicle?
We get around the city of Astana by either “gypsy” cab or by bus.  A car is easy enough to flag down and if you negotiate with the driver before you enter the car, the standard fare starts at 200 tenge but to cross town could be as much as 500 tenge.  One bus that goes from the airport (close to the campus) and all the way to the train station is Bus #10.  It is 60 tenge to take a bus but a micro bus is 65 tenge.  When the weather is warmer, I think it would be easy enough to walk around or to use a bike. My husband often comments that he would like to buy a car like he used to drive when we were both in Almaty in 1993-1995.

7.  Is the salary paid in British pounds, Euro, or Kazakstan currency?

8.  How expensive is fresh fruit, vegetables, canned foods, milk, etc.? We buy our groceries either at Ramstor (Turkish run) or at Kerun (sp) shopping center.  The Gros store just went out of business which is close to the Baiterek monument.  Food can be a bit more pricey but you pay for quality at these food stores that have the modern check out system.  The best place to get ground beef is at Ramstor.  In Almaty we would go to the Green Bazaar to buy in bulk but I’ve only been to the bazaar once in Astana since I arrived two and half months ago. There are also little mini-markets to buy a quick loaf of bread or milk, kind of like a 7-11 store.  I am sorry I don’t pay much attention to food prices, my husband does most of the shopping.

9.  How are the physical facilities where you teach?

10. How is the technology? At the western university in Almaty where I taught, it proved that we
could not use YouTube on campus but of course you could at home yet it was slow.  It would chunk up and you would get the clips in segments with long pauses in between.  The restrictions on Internet were
imposed by the university in Almaty otherwise the students would be downloading music and videos slowing down the campus wide connection for everyone, so those were the only restrictions I encountered.  We had full use of Ebscohost on campus and from home, we also had subscribed at our library ProQuest, SAGE, J-Stor etc.  I would think that our British university will have all those electronic databases and more.  That should not be a problem as China experiences with their censorship.  I’ve not followed very well the latest tussle with Google and China, sorry.

11. How would you characterize the local Muslim population’s support of terrorism?

The Kazakh people are nominally Muslim and I had a conversation several years ago with a Kazakh man using my bad Russian and his equally poor English but we were able to communicate about the ongoing
war in Iraq.  Some Kazakhs see this as something to side with their Muslim brothers on but for the most part they do NOT support terrorism, the Kazakhs are a peaceable kind of people.  With the current events going on in Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz people have been pushed to the limit and have not had the success as Kazakhstan has had to improve their lot since the fall of the former Soviet Union.  What you might read in the news about the events in Bishkek has been a slow burn from over 10-15 years of corrupt government.  The Kyrgyz people are smart enough to know there is a better life besides what they are enduring but they would not align themselves with Muslim terrorists, they are just wanting to survive in a true democracy.

12.  How do you like your students?  Are they teachable, how prepared are they when they enter your classroom? I LOVED my Kazakh students, they are very teachable and malleable…Through no fault of their own, many of the Kazakh students are not ready to enter the classroom as if it were a western classroom in either the U.S. or U.K. because there has not been support to adequately train the Kazakh teachers. Besides, the Ministry of Education has mandated that all learning must be tri-lingual (Russian, Kazakh and English) Those that are prepared to learn are students who are curious and are good with computers, they have learned by doing.  They know more than their teachers in some cases so the digital divide is ever widening in Kazakhstan.

13.  Training:  The job description said there would be a training period in London prior to departure, any information on that?

14.  Curriculum: How is this set up and are the teacher procedures, sequences, strategies dictated, or is there some teacher choice?

15.  What kind of family activities are there when you are not working?  Or on the weekends? I know someone who cross-country skied everyday (even when it was very cold).  I think there are some health clubs (but they are quite expensive).  I know that there are things to explore like the National library and its
archives. Or for a family event go to ALZHIR museum that is about 15 kms outside of Astana, there is about a 2 hour drive away Karaganda and Dolinka and the KARLAG to explore if you are into finding out more
about the penal history of the former Soviet Union.

It really is what YOU make it because this is such a new city there is not as much going on here than at Almaty, the cultural center. However, there are concerts and other Kazakh cultural events at the
Pyramid.  Also, sporting events to attend like hockey games and figure skating.  But you would have to be the one to initiate finding out about it.  I have joined the Astana International Women’s club and it
has frequent updates on what is happening in the city.

16.  What does it cost to fly from the U.S. or from London to Astana? I just came back from the international TESOL conference in Boston and it was about $1,600 for a round trip with Lufthansa from Astana to Frankfurt to Boston.  When living in Almaty we were used to taking the KLM connection to Amsterdam and then to Minneapolis.  Again, non-peak it is usually around $1,500 but during peak season in the summer it can be as much as $2,000 for RT.  You want to avoid flying through Moscow, Russia.  Stick with KLM or Lufthansa, is my recommendation.

17.  Do you have to pay for re-entry visas/permits when you take off in the Summer, or do most of the teachers stay in Astana?
I think most teachers want to go home for the summer, be it the U.K. or U.S. just to be with family again.  However, the temps in Astana will have vastly improved in the summer time and there are places to
explore here in Kazakhstan if you want to find out more about this great country.  Astana and Almaty are NOT Kazakhstan and there is much to discover of its beauty and history in the other cities.
If you were to get the job at our university, it costs $200 one year, multiple entry visa and I believe there would be support to pay for that for your family members as well.

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