Letter dated June 11, 1993 – Almaty, Kazakhstan

Remember letters where you used stamps and envelopes?  The following is a letter I wrote when I first came to Kazakhstan as a Peace Corps TEFL trainer to 30 Peace Corps volunteers.  Our training happened on the campus of what was then called Beng Institute but is now KIMEP, a western styled university in Almaty.  Much has changed since I wrote over 17 years ago, some things have remained the same:

June 11, 1993

I have been in Kazakhstan for six weeks and the adjustment has been easy in some respects but difficult in other ways.  I went to church the day after arriving in country and have been attending there ever since.  I found a soulmate (Tatyana) who is my friend, assistant, translator, interpreter and colleague.  She has been wonderful to work with.

The first three weeks were consumed with just struggling over basic needs such as eating good food, finding laundry facilities, adjusting to dormitory life, etc.  I have needed to gain strength in the face of adversity.  I feel dismal sometimes.

The trainees arrived a week ago and they are under a great deal of pressure to learn two languages, Kazakh the first week and then Russian the second.  After that they will choose which one they want to focus on and that will determine their site placement.  I took Russian for my first three weeks here and I can tell you it is not easy but I prefer learning that over Chinese.  I have been able to use my Chinese whenever we go to the Chinese restaurant, but that has not been often enough.  There are other Chinese speakers here and it is fun to use the little I know.

The real work for me will begin the 1st of July since the technical aspect of learning how to be an EFL teacher is taking backseat while they learn their language.  It actually is nice that their language learning dovetails with their having to learn the teaching methods that Peace Corps is so fond of.  The Russian and Kazakh teachers had to learn all the American methods of teaching before they got their [Am.] students.  I have seen Russian teachers in action and it is a good thing they got some American indoctrination.  There would be cultural conflicts from day one because they are used to drill, drill, drill and memorization only.

I will be giving many different presentations on how to teach grammar, reading, writing, speaking, listening, vocabulary, etc.  I am so thankful for Bill Perry’s help in this new experience because he has a lot of background materials to use and also 17 years of teaching ESL experience.  He has been kind enough to let me use his laptop to send e-mail messages, watch CNN, eat and sleep at his house when he and his wife are out of town, etc.  So, I am being taken care of.

The struggle that I have is with office politics and personality clashes with my immediate boss. We have totally different personalities about how things should be done.  She is a nice person otherwise, the only problem is that I have to work under her and I believe she has poor management and organizational skills.  I need to have a better attitude towards her.  Yet I feel as if my hands are tied behind my back while I am expected to do a big job of training 30 PCVs to be EFL teachers.

The true test that I need to pass will be when the PCVs have to give mini-lessons the last three weeks in front of Kazakhstani students.  I want them videotaped and this will facilitate in giving them feedback which will in turn give them confidence in the two years they are committing to, to be good teachers.  These 30 people are very bright and talented and Peace Corps doesn’t want a failure in Kazakhstan as has happened in other FSU republics.  Time will tell.

I have a lovely view from my fifth floor dormitory room and I bought a video camera from Brenda Oldfarmer who went back to the States.  So, I will have some good shots of different events when I go back to Minneapolis on Sept. 7th.  I am looking forward to that visit before I am off to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on Oct. 1st.

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