Archive for November 15, 2010

Too busy to write that I’m too busy

Oops, missing my daily blog two times in one week must mean that I am “up to my ears” in work. Yes, it’s true, not only am I doing the usual teaching and other self-assigned expat duties, but I am reading through apps for a scholarship grant to the U.S. I enjoy this process as I’ve read apps for the past five or six years.  I started this in Kyiv, Ukraine, then Almaty and now here in Astana, Kazakhstan.  I always like to see the perspective of the eager and nervous applicants about what their purpose would be to go to the U.S. to obtain a masters degree if they won in the competition.  They have to show they are worthy of doing volunteer service for the good of their country, prove they have high academic standards, great references and most important to me, that they can write well.

Here’s what I have observed with several of the recent applicants I have judged on.  One person was obviously wealthy, this person’s parents were able to pay for tuition at Miras school.  In Astana that would mean about $18,000 a year. (I’m not sure about the true amount of tuition, I’ve been told $8,000???)  Plus this person had already been to the U.S. or U.K. I can’t remember which.  However, when I put the Statement of Purpose in the good pile, I found out a different story when reviewing the academic transcripts and the references. This app went to my “No” pile which is a red file folder.  The person was a plagiarist, no doubt, because nothing rang true in the essay answers.  Interesting what you can detect from what is written or NOT written.

Another example was a young woman who had gotten her bachelors degree from the U.K. which meant she had studied for four years and was successful.  She was also a beauty queen from her area of Kazakhstan and seeing her photo on her c.v. she looked stunning.  However, her statement of purpose lacked heart.  She had all the head knowledge, she was articulate in all that she wrote but again it didn’t seem like she was the type to help her own people or to volunteer. No, her app went to the red file too. This particular grant is meant for those people outside of Astana and Almaty who need a “leg up” or an advantage they normally wouldn’t get.  Of course, there is always Kazakhstan’s Bolashak program that has helped 1,000s of young people in Kazakhstan. But I’m concerned with our American funded program that helps about 10-12 candidates per year.  A modest number yet there is GREAT interest in going to the U.S. on a full-ride scholarship by many aspiring Kazakh youth.

Another applicant whose proposal I looked at who is memorable in what she wrote was that she wanted to help young Kazakh people with disabilities.  They are the neglected group of people in this country and in some cases parents can no longer afford medical care or raise them.  Therefore, they are placed in orphanages.  (Her app went to my green folder, a possible candidate to interview in Almaty) What is very sad is that if these children don’t get some kind of life-long learning skills to live on their own, they will be put in an insane asylym at age 18.  I know some American friends of mine who personally know heart breaking stories about those children they have gotten to know at a special needs orphanage and when the time for them to leave the orphanage happens, well, some commit suicide or worse stories…

I have a third pile that is my “neutral” pile which means there is nothing that stands out in my mind after reading the “Statement of Purpose” essays.  Vanilla apps goes into my manila file folder. These students have perhaps been trained to not write anything too “edgy” or provocative. Just play it safe and write 1,000 words that are repetitive and says almost nothing. Obvious to me as a writing teacher, some students have not found their “voice” in writing. I pity them because they have not had teachers in school who knew about “voice” and “audience.” Others may plagiarize things but that will show up in the interview.  One applicant that I read last year, not in Education, had copied something off the Internet and it was really different and interesting but it was almost too good, too creative, too outside the box.

What I want to see in the application essays is a person’s heart but also their intellect.  I want to see anecdotes and quotes that show they are thinking about this a long time. The best applications have a tight storyline that helps the reader (me) see that they DO have a purpose and want to help their country prosper and grow by whatever they propose to study and implement once back in Kazakhstan.  Some people write and you can see they are out for “Number #1.” That is sad because if they don’t know where they have come from and they go to the U.S. on a scholarship, they will clearly get sucked into thinking and parroting what their American professors tell them.  I’ve seen this happen over and over again.

That is why critical thinking is absolutely necessary for the students to grasp here in Kazakhstan.  They should be able to decipher what is truth from what PC propaganda is.  That is why I blanched at reading in the app that I blogged about several days ago about “great leaders create great followers.” There are a great many followers here in this country of Kazakhstan, no one dares to raise their head among the rest because they might get clobbered by someone above them. Sadly, those Kazakh students who go overseas on whatever program but when they come back must acquiese to those who don’t know as much, especially about the information revolution we are in.  But since age is deemed to haveultimate wisdom, these Central Asian students have to capitulate to people who don’t really know or understand the West. Such is the struggle that continues here in education, the Old School will not give up their powers to those young people who come back with a western education. All this will take time to sort out but in the meantime, you have Kazakh students who want to help their country improve but are under the thumbs of bureaucrats who don’t know anything different from the way the Soviet five year plans operated.

I guess I’m not too busy to write about this, but there are soooooo many other things on my heart right now that I dare not share on this blog. Something big is coming up in the next two weeks and it will impact all of us in Astana, our schedules, our plans.  The rest of Kazakhstan will carry on with “business as usual” but not us.  Maybe it will be a good thing for me because I will have a chance to catch up on life, something I need to do ASAP.

Comments (3) »