Expats’ Impressions of Kazakhstan – the Good and the Bad

Recently I did an online survey using Web Survey Master and 27 of my expat friends responded. I must have sent out to 50 people so I got over a 50% return rate.   12% have lived in KZ for less than half a year, 23% for one year, 23% for 2-3 years, 8% for 4-5 years, 12% for over 5 years and 8% over 10 years and another 14% had various answers. These were comments at the end of survey most of the 27 were American friends of mine but also some from Canada, U.K., Australia, Netherlands and other places.  See what they wrote in answer to my asking for additional advice or feedback:

1) In general the Kazakh people are great. I really find it bothersome that some Kazakh ethnics and non-Kazakh ethnics do not always get along only because of their heritage. I believe much could be done to improve the relations between these two groups. I would also like to say that once a foreigner develops a friendship with someone from Kazakhstan, it is a great thing. Kazakhs can be very welcoming and hospitable, BUT I think the Soviet attitude of not trusting people and being too skeptical of someone’s motives gets in the way too often.

2) Kazakhstan has wonderful people and a great deal of potential. Still the process of establishing a nation is a great task. Most Kazakhstanis are unaware of all the challenges that the U.S. has overcome to be where it is today. It did not happen in fifty, one hundred, or even one hundred-fifty years.

3) The orientation of the questionnaire suggests a sensitivity or underlying inferiority complex regarding this country. But only in a small way.

4) A question such as the following would be good: How have you benefited from living in Kazakhstan?

5) I think Kazakh people are very resilient and will survive whatever life throws them. I don’t think they are easily offended, but they have been mistreated by others in their past.

Of the questions I asked my expat friends, this was Question #6. Kazakhstan can be a challenging place to live, even for the locals, what bothers you as a foreigner the most? Several expats commented on RUDENESS where we are used to “service with a smile” in the western world.  I’m used to poor service in communist or former communist countries so my answer would instead be different but it still amounts to what I perceive as rudeness.  If I had I taken my own survey my pet peeve would be Kazakh drivers using their cars to drive TOO close to pedestrians.  We Americans like our personal space a bit bigger.

“Customer service could improve in some businesses, Rude salespeople, Poor service ethics and rudeness of shop assistants, the “rudeness” of the men…..spitting and general unattentiveness to “polite manners”

Some others wrote: “General difficulty of living conditions” “I actually worry more about the disparity of income within Astana itself. You see some very rich people here, but there are many more who are not so lucky.

Other comments: Nothing to do for English speakers (e.g. movies)

Litter

Corruption,

Nepotism,

unfulfilled promises and focus on presentation without substance to back it up

Lack of care for poor and homeless Justice/human rights/corruption: it is indeed very important to have ratified conventions and written laws, however, it takes much more time to implement them.

Lack of interest in offering excellent medical care

To be continued tomorrow with more answers to the questions posed to expats about living in Kazakhstan.

waiting in lines

31 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    […] yesterday’s blog I put the extra comments for Question #6.  I asked in a matrix format the following eight questions […]

  2. 2

    […] read the other day’s blog entry with an explanation of what survey I did and who were my respondents were about expat impressions […]

  3. 3

    I am glad to know what the guests from other countries think about our country. Interesting to know. I am glad you did the survey, because sometimes we do not see what other person, I mean foreigner, can notice about the people and country itself.

  4. 4

    […] has yet another interesting series of posts up on a survey she did of expats living in Kazakhstan. If you start from that post and go forward in time, you’ll be able to see all the questions […]

  5. 5

    Батырхан said,

    Nice work! Thank you. Very interesting read.

    With al due respect, I only disagree with your statement “all the challenges that the U.S. has overcome to be where it is today”. I wouldn’t like at all for Kazakhstan to be where the U.S. is today. The economy is very close to total collapse. Moral degradation. Crime rate has gone through the roof. Censorships of all media. Military aggresion for natural resources and political dominance. And the list goes on and on.

  6. 6

    kazaknomad said,

    I would agree with you half a year later looking at the mess that the U.S. is currently in Stateside. When I wrote this piece I was thinking of our Constitution and what it stands for and the principles of freedom and independence that we, as Americans, hold dear. Perhaps our nation’s democracy has run its course of 200 years and now it is perhaps Kazakhstan’s turn to take the lead. However, it must be done honestly, with integrity in government with compassionate leadership, ethics in business, etc. Our nation took the bravest and best from all the nations of the world who wanted to come to the U.S., now we have a sense of entitlement with those several generations later who don’t expect to work. I’m not sure what you mean by “censorship of ALL media” but I would agree with you that there is moral degradation where people are pagan in their thoughts and lifestyles. We live in a fallen world…

  7. 7

    Батырхан said,

    All main-stream media, belonging to a few elite, that feed the carefully filtered information to 99% of the US population. You rarely, and mean extremely rarely, hear the truth in the US media. But thank God for the Internet, a US invention.

    Good principles in the US constitution and bill of rights. Yes. But not in practice anymore, alas.

    I have been studying the pre-Columbian history of the Americas, and am greatly saddened and utterly shocked by the genocide of 50 million idigeneous people, the worst in the human history after Europeans’ arrival to the continents… Sometimes some sad thoughts visit me about the present being a sort of the Old Spirits’ punishment upon the poor desendants of the infamous murderers. Well, all peoples on the face of the earth are children of conflict, that’s part of human nature. Including us the Kazakhs. So I am not judging I am just trying to understand today’s events and where this world is going. I wish all the best to the USA and all other nations of the world, we are all brothers and sisters sharing one increasingly small planet.

  8. 10

    kazaknomad said,

    Yes, thank God for Internet so we can have this conversation about “truth” versus “carefully filtered information.” Not only the media but history is promulgated to the masses to persuade people of certain crimes in the past. I’m wondering what research and data is out there done by true scholars to back up your claim of “genocide of 50 million indigenous people” in the Americas. Seems you have been taken in by the elites who would have you believe that all Europeans are bad and promoted only evil. If we go far enough back we would need to visit how Ghengis Khan also had a lot of blood on his hands. As I wrote before, we live in a fallen world. We could despair over past statistics of deaths due to genocide, we could lament about present atrocities. All this to make us depressed about the hope of a future. Bottomline, we have Someone who has predicted all these events will happen before HE returns to earth to save this precious planet HE created.

    • 11

      Part of the problem is that if we ignore the past, then how can we face the present and even more so the future…Why comparing Ghengis Khan to those who killed most of the american indians?? what is the point?? to try to justify who?? let’s admit that what others say in this forum is true…We are endeed children of conflict.. And your reasoning of wanting data to backup the ethnic cleansing of american indians is not needed. is ovbious they where killed. Just like in any other conquest and you don’t have to feel bad about it today… We didin’t start the fire like the song says.. Where we go from here is what really matters.

  9. 12

    Батырхан said,

    You’re right, 50M is one of the most “generous” estimations of the vanished native population, but I tend to believe that at least the magnitude was such. I’m far from generalizing, just contemplating historic facts. Even if it was, say, 5M, still, what was done is really hard to read about. Today I was reading about a Holocost survivor and was crying in my heart, too.

    So, are you a Christian, I take it?

    • 13

      James Wilson said,

      Well, seems like some people still think history started 250 years ago. The American Indians were not “Native” to North America, they migrated from Asia, originally.

  10. 14

    I. Romano said,

    sorry but the American military invented the internet.

    • 15

      dax xad said,

      yes, yes, the american military invented the “concept of internet” called ARPANET, in aid of hastening communications back then, leading to the crushing of world war 2. but the “www.” neural networks and how the computers must “talk” in standardized a fashion was credited to TB-L.

  11. 16

    James Wilson said,

    Thanks to the internet, it’s very easy to find out who invented the internet. It’s not British unless you still consider the United States is under the Crown.

  12. 17

    Jane said,

    A little funny to be having this conversation about censorship, since wordpress cannot be accessed in Kz without some kind of VPN.

  13. 18

    Brenda orr said,

    Too bad that I didn’t get included in your survey. Don’t know how I missed it. I mean, I do have first hand k owl edge of KZ..that’s where we met…

  14. 19

    Sven said,

    am on wordpress and I am n Astana right now. It seems something has lifted…

  15. 20

    kazaknomad said,

    Sven, that is a good thing, right? Hope others in Kazakshtan can read this blog, I have focussed on the Kazakh culture but more recently on human trafficking.

  16. 21

    Alan said,

    Interest. Your results could be for just about any country… Sadly.

  17. 22

    Sam said,

    I know it is quite an old thread, but Batyrkhan’s claims about “media censorship” rang the bell. I think I saw on youtube a whole “documentary” made in Kazakhstan that was based on this premise. And I read the comments, and there seems to be an overwhelming support for this point of view. I believe that this fuelling hate against US and likes helps to divert attention from the problems that exist in the country. I myself was born and grew up in Kazakhstan, and I saw “both worlds” with my own eyes, and I agree that people and government of Kazakhstan have a lot to learn from the Western societies. And, often, Instead of making conclusions based on the feedback they get, they get defensive and start pushing back, sometimes even inventing “problems” on the other side. And how they always say, the first step to solving a problem is admitting that one exists.

    • 23

      kazaknomad said,

      Sam, thanks for your thoughtful reply to this old thread. I am always encouraged when I read comments from Kazakhs and clearly Batyrkhan shares with you having both been born and growing up in Kazakhstan. I agree with you that admitting there is a problem and the necessary step to solving it. Again, thanks for your thoughts. I invite you to read other posts I have put up from the past. I am mostly invested in writing about “human trafficking” these days.

  18. 24

    expat hakim alma ata said,

    media censorship….ask about Chris who was killed in K’stan over media issues….go ahead google it

  19. 25

    Hi everyone! i’m thinking of going to kazakhstan for my university exchange. i was wondering if any of you guys could shed some light. some qualms I’m having are about cost of living, safety, nightlife, and language factors. If you have any other advice, feel free to weigh in.

    • 26

      Sam said,

      Hi, I think the answers will depend on where in Kazakhstan you are going. I can speak only about Almaty. Please take it with a grain of salt, because last time I’ve been there was over a decade ago

      Cost of living: rental is expensive. Depending on your requirements it may be from USD 500 and up (please don’t quote me on this). Everything else – food, transportation, clothing – is relatively cheap. Safety – use common sense. As everywhere: don’t walk alone at night, avoid large groups of people, watch your pockets and bags. Also, if someone is, all of a sudden, too accommodating, be VERY careful. It is extremely unusual for locals to be accommodating to strangers. Night life – can’t comment. Language – learn Russian. Do not expect anyone to understand English. Even though the number of people who speak English is steadily increasing, most of the people don’t speak it. Russian is not easy to learn, but if you are planning to spend significant time there, learning some of it is a must. Also, it is the right thing to do :).

  20. 27

    Mike Ebertz said,

    I was in KZ for three years, teaching university in Astana. Now I’m in Japan. It would be impossible to pay me enough to go back there. I value simple things like good coffee, Belgian ales, available football pitches, numerous tennis courts, and quaint bookshops. None of that was there. I also value honesty. That was also never there. I’m as happy as a clam being away from that dump.

  21. 28

    Alexandra said,

    Litter? You have not been to Cairo if speak about litter in Kazakhstan. And never mention litter again. Corruption? You have not been to Ukraine and have not lived in it if you speak about corruption. And never say it again. Nothing to do with English speakers? Have you ever visited France or Spain? Do not expose your narrow mind to everyone.

    • 29

      Sam said,

      Alexandra, you can’t take individual deficiencies and compare them with a place that is worse in this category. It is combination of all of them. There is more litter than people used to see together with more corruption people used to see as well as difficulty of communicating in English. I personally disagree that everybody everywhere in the World should speak English, so that English speakers feel comfortable, and myself prefer learn the languages of the places I travel to, but this is my personal point of view. There definitely many places in the world that are much worse than KZ in various categories, but this specific review was focused on what expats like and dislike about Kazakhstan, and there is definitely more corruption and, most likely, more litter than most of the expats (depending on where they came from) are used to seeing.

      • 30

        kazaknomad said,

        Where is the “LIKE” button on this blog? Sam, I appreciate your thoughtful insights especially in your response to Alexandra and her reaction to this thread. I just wanted to reveal how expats (not just Americans) see Kazakhstan from their limited experience in the country. Some have lived for MANY years in this foreign land but there were others who responded to my survey who did not know too much about the great country of Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, there seems to be a hyper-sensitivity on Kazakhs part to defend their country, culture, traditions, etc. I think if there were more books, articles, blogs written about Kazakhstan, there would be less mystery in going to this great land that is such an enigma to so many. I do think all countries have their share of problems. The best way to solve them is to admit and not deny that problems exist. Since we live in a globalized world, there is no hiding behind “such and such a country is worse than us” or “this is the way we have always done it.” I try to find out what I can about the country and the people to see WHY something is done a certain way. Maybe it needs to be embraced or dispensed with due to cultural norms. I do not feel anyone has the inclination, time or means to travel to other countries to find out their problems and do a comparative study of who is worse off than the other. Alexandra, sorry if I touched a raw nerve for you about exposing what expats think of your country. You have a right to be proud of your Kazakh heritage but please work on dispelling the expats’ notions of litter and corruption by disabling the laws and practices that are currently in place. If you can do that, then perhaps we as expats would be able to go to the other countries you suggested to do our comparative studies.

  22. 31

    rigaenglish said,

    As they say, everything in life is relative. I’m from Ireland but arrived in KZ in late autumn 2012 after 6 years living in Latvia. Compared to the west, service is rubbish, however compared to Latvia, there are good and bad things. A lot of Almaty restaurants seem to be ridiculously overstaffed. My friend told me that this is a legacy of Soviet times where there was full employment and the only way to achieve that was to have 5 people doing a job that 2 could do. I went to my local bar/restaurant just outside central Almaty last December after work. It was a Monday night in mid December, snow and -10 outside. Not the kind of night you’d expect the place to be busy and besides me there were only 4 customers. However they had a security guy, three waiters, a barman, a cook and a DJ, all for five customers! There’s no way a western business would do that and in Latvia they’ve switched to more efficient staffing like you’d have in UK/USA. Rather than the KZ way speeding up things, it made everything much slower, as the underworked staff got into the habit of standing round chatting to each other rather than serving customers. Also often they seemed to assume that someone else would serve you.

    However, truthfully, after Riga, I was shocked at how friendly the waiters and waitresses were. Many of them smile. You would never get that here in Latvia, where slow, disinterested service is accompanied with scowls.

    The corruption is a serious issue. I’d been there all of ten hours on my very first day, when I was stopped by police in the metro, searched and then threatened with prison if I didn’t pay a bribe because I’d an unopened bottle of beer concealed in my backpack among the rest of the stuff I’d just bought in the supermarket. I had to go to the police station with representatives of my company after that to complain and get the money back.


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