What I Learn from My Kazakh Students

My adult learner students inform me of many things about life in Kazakhstan.  Here’s what I learned today in class. Keep in mind that I am a student-centered teacher, teaching university employees how to improve their English speaking skills.  I get them to answer questions, my questions.

First of all, we talked about singers and musicians.  This brought up Roza Baglanova who died several days ago, she was a very well known Kazakh singer.  She was born in 1922 and died on Feb. 8th at the age of 89.  After graduating from Kyzylorda Pedagogical Institute, she went to Moscow to study at the music conservatory as a teenager but her studies were cut short because of the interruption of the Great Patriotic War.

She would go to the battle front to sing for the Red Army troops.  She was famous for saying in her own effervescent way that she loves men.  They loved her.  She was an energetic, positive bright light for many of the beleaguered soldiers but for many people after the war years of rebuilding.  She was awarded the Hero’s medal of Honor and many other awards  for her singing as well.

The other day when I first heard about Roza’s death, I kept hearing my teacher/students say that she was the “visa card” of the country.  I didn’t know what that meant so I asked my other students today for clarification.  I was told Roza was the face of the Kazakh nation, so popular was she among all the former Soviet Union.  From what I was told, she only had one son and she was buried just yesterday in Almaty.

Well, I learned also that the soccer players in Kazakhstan are not very good, like I was familiar hearing about the famous Dynamo team in Ukraine.  However, the hockey team is good for some reason.  As are the Kazakh boxers, they are good also, like the Klushko brothers in Ukraine.  What is wrong with their soccer or football team?  They had a German coach but now maybe they will have a new one. Hopefully things will improve in that sport but it has to start from the early ages to encourage good sportsmen.

Another thing I learned was there is only one Kazakh female pilot who flies for Air Astana and she has been doing this for at least 10 years.  She has a name I didn’t write down but it is Ak- something which means “White Bird.”  Seems strange to me that there would only be one female pilot and that she would be famous amongst people in Kazakhstan.  Would a plane full of people think it great to have the female captain talk to the passengers before take-off and marvel at hearing a woman’s voice at the controls?

I told my students that I knew of Shannon Lucid, a NASA astronaut. I had gotten an e-mail from her recently because I had heard that she was going to be in Kazakhstan again and I wanted to meet up with her if she were anywhere near Astana. Not to be this time. She has a love for this area of the world.

Fortunately, I had Shannon Lucid give a talk to my Ukrainian students when I was living in Kyiv, Ukraine about 10 years ago. She was a friend with a very good friend of mine from Houston.  I admire Shannon who lived on the space station for six months as a NASA astronaut with two Yuris who were cosmonauts. I think they had been sent out from Baikonur space station here in Kazakhstan.  Shannon is also a pilot so I guess she is famous in her own right.  I remember when she landed back on earth after those six months in space, she was greeted by President Clinton. I pay attention to things related to space travel.

[Total side note regarding space travel, I started watching Men in Black II last night which features Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. I had forgotten that Michael Jackson had a cameo role in that movie and he wanted to be Agent M and work along side Will Smith solving mysteries about aliens.]

Back to different occupations in Kazakhstan that I learned about. One of the students talked about teachers and the difference between village teachers and those in the city.  Of course, there is a vast contrast that can be made.  NO ONE wants to go back to the village to teach because there is nothing going on there, no museums, no theaters, no sporting events, nothing is set up in the infrastructure to support what could produce better singers or sportsmen in Kazakhstan.  The concentration of wealth goes to the cities and that is where teachers want to be, where the money is, where the interesting things to learn are.  Who can blame them?

Can you FORCE people to go in the farthest reaches of a country where nothing is happening?  How do you make people go work where nobody wants to go?  We have the same problem in the rural areas of the U.S. and particularly where I’m from in northwestern Minnesota.  There has always been a mass migration away from the small towns and to the big cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Something good should be said of the quiet, pastoral life of the countryside.  Isn’t that what was happening here on this land of Kazakhstan over 100 years ago?  People moved from place to place and they had a wide open territory to do that.  Now we have urbanization with Almaty and Astana getting the most attention.  The English teachers who study hard and know English very well do not want to waste their talents in a small town where they are poorly paid.  What a conundrum we have that the Kazakh nomads could hardly have envisioned 100 or 200 years ago.  How to solve it?

We started to talk about journalists and the dangers they incur, especially those who know the truth and want to get the word out.  We lost track of time and didn’t get too far on that topic.

6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    I am a teacher. I do not blame teachers, who do not want to go to villages to teach, because it is reasonable. For example, right now I study PDP, and cannot imagine myself teaching in the village. PDP gave me so many information about my profession, taught me to use so many modern computer devices. Can I use them in the village, where there is no computer even. However, it is only my case. THERE ARE TEACHERS, who want to teach in the villages. Some of my fellow students went to villages and they are working at schools now. I think, we need to support these teachers. The government needs to support these teachers. If they are given everything they need to organize a lesson, they will also improve. They have nothing new to use in their classrooms. That’s why village students are suffering because of the lack of knowledge. Teachers as well as students are not guilty for it!

  2. 2

    kazaknomad said,

    I totally agree, that the teachers are NOT to be blamed for not going where there is nothing that can excite learning. In fact, there seems to be negative incentives to be a good teacher with the low pay, the lack of respect given, etc. So, your response is right on target. If you have learned the new technologies, you need to be given credit and awarded the schools to teach in that have the technologies waiting for you to use. Those teachers who do NOT want to better themselves with 21st century methodologies need to move aside, maybe even go out to the villages to teach. The government needs to recognize this problem and do something to change what is common not only in Kazakhstan but everywhere in the world.

  3. 3

    Wizard of KZ said,

    this is really fun situation, you know? (: I think the question of president Kennedy fits here best than any: “Do not ask what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Yes, we can say: “Let’s let country make the first step” or we can do the step first. The situation of the students is really hard, but if everyone is for himself who will be for your country? The question is really hard and I am going to talk about that on my blog (thx for inspiration:)) but I think I have to share one case: a friend said she was moving to Sweden because she didn’t like living conditions here, if everything were ready she wouldn’t leave. But then I asked “And who will create those conditions if we all skip and leave?!” which she honestly answered “I don’t know”. If you are not making contribution country doesn’t have to make contributions for you.

  4. 4

    […] Turkmenistan Instead of writing about westerner’s post-modern thinking I’ll continue on the theme I started the other day about professions in Kazakhstan. Today we covered two more professions that were important to this student who came into my office […]

  5. 5

    Ira said,

    Omg! That is good and if you want to know about the country life I can tel l you since I lived there for 11years.
    Plz continue writing

    • 6

      kazaknomad said,

      Dear Ira, yes please DO tell about what country life is like in Kazakhstan. I take it you are living outside of KZ now? Please write to my e-mail address and I will be sure to put it on my blog, if you permit me. Thanks for your encouragement to keep writing…


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