Twenty-seven questions and first impressions of Kyrgyzstan (Part II)

This blog continues from the other day where I was asked 27 questions in May of 1994 and I only got up to eight questions with their subsequent answers. My Mom was going through old letters and she had printed out my e-mail that I had sent so it is fun to see what my first impressions were after having lived in Central Asia for almost a year. I had done a Peace Corps training stint in Almaty, Kazakhstan the summer before and was on a Fulbright grant the following academic year in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I was teaching at KAF (Kyrgyzstan Academic Faculty) which turned into another name that exists today.

Here are the following questions in bold asked by my friend Tanya with answers that may still be relevant today:

9) What kind of folk arts can you find? There are LOTS of wall hangings with the peculiar traditional designs of nature woven into them. They are sometimes done on felt or other brightly colored cloth. The carpets are almost always red while the wall hangings will be green and red or gold. The designs of nature are a kind of abstract leaf or bulls horns, mountains, etc.

10) Is there any carpet making or weaving? Yes, I have a carpet that has ALL the colors you can imagine in it and it has the leaf and horns motif throughout. This may be done with weaving felt together. I have also seen other handmade wool carpets but I have not seen much weaving that would be done on looms. These are a nomadic people who worked on carpets or wallhangings for their yurts (collapsable tents).

11) Do you see much needlework in Bishkek? Not the kind of needlework you are probably thinking about that the Hmong do. It is a different kind of needlework which is obviously hand done but it is more like threads of gold brocade on top of different patterns or designs of felt material underneath.

12) Can you tell me more about the courses you’re teaching? Last semester I taught Phonetics which I enjoyed thoroughly and Business English which the students seemed to enjoy thoroughly. They liked what I had to say in phonetics since it was all new to them, old to me since I used a lot of stuff from teaching ITAs [International Teaching Assistants back at the U of M, Minneapolis campus]. The students seem to be geared on business since they know that is their ticket to getting to the States and ultimately helping their country get ahead. Right now I am teaching Reading Lab which is a LOT of work for me and the students seem to be working hard at it too. Reading my home assignments and then answering comprehension questions when they come to class. I also give them periodic vocabulary quizzes based on the vocabulary words I have pulled from their readings. They also are doing extra credit reading by reading Longman classics and then writing reports on that.

13) How much English background do your students have? Near zero to university level. That is what makes my reading lab so difficult is that I have four different levels that I’m preparing for with about two or three different levels in each of the four classes. Arghh! Their background is from the privileged class of Kyrgyzstan so many have been abroad before with exposure to different languages and have been taught at the specialized English schools. We have a wide range with the 38 students we are teaching.

14) How many hours a week do you teach? Ten hours but that means an hour and 20 minutes of contact time but it is counted as two “academic” hours. I have five lesson preps because I teach the secretaries and teachers pronunciation for two of the other that I teach besides the four Reading Lab classes.

15) How much time do you need to prepare your classes? If I told you the number of hours that it took to read the different books, photocopy the ones that are appropriate for the different levels, cut out the extra to consolidate on less paper, photocopy for each class, come up with comprehension qustions, read through again for vocabulary words that might trip up the students, think of vocabulary quizzes, grade the comprehension questions, read the extra credit reading reports…it would prove that I didn’t love my job.  I have NO idea how many hours I spend in front of my computer thinking up exercises but since I enjoy stimulating the students to work, I count it as a joy.

16) Is the level of the university there comparable to an American university?  It is supposed to be, because at the end of their four years they are supposed to get a diploma from the University of Nebraska. However, about half of our students are not cutting it and it is more like teaching at the Minnesota English Center.  It is pre-university and maybe only about 15 of our students would be able to handle the course load of a real university in the States.

17) Do any of the faculty there have a background in EFL or Linguistics? Yes, one of the American teachers has an MA from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. The other American teacher is from Brattleboro with an MA from there. The other American teachers have undergraduate degrees with some experience in ESL. No, noone here has a strong background in linguistics which is sorely needed and wanted.  We can always rely on our Kyrgyz teaching counterparts to teach grammar which all of us Americans have a general dispassion for where they have a certain euphoria in drilling the students in grammar. Must be because Russian is so grammar-bound that they have such a zeal.

18) Or do they come from a literature background?  Not sure how to answer that. The Russian influence has brought a certain highbrow attitutde toward scholarly works especially by great Russians. Our school’s approach to learning has been of the humanities where our students are learning Latin their first year. Strange for a business school but we have a real mixed bag of things going on at our school which is a result of changing administrations, etc.

19) Is there any sort of speciality they might be looking for in future Fulbright candidates?  YES, EMPHASIS IN EFL/ESL WITH LINGUISTICS!!!

(to be continued)

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