Posts tagged Kazakh

Happy Nouruz and Happy Spring

Carnegie north wingfixed up North WingNot sure how to spell the Kazakh holiday but I DO know what spring should look like around here.  We have been fooled into thinking spring is here and then BOOM, we got an inch of snow surprise several mornings ago.  We have a faint layer of snow on the ground now but that won’t last long if the temps rise above freezing today.  We survived Daily Light Savings time switch a week ago. Of course, I felt tired for losing the one hour sleep but I think I am back to normal now. I just finished having a wonderful spring break for ONE week and so it felt like I was away from teaching for TWO weeks because I accomplished a lot.  I will show pictures of the Carnegie building we have been working on.  One is an older photo, the other is a photoshopped photo.

We had a committee meeting with six of us talking about the future of the Carnegie and how we need to raise money to do all the renovation that is necessary in order to have it a place for community gatherings.  Lots of GREAT ideas for five months from now, but also lots of work. We have 200 boxes full of OLD books that need to be processed.  I am buying up 4×6 and 5×7 inch picture frames at thrift store so that we can put colorful pictures or etchings from 100 year old books behind glass. We will sell these mementos for $25 a piece and hopefully raise at least $25,000 to start work on what needs to be done first in the Carnegie building.  So much work to do in the downstairs basement area where the archives will be. Glad to have two librarians and an archivist working with me on the book purging that we are doing.

Well, tomorrow I am back in front of my students and they don’t want to be back as much as I don’t want to be there.  I worked on my lesson plans for the next month so there is a light at the end of the tunnel for ALL of us.  Yes, give me summer but then there is the tyranny of the weeds to pull in all 15 of my different gardens outside. The snarly weeds got the best of me last year because of my accident, so now I have to serve double time to get those chokers out.  I’ve lost some of my perennials to weeds but maybe I can get out and do the work that needs to be done.  Which work do I prefer, Carnegie or outside gardens? That’s a toss up!

Happy Nouruz to all my Kazakh and Central Asian friends!

carnegie library looking SE

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Impressions of American Guest Speaker Who Knows Kazakh (Part II)

A continuation of impressions from my Professional Development students which are written from their heart, here are three more:

Student #4 – Yesterday, we had a wonderful talk with Chad Harris, whom we waited for so long. It was a wonderful experience, he is a very interesting person. He has a lot to say and good advice. I was in the role of the observer. My friend told about him a lot and it seemed to me that I know him. He raised up-to-date topical questions about Kazakh language and teaching methods. He made me think about patriotic feelings and I realized that they started from the language you speak. Chad told the truth about people’s acceptance and their attitude towards each other. Especially Kazakh people. I do believe that we must speak our mother tongue, but people should be more encouraging and tolerant, otherwise we will not be able to learn it because of shame.

Student #5 – I was impressed by Chad and his Kazakh. There are 4 pieces of advice that I got from him:
1) If you go abroad choose home-stay – it is the best way to learn a language. By the way I heard the same advice from Jon Larsen
2) make students create a real-life situation and speak English with someone at home while, for example, drinking tea, as a home work assignment.
3) Give each student a glass where you can put a bean for each well-done work. Then at the end of the week we can count them and award the students with the most beans.
The last advice he gave is concerned with learning Kazakh language:
4) Speak Kazakh with one another! Don’t be ashamed and don’t laugh at somebody who makes mistakes.

Student #6 -On Tuesday at last we had a meeting with Chad Harris. He met all my expectations and I liked him a lot. He talked to all of us and each one in person. I liked that he had a warming and encouraging word for everyone. I think he gave us a good support when said that we all were on right way.

Also he told us his experience with learning Kazakh, the conditions he had and how people around unconsciously helped him. But what drew my attention slowly turned from learning Kazakh to his family. He was giving some extracts from how they work with their kids. They read stories, motivate them by giving bean for good work then in the end counting them. And I loved much story telling side. I just had a vision that Chad is sitting with his sons around him and tells “Imagine that there is…” telling stories about Jesus and his sons listening. I like that they motivate with upcoming gifts according to beans’ number. I thought, how interesting, do our Kazakh families also motivate kids in such a way?

I myself remember that sometimes when mom was not busy she read me stories from my books and I loved it much, or that when I learned how to write letters, we Mom’s brother, Mom’s sister, my sister and me had competitions “Who will draw the letters best?”. But they were not so regular as I wished them to be.

As I am getting into teaching more than before I started to think how right I will work with my own kids, will I be good mother and teacher? I want my kids to know English, speak Kazakh and be fluent in Russian from early stages and they will practice doing that long before school. Then when Chad told us how they work with their kids, I thought the same I would do with my kids, it seems very good methodology!
As for what he told us about Kazakh, indeed we need to comfort people who wants to speak Kazakh but unfortunately do not know. All of a sudden I understood that learning Kazakh is the same process as learning English. The most beneficial condition for people to learn speak English is creating English speaking surrounding and encouraging! Loads of encouraging. This is what we lack with Kazakh, it is getting a form of stereotype to blame and mock people if they do not know Kazakh, but how will they speak Kazakh if they don’t have and reason to learn it?! They do not know, but want – we mock and blame. They do now know and don’t want – we say: “Shame on you, you are living in Kazakhstan.” They do not know and doesn’t know why they have to learn it – we don’t give any motivation or even try to convince them. I think it takes time to change it for better, but still will others know our mistake as well as we did after this talk?

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American Guest Speaker who knows the Kazakh Language

The hour passed far too quickly with my ten teachers who are my students as they listened to our guest speaker who is an American teacher at our university in Astana.  He knows how to speak in Kazakh and he used it to make strong points. How rare to our listening ears because most expats will choose to learn and speak Russian.

The first issue was raised about how to motivate those students who are not highly motivated to learn and thus have low test scores in English.  Chad suggested that any good thing done by a younger student, the teacher can put a bean in a cup and by the end of the week, whoever has the most beans wins a prize.  Something they can see, it is tangible and they are encouraged to do good work, a kind of competition. This works well for primary grades.

Chad also uses YouTube clips that show real conversation using the same questions over and over again from different people with different accents. Kind of like journalist (I thought of Jay Leno and “man on the street” journalism), catching people with questions, such as “how are you?” or “where are you from?” and then watch and listen to how each person responds to the same question.  There may be 20 or 30 people who respond, but if students get the hang of easy questions and answers, they can move on to the next level. Chad told the teachers they can download these YouTube clips on to a flash drive and later use in the classroom if there is no Internet access.

We talked about how immersion is the best way to learn a language, especially with Study Abroad or Work and Travel programs.  Chad and his wife when they first arrived to Kazakhstan in 1998, they lived with a host family in Semipalatinsk. They didn’t know any Kazakh and their Kazakh family didn’t know much English.  In order to survive, they HAD to learn Kazakh.

Not much chance of immersion here in Kazakhstan where university students outside of the “English only” classroom usually speak Russian to each other.  Chad said these students need to do pair work so they are forced to talk to each other in English, they are accountable to each other.  Chad recommends to his own students to pick a night during the weekend or at lunchtime for an hour where his students find friends and all they do is talk in English, force themselves to only speak in English.  He holds them to account for these activities.

One seasoned teacher for 10 years who hails from the south of Kazakhstan mentioned that she gets her students to be creative in their answers.  She does not want the stock, textbook answers but something that is extraordinary and way off the page.  She’ll tell her students, “Imagine you go to New York, what would you see and experience?  Imagine going into a time machine.” This forces her students to expand their vocabulary and to express themselves in vivid terms.

Children are naturals at being imaginative.  Chad’s son had to remind his dad that it was easy for kids to think creatively, somehow by adulthood we have that beaten out of us.  As teachers, we need to capitalize on this strength with young people. This Kazakh teacher from the south has her students get out of their seats to do pair work.  In fact, she then walks around the classroom to listen in on their conversations to make sure they are speaking in English.  Chad uses another technique where the other person after doing pair work reports to the rest of the class what they heard their partner say in English.

One student admitted that she used to be afraid to talk to a foreigner in Kokshetau, even though she was a teacher of English.  This is because she had memorized so much of the correct formulations of grammar but never had a chance to practically use it with a native speaker. She has no problem to talk to anyone, because she is confident now but before she knew all the rules, she had never put it into application.  People need to practice, students need to apply what they learn in the grammar lessons by speaking to each other in English.

Chad advised, “Better to know a little and use a lot rather than know a lot and use little if you are going to communicate.” [Hey, I do that in spades with my taxi drivers and other people I encounter in Astana, communication is important and not knowing all the correct grammatical constructions. Somehow I get by, meanwhile, my husband just shakes his head in disbelief. Either because he despairs that I’m butchering the language or he knows how to say it correctly but marvels that I get my point across.]

Someone said that if you don’t know Kazakh very well, other Kazakhs are very critical of you as a Kazakh and put you down as a “Shala Kazakh,” meaning “ Kazakh in name only.”  Chad said that Kazakhs should not shame other Kazakhs.  As a foreigner, he got nothing but encouragement for learning Kazakh because it impresses them that Americans want to learn Kazakh.

It is not their fault if Kazakhs don’t know the Kazakh language because they were taught under the Soviet system that awarded those who learned Russian and NOT Kazakh.  He noticed that people in Semipalatinsk, if they do know a little bit of Kazak, they will not use it.  Whereas here in Astana, people feel more free to use what they know, even if they don’t know it very well.

(to be continued)

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Where’s Walda at the annual Charity Bazaar?

I have too much to write about in Astana, Kazakshtan.  So putting up photos is the easiest thing to do and besides I’m having fun with the “Where’s Walda?” theme.  The Kazakh girl who did this didn’t even know such a book series exists in the U.S.  Where’s Waldo? is about a funny guy with glasses and a red stocking hat and a striped shirt who is very difficult to find in a crowd of people.  My nephew and I would devour the “Where’s Waldo?” books to not only find Waldo but even smaller objects.  If I find an example, I’ll put in tomorrow’s post.  Check out yesterday’s photos.

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Buddy Bear is “Bear”back

What is with this Buddy Bear exhibit? What does this have to do with Kazakhstan?  Well, I believe it has a LOT to do with this culturally rich country.  As many bears that are out on display, 125 close to the Baiterek tower, that’s how many different nationalities co-exist in this lightly populated country of 16 million people. This land is the size of 3 or 4 state of Texas and has an eastern border with China, a country that has over 1 billion Chinese.  There used to be many more Germans and Russians in Kazakhstan and there are also Uighurs, Tatars, Korean, Turks, Kyrgyz, Mongols, Turkmen, Uzbek, etc.  Where China has many more people and a great variety of different Chinese, Kazakhstan has fewer people but many nationalities.  With different cultures, you will have diverse languages and religions.

I believe Kazakhstan prides itself in being able to handle the steady mix of people groups.  I know when I lived in Almaty for two years I was surrounded by different nationalities and enjoyed it. But then again, I’m an ESL/EFL teacher, my job is to teach English to those people who want to learn it.  I’ve studied or tried to learn eight different languages and am a master of none.  The Kazakh people by law have a mandate to know three languages: Kazakh, Russian and English.  Will that work, can they do it?  As I’ve written before, it is a do or die proposition because another alternative could be Chinese.  If I were Kazakh or Kazakhstani, I would try to learn all three languages simultaneously too.  I’ve studied Chinese, I’ve written its calligraphy, I know just how difficult it is to speak in the four tones.  What is so very interesting to me is that among all the nationalities represented in Kazakhstan, China has a very low profile.  Enjoy my photos of more Buddy Bears, especially Vietnam’s quote: “Who doesn’t love, doesn’t live.”

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Dias’ Great Grandfather was a “Public Enemy”

Kairbayev Mahmet he was born in 1922 in Pavlodarskaya oblast (district). His family was very big and he had 5 brothers and 4 sisters. It was a common Kazakh family that lived like many others families of that period. His father was local government official, he loved his job and he was a real professional in public administration area. His father had protected the interests of the local citizens and provided a lot of social services for them.

But unfortunately some people did not like him and they wrote unrealistic letters against his father and as a result, his father became a “public enemy.” After this event my grandfather and his whole family went to another city. My grandfather was the oldest child and he became like a father for his brothers and sisters. He worked at a local manufacture and he was the best worker. As I mentioned before his father was a “public enemy” and in this case nobody wanted to let him to study. He provided self study at home.

In 1941 the Nazi army intervened with the Soviet Union, it was a war. My grandfather went to the artillery academy in 1941 then graduated in 1943. In summer of 1943 he became a commander of artillery in Litva. The commander of the west front gave him the order to protect Shaolyai city. A tank division of the enemy which consisted of 30 tanks “tiggers” the modern and most dangerous tanks in German army attacked this city. My grandfather and his soldiers opened fire from all guns. The German tanks were completely destroyed and the city survived. My grandfather became Hero of the Soviet Union and got the Medal of Bravery.

After the war he worked in Pavlodar city, established a lot social programs and participated in city development. He was a human with strong character and he believed in friendship and helped many people. He still live in our hearts.

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Gauche Tea Party and Debunking Myths about me

What fun to have six teachers over to my flat for a little tea party drinking tea and hot cider out of gauche looking tea cups.  I had to laugh, I now realize that punctuality is a universal value held high among all professional teachers around the world.  My teacher friends showed up precisely at 3:00 p.m. and left my place after we talked, ate and played a game right at 7:00 p.m.  The following are some of the sloppy lies that have been told against me at my place of former employment.  Some are so preposterous, they make me laugh!

Myth #1 – Supposedly I’m wanted by the KNB (new variety of KGB) from the city of Karaganda because of something I wrote in a little conference paper last summer. (more on that later)

Myth#2 – Some people suspect I am a CIA agent.  However, an American when hearing that falsehood offered it couldn’t be true because I would need to be polite to everyone.  Apparently it has gotten around that I have been rude to some of my fellow teachers.  On only two occasions have I gone toe to toe with some who claim that what and how I teach is incorrect, that I am wrong in my thinking.  Compared to my Kazakh and Kazakhstani teaching colleagues, I’m just different as an American teacher but I’m no CIA agent.

Myth #3 – A common alibi to get rid of a foreign faculty member at our university is to claim they are unhappy in Kazakhstan, that they can’t cope with the cultural differences.  Sorry, but I had to diffuse that myth by saying these same sad faced people don’t see me with my friends outside of our institution of higher learning. I have many friends and enjoy happy times away from the pressures of work.  But my happiest times are spent in the classroom with my students.  They give me supreme joy even when I am being beaten down by those over me who should not be antagonizing me but rather supporting me.  That is why I’m thankful for my association with AIWC (Almaty International Women’s Club) and also my friends who have become my surrogate family at church.  Many other foreigners who work outside of education in the business world of Almaty and who are from many different nations have suffered some of the same lies and experienced the “needed but not wanted” phenomenon as I have.

Myth#4 – Another lie used against me akin to the prior one is that I’m supposedly not sensitive to the culture I’m a guest in. Apparently I don’t understand the Kazakh and Kazakhstani culture and insist to have my own American way.  There are several problems with that myth, 1) I am teaching in a “western” institution that uses an American system of education, supposedly.  2) I’ve lived and taught in four different cultures (Philippines, China, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine) with the total of 15 years outside of the U.S.  Therefore, I actually know the surface veneer of this former Sovietized culture because of my seven years of living in Ukraine.  Teaching in Kyiv was a good training ground to teach in Almaty, Kazakhstan because the Soviet mentality is every bit in place there as here.  Obviously I know too much which goes back to Myth #2 and why some think I’m a CIA agent. (smile)

8) To be continued in tomorrow’s blog 8)

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Sadness, Much Sadness and Going Away Party

Yesterday morning I was greeted with the very sad news that a Kazakh colleague’s daughter had died in childbirth, the baby grandson survived the delivery but this woman’s only daughter died.  Compound that with the heartbreaking fact that this same Kazakh woman had just lost her husband less than 50 days ago.  Sadness, much sadness.  Yesterday was also scheduled a going away party for me by one of the four rooms of teachers down in the bowels of our Language center.  These ladies are known to put on the best parties and they put one on for me, in my honor because I am going away from this place of employment.  I’m NOT leaving Kazakhstan!!! (unless someone else knows something differently.) In any case, I hadn’t thought about it before but those who attended my party are not Kazakh, except for one, but rather they are Kazakhstani. 

That perhaps has been the crux of my problem, I don’t see people and their ethnicity, I see my fellow teachers and my students as PEOPLE!!!  Some of these ladies were born in Russia, another in China, one is of Korean background, others are mixed or of Russian ethnicity, half of them were born in Almaty.  I told these ladies that this photo of them would be put in my blog, they seemed to have no problem with that.  No need for a written consent form.  However, I warned them that I am considered an “Enemy of the People.”  That didn’t seem to deter them either from being seen with me, a purged member of the pack.  One Kazakh lady’s sister was purged this past summer and another teacher in this picture was also purged.  Empathy draws all kinds of ethnicities together.  Perhaps that is why these ladies were brave enough to be seen with me, an American castoff, banished from the group of about fifty English teachers who are Kazakh and Kazakhstani.

The delicious spread they brought together for this going away party was superb.  They like to use any excuse for a party, I guess, even an emotional, going away party.  My favorite dish was a colorful confetti looking salad brought by Alla, Aigerim brought pancakes with cottage cheese filling, Irina brought mushrooms and pickles, Luba brought an apple cake, other salads, one with herring, were in the mix along with chocolates and goodies.  We talked about what we would all be doing during the winter break, many said they would sleep, bake, host people, play with grandchild, one joked that she would be writing a proposal for a conference paper for the next two-three weeks.  One lady said that she had just dreamt about creating a new syllabus about Stylistics, actually that was a nightmare because she didn’t know where to begin.  We laughed, we talked, we ate and drank tea in fine party spirit.

However, our thoughts were on our colleague who was grieving her huge loss.  Before the party, I set out to buy a sympathy card.  I went across campus to our university bookstore and found a beautiful, handmade card.  Two irritations normally crop up when shopping and I expressed this at the party.  One, they never seem to have envelopes to go with the card you buy in this country.  So, I bought a black piece of paper that was fashioned into a kind of receptacle for everyone who signed it and added money for the grieving mother and widow.  Second, no one ever seems to have change for a Kazakh banknote of 5,000 tenge.  That was all I had and it took about five minutes for the vendor to run down the appropriate change for me.  Now, if I express this sort of irritation that all the others agreed as a common perplexity, does that mean I hate this country?  No, I’m just venting here on this blog as I would back in the U.S. about something mundane but an unnecessary nuisance.

The way I figure it, the person who handmade the card could just as easily made by hand an envelope to sell with the card.  However, I might have an explanation for why shop vendors never have enough change when you pull out a 5,000 or 10,000 tenge note.  They are either declaring that they don’t do too much business and they don’t care whether they sell me the card or not. OR, this is to serve notice to potential thieves: “if you intend to steal from our shop, sorry we don’t have any extra money around for you to loot!”  There seems to be a twisted supply and demand about making proper change in this once planned economy gone market economy.  They need to work out the wrinkles on that one.

In the late afternoon, more disappointment to learn from my American colleague whose visa expired yesterday but the powers that be did not have the proper stamp to put in his passport. They are out of stamps, nada, nyet!!!  He has non-refundable tickets to leave Almaty for the U.S. early, early Saturday morning and so something will have to change in a hurry. Except today, Dec. 16 is Independence Day for Kazakhstan and all official offices are closed today and tomorrow.  His last shot at getting a proper visa to leave the country and return for spring semester to teach will have to happen on Friday.  What are the chances?  I’ll keep you posted but my stating this fact on this blog might make it look like someone isn’t doing their job right, so where are we to lay the blame? 

 (to be continued in tomorrow’s blog)

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Amalgul’s Mother would hide out in poppy fields

My grandmother is representative of that generation which keeps best qualities of  humanity – love for one’s neighbor, diligence, honor and dignity.  The most important thing I have learned from my grandmother: 

       “In whatever we undertake, we always have to take that first step”- People tend to put off things that seem troublesome and uninteresting. In our daily work as well, we are inclined to postpone work that is complex or unpleasant, even though that jus makes the situation harder to handle. It is best not to sit and ponder too deeply; nothing will be accomplished if you do not just get moving.  

My grandmothers’ name is Dzhumash, and I am proud of her.  Earlier, when I and my sisters were children we used to visit our grandmother regularly. We usually spent all our summer holidays in Tamga. But every year less frequently. It is a shame to me to admit and recognize that I did not see her for about 10 years.

      My grandmother is my mothers mum. She is Kyrgyz, she lives in Tamga Auyl    (settlement), Kyrgyzstan – along southern coast of Issyk-Kyl. As you can guess I am a Métis – half Kazakh and half Kyrgyz.

      Why I have decided to tell you about her?

      Because I consider her as a unique and kind-hearted person. 

     I remember the story she had told us:

     It was during the post-war period of World War II, when people ad to survive in any ways, do all that could get  any money for a piece of bread. She rose early in the morning and between 4-6 o clock in the morning before rising sun went to the poppy  fields to collect opium. Each gram of opium could be sold in grey market for good amount of money. She had been forced to take with herself few youngest children. Remained from her 10 children should go for work or go to school. My mother was about 5 years old  and she was among those whom my grandmother took to the field.

     The funniest thing of this story is that my mum quite often tried to hide from her mother and slept among beds of that poppy field.

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Photos with Two Speakers from Chevron and Nestle

P9170538My MA graduate students listened to two lectures this past week as part of their English Listening and Speaking course.  Both speakers are friends of mine from outside my university.  They readily agreed and accepted to come and talk with my eager, graduate students.  

P9150530On Sept. 16, Marielena Andino, Project Manager at Chevron talked about “Change Management.”  On Sept. 18 a Financial Director for the Eurasia section of Nestle, Rafael Requena came and talked about “Nestle Principles.” After his talk and answering the students many questions, he handed out big Nestle candy bars.  My students were VERY pleased!  I was too.


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