Posts tagged Nazarbayev

Build Up Astana and THEY Will Come

 Astana, the NEW capital of Kazakhstan, brand spanking new! Ten years ago President Nursultan Nazarbayev had the vision to build up this small frontier town into a megapolis of half million people. He probably had “Field of Dream” visions of constructing skyscrapers. Surely the big players in investment would come and fill the palatial buildings. That remains to be seen and the building projects continue in different stages of completion.

I was surprised how huge Astana has become from Akmola, what it was known as 15 years ago. We are staying in the old part of the city where it has the typical Soviet style of architecture. We visited the ball on top of the tower, Baiterek, that faces ALL directions, toward the president’s palace to the east, the airport where Ken’s cousin Jack flies into is to the south (makes sense, closest to Almaty as the crow flies). The better part of Astana is to the north and to the west are the flat plains. What is missing are the mountains and I wonder how Nazarbayev copes with the lack of mountains though one would think that it would make construction much easier if everything is on level ground.

Riding the Spanish train that went east first and then north we had in our coupee a Russian gentleman whose business is with Astana’s drinking water. He said that the water table is quite high in Astana as it was built on a swamp. Rivers dissect the city into Left bank and right bank or Old City, reminded me a little bit of Kyiv and also a tinge of San Antonio, TX. There are no basements in any of the buildings as a consequence. I’m wondering how the architects deal with sinking of land due to abundance of swamp water. At least they don’t have to consider earthquakes which are known to happen in Almaty along the Tian Shan mountains. Too much for me to ponder on as an English teacher. I just hope the buildings being built will be filled but not too full that they start sinking into the saturated land.

We also had as our traveling companion on the fast train to Astana a woman by the name of Zhibek (silk) as in Zhibek Zholy which we all know means Silk Road. She is in her late twenties and her English was very good. She told me stories of her family being from a wealthy tribe on her mother’s side. As is typical in Kazakh families, the oldest son inherited everything. However, when communism clamped down on kulaks, they evenly distributed the wealth to the youngest son and hid the gold and silver. Consequently, the oldest brother was sent off to Siberia while the youngest one who appeared poor, stayed behind. As in many other stories I’ve learned, they buried the silver and gold to find it again for later use.

As it turns out, Zhibek’s grandmother was taken care of by the younger brother in Kazakhstan. She told of how her grandmother’s younger sister when they returned from Siberia to Kazakhstan was put on the shelf in the train. They had no food to feed the baby or themselves. Their thought was, if the baby is still alive by the time they get back to Kazakhstan, okay, she would live. This same little girl when she was 2-3 years old was deathly afraid of sheep, she had never seen them before in Siberia. She would scream and carry on whenever they got close to her. As discipline, the mother tied the little girl to the sheep so that she would not be afraid of the sheep any longer.

For Kazakhs of the past, breeding and raising sheep used to be their livelihood and to have fits about sheep was considered unnatural. What was also very unnatural was to have the collectivization project come through their sheep-herding steppes and have the soil upturned to plant vast fields of grain. Zhibek’s mother remembers seeing her grandfather crying when their sacred family burial plot was plowed under. Their ancestors memories were desecrated with the grain growing above their withered remains. Since Zhibek’s family had been a wealthy one in the past, they had had their own place to bury the dead. However, with collectivization Zhibek’s great grandfather saw that being erased as well as his future dwelling place for his old bones. Thus, the tears.

So, to put together these sad stories from the past with that of what I witnessed of Astana the glittering new capital, was a bit disjointing. Reading Christopher Robbins’ book In Search of Kazakshtan and the chapter titled “Howling of Wolves” concerns Nazarbayev’s sad past, similar to Zhibek’s family. How do the Kazakhs regain what has been lost of their heritage with its tribal values of honor and respect for the old while keeping pace with what is going on in the globalized world swirling around them? I guess they can look to China as an example of achieving much the same thing. No, China is too real a threat as is Russia. Thus, the reason for Nazarbayev wanting the capital to be moved from southern Kazakhstan in Almaty to the north.

I was surprised, as was Robbins, about the Kazakhs not appreciating Solzhenitsen and his contributions to the literary world about how difficult life was in the gulags. I should not be surprised because the Ukrainians react the same way to Solzhenitzen, he was a thorough going Russian nationalist to the exclusion of all other ethnic groups. As it turns out, Kazakhstan had many death camps, especially around Karaganda. Tomorrow I hope to have a student take me to one of the places Robbins mentions in his book, in Ajir, about 50 kilometers from Astana. Ajir was the place where the wives of the “Enemies of the People” were taken, guilty by association and sadly worked to the bone. Why do I want to see such a depressing place? Out of curiosity I suppose but also because not much is known about this by a majority of westerners, to our shame.

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Nazarbayev – “Nightingale Cannot Do Without Woods”

Yesterday we finished our third day of “Virtual Classroom” with Language Center teachers doing keyword searches on the electronic databases provided by our university library.  Five questions were part of the Treasure Hunt about known authors from our university and about nine people e-mailed their answers to me.  The quickest was Olga and as winner she received the latest edition of the Turabian style book.  The consolation prize of an MLA style book went to Claudia who found the article on SpringerLink of an administrator who had an article published in a physics journal in December of 2000.


We ended our “Teacher-Researcher Workshop” with a panel discussion with three professors from our university, one in Public Administration, the second from Political Science and the third from Economics.  Each helpfully contributed something to over 40 Kazakhstani teachers.  The first talked about writing being the “Queen of Rhetoric” or communication, it involves all the thinking skills.  This public administration professor felt fortunate to have had a very good writing teacher in his undergraduate class which helped him in his subsequent classes and even now in his publishing articles. 


Our second panelist from a political science perspective has great empathy for what we do as writing teachers for first year students.  He advised to stick with ONE style of writing research papers.  At the very least let the students know there are as many formatting styles as there are journals.  It seems that most of the professors on campus prefer Chicago or Turabian with footnoting or endnotes and NOT the APA style we have enforced on our fledgling first year writing students.  He also stated that American high school students have an edge over our Kazakhstani students because they have already been exposed to research papers.  Unfortunately, our students don’t have that writing background when they enter our western-style university.  He recommended that we prepare the students in the first year on how NOT to plagiarize so that the upper division courses don’t have to focus on that but devote more time on the conceptual ideas of each students’ paper. 


Our third panelist from economics stated that “Writing is Thinking and Thinking is Writing.”  Being a writing teacher is a difficult position to fulfill all those expectations. He knows that in the U.S. it is the most arduous for administrators to fill writing courses with qualified teachers. With all other teaching assignments, such as speaking, listening or grammar, the teacher conducts the class and leaves whereas the writing teacher conducts the class with the same contact hours but also has hours and hours of correcting papers afterwards.  No one wants to invest that kind of time into a course and be paid the same amount of money, unless they are convinced it is for the betterment of their students.  Clearly writing teachers in the western universities are not IN IT FOR THE MONEY!!!


One Kazakh teacher, during the Q&A time, lamented on how to make writing seem less like punishment to the students.  She claimed there are so many rules on writing a research paper and felt there is so much pressure and tension to get all the rules correct.  Her students wailed they did not want to take another semester of a writing course as has been suggested.  Yet another teacher responded that her students were very enthusiastic about writing because of all the options available with the research databases and other Internet cites that help make it easier and more enjoyable. In a group of 40 teachers, there is a vast array of skills, experience, level of curiosity and time commitment involved with the teaching of writing.


My last comment to all who were gathered yesterday is that we have to guide and suggest topics with our students that are of interest to them.  I believe we need to hover over them from the very start when they are experimenting with thesis statements.  Especially do young students need help with English synonyms for keyword searches once they start looking for journals on the electronic databases.  Bottom line for us as teachers, we need to help the students in the PROCESS of writing from first draft, second draft to final version in order to have good papers to read.  If we are enjoying the process and discovering along with them, the students will ultimately enjoy writing too. 


Therefore, I would recommend that the Kazakhstani students have a required three semesters of writing at our university instead of only one semester so that they can discover their own voice. Most all western universities have two semesters of writing courses for their incoming freshmen students. I strongly suggest first semester would be very informal writing with narrative, descriptive, compare and contrast essays, topics the students would really enjoy writing about.  The second semester would be more discursive, cause and effect, argument and problem and solution.  Finally, the third semester would be the most formal writing with a research paper, fully preparing them for other coursework that expects written essays.  Instead we are expecting our first year learners, who do not have English as their first language and have NO writing experience in high school, to immediately write like an academic in a short 15 week course!!! That is definitely a recipe for disaster and no wonder some of the students end up hating writing and feel desperate enough to plagiarize even though there are red flags all over the syllabus to NOT plagiarize!!!


One final thought I’ll end with a Kazakh proverb, “Nightingale cannot do without woods, man cannot do without Motherland.”  The country of Kazakhstan will fall behind in achieving its goal of being one of the top 50 countries by 2011 if corners are cut in the most supreme of communication —writing! If the Kazakhstani students are not given a voice, as the nightingale has such a lovely voice, they will not be able to articulate to the rest of the world what a great country Kazakhstan


To be a global player, President Nazarbayev realizes and knows that computer technology and learning to write in English is one of the ways to success.  Why else has President Nazarbayev written so many books in English?  I believe Nazarbayev, as a true leader, is that nightingale singing for the good of his country.  Will other Kazakhstani writing teachers follow him?










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A Kazakh Linguist’s “Secret” to Learning Languages

Last night we enjoyed a meal at our place with a very talented linguist (let’s call him Murat).  He claims to know 15 languages and I believe him.  Russian was his first language even though he is ethnically Kazakh.  Eventually Murat mastered Kazakh, as well as Ukrainian, Uzbek along with being very proficient in German and English.  What a delight to get acquainted again with Murat after a hurried meeting in the Minneapolis airport 14 years ago when Ken was traveling with him from Washington D.C. to visit some Montana farms.  Ken and Murat go way back with their shared experiences in Soviet agriculture.


Twenty years ago, as a Communist party leader, Murat traveled with President Nazarbayev to the U.S. looking at American agriculture.  Later their delegation went to Canada representing the U.S.S.R.  In the U.S. they went as private citizens to many states, notably Kansas and later to New York where Murat’s cousin lived.  Their per diem as “communist big wigs” was $17 a day.  Murat’s cousin hosted them in New York and handed them hundreds of dollars of extra spending money, he knew $17 was not enough, especially in New York.  This same cousin of Murat’s, who is a noted Kazakh poet, was nominated to run against President Nazarbayev in an earlier presidential election.  Somehow he was talked out of his ambition for Kazakhstan’s top job and encouraged to pursue his career in poetry.  Murat’s cousin currently has an ambassador post in Italy where he can represent Kazakhstan while he writes Kazakh poems. Being linguistically inclined must run in Murat’s family.


Murat shared this advice about language learning which I think an important clue to his success:  “You have to love the people of the language you are studying.  Learn their songs, their jokes, their sayings…it does not work for Kazakh students to be forcefully told by the President to learn English or to think you will get a better job if you master the language.”  Murat went on to say that the best Russian spies who worked with the Germans succeeded only because they loved the German language and German people. (Putin comes to mind.) 


Murat emphasized, “Basic [to language learning] is that you have to love their tradition, their music.”  He heard someone say, “Switch off the Kazakh music!”  Murat is able to predict that that person would NEVER learn Kazakh with that kind of attitude.  Murat has translated into Kazakh the American folksongs “Where Have all the Flowers Gone” and also “This Land is Your Land.”  Murat did the same with translating four verses into Kazakh a German folk tune he learned from ethnic Germans born in Kazakhstan.  However, back in Germany the Germans only knew two of the verses to this very famous tune.  Obviously Murat has an ear for music which helps in language learning


Another secret to Murat’s achievement as a linguist who has mastered many languages is “Then you have to work hard, work continuously.”  He began reading English since 1966-67 every day.  He tells young people, “if you will do this, you will be better than me.”  Murat also strongly exhorts young people with, “Lazy bones, you can’t even imagine self-study in the 1960s when I learned English with only a rotating record and 25 lessons on it.  I couldn’t even imagine to travel or live in English speaking countries back in those times.  Now there is CNN to listen to American and British English, this generation has it so easy.” 


Even after 40 years he still has some of those first lessons in English committed to memory:  Mr. Green gets up early in the morning.  He dresses himself, he washes himself.”  He asks “Is breakfast ready?” then “We are having some people over for supper this evening.”  “It comes as a surprise to me what strange things people eat.  You stick to fish and chips I suppose.”  Murat listened and repeated after the record phrases over and over again.  Murat also added, “Most important I enjoyed doing it, I tried to pronounce in the same way as the native speaker, to pick up a faster speed, as fast as he speaks.”  Another key to his accomplishment was he would remember one sentence, but then insert other words in that sentence. 


Murat is a true linguist as he puzzled over westerners’ use of the word chernozem which means “black soil” in Russian.  [A very sophisticated classification system of soil was invented by Russian agronomist, Dokuchaev which unfortunately has fallen into disuse]. Agriculturalists today worldwide will mistakenly say “brown chernozem” or “chestnut chernozem” or “dark brown chernozem” but most confounding to Murat was when westerners say “black chernozem” which means black black soil to him.  We had a laugh about the nuances of languages.


Another sad but true story was when Murat was awarded by President Nazarbayev one of the first prizes for Peace in 1992.  Back then two others were also given the honor with the equivalent of $10,000 in roubles.  However, in those chaotic, first days of Kazakhstan, the worth of the rouble was plunging.  Murat’s prize amounted to only about $500 in cash prize, but the three had not even received that amount.  When Murat asked about it a year later, he was only given $200 worth of money.  Ten years later, Murat learned from other honored recipients of the distinguished, Presidential prize they received their full compensation of $10,000 worth of tenge.  He just shook his head with a smile, wistfully thinking what might have been.  Many people lost money during the early years of Kazakhstan.


Finally, as an English writing teacher I HAD to ask Murat what helpful hints he could tell me about his learning to write in English.  As a scientist, he knows how important writing is even though he has written many books about agriculture in Russian and Kazakh; he gets much of his material from literature in English. Murat said, “I worked in an international center for ten years, where every day I was writing.  More reading, more translation, if you do automatic translation, learn to speak and translating simultaneously, writing comes more naturally… you have to be committed, I knew that writing is important, as a scientist I had to learn how to write and later to publish.


One thing Murat ruefully noticed while he worked in this international office is that, “All [Kazakh] staff was local, all spoke English, but they didn’t make any effort to improve themselves in writing. They reached a certain level of proficiency and that was enough for them.” 


I fully appreciate President Nazarbayev’s vision about higher education in Kazakhstan.  In his most recent book The Kazakhstan Way on p. 329 he ended with a Kazakh proverb: “Try to master seven languages and know seven sciences.”  I believe Murat has more than achieved that as a linguist and as a scientist.  I would hope my future Kazakh students would share Murat’s contagious enthusiasm for learning. 

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Artist Nelly Bube Paintings (Part II)

Good Samaritanheaven and hellwoman with peacockcamel

How I would LOVE to meet this artist named Nelly Bube who is German-Russian and was married to a Kazakh artist.  She went through a dark period in her life and once she became a Christian, all her paintings started to take on bright, hopeful colors.  She is well known in Kazakhstan for her artwork which has been used up in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana even though she is not Kazakh herself.  She is a Kazakhstani by birth.

Instead of reading War and Peace, I’m reading President Nazarbayev’s latest book just out titled The Kazakhstan Way.  He has much to write about Kazakhstan’s economics and very little to say about its religion.  In future blog postings, I will be writing quotes from this book which promotes Margaret Thatcher’s words in a foreword published in London by Stacey International.

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Kazakhstan’s “Elephant in the Room”

Thankfully we passed through the arduous attestation test in Kazakhstan.  Irregardless, without the help of President Nazarbayev, we still have an “elephant in the room!!!”  What we have at our institution of “higher learning” in Kazakhstan is an anomoly and does not fit in the same framework with the rest of the universities in this country and especially with the Ministry of Education.  Supposedly we have a western brand of education and the classes are to be taught in English.  (There exist many different Englishes in the world.)

Therefore, some of our dear Kazakh students who are learning their own Kazakh language along with knowing Russian need to know English as well.  Add to that their needing to be competent in using the computer to access information besides the computer games they love to play.  I see at least three problems and I know of many more which should to be eradicated from our university.

First, we have a few liberal, left wing liberals from the West who are promulgating their anti-God, anti-religion, pluralism, multiculturalism, diversity dogma to the Kazakh people who have had enough of the tripe handed to them.  They are eager to re-discover their roots before the tsarist government of Russia came to Central Asia (although they helped them from being annihilated by another foe).  After that was the Soviet propaganda of collectivization that destroyed Kazakh families.  So, there may be good reason to be skeptical of the West’s brand of education.

Second, you have Muslims from third world nations who speak a different kind of “English” teaching in subjects that are difficult enough for our dear students.  But it is not the Kazakh students fault for not understanding them.  Sometimes we as native speakers of English can’t understand these professors either!!!

Third, we may have especially in the MInistry of Education in Astana and other Kazakh university people who are really just former Soviet, communist leaders.  They love to accept bribes where plagiarism and cheating is rife.  These practices go on in all other universities in the country of Kazakhstan. However, our university maintains it is free of all that so that we can assess what our students REALLY know.  Our university’s motto is “Education to Change Society” really wants to end “the ways of the world.”  Some graduates of our university feel defeated when they go out and find the rest of their country isn’t changing. 

We have Kazakh students who are starving for better education in their country but we still have an “elephant in the room” that needs to be removed.  Reminds me of the quote about the starving Kazakhs from “The Silent Steppe” where on p. 189 Mukhamet Shayakhmetov wrote:

When you look at archival documents relating to those tragic years, you can see how much public money was spent not only on industry, but also on endless conferences attended by thousands upon thousands of people all over the Soviet Union.  The funds squandered on these alone would have been sufficient to save many lives.  Tragically, however, our leaders were more concerned about receiving accolades from Party delegates than they were about the deaths of working people.


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A. Solzhenitszyn in the City of Apostils

“One person speaking the truth has more power than a whole city living in falsehood.”    Aleksandr Solzhenitszyn


I am currently living and teaching in the City of Apples or Almaty, Kazakhstan.  Just yesterday I received a rather opaque e-mail where about 20 of us at our “institution of higher learning” need to do some extra paperwork which involves an “apostil.” Many of us wondered, “What is an apostil?”  Not to be confused with apostles or apples, of course.  This e-mail was the second of its kind within a week that I have received which is full of blathering legalese.  Supposedly our university touts itself as being unique and having a “high level of openness and transparency.”  I would agree with Aristotle when he argued that “the only way one can discover the true character of a regime is to analyze in depth the characteristics of its leadership…”



Reading through the first message, with the help of a friend who has a law degree, I found that the author of the e-mail was making fallacious claims about certain laws concerning the misuse or abuse of our use of electronic research databases.  This person was using a bullying tactic by interpreting the law which had nothing to do with my pedagogy whatsoever.  I have the backing of several in our academic community who understand the use of electronic databases the same way I do.


Unfortunately, there are those who are suspicious of the Information or Computer Literacy that has taken over in the West.  No more can you apply for different grants or answer the distant “call for papers” without doing it electronically.  Gone are the days of mailing in your application through the regular postal service, our globalized world is getting smaller thanks to the Internet.


So, where is our leadership in protecting foreign faculty who come to the land of apples and apostils?  According to Kazakhstan’s President N.A. Nazarbayev in reference to our university, “Everything here is done to the highest standards, there’s no need to go abroad to study.”   Therefore, we as foreign faculty are making it more affordable to have Kazakhstani students study at our institution rather than have them go abroad to the West and find out that the standard in writing and computer literacy are far higher than earlier suspected.


Lately I’ve been reading a very riveting book titled “The Silent Steppe: A Story of a Kazakh Nomad under Stalin.”  Mukhamet Shayakhmetov, is a man in his eighties whom I highly respect as an educator, caring deeply about his country of Kazakhstan.  He wrote the following on page p. 146 “Writing these words now, so many years later, I find myself thinking long and hard about the past.  For years our ancestors lived under a tribal system where relationships were based on mutual help: they were convinced of the enduring worth of their centuries-old principles, and perhaps as a consequence used to regard any innovation with suspicion, fear and even disapproval.  They were conservative by nature and clung to what was familiar: why else, in 1932, when the population of Kazakhstan was in the grip of a terrible famine, did our two families of fugitives head for a starving aul – where a year before they had been robbed, prosecuted and deported – instead of staying in Ridder, where they were getting limited but at least regular food rations?”


What would Solzhenitszyn say NOW about Kazakhstan if he were to ever return to this land?  What would he write about our university which requires “apostiled” documentation of their foreign faculty?  Just curious.




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“Desperate for Relevant Journal Articles!”

My Minnesota friend Erik came to talk to about 25 of the English teachers and some of the librarians yesterday.  He focused his talk about his own research concerning Kazakh proverbs while living in Kazakhstan since 1995 and more recently he has been writing his doctoral dissertation.  Thus, the title of Erik’s talk showed the limited material found in Kazakhstan and his attempt to find credible, scholarly articles having to do with Kazakh proverbs.

Erik first showed the importance of having a good bibliography by giving examples and reasons.  First of all, the last page of ANY research paper shows you have done your homework with good keyword searches.  Second, a bibliography helps you and others with future research if tracking on a similar topic.  Finally, it provides opportunities for networking with like-minded individuals.  Erik gave an example of seeing someone’s name (Gibbs) pop up over and over again in several journal articles that were of interest to him.  In several cases, Erik has gone directly to different scholars’ websites and contacted him or her to get more information from them.  In a community of true scholars, it is part of “good faith” to share material with fellow researchers.

Amanat” is entrusted to Kazakh researchers in the social sciences which was mentioned by Erik.  These fortunate few are endowed with the high responsibility to show their background work in research and their bibliographies.  Those given the “Amanat” title are obligated to show the history of their reasoning in order to provide a legacy for future Kazakh researchers.  Otherwise, if a sufficient or accurate bibliography is NOT shown, others are forced to “reinvent the wheel” in the future.  Erik emphasized that if bibliographies are properly shown, then future researchers who build their papers don’t have to reinvent some of the same sources but rather expand on what has already been established.

Erik used an appropriate quote which comes from a 1676 letter written by Sir Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants.”  Newton essentially was successful because of the prior work done by those scholars who had gone before him because they had documented it for him to check out.  So too in Kazakhstan, articles published about this land can expand and grow if the body of literature is enlarged by other Kazakh scholars helping each other with information gathering.

Erik also said that baseline level information searches can happen with a simple Google search or even with Google Scholar.  Also, other discipline specific search engines may help but it is easy to get lost in the forest of all the information that shows up in Internet dictionaries and encyclopedias.  Besides that, it is not considered legitimate work that has been fact checked.  Whatever is on the Internet could be here today but gone tomorrow.  Usually it is not credible and also not reliable.  Good, honest research demands those two elements if it is to stand up to the test of time.  Erik further explained that is why academic, peer reviewed scholarly journals give you the particular trees you are looking for rather than getting lost and wandering around in the forest. 

Erik had illuminating examples on the screen from EBSCOhost even though he has been very familiar with the same keyword search techniques by using J-Stor this last year.  He introduced what Boolean searches were with simply using AND (essentially done for you with an “Advanced Search”) He showed a Vinn diagram with “proverbs” in one circle intersecting with another circle with “animals.” What showed in the middle section is the refinement of information you want to get to.  Erik claims to have saved about $3,000 by not having to pay for journal articles but by using J-Stor’s electronic, journal articles.  Erik also explained the need for various limiters and keywords such as when he just typed in the word “proverbs” he got 2,665 articles.  However, when he typed in “Proverbs” AND “meaning” or when he typed “Proverbs” AND “intergenerational,” he got far fewer articles but more specific to his chosen topic.

I hope the teachers appreciated Erik’s helpful tips on keyword searches with electronic databases but I was most impressed with the Kazakh folktale book he and his wife authored which he gave to each person who attended this “Teacher-Researcher Workshop.”  He emphasized that it did NOT have a bibliography at the back because it was not considered a scholarly book but a record of folktales which is considered public domain.

The challenge remains for each English teacher who teaches writing to their Kazakhstani students, they must teach their students how to search wisely, document with their working bibliography, read the articles, and finally write their paper in the required format of APA style.  Much to learn about the PROCESS of writing but I think our students are up to the task, they have been given the charge by President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan to work diligently and study hard.  To my mind, that means to write about Kazakhstan despite the dearth of information about this country simply by using the plethora of journal articles that are already written and housed in the electronic databases.  Eventually, Kazakh students will not be as desperate as Erik had been before he started using electronic databases of necessity to find relevant journal articles.

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