Posts tagged Philippines

Kazakhstan’s Cultural “Kuwans”

I lived in the Philippines a long, long time ago (1981-83). After living in so many countries, there are words you wished you could use to be understood by other Americans.  “Kuwan” is one of those words that lingers in my lexicon and is sorely underused.  For anyone who has spent any length of time in the Philippines, you will know that “kuwan” is a good catch-all term for anything that you don’t have a name for.  I am not writing about human trafficking today as I have this past year but solely on Kazakhstan’s cultural “kuwans.”

An American friend of ours from California who we know from Astana, Kazakhstan recently wrote the following about what she observed as “interesting.”  Yes, I was taken back on memory lane to some of these same things that I experienced while living in Kazakhstan.

On April 28, it was Whitewash Saturday.  Everyone in a school or business, home or apartment is required to clean the outside of their place, wash windows, whitewash the curbs, the bottom 3 ft. of the trees, and anything else that might look dirty.  It is amazing, the whole city is at work whether you are a student, professor, business owner, employee or resident.

Supposedly wind in the air, fans or open windows causes you to get sick.  It is really “fun” to ride in a taxi or a crowded bus with all the windows shut in mid summer!

A cold drink gives you a sore throat the next day.  No ice cubes here! [probably just as well because you don’t know what was in the water before it was frozen]

Sitting on cement makes you sterile. This is for women only!

You never hand people money but lay it on the table otherwise your money will be gone the next day.  Also, your purse should never touch the floor for the same reason.

Recently a man died in his sleep in our apartment building.  The stream of visitors was a tribute to this man’s life.  On the second day his body was brought back to the house for everyone to say good bye.  The following morning a funeral was conducted in our parking lot where his body could be viewed by men only–women not allowed.  It seems that in Muslim custom, the dead man is at peace.  Crying women would only disturb him thus they are never allowed to view or bury him.  Only a day later are they allowed to visit his grave.

Did I tell you milk and juices come in boxes?  That sugar, flour and eggs come in clear plastic bags?  Eggs are sold by the 10 not a dozen.  Fruit, with many blemishes, is preferred for it is proof of being natural, more healthy and tasty.  A loaf of bread is about 35 cents, no preservatives and spoils within a day or so–but really delicious.

I was amazed once again to watch packages being prepared for mailing.  First, things are packed in a box and it is sealed with tape.  Then a burlap bag is put over the package and the end is sewed together by hand and then globs of black wax seal the thread.  Following this, they use a black marker to write the addresses, etc on the burlap.  A small package, wrapped in brown paper and sealed with wide postal tape was again wrapped in brown paper and sealed with tape  and a string tied around it.  Is this overkill?  You can imagine how long all of this takes and the lines waiting for help. One postal worker does it all.

I’ve never seen an envelope here in Kazakhstan.  Cards are sold or presented without one and bills [for utilities] are a folded piece of paper either left in the hall for each to find or stuck in your door.  Mail is not delivered and only a small boot sized box in the post office holds incoming mail.

I was so surprised to find a package of about 10 envelopes for 50 tenge–about 35 cents.  I needed some so I went to buy the package and found out they are 35 cents each!  A rare and expensive find I think.

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Who is following this blog…and why?

WordPress has done an amazing thing by sending out an annual report to their bloggers of some of their personal statistics for 2011.  What is interesting can be somewhat unsettling as well.  Who is really following my blog and WHY?  Since I returned home to the U.S. after 3 1/2 years of writing every day on this blog about Kazakhstan, I blogged sporadically so thus I only had 164 new posts for 2011. (I’ve dedicated this blog now to mostly human trafficking issues) In total I have written 1,334 new posts since the fall of 2007.  My busiest day was May 19th with 349 hits, a record high for me for this year.  Otherwise, I have been straddling around 100 or 150 on average for most of this year of 2011.

Here’s what I find troubling, the top key word searches were “Kazakhstan girls” or “Kazakh girls.”  That happened several years ago when I had innocently titled a blog “Little Girl in Pink.” LOTS of hits on that one blog entry where I finally took the photo of the young Kazakh girl down.  I believe there are some strange viewers out there who have wrong motives for wanting to see these girls. Maybe these viewers move on to other sites that show lewd pictures of girls and I mean young girls. Apparently trafficked girls in the U.S. get started as young as 13 years old on average. According to Steve Graham from Australia (CEO of ACT) there are 1.2 million children trafficked every year throughout the world.

Here’s the breakdown of who is following this blog and from different continents.  Europe actually includes Kazakhstan in its statistics which I find amusing:

Europe: 17% United Kingdom, 13% Kazakhstan, 8% Turkey, 7% Germany, 6% Poland

North America: 90% U.S. 9% Canada (I know who my Canadian follower is) The others from the U.S. I’m not sure who they are but hopefully friends and family

Africa: Ghana 23% (I know who that American follower is), Morocco 17%, South Africa 14%, Egypt 13% and Algeria 6%

South America: Brazil 46%, Argentina 18% (other countries but too fragmented to mention)

Oceania: Australia 81%, New Zealand 15%

Asia: Philippines 24%, India 15%, United Arab Emirates 8%, Malaysia 7%, Pakistan 4%

Asia has me most confounded, why isn’t China included in these statistics?  Is it because the Chinese are not allowed to have WordPress or even have any blogging?  I would expect North Korea to not have a showing but why not Korea? My biggest WHY is how come the Philippines so high? They have a very literate population in English, as does India.  I can understand why Australia is so high, I just have a new follower (mentioned above) who heads up ACT (Against Child Trafficking). I also have friends I have met over the years from Australia and New Zealand.

To me this was interesting to speculate on and tomorrow I will write more about Stella’s Voice.  It is something that I hope would start up in Kazakhstan. Children who are released out of Kazakh orphanages because they are “grown up” at the tender age of 16 or 18, I can’t remember which, are to fend for themselves. Traffickers know how to pick them off very easily because they are so vulnerable. What I read about the situation in Moldova was horrifying.

(to be continued)

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“Why We Teach Overseas” (Part II)

Yesterday I started a short series of why my husband and I live in Astana, Kazakhstan. My first reason is we have both learned to become flexible with the Kazakh culture.  We met each other in Almaty, Kazakhstan back in May of 1993, my second day in country. Fortunately, I had learned about this strange land from my former pastor, John Piper.  I think I first heard that it existed as a country from Dr. Piper in the mid 1980s when it was still under Soviet Union rule. I had just returned from doing my two year Peace Corps stint in the Philippines. Below I have listed several other reasons why my teaching experience and skills gained in the former Soviet Union of 12 years duration (seven years in Kyiv, Ukraine) plus the five years collectively in Central Asia keeps us challenged.

1. I care about the country and reputation of Kazakhstan. I believe the Kazakh people have been maligned and misunderstood by many people, westerners and Asians alike.  Yet Kazakhstan has a rich and deep history that should be known by the rest of the world. The Kazakhs should be taken seriously as a viable country. I want to help meet the Kazakhs’ goal of being one of the top 50 developed countries by the year 2030. Slogans, billboards and adverts in Kazakh and Russian are everywhere to remind the Kazakhs of their duty to get a good education and thus to perform better to help develop their country.

When I taught in Harbin, China back in 1986-1988, the Chinese students I worked with had a mantra “I will study hard for the Motherland.”  Work hard they did! I saw with my own eyes the success of the determined and industrious Chinese people when I re-visited Beijing and Tianjin, China in 2000 and again in 2001.  Materially, the Chinese have come from behind in these last 25 years due to their strong efforts to catch up with the modernized world.  I believe that the Kazakh people are capable of the same kind of achievement.

2. I enjoy teaching the Kazakh students. Despite the fact that many of these young students do not know any better, unfortunately they DO cheat and plagiarize. That is a problem everywhere, the U.S. included.  What is most baffling is that sometimes these same Kazakh students who cheat or steal others’ words boast about it.  Some spend more time being “clever” in knowing how to pull one over on the teacher than if they would simply read the textbook or do their own assignments. These same students have been taught under Kazakh or Kazakhstani teachers who have turned a blind eye to this behavior because they have not known anything different having been trained under the former Soviet system.

Many of the Kazakh teachers I taught with at the university in Almaty admitted that a careworn, Soviet saying “Initiative was punitive” was true and that being creative was verboten.  Better to keep within the box and only write what was considered standard party line rather than risk the withering displeasure of Moscow where the Ministry of Education had very set parameters by which to teach.

I believe new standards against cheating and plagiarism needs to be adhered to in order to eradicate this problem.  The hard working Kazakh students would love to see their work receive the merit it deserves while the slackers, who want to get by not doing the work, would be punished instead.

I know the new university in Astana that just opened wants to set high standards of learning for the development of their country, they hope to train doctors or surgeons to know how to use cutting edge medical technology correctly. This new university needs knowledgeable technicians or engineers in the oil business who do not fudge on the facts, who can make judgments according to their expertise, not according to fulfilling a five-year plan.  The new university wants to train the young Kazakhs to take over the jobs that highly trained physicists; geologists and chemists from western countries are doing now.  That means they need rigid, high standards that start in the university classroom where grades are not changed just because a young student has a father who can buy the grade to help his child graduate.

3. I have had the good fortune of teaching some very hard working Kazakh and Kazakhstani students in Almaty. I saw good results from my students when they clearly knew what the required assignment was.  They needed examples from me and they also worked well in groups.  The Kazakh students are curious and open to new ideas, they are much more malleable than a few of their older teachers who were considered “refuseniks” when it came to computers.  But that is true also in the U.S. where older teachers are afraid and refuse to learn the latest technology. The Kazakh students know all about the computer and in many cases know more than their teachers.

I had no problem turning over the classroom computer so that a willing student with computer know-how could get a DVD or CD to play correctly. All for the sake of completing the lesson I had planned for that class period.  Often they knew how to fix the problem before I would send a student off to find a computer techie to help solve it.

I found the Kazakh students are much more demure and compliant than my Ukrainian students.  The Kazakh students are much more talkative and expressive than my Chinese students. Teaching in Kazakhstan, I have enjoyed the best of both worlds with teaching a student-centered approach while having students who have been taught under a teacher-centered academic environment. I have learned to teach in both styles but have used that to my advantage.

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Visualize “Whirled Peas” Continues in Astana

Happy May 17th to Norway, this is their proud day of remembering their independence as a country.  I celebrated with my Norwegian relatives Stavanger in May of 1983 when I had just returned from my two year Peace Corps stint in the Philippines.  Difficult to go from third world experience to Norway’s first world. We were treated to so many nice meals and too much food (lefse – like bilini and gjetost – goat cheese) by our Norwegian hosts.  My dear grandma Dagny had so many Norwegian relatives she had kept up with from her childhood days, we had a rigorous schedule to keep to.  However, one day in this blurring whirlwind of activities, I just had to take a break from it all.  My head was in a spin about how one country had so much (Norway) while the Philippines had so little.

Yesterday I discussed with some friends the difference between cold cultures and warm cultures.  Norway by necessity has to produce and store food (think lutefisk – cod in lye) being in the northern climes while in the Philippines, closer to the equator, the Filipinos can pull off bananas and coconuts from trees year round.  Thus, efficiency and function is more important in cold cultures whereas in warm cultures, relations are the most important.  I’m living in a warm culture in Kazakhstan where relationship is most important even though winter in Astana can be bitterly cold. Go figure!!!

Some people may not have gotten the connection between Buddy Bears and their promotion of world peace with my title on yesterday’s blog of “whirled peas.”  At risk of being redundant but since I’m not feeling too creative today, I’ll continue to visualize world peace with more photos of the Buddy Bears.  I actually took more photos today, such an amazing display of color.

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Question about Ukraine, My “Short” Answer

The following is a question I got through someone who knows my aunt in North Carolina. He will be a Peace Corps volunteer soon in Ukraine, another land I lost my heart in.

I understand that you were a Peace Corps volunteer and lived in Ukraine.  I am getting ready to leave on March 29th for my training in Kiev to hopefully become a Youth Development volunteer.  So I just wanted to see what you did as a volunteer and if there were any pieces of general advice you had for me.  I am sure you can go on for awhile so certainly don’t feel like you have to write a lot!

The following is my “short answer:”

Actually I did my Peace Corps stint many years ago in the Philippines and NOT in Ukraine.  I was a PCV in 1981-83 and then learned to love Asia enough to teach in northeastern China from 1986-88.  Then I got my MA in TESOL at U of Minnesota in 1990 and was awarded a Fulbright grant to Kyrgyzstan in 1993-1995 to teach English at the start of the university that is now known as AUCA in Bishkek.  Then I got married in December of 1994 to a USDA guy I met in church in Almaty, Kazakhstan summer of 1993. We ended up in Alexandria, VA because of his job in Wash. D.C. for three years before we both were awarded Fulbrights in Kyiv, Ukraine in 1998-2000.  But we loved it so much in Ukraine that we stayed on another five years.  Then we ended up in Almaty, Kazakhstan in 2007 and have been in this great country ever since.

So the short answer is no, I didn’t do Peace Corps in Ukraine but I know someone who did.  He is now working with USAID in Afghanistan and he has been meaning to come up to visit us here in Astana, Kazakhstan.  He is from the same area of North Dakota that my aunt is from.

What you REALLY need to bring with you more than the metal hangers that we get from dry cleaners is flexibility and tolerating the most infuriating things about the host culture.  Like when the drivers try to mow you down at the pedestrian crosswalk or the cars drive on the sidewalk so you not only have to look left and right but also behind and ahead of you for oncoming, careless drivers.

The Ukrainians have gone through a LOT in their long history but most heartbreaking are the last 100 years.  They are deeply divided over the Russian version of their history, especially the more west you go towards Poland.  Ask them about their grandparents or their grand grandparents, ask them what they went through with the famine of 1932-33, the Holodomor. Ask about what they endured with the Great Patriotic War, some will be willing to tell you.  Other babushkas have such painful memories that they go into a deep, troubled silence.

Knowing their history, I think, helps to explain the corruption, bribes, all the other dishonest things that go on that seem normal to them but outrageous to us westerners.  Plagiarism is not frowned on at national universities, cheating is the way you succeed at university and some of the students boast about it.

So, you have to pick your battles and love the people for who they are, not what you think they should be according to what you learned in your university training or elsewhere. Mainly if you learn their language and their culture, they will love you back.  I think you will find all the material things you could ever want. The main thing to do is bring books with you because you won’t find the kind you may want to read or use as textbooks in Ukraine.

Hope that helps.

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More Work Party Photos and Soviet Pedagogy

My first exposure to Soviet pedagogy was in a somewhat unlikely place when I taught English for two years in Harbin, China from 1986-1988.  As teachers and foreign experts, we all lived in a foreign guest compound far removed from the Chinese masses with about five or six other Soviet experts. Add to the mix a few Japanese guys learning how to be chefs, a woman from Ireland, a British man and some other Americans and we had a mini-United Nations. We all had more in common than not, living in the strange but mysterious land of China.

I forget a few of the Soviet peoples’ names but I DO remember there was Nick from Latvia, Isa from Azerbaijan, Larissa from Minsk, Belarus, a quiet guy (because he didn’t know much English) from Georgia, another physicist who didn’t believe in dreams, maybe one or two others.  Every day for noon lunch, my American teammates and I would sit together in the big dining room as foreign experts and talk about different things related to China, teaching and life outside of China.  That was the first time I realized there was an undercurrent of nationalism going on with each country represented from the U.S.S.R. Each Russian speaker was very proud of his own nation before the U.S.S.R. took over only sharing in Russian and the same educational background. Of course they were all Soviet citizens and even though we were still in the middle of the Cold War, we all got along.  Joking and eating together, going to banquets, dances and fashion shows when our university dictated when and where we were supposed to go.  I have fond memories of our foreign guest quarters with the mix of cultures.

Two events alerted me to the difference in teaching methodology of the Soviets compared to what I was trained in as an American teacher.  First, some friends of mine in the compound wanted to learn ballroom dancing from Nick, the physicist from Latvia. Nick was an excellent dancer and swept us all off our feet.  However, it was reported back to me that he was an absolute tyrant and drill master when the girls took lessons from him.  Sort of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, they would say, “What’s with Nick?”  I put that together with Larissa, the Russian teacher who also got very uppity about the peculiarities of her language.  Not sure if Belarussian was her first language, if that even exists. I’m guessing it does but that never came up.  They were Soviet citizens, their lingua franca was Russian.  In any case, Larrisa would take on this same persona of joyless, drill master when we asked her about some Russian phrases.

This made me realize almost twenty-five years ago that our western system of teaching was vastly different from that of the Soviets.  Teaching in China I was reacquainted with what I already knew from working as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines about teacher-centered vs. student-centered. That’s a huge given that the Chinese approach to teaching is teacher-centered but I witnessed the Soviet system was the same, teacher-centered driven. 

What have I learned these past two years since teaching in Kazakhstan about the Soviet pedagogy? The following is what I picked up off of Johnson’s Russia List, a highly subscribed blog.  The following are paraphrased observations made by a Ukrainian, Vladimir Sirotin from the Johnson’s Russia List JRL 2009 – 219. from November 30, 2009.

The founding father of Soviet pedagogy in the Stalin and post-Stalin era was Anton Makarenko (1888-1939) a Ukrainian.  He had tried to eradicate a problem that had started in Ukraine a decade before with forced collectivization that separated families.  Many Ukrainian children lost their parents due to their refusal to comply with the dictates coming from Moscow. As a result, the parents often were either killed or sent off to Siberia.  Thus, children ran in packs like wild dogs without adult supervision and were known for crimes of theft and other misdemeanors in order to survive. Once caught, there was heavy handed discipline in orphanages and schools were a result to tame these wild urchins found in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere. 

Before Makarenko’s seven volumes on how to discipline, there existed Domostroi, (means “Domestic Order) an old Russian book, dating back over 500 years, which served as a handbook on how to run a patriarchal household.  It emphasized strict hierarchy and laying down punishments for disobedience, including corporal punishment. 

(To be continued tomorrow)

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Say “expatriot” and NOT “expat!!!” (sigh)

The other day I was reprimanded by a Russian speaking colleague about using the word “expat” incorrectly.  (*I* am an EXPAT!!!)  According to her, I should say “expatriot” instead.  I told her that I prefer saying something that I have been for almost 15 years in two syllables rather than in four.  I thanked her for helping me out in my native language of English. However, try to tell someone they should say “television” rather than t.v. or better to say “electronic mail” instead of “e-mail.” To me, to say the full extension of a commonly used term is absurd.  I have had many expat friends among American, British, Australian, Canadian and New Zealanders when I lived in Philippines, China, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and finally our most recent stint in Kazakhstan. ExPAT, EXpat, expat!!!  Check out definition of the word, it is an informal term that was started by the British but Americans have managed to make it even more slangy by using the short “a” instead of the long “a.”


The reason I was corrected was due to a meeting we had at the Language Center last week where I got up in front of about 50-60 of my teacher colleagues and gave three suggestions that I found useful in my teaching.  The first was how to conserve on the usage of paper.  I asked for a show of hands, “How many of you e-mail your students about their assignments?”  Five or six timidly raised their hands which means only 10% do, the others are traditionalists and just count on meeting up with their students during the scheduled class or during office hours. 


My second suggestion was to tell them that I was purposely raising the standards of my MBA students by having my “expat friends” come to the classroom to listen to their 7 minute speeches.  I also remarked that this is good P.R. to have the expat community aware of who our soon-to-be graduates are.  Some of these expat visitors might be future employers for our graduate students.  My third point was to have guest lecturers come to the Listening classes for the students to listen to live people rather than just taped conversations all the time.  Last semester, my students’ feedback indicated they LOVED having expat guest lecturers come to visit so they could interact with them.  I could see some teachers nodding their heads in agreement.  Again, a way of building up the reputation of our university which at this point we need some good P.R.  Er, Public Relations to be clearly understood.


Apparently my Russian speaking colleague was just giving me “constructive” feedback that the other Kazakh teachers thought they heard me say I was bringing my “expert friends” to my speech classes.  They misheard me talking about my having an “expert community.”  Hmmm…I already know many of these teachers don’t like to write (or read), now I’m wondering about their listening comprehension skills in English.  Perhaps they need to be working on the same material they dole out to their students in the overly redundant listening and notetaking classes. In some cases, I’m wondering how their speaking is during the classes, I think there may be more Russian spoken than is healthy for a “westernized” university. I also think my teaching colleagues are way too isolated in their own clique to realize that their English may not be as good as their students.  In any case, to my ears, “expat” sounds very different from expert.  But then again, my American friends ARE experts in their particular fields of expertise.


So, yesterday I blogged about an expat friend of mine Brenda.  Also, I subbed yesterday afternoon for another expat friend Nancy who went on a recruiting trip to western Kazakhstan.  Then last night I had another expat friend Julia visit my speech classes again and she brought her husband Dan this time.  I wonder what these Americans would say to someone who might try to correct them that they should call themselves “expatriots?” 


Sigh, sometimes the snarky comments among my peers wear me down, but my lovely students build me up.  THEY are the reason I am here in Kazakhstan.


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