Posts tagged Ramstor

Seventeen Questions about Astana from a Well-Seasoned Westerner

I’ve been very distracted by events in our neighboring country, my former home in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I have friends there who are reporting they are okay, waiting on one other couple to give me a thumbs up.  Sorry, I have no photos, pictures, poems or pithy sayings for today’s blog. I almost didn’t get it done today, so much else to do.  I did answer 17 questions from someone who has applied to our new university.  This person has lived in many different countries so he knows the right questions to ask.  I’ll give you all the questions but will be very discrete with the answers I gave him.  On top of writing about what is going on in northern Kazakhstan I’m thinking about what is happening south of us, it still feels too close for comfort.

1.  Do they hire teachers who are married, or do they prefer only single teachers?

3.  Is there a British high school for the children of expatriate workers such as us?

4.  How is the housing for a family of three?  Do you live in a compound, or are you assigned rentals?

5.  Is there high-speed WiFi Internet connection at the University, and can you access it in your apartment?
The common Internet connection is Megaline, which we used in Almaty but there are some other providers as well such as KazTelecom.  We have to pay on our own for the Internet at our flat.

6.  How do you get around? bus, train, taxi, hired driver, or do you have to buy a vehicle?
We get around the city of Astana by either “gypsy” cab or by bus.  A car is easy enough to flag down and if you negotiate with the driver before you enter the car, the standard fare starts at 200 tenge but to cross town could be as much as 500 tenge.  One bus that goes from the airport (close to the campus) and all the way to the train station is Bus #10.  It is 60 tenge to take a bus but a micro bus is 65 tenge.  When the weather is warmer, I think it would be easy enough to walk around or to use a bike. My husband often comments that he would like to buy a car like he used to drive when we were both in Almaty in 1993-1995.

7.  Is the salary paid in British pounds, Euro, or Kazakstan currency?

8.  How expensive is fresh fruit, vegetables, canned foods, milk, etc.? We buy our groceries either at Ramstor (Turkish run) or at Kerun (sp) shopping center.  The Gros store just went out of business which is close to the Baiterek monument.  Food can be a bit more pricey but you pay for quality at these food stores that have the modern check out system.  The best place to get ground beef is at Ramstor.  In Almaty we would go to the Green Bazaar to buy in bulk but I’ve only been to the bazaar once in Astana since I arrived two and half months ago. There are also little mini-markets to buy a quick loaf of bread or milk, kind of like a 7-11 store.  I am sorry I don’t pay much attention to food prices, my husband does most of the shopping.

9.  How are the physical facilities where you teach?

10. How is the technology? At the western university in Almaty where I taught, it proved that we
could not use YouTube on campus but of course you could at home yet it was slow.  It would chunk up and you would get the clips in segments with long pauses in between.  The restrictions on Internet were
imposed by the university in Almaty otherwise the students would be downloading music and videos slowing down the campus wide connection for everyone, so those were the only restrictions I encountered.  We had full use of Ebscohost on campus and from home, we also had subscribed at our library ProQuest, SAGE, J-Stor etc.  I would think that our British university will have all those electronic databases and more.  That should not be a problem as China experiences with their censorship.  I’ve not followed very well the latest tussle with Google and China, sorry.

11. How would you characterize the local Muslim population’s support of terrorism?

The Kazakh people are nominally Muslim and I had a conversation several years ago with a Kazakh man using my bad Russian and his equally poor English but we were able to communicate about the ongoing
war in Iraq.  Some Kazakhs see this as something to side with their Muslim brothers on but for the most part they do NOT support terrorism, the Kazakhs are a peaceable kind of people.  With the current events going on in Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz people have been pushed to the limit and have not had the success as Kazakhstan has had to improve their lot since the fall of the former Soviet Union.  What you might read in the news about the events in Bishkek has been a slow burn from over 10-15 years of corrupt government.  The Kyrgyz people are smart enough to know there is a better life besides what they are enduring but they would not align themselves with Muslim terrorists, they are just wanting to survive in a true democracy.

12.  How do you like your students?  Are they teachable, how prepared are they when they enter your classroom? I LOVED my Kazakh students, they are very teachable and malleable…Through no fault of their own, many of the Kazakh students are not ready to enter the classroom as if it were a western classroom in either the U.S. or U.K. because there has not been support to adequately train the Kazakh teachers. Besides, the Ministry of Education has mandated that all learning must be tri-lingual (Russian, Kazakh and English) Those that are prepared to learn are students who are curious and are good with computers, they have learned by doing.  They know more than their teachers in some cases so the digital divide is ever widening in Kazakhstan.

13.  Training:  The job description said there would be a training period in London prior to departure, any information on that?

14.  Curriculum: How is this set up and are the teacher procedures, sequences, strategies dictated, or is there some teacher choice?

15.  What kind of family activities are there when you are not working?  Or on the weekends? I know someone who cross-country skied everyday (even when it was very cold).  I think there are some health clubs (but they are quite expensive).  I know that there are things to explore like the National library and its
archives. Or for a family event go to ALZHIR museum that is about 15 kms outside of Astana, there is about a 2 hour drive away Karaganda and Dolinka and the KARLAG to explore if you are into finding out more
about the penal history of the former Soviet Union.

It really is what YOU make it because this is such a new city there is not as much going on here than at Almaty, the cultural center. However, there are concerts and other Kazakh cultural events at the
Pyramid.  Also, sporting events to attend like hockey games and figure skating.  But you would have to be the one to initiate finding out about it.  I have joined the Astana International Women’s club and it
has frequent updates on what is happening in the city.

16.  What does it cost to fly from the U.S. or from London to Astana? I just came back from the international TESOL conference in Boston and it was about $1,600 for a round trip with Lufthansa from Astana to Frankfurt to Boston.  When living in Almaty we were used to taking the KLM connection to Amsterdam and then to Minneapolis.  Again, non-peak it is usually around $1,500 but during peak season in the summer it can be as much as $2,000 for RT.  You want to avoid flying through Moscow, Russia.  Stick with KLM or Lufthansa, is my recommendation.

17.  Do you have to pay for re-entry visas/permits when you take off in the Summer, or do most of the teachers stay in Astana?
I think most teachers want to go home for the summer, be it the U.K. or U.S. just to be with family again.  However, the temps in Astana will have vastly improved in the summer time and there are places to
explore here in Kazakhstan if you want to find out more about this great country.  Astana and Almaty are NOT Kazakhstan and there is much to discover of its beauty and history in the other cities.
If you were to get the job at our university, it costs $200 one year, multiple entry visa and I believe there would be support to pay for that for your family members as well.

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Philosophizing about Mini-Dramas and Breakthroughs at Ramstor’s Skating Rink

Last night after a long, hard week of teaching, my husband and I decided to meet up at Ramstor. While waiting for his arrival, I had a chance to observe dramas in the making between parents and skaters or later with trainers and their little ducklings to be eventually transformed into graceful swans.  Combinations of novice skaters and experienced skaters of all ages abounded on the ice, each with their own dramatic story of  breakthroughs. (read to end to find out my philosophy on skating and writing)


First, the two tall, slender females, I’ll call Wobblies, were dressed inappropriately for skating.  The Wobblies were not bounding about but hesitantly navigating the rink in fits and starts.  One long haired blonde girl had tight hip huggers with a pronounced rhinestone belt.  Maybe the worst to see wasn’t her “get up” but the way her skates were loosely tied.  She looked very precarious merely because of her height and the distance she would fall down at any given moment.  I was afraid her pants would split in the process and she would lose any grandiose idea of dignity in this skating process.  Her companion dressed more sensibly but both should have considered workout clothes befitting for fast falls to the hard ice.  They had young male trainers help them around the ice but at first I thought they were dates to the young men who actually DID know how to skate.


Once the two ,young female Wobblies time was up, which probably wasn’t soon enough to their liking, they promenaded around the food court area in their street clothes, dignity restored and looking a lot more comfortable.  TIME for the little squirts to be on the ice ranging in ages from 5 to 9 years old.  One little Kazakh girl in a black and red leotard was being scolded presumably by her mother who was on the other side of the partition.  Their faces were 3 inches from each other and the little girl was wiping away tears.  Whatever her infraction, she got over it once her fellow skaters came and she was whirling around with the best of them.  She was all of 7-8 years old and was missing a front top tooth.  That was the first melodrama I witnessed, let’s call her Tearful I.


Next on the ice was a very mature skater who whipped around confidently with great speed.  This man is one whom I have seen before many times at the rink and is perhaps a former Olympic skater, at least I like to think this late 50s male figure skater with graying hair once was.  Mr. Olympic skater has an infinite amount of patience with his young charges and they seem to adore him.  Simultaneous to his presence and those of his little ones, Tearful II made her appearance on the rink.  She was trying to do her spin and jump and was crashing to the ice or never completing a graceful landing to her satisfaction.  Tearful II was mad at herself and everyone else around her.


Tearful II put on a frown whenever other novice skaters got in her way.  Meanwhile she was under the ever watchful eyes of Mr. Olympic skater.  I saw her bad attitude worsen with each failure and then an older woman, maybe her grandmother with coke bottle glasses, was giving her a talking to from the spectator section of the rink.  Unbelievably, Tearful II kept rehearsing and not getting it right until she miraculously got one spin, jump and turn out right. This breakthrough must have been her tenth try, I could see she was keeping track by counting it out on her fingers. 


Finally, Tearful II showed what might have been mistaken for a smile after her innumerable times she would cry or pout to the side.  If she wasn’t getting instruction from Mr. Olympic Skater, she would continue to give herself a stiff talking to.  In any case, Tearful II was about 11 or 12 years old and maybe trying to prepare for an upcoming competition.  I thought she was a bit high strung and prima donna-like but that is probably what continued to compel her into the air and down again.  I was encouraged by Tearful II’s inner drive to succeed.


Making a short appearance on the ice was a woman trainer with a harness around the chest of another little girl about the same age as Tearful II who was practicing her jump, spin and landing. No doubt she was Tearful II’s future nemesis in figure skating competitions. The spinning duo must have practiced that tricky move about five times before it became too congested with so many younger skaters getting under skated foot.   By this time, there were probably about 15-20 skaters on the ice which maxes this particular small rink out at the size of about 60-70 feet long and about 50 feet wide.


Another cute little girl who had my undivided attention was probably about 3-4 years old.  She had a little purple dress on with white leotards underneath.   I marveled that “Cute-T’s” mother on the sidelines had probably watched this little blondie with the pony tail take her first baby steps just two years earlier.  I say, start them young because if you don’t, they turn into the Wobblie sisters and then it seems a lost cause. At one point, Cute-T took a terrible spill while she was with her lanky and young male trainer.  She produced copious tears and he quickly scooped her up and skated her over to Mama.  About five minutes later Cute-T came skating by me again, concentrating hard on staying aright.  She looked all mopped up from her earlier tragedy and obeying her trainer to keep her arms out straight, looking like a Cute, little T.


Sitting next to us was another mother reading a thick classic book in Russian, her darling daughter would spin by and talk to her periodically.  Every now and then this mother would peek up from her novel and watch her daughter practice her figure skating moves.  Parents are responsible for bringing each of these little skaters and paying the trainers and instructors for helping them learn more refined, figure skating moves.  One little boy stole my heart with his cautious moves on the ice in his figure skates, not much older than Cute T. Many more girls than boys aspire to be skating champs or it may be that there is another skating rink solely dedicated to the future male hockey players of Kazakhstan.


Waxing philosophical, I thought of my writing students as being similar to these young skaters.  My students have parents who are indirectly paying me, as their instructor, to teach their children to know how to write academic essays in English.  Many of them look like the Wobblie sisters because they have not had early training about the importance of writing.  Others may be very frustrated with what is expected of them with our convoluted assignments (in attempts to avoid plagiarism) and are acting like Tearful II as they struggle to get their papers done just right.  Hopefully there are other writers in my classroom who have Cute-T’s early education on how to write.  My Kazakh students all have had to start somewhere as do these skaters. 


My guess is also that these trainers and instructors don’t get paid much while they try to encourage budding talent.  However, they probably have as much heart about wanting all of their charges to succeed as I do with my writing students.  Teaching future skaters and writers in English is not a lucrative business.  But it is the joy to see breakthroughs which is our final reward.  I am just now beginning to be paid in “breakthroughs.”

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