Bishkek: Three month update on life as a Fulbright ETA in Kyrgyzstan

As you can see, I’ve been doing a great job updating this blog every two weeks like I told myself I would before I left — two weeks = three months in Kyrgyzstan apparently.  I can’t believe I’ve already been living here for almost three months, this year is going by far too quickly but it has been incredible.  Now that I’ve settled down into a regular schedule and winter is setting in I hope to actually force myself to sit down and write since I won’t be exploring the city as much on my days off (Holy run-on-sentence Batman!).  This post may be a bit disjointed because it’s covering a few months of activities, but I’ll elaborate on some of the more interesting things in later posts.

Ala-Too Square in Bishkek

Now, let’s do a recap of what has happened during the last three months.  I flew from Chicago to Beijing to visit a friend for a few days, then went to Astana to reunite with some more friends from my time living in Kazakhstan before flying to Bishkek.  After I arrived, I moved right in to my apartment in the city center, had a day to unpack and buy a few necessities.  My first full day in the country was Independence Day in Kyrgyzstan, so I made my way to the square and ended up standing right behind the Kyrgyz president and his entourage, which was a bit of a shock when I realized it was him.  There were many song and dance performances going on, and of course a speech from the president.  I attended with the other two Fulbright ETAs and one other friend for the festivities and to plan for our trip to the other side of the country for the World Nomad Games in Cholpon-Ata.  This event will have at least one blog post of it’s own, but suffice it to say I am extremely glad that I chose to come to Kyrgyzstan early for the event because it was an incredible way to start the year.

Kyrgyz president on Independence Day
Dancers in Ala-Too Square for Independence Day
Independence Day Fireworks over the square

After the World Nomad Games came Fulbright orientation at the US Embassy.  This was my first experience visiting a US embassy in my five years of travel, and it was certainly a unique experience.  It was nice to hear about the programming that the US government supports here in Kyrgyzstan, especially relating to tourism and education.  After our orientation we also were invited to a welcome reception at the acting ambassador’s house, which is something I never would have dreamed of happening in my lifetime.  

Kyrchyn Jailoo at the World Nomad Games

Once finished with the two days of orientation meetings, I finally began working the following week as an English teacher at the International University of Central Asia in Tokmok.  This city is about an hour and a half drive from Bishkek with traffic, and I ride in a shuttle bus with other faculty to and from the university on my workdays.  The shuttle ride provides a nice opportunity to meet my coworkers and have forced listening immersion in Russian.  This semester I am teaching speaking-focused courses to first and third year students in the linguistics department.  My students are (usually) quite motivated and active in classes, and some of my first-year students have even came to Bishkek one weekend for extra English speaking practice.  I only go to the university twice a week, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and spend the entire day at the school.  I get picked up at my apartment in Bishkek around 7:30 AM and get home between 6-8:30 PM depending on the day.

“My Bishkek”

My average weekly schedule outside of work tends to make up for the excessive days off.  I have Russian and Kyrgyz lessons twice a week, though I should frankly put even more time and effort into it because I’ve been improving less than I had hoped.  I also volunteer with the American Corners in Bishkek and nearby Kant.  These are US Embassy sponsored places in libraries around the world that provide free access to all sorts of English language materials, games, talking clubs, lessons, and so much more.  In Bishkek they even have a technology lab with 3D printers and robots to get kids interested in science and technology, which I think is incredible.  Here in Bishkek I volunteer with a college preparatory program for high school students interested in going to the US for university, and in Kant I run a talking club once a week with a fellow Fulbright ETA for mostly schoolchildren, with a few adults who come by to practice as well.

Sunset in Ala-Too Square
Art Market in Oak Park

At least once every other week I make my way to Osh Bazaar to buy fresh fruits and vegetables and practice languages with the vendors (usually Kyrgyz), a few of which now recognize me and we have nice conversations whenever I stop by.  I’ve also been hosting Couchsurfers pretty regularly on the weekend, whether offering the spare bedroom in my apartment, showing them around the city, or meeting up at cafes to chat.  I’ve met so many amazing people hosting that I look forward to continuing long after I leave Bishkek. 

Osh Bazaar
Vendors in Osh Bazaar

On weekends (at least before it started snowing) I also go hiking with the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan to some of the gorges outside of Bishkek, which I’ll also be writing about with more photos that I can fit here.  So far I have gone to a glacial lake called Kol Tor, camping in the valley below said lake, and an incredible canyon in Krasnyy Most.  Later in the winter I’ll probably join one of their winter sports trips to learn how to ski or snowboard at one of the many nearby resorts.  I also took a weekend trip to the city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan, but again, I’ll save that for a later post.  

Hiking to Kol Tor with the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan

That’s all for now; I hope to be caught up with the rest of my posts before Christmas break, when I have a fantastic trip set up that I know I will want to write about as soon as I get back, so if you don’t see a new post by next week bother me until it happens! 

Lenin wants you to visit Bishkek!