Grad School Update

18 01 2011

As of this morning, I’ve heard back from four schools.  And I’m 4-for-4 with acceptances!  Here’s where things stand:


George Washington University ACCEPTED
Northwestern University ACCEPTED
Indiana University ACCEPTED
Vanderbilt University ACCEPTED
Harvard University
Michigan State University
University of Michigan
New York University
Columbia University
UNC Greensboro
Penn State
University of Pennsylvania
University of Tennessee
University of Maryland Program Cancelled


I haven’t made any decisions yet, because I’m still waiting to hear from my top few schools.  But things are looking super positive so far.


New Years in Kazakhstan

17 01 2011

Several of us decided that we wanted to take advantage of the holidays from school and work and give ourselves a little change of scenery.  Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and former capital, is only a few hours away by bus, so we decided to give it a go there.


It took a solid week and a half — and four trips to the Kazakh embassy —  to get my visa sorted, but fortunately I left myself plenty of time to spare, and, when December 30 rolled aroun, we hopped in a taxi to cross the border.  We were able to secure a minivan for the three of us for 2000 som (about $18 a piece).  This was a little more expensive than what we were told should be the going rate, but it was totally worth it to have an entire vehicle to ourselves.  The ride to the border took about an hour, and, with about an hour of border formalities, the total trip to Almaty took about four and a half hours.


We had organized an apartment in Almaty for three nights to crash in and to use as a base to explore the city.  We got in to Almaty in the mid-afternoon and headed out to find a market to cook dinner.  We picked up some pelmeni, cooked ’em up and waited for the rest of our group — who had to work in Bishkek on Thursday —  to arrive.  They ended up not getting in until late, so Thursday ended up being a quiet night in…which was actually quite nice.

Cold and snowy, but fairly pretty

I got up Friday morning and took off to explore Almaty.  The city has a much more European feel than Bishkek.  And it’s clearly a lot wealthier as well.  However, what it had in amenities, it kind of lacked in personality.  I appreciated the variety of stores, restaurants, markets and shops, but the city basically felt like it could be just about any other big city in the world.


The highlight of my wandering was definitely Panfilova Park and the colorful Zenkov Cathedral, which dates to the 19th century, and was built entirely of wood — down to the wooden nails.    AFter my strol through the city, I met up for lunch with Candice, a fellow Fulbrighter who’s researching in Almaty.  She invited us to her place for New Years Eve, and we spend the rest of the day wandering the city a bit more and visiting one of the massive supermarkets that sell Western goods, something that Bishkek is lacking.  I picked up some tortillas, some Texas Pete, and a few other things that I can’t find in Bishkek.

Zenkov Cathedral

Now if that isn't picturesque...

That evening, we headed over to Candice’s 12th story apartment.  We cooked up some pasta, horse sausage (that’s right, I said horse), chicken and other sundry goodies and spent the evening in good company anticipating the beginning of 2011.  The best part of the night came at midnight, when the entire city shot fireworks off of balconies, rooftops, plazas and any other open space.  The sky lit up  with fireworks all around, which went on for a solid hour.  Being on the twelfth floor, in the middle of the city, put us smack in the middle of the display — which was absolutely breathtaking.

Horse Sausage! Nom nom nom

We eventually grabbed a taxi back to our apartment and crashed for the night.  Saturday and Sunday were quiet as well, as we nursed our respective party wounds and hunkered in against the cold.  Almaty was averaging around 0 degrees F, which was significantly colder than Bishkek had been recently.  Needless to say, none of us wanted to spend a ton of time outside in the cold.


We headed back Sunday afternoon after lunch and made it back to Bishkek in the early evening, thus capping off a lovely holiday weekend.

Decorations for the upcoming Asian Winter Games, which Almaty is hosting.

Update Promise

15 01 2011

Hey y’all!


I’ve been out of town doing field work for the last week with little access to the Interwebs.  I guar-an-tee that I’ll get caught up on this here blog over the next few days.


Thanks for your patience!

Central Asian Christmas

4 01 2011

Well, it’s a new year!  Isn’t that nifty?


I’ve spent the last couple of weeks immersed in holiday joy and planning my first field research trip to the Kyrgyz countryside.  The former was awesome.  The latter is still a work in progress.  So let’s focus on the holidays!


On Christmas Eve, the London School (my language school from when I first arrived) hosted an end-of-term holiday party.  The primary event was a play about Дед Мороз (“Djed Moroz” Grandfather Frost — the local version of Santa Claus) and his granddaughter Снегурочка (“Snegurochka” The Snow Maiden) and some evil spirits who stole her laugh.  I played the non-canonical role of “Инспектор Курт” (Inspector Kurt) who tracked down the villains and aided in the return of Снегурочка’s laugh.  Scattered throughout the play were individual performances of song and dance by many of the students and teachers.


After the official party, about 15 of us — roughly half locals and half expats — headed to a local watering hole and continued the holiday spirit with a battle of carols, in which the local crew would sing Russian holiday songs to us at full volume, and we’d respond in turn with boisterous, off-key renditions of Western carols.  This went on for nearly two hours — much to the amusement (and perhaps consternation) of the other bar patrons.  It was a grand sharing of culture and festiveness.


On Christmas morning, I woke up and started cooking.  I decided to host an orphan’s Christmas that afternoon, so that anyone who wanted to would have somewhere to spend their Christmas.  I made cheeseballs, deviled eggs, meatballs, eggnog, chicken satay, cauliflower crostini and cookies.  Tons and tons of cookies.  (BTW, sugar cookies are a pain in the ass to make!)


Just some of the Christmas spread

Earlier in the week, I decided that we needed a Christmas tree.  But I wasn’t in the mood to try to procure a real one.  So, with a little holiday creativity, I whipped up the following creation:

Our makeshift Christmas Tree

This little guy served us well and only cost a couple hundred som (~$4-5) to put together.  Huzzah!


People started arriving around three, and everyone noshed and imbibed and socialized and listened to holiday music and shared in the general festivities.  After a few hours, we gathered around the “tree” to participate in our White Elephant gift exchange.

Jyldyz tries to grinch the white elephant presents!

The gifts were as varied as a couple of cans of Jaguar (kind of a Kyrgyz Four Loko) to tiger slippers to Obama Viagra (don’t even ask) to an oven mitt to a cat in a bag.  Everyone had a good time, claimed their gifts and then turned the night into a dance party of epic proportions!

Shakin' our Christmas booties!

All told, throughout the afternoon and evening, we had roughly 40 people over from a dozen or so countries — from Turkmenistan to New Zealand and the USA to Poland.  Around midnight, most everyone headed off to a concert at a local nightclub, but I was wiped out from hosting, so I stayed in and crashed relatively early.  But what fun it was!


Out of touch/Happy New Year!

30 12 2010

I owe y’all a Christmas post, and I’ll oblige when I return next week from Almaty, where I’ll be spending New Years.  So, as this will almost definitely be my last post of 2010…



Holidays Far Away

18 12 2010

Getting into the holiday spirit can be a challenge when living abroad.  Particularly if you’re living in a place that doesn’t celebrate Christmas.  And even more so if you’re in a place that hasn’t been taken over by such overt consumerism that Christmas vomits itself all over you sometime in mid-November and then holds on tight for the next eight weeks.


Bishkek is such a place.  However, they do decorate for New Years, and the decorations are just what you would expect in the States for Christmas.  There are just a lot fewer of them.  But the main square is well done up, giant tree and all.



We’re hosting an expat’s Christmas at our apartment on Christmas Day, and I’ve been frantically downloading Christmas music in preparation.  I think I’m even going to try to make homemade egg nog.  Huzzah!

Research Update

17 12 2010

Things are finally moving with my actual research project.  After having some major trouble making a decent contact at the Ministry of Education, I set up a meeting with my contact at AUCA.  She suggested that I just go straight to the schools that I wanted to visit and offered to help me arrange the site visits, as much of her family works in education.  She also offered to translate my survey into Kyrgyz (for free!) and to proofread the Russian version (which I did myself, so I’m sure it needs some work).


So now I’m scheduled to visit schools in Kochkor and Naryn in early January.  That will be followed by visits to schools around Issyk-Kul (probably in Cholpon-Ata, Karakol, Tuyp, and maybe Bokonbaevo).  I’ll fit Talas and Chuy in there somewhere too before I take off to India in March.


That’s right, I’m heading to a Fulbright conference in Goa (!) in March for a week.  I’m super-stoked, as I’m sure that I’ll be ready for a break from the Kyrgyz winter by then.  And most of the cost is being covered by Fulbright, so, yay!  I found a relatively affordable flight out of Almaty via Sharjah in the UAE, so I’m going to stop there for a couple days as well and visit Dubai.  Cool, eh?


The plan then will be to visit schools in the south of Kyrgyzstan (Osh, Jalal-Abad and Batken) when I get back from India.  Hopefully then I’ll be finished with my site visits by the end of April, which will give me all of May to organize the data and see if any local NGOs can use it for anything.


In other, but somewhat related, news, I’m giving another presentation next week, although this one is much less academic and more just giving some English language classes the chance to practice with a native speaker.  We’ll be talking broadly about education, and I’m going to ask the students to pilot my education questionnaire to see if all of the questions make sense.


And I’m going to be judging an English language presentation on Christmas Eve.  Apparently my status as native English speaker qualifies me to judge students’ work.  We’ll see how that goes…but it should be fun.


That’s mostly it right now.  I’ve been pretty focused on the research, haven’t had too much exciting happening outside of that.  Hope all of your holidays are running smoothly.