I had been meaning to write a blog post sooner to begin chronicling my preparations for starting my Fulbright award in Kyrgyzstan this September, especially since I haven’t posted since 2015. I guess I hadn’t been feeling very inspired in any particular way so this notion was neglected, up until now. What inspired me today was this photo of myself I found while looking through old photos. Taken on Christmas Day in 2002, here I am, aboard a flight traveling between Almaty, Kazakhstan and either New York City or Hong Kong. This one photo represented so well the way I had spent most of my childhood airplane-hopping these three destinations and growing up internationally.
It’s been eleven years since I was last in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Recently, I had found myself wondering whether my experiences there had prepared me in any way for my return to Central Asia in September, or how my Fulbright experience might influence my perspective on my childhood there. Back then, growing up in Almaty was all fun and games to me. I was able to experience so many things that regular American kids wouldn’t be able to do growing up. What third-grader gets to have a yurt built inside their school? Or a field-trip to an ostrich farm? Or precariously ride a years-old Niva (“the greatest Soviet car of all time”) up the Tian Shan mountains? Besides having experiences to make me stand out in all the college applications, scholarship applications, and job applications I’ve ever written, these experiences made me conscious of the way places and people that seemed foreign and alien could actually be unique and beautiful.
I had been nervous about embarking on this journey. These happy memories that I had were buffered by the presence of my parents and the walls of my English-speaking international school, and I hadn’t been sure of what to expect now that I won’t have these bumpers to rely on and guide me this time around. Looking at this picture now, I thought about how positively my childhood had shaped the person that I am today; my thoughts, my opinions, my interests, my language, and even my taste in food. I know that it won’t be perfect, that I will make mistakes, and that I will feel homesick at times, but I’m excited and enthusiastic about this adventure, and open to how it will inevitably continue to shape me as a person.