I arrived in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on September 6, a little more than a month ago now. To say that I procrastinated updating my blog would be an understatement. Let’s pretend that I purposely waited a month to pass with the intention of being able to reflect on the entirety of my first month as a Fulbright ETA in Kyrgyzstan.
The first few days in Bishkek were a blur of orientation workshops and information sessions sheltered by U.S. Embassy staff, chauffeured vans, and a four-star hotel. As a result, it did not truly sink in that I had moved to live by myself in Kyrgyzstan for ten months until the orientation proceedings concluded.
This part is going to be very brief, but I don’t want to sugar-coat anything – the first couple weeks were difficult. Culture shock and homesickness are very real, and I know these feelings will come and go throughout my time here. I overestimated my ability to seamlessly adapt to new environments due to my childhood in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and my moving away from my hometown of Hong Kong to pursue college in the U.S. It is an entirely different experience living in a community where you do not fluently speak the majority language, where cultural norms can be so different, and where you do not have family around to rely on. These are huge factors that differentiated my past experiences relocating to new environments from living in Kyrgyzstan now. However, I did not dwell on these feelings for too long. With some encouraging words from various people, some self-reflection, and planning and committing to a regular routine, I began to settle comfortably to my new life here in Bishkek!
Within the first week living on my own, I had already embarked on a weekend trip outside of Bishkek to the Issyk-Kul town of Cholpon-Ata with my fellow Kyrgyzstan Fulbrighters. Issyk-Kul (“warm lake” in Kyrgyz) is a large lake (the tenth largest lake in the world!) in eastern Kyrgyzstan, with many towns and villages surrounding it that make for popular destinations during summertime. Even though September meant colder temperatures would soon be sneaking in, the weather was more than agreeable, with sunny skies and cool breezes throughout the weekend. I spent time enjoying the beautiful scenery of the lake surrounded by mountains while some of my braver friends took on paragliding above the lake, something which I decided I would consider revisiting in the future after I built up some tougher skin.
Since that weekend trip, I’ve settled into a regular schedule of lesson planning, teaching, indulging in the guilty pleasure of Netflix when some comfort of familiarity is needed, and studying for an upcoming exam in the first week of November. Here comes my explanation for the delay in updating my blog: I am still a current student in my home university, and am working towards completing a Master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). The exam I will take in November will determine whether I complete the degree or not, and as a result, I have been spending a vast amount of time these first few months here studying for this exam. Fulbright was accommodating enough to understand the extra responsibilities I had and how I would need to balance my time between teaching and studying until I finish this exam. While I have not had much time to explore Bishkek and more of Kyrgyzstan yet, I have visited some of the most popular spots in the city center, including the Philharmonia and Ala-Too Square, which I’ve included some pictures of.
Before ending this post, I wanted to highlight today’s significance for Kyrgyzstan – the day of the fourth Kyrgyz presidential election. I am not going to elaborate too much on this topic because I am by no means an expert in Kyrgyz politics, but it is definitely an exciting time to be in this country. This election marks the first peaceful transition of power since Kyrgyzstan gained independence in 1991, with two revolutions having occurred in 2005 and 2010. The two main contenders are a former prime minister and the choice of the outgoing president, and a charismatic businessman who promises more economic opportunities for the country. This article from The Guardian describes in more detail the significance of this election, and here is an interesting Time article of an interview with the outgoing president, Almazbek Atambayev, about the challenges facing Kyrgyzstan and how the country has thrived as a relatively new democracy. I’m truly excited to be starting a new chapter of my life in a country that will soon also be turning to a new chapter in its future.