Lizabeth Abadia, Nur- Sultan, teacher at NIS
I was born in Bogotá, Colombia. I am fourth child in a family of five children, so I grew up in a noisy house with many family reunions, gatherings with cousins and relatives. I studied Visual Arts at the university and did a master in Pottery, after ending my studies; I had the opportunity to become a teacher. Since then I devote my life to learn and implement the IB, MYP, and DP programs teaching Visual Arts and Art history in high school here in Kazakhstan, and running workshops for IB in Europe, Africa and middle east.
I came to Kazakhstan almost eight years ago invited by the Nazarbayev Intellectual School of Astana to help with the implementation of the IB programs. I found interesting and challenging the idea of implementing the IB in a new public school. This exciting project nowadays collect excellent results. Year by year our graduate’s students make us proud, receiving results way above the world average, and receiving invitations to study in several universities around the world.
About first impression
When first I came, I understood Kazakhstan is a huge land with strengths and weaknesses, like any country, but full of great opportunities to grow projects, with a generation of young people with the power to transform their country and the desire to learn and write their own story.
It is incredible to see how fast changes happen here, how the cities grow and the way people adapt to new circumstances.
As for many expats, I guess the language is the biggest difficult, however it was always easy to draw, make noises or use symbols to communicate and overcome that barrier.
Coming from a huge capital as Bogota is, Astana was for me a mixture of modern / futurist buildings planted in a big flat area, but without the fast, vibrant and disorganized spirit of a big capital. It was hard to get use to the slow rhythm during the day, the little traffic, to friendly people, and to the schedule from little stores and businesses. I missed so much the mountains to orient myself, I was always confused with north, south, east, west. Now I only guide myself by right and left side of the river, at the beginning I was not sure about what direction should I walk, sometimes I ended in unknown places just because I took the bus going in the opposite direction.
To be honest I think there are more differences than similarities. I miss the mountain landscape from my homeland, but I am thankful I have been able to travel around Kazakhstan, to discover natural lakes with extremely clean water and to lose my eyes in the never-ending Kazakh sky. One similarity that I really appreciate from people in Kazakhstan is the capability to adjust to new situations and the way problems never grow to a big conflict, usually things are not a big deal and everyone try to avoid conflicts and disagreements. In Colombia we say, “Don’t make a storm in a glass of water” one of the best advises you can give to anyone, and basic rule in Kazakhstan.
Most of the Kazakh people I have meet is extremely friendly, and generous, always wanting to help and being great hosts. After these years, I am still amazed with the hospitality spirit. I have made Kazakh friends here that I know are friends forever. My children had opportunity to visit me and stay in the country for a year, I am grateful for the friends they made and the values they learned from them. My family was feeling Kazakhstan as home.
What I like there
There are two things without a doubt: Barys team and the winter season.
I discovered Ice hockey here and I love it since then. I don’t imagine winter without the atmosphere at the Arena, the speed on the rink, the passion of the fans. The second is the winter, the glittery snow and the way it flows with the wind, plus that strong cold that get into my bones to remind me I am still alive.
Natalie Mahon, Almaty, coordinator and teacher at QSI
I was born in Australia, but I have lived overseas now since 2004. My husband is British so my home is now between Melbourne, Manchester and Almaty. I studied Biochemistry at university and worked in influenza vaccine development. I did this for two years but then returned to university, and have gained Australian and UK teaching qualifications and well as School Administration qualifications to be a school director. This is what I have done since living overseas in both the UK, Egypt and now Kazakhstan. I also played semi professional basketball when I lived in the USA, UK and Egypt, when I was not teaching high schools about my love of science.
I have lived here since August 2012, I moved from Cairo after the Arab Spring and uprising. We almost moved to Bulgaria, but my husband and I chose Almaty as it was somewhere unusual and not mainstream but somewhere we could both gain employment in our fields of work. I have two dogs called Bruce and Hosni who are brothers and we have had them since we lived here in Kazakhstan—we love our Kazakh dogs.
About first impression
Coming from Cairo, a city of over 25 million people, Almaty was such a strong contrast. The beautiful mountains, the winters, the language and history. I think I have lived overseas long enough not to be shocked, and I had an open mind and was not expecting anything too specific.
I think the biggest difficulty was language—in Cairo even the man who sold fruit at the corner shop spoke a little bit of English, and it helped my Arabic was strong. Here the equivalent back in 2012 spoke no English, but that is something that has really changed. I think Expo and the University Games and other major events we have hosted here, has led to the development of signs and such. Schools are doing a great job also teaching English, and travel encouraged people to use their English. My Russian is OK now, so it does not bother me so much in 2020.
Coming from Cairo, a city with a vast history but also modern buildings Almaty was much the same. In Cairo I looked out of my classroom window to the pyramids. Here I look out to the mountains—both are amazing.
I think having living overseas so long I am rarely shocked by cultures or foods or ways of life. Everyone can chose what they want to be. I guess when people live the life their parents want them to have, not what they want to do, it bothers me, but this is any culture. It is a message I always give my students—do what you love and what you are good at.
What I liked there
I stayed here in Almaty since March, when my school where I work was closed. We felt it was safe to stay here and for the most part the government did a great job of controlling the situation. We felt safe and secure. I run every morning at 630am to keep fit and healthy, and always carry a plastic bag, picking up rubbish that people toss on the floor. I wish people took the environment more seriously. I remember on my very first day here in Almaty, I asked if Kazakh people had any superstitions—I was told they had none. Now I could tell you so many. I am very proud to have raised my two children here since birth and when you ask them where they are from they say Kazakhstan. They have never lived in Australia or the UK so I think that speaks volumes of how I feel about Almaty.
Sara Vellani, 32 years old, Almaty, teacher
I am an Italian from Milan. I have worked for more than 10 years as a Web and Graphics Designer and I have a degree in Graphics Design. I have always been passionate on travelling, psychology and teaching since I was a little child. I have been living in Kazakhstan for about a year. In Italy I have always had a good job, many friends and a decent life, but I felt a little empty. I had had the excuse to go on a journey along the Trans-Mongolian railway that took me from Moscow to Beijing.
I moved to Mongolia where I lived for about three years. In Western Mongolia there is a large Kazakh community, I lived for a short time in Ulgii, and their culture has always interested me a lot, moreover, I love the mountains, so being close to the Altai mountains has always been a great luck for me as much as having mountains in Almaty. One of my Uighur friends lived here in Almaty and we decided to open a travel agency together, and I had the opportunity to continue my second job of teaching here. Also, the idea of learning Russian and Kazakh, two such different languages, has always fascinated me a lot. Let's say, there is no danger of getting bored here and plenty of reasons to stay. At the end, I am not sure how I ended up in Kazakhstan, I think it was a series of coincidences or it might have been written in my fate.
About first impression
My friends in Western Mongolia have always spoken highly of Kazakhstan to me, so, I left very motivated. I can say, that I immediately felt like at home and the people I met were very kind and hospitable to me, so my first impression was very positive.
The biggest challenge was the language, since, no one speaks English or everyone thinks that I'm Russian, Polish, Romanian or etc., and continued to speak Russian with me in any case. This was also an advantage, as you have no excuse for not learning the local languages. Another problem was understanding people's mentality, different ethnic groups live in Kazakhstan and they are not the same, many things are obviously different from Italy.
The biggest differences that I have noticed are, certainly, in food, cultural things, infrastructure and architecture.
In some regions of Italy, but not in all, people are very hospitable like in Kazakhstan, and especially South Italian families it is very important. I can say that even in Italy we have many types of cheeses and milk like you do, and that we eat meat but not as much as Kazakhs.
It is difficult to talk about the lifestyle, because Kazakhstan is large and there are many different lifestyles even if we compare life in the city to that in the countryside, or life in Almaty with that in Atyrau or in the middle of the Aral Sea or in the Altai Mountains. I had the opportunity to see the real nomadic families in Altai where the Russian, Mongolian and Chinese orders are “somewhere” in the mountains, and I think it is fascinating, a simple, hard but the real life that I envy a little. Nowadays, we are stressed and full of worries about so many things that we do not really need. Just a 100 years ago, Kazakhstan was like this, so it states a lot about the generational leap and the different types of life that still exist and co-exist with each other today, there are also a lot of families that live in the city and they live a similar life to the people in Italy or in my city, or some other cities that they seem to have remained 50-100 years ago. I think all these differences are interesting for me as to a foreigner.
What I like there
In my country I cannot find horse meat, shubat and shashlik. I love the cold although my nation has warm winters and I love looking at the snow from the window and walking in the winter at dusk. I am a very big fan of ice-skating and your typical sauna.
A lot of things have happened since I arrived in Kazakhstan: I got lost in the mountains, I skated on frozen lakes, I stayed in a yurt and a dacha, I have two amazing teachers of Kazakh and Russian languages, I did my quarantine totally here and this was also an adventure, and there are so many things I still want to sell and visit in the future, and certainly lots of adventures that await me.