Dear Taylor S.,
Sorry we left you hanging for awhile. We received your message while we were in Budapest, on another vacation (how fitting since you mentioned you appreciate travel tips).
In any case, congratulations on accepting your 2016 invitation to be a Kyrgyz Republic Peace Corps Volunteer!
To settle any confusion, I am not talking to myself; there will be another Taylor joining the Kyrgyzstan Volunteer community next year.
Below are some tips for you as well as for other volunteers coming to Kygyzstan.
To give you a taste of what’s waiting for you:
You will soon know what all of the following mean:
PST, LCF, HE, TEFL, SCD (hope you already know this one), LPI, PM, CD, SSM, DO, PCMO, IST, MST, COS, SPA, PCGO, GLOW, TOBE, PSN, VAC, VRF, EAP…not done yet…PDM, MRE, FLEX, ACKG, PCT, PCVT, PCV, RPCV, PCL, and everyone’s favorite, RADAR (I actually forgot what that stands for, but you’ll find out soon enough).
Nurlan, Usubaly, Naima, Mariia, Sultan, and Leila, will become common names for you to say.
You will begin to become familiar with statues like this:
And you will be able to say (and read) the following without batting an eye:
Менин атым Тейлор. Мен жыйырма… жаштамын жана мен Америкадан келдим. Мен Тынчтык Корпусу бизнес волонтёрмун.
And there’s a good chance you will start to miss things like this (unless you are a vegetarian or lactose intolerant, in which cases you will not be alone; other volunteers have found their way). Hint: Eat/drink as much of your favorite foods as you can over the next 6 months. Ah! The countdown has begun!
Learning acronyms, remembering new names (they all have meanings too), getting used to seeing Communist-era statues, grappling with a foreign language, and longing for familiar foods are all part of the Peace Corps experience.
So is travel (in our opinion, at least). It’s nice to take a break and explore the surrounding regions, indulge, get inspired, and adventure out into places you may never have considered visiting otherwise.
So, Taylor, these tips – based off our latest trip – are for you (and anyone else planning to come this way):
- Book travel via train whenever possible. There’s even a summer train route between Bishkek and Balykchy that we really like. It’s all about space and not having to worry about where the next bathroom will be. We like to bring hummus, charcuterie, and wine on our trips (not available in Kyrgyzstan). We’re so fancy.
- Bring a backpack that you love and that loves you (and your lower back). Mostly so you can bring back whatever foods you’ve been craving. Eric claims he hauled 85 pounds worth of wine, whiskey, beer, cheese, sausage, and other random condiments on our way back home. In fact, hauling a backpack full of random things around in-country is a part of normal Peace Corps life too.
- Climb everything (at least towers, if not mountains). You never know what you will notice.
- Selfie sticks are not as common here as they are in other parts of the world…like in the U.S. They actually seem kind of ridiculous since we haven’t been in the U.S. for the past 18 months. Tripods and good ol’ fashion selifies using an arm are still cool to us.
- Traveling through Istanbul via Pegasus Airlines is it’s own kind of adventure.
- It is worth paying the extra $12 to select your seat for flights into and out of Kyrgyzstan. Our experience is that these flights tend to feel like a large marshrutka, so sitting near the front, in less crowded rows, really does make a difference.
- Pegasus flights with connections require no less than a 4 hour layover; they are proud of their on time arrival rate – 70.39% for September 2015 – but that’s really not that good. And our actual flight has a 13% ontime rating. This leads us to these tips:
- The first time you have a connection through Istanbul, consider getting an electronic visa before you go. It is good for 6 months and allows you to enter the country for a total of 90 days during that period. This makes it much easier to take Pegasus up on their offer to put you up in a hotel if you get stuck in Istanbul for a day.
- The Istanbul airport does not have Wi-Fi. Some restaurants will offer 30 minutes of internet with a purchase, in case you want to check your options for flights with carriers other than Pegasus while in the airport.
- Pack a toothbrush, deodorant, a clean shirt, socks, underwear, and a swimsuit in your carry on for such trips. The Ramada that Pegasus brings you to has a sauna, but Pegasus does not offer to get your checked bags for you.
- Prague is cool. Go there.
- Don’t promise too much upon immediate return from your vacation. The jet lag after a red eye flight heading east with a 4 hour time change is killer. I wrote part of this post at 1:26 am after sleeping for 4 hours and not being able to get back to sleep. It’s been 3 days since we’ve been back in Kyrgyzstan.
Back to our lives in Kyrgyzstan.
A few additional tips that were helpful to us when we were researching Kyrgyzstan, just like you:
- When explaining Kyrgyzstan to friends and family: Kyrgyz is pronounced “Cur” as in curtain and “Giz” as in gizzard.
- It’s KG not KZ (that’s Kazakhstan).
And now that we’ve been here for 18 months, a few words of wisdom:
- Start using a fluoride mouthwash as soon as you can. It took a little over a year, but we both have sensitive teeth now and are missing the fluoride that is just automatically put in the water in the U.S.
- There are ups and downs during service – bring something that makes you happy. For me, I bought a scented candle on our latest vacation.
- You really will have free time. Many K-23s are blogging about how this is not the case for them right now, and it was the same for us. However, things start to even out and you will find that you have time to pursue your own interests. Think about some things you might want to learn. Eric is taking online programming classes and I am reading up on small business branding and marketing. Many volunteers have pretty regular access to decent internet, so that helps.
- You won’t live in a yurt (at least not year round), sorry.
To answer your question:
“I have an internet computer technologies background (Bachelors in communications) and am wondering if you have any recommendations for what I could create/aid with over there.”
The most important thing we’ve both found to be helpful is to find an individual who really wants to work with you. Sometimes this is your counterpart, but often there are other people in your community who have great ideas and/or motivation. Be open to working on projects that someone brings to you, and be ready to nudge a willing local to take on a project with your help. These may or may not be related to your professional background, but you will be able to add value around thinking through a project plan, keeping project members accountable, and measuring results. It can be difficult to accomplish anything without a local contact, though, so that comes first.
As for projects related to your background, basic computer skills are rare as is regular access to computers/internet. Beyond the technology, get creative with activities that might improve your community’s access to information, and try to inspire a sense of curiosity. Many schools teach in a very traditional manner, so anything you can do to get community members to ask questions, seek answers, share an opinion, etc. would be a huge success. Consider using different platforms for communications, such as cell phones, radio (one of our volunteers in Talas was assigned to work at a community radio station), live presentations, and internet to meet a community need. If you work with an organization that has internet capability, think about how you might encourage them to develop a strategy around communications – among staff, with stakeholders, with donors, and with the general public. The strategy may (should) include multiple communication vehicles, including websites, e-mail, social media, in-person events, etc. There are some things organizations do well, but creating an overall strategy would be new for many of them.
Well, that’s all for now. Feel free to reach out with any other questions. That goes for any of our readers. For other future K-24 Kyrgyzstan Peace Corps volunteers, you will soon be invited to an exclusive Facebook group where your peers (those currently in their first year of service, and who will be here for the first year of your service) will answer your questions, give advice, post packing lists, etc. In the meantime, start thinking of all the places you might like to go while you’re here!
P.S. If we ever leave you without a blog post to read for awhile, might we suggest checking out:
- The Road from Karakol video – an avid bicyclist and mountain climber takes the camera with him on an adventure into the Kyrgyz mountains
- Once Upon a Time in Kirghiztan video – another bicyclist’s video, showing the red rocks in Jeti Oguz, images of jailoo (pastures), and an alpine lake
- A video about a family living in the mountains with horses – the man speaks in Kyrgyz and shares about a lifestyle that many volunteers get a glimpse of while they are here
- A video about the World Nomad Games – shows traditional Kyrgyz/nomad games and includes some of our very own Peace Corps volunteers
- AKIpress.com – one of the best news sources for locals and volunteers alike
- Radio Free Europe – a global publication that has a section dedicated to Central Asia
- Kloop.kg – a publication that strives to develop journalism and internet use in Kyrgyzstan (use Google Translate to translate the whole page)
- Eric on Amateur Traveler – a podcast dedicated to helping you where to decide to go next