New Independent States Teachers Group Photo: Pre-Exchange Preparation Conference / Symposium
Radik Shaihudtinov’s circle of pretty friends
Radik Shaihutdinov was my host teacher in Karagonda and he opened his home and world up to me. Mr. Shaihutdinov, a refined, highly intelligent, and humorous gentleman, was a perfect host. He had a lovely circle of close friends that also made it their mission to collectively show me the best two weeks in Karagonda possible. And they did and for that I shall be forever grateful to them.
I am also deeply appreciative of Secondary School #49’s efforts on my behalf and the spirit of collaboration. The school, principal, staff, parents, students and community all treated me as a very honored guest and extended to me extraordinary hospitality, generosity, and friendship.
The two lovely ladies I’m with are Phyllis Orlicek (Arkansas) and Celine Robertson (Nebraska). Picture taken of the three Kazakhstan bound fellow teachers in Washington, D.C. the night before leaving for Central Asia.
From Washington, D. C. we flew to Vienna Airport where we had a lengthy stopover before catching a Lufthansa flight to Almaty. The group jumped on a subway headed for downtown to pass a couple of hours drinking coffee in a café.
Bill Bradley, a Denver, Colorado English teacher, is shown in the café with Madeline Yates (Maryland). Bill and I had had the pleasure of rooming together twice, first when we all met at the Univ. of Delaware training conference; the second in Washington to get ready for our Central Asian destinations.
Most travel connections generally went smoothly, though in extreme rural areas, overloaded transportation systems could restore and strengthen one’s faith in God. Supposedly, it was a fine for not registering my personal belongings at the local Karagonda police station after I had arrived. We went to the station as instructed but it was closed – on Monday morning. I was reminded by the police two weeks later when leaving that I had not obtained the necessary stamp – a $50 fine was the sanction. Given that my flight was the only one leaving that day – another flight was not coming for a week – I paid the fine. Wrestling with customs officials is a cost of doing business in Kazakhstan.
It was only late October and the forecast had predicted warm temperatures. But a cold steady wind was already blowing down the Steppe (great plain) and right through my clothing. One of the first things I did was to purchase long underwear and borrow Radik’s fur hat.
I am standing in front of the entrance to Mr. Radik Shaihutdinov’s apartment house in Karagonda, an industrial city of 300,000 located in north-central Kazakhstan. The building’s interior and Radik’s two and half room apartment were more comfortable than the entrance’s appearance might suggest.
Three of Radik’s sixth grade students stood in front of the school sign that greeted me as I visited for first time. I taught two lessons to two classes in School #49. Karagonda, in 2000, had a population make-up that ws approximately 52% Kazakh, 38% Russian, 10% others (German, Korean and refugees from other Central Asian nations). The people of Kazakhstan are warm, gracious, and fairly well educated. I met no one who was at all like the images Sascha Baron Cohen of “Borat” fame presented.
The Secondary School #49 Administration welcomed me with a lavish luncheon and much warmth. Kazakhstan, in 1999, was slowly transferring control of administrative functions from Russians who had previously ruled as Soviet colonial occupiers. Increasingly, the native Kazakhs, a Turkic people who practice a very moderate form of Islam, have been taking control of offices of authority in all spheres of life.
School #49 was an effective school that fostered a positive learning environment, set high expectations, and had assembled a dedicated teaching staff that provided a high level of instruction.
Selected Secondary School #49 staff members gathered around a table full of delicious salads and breads, and warm smiles from a kind and polite people.
I enjoyed teaching Mr. Shaihutdinov’s sixth grade class. Radik, who spoke perfect English, constantly urged me to speak more slowly. He worried that his students might not be able to follow and could fall back. My instructional aim for that lesson was to apply English words that I used in my own daily life. I showed the students pictures of my home, a modest tri-level in a middle class neighborhood. They reacted as if it was a Beverly Hills mansion.
Radik Shaihudtinov and I were dinner guests of a Kazakh English teacher in his school and her Korean husband. I was privileged and honored to have been a dinner guest almost every night with another wonderful family or group during my two weeks in Karagonda. This picture reflects the evening lifestyle of good food mixed with intelligent conversation fused with generous drink, usually vodka.
Karagonda was founded in 1934 as a center of coal and ore mining and metallurgy. One day a local Kazakh boy was walking on the barren plain and found a lump of coal and word got to the Kremlin about badly needed natural resources. Stalin found out and sent a prospector who discovered coal, copper, magnesium, steel and other ores. Within a year, 100,000 people worked there. Stalin had the artists in Moscow and elsewhere rounded up and shipped to the Kazakh Steppe. Before and during WW II, Germans, Koreans, and
Chinese were exiled to Kazakhstan which has an interesting mix of peoples that contribute to national development.
During my travels through Kazakhstan, I was impressed by what seemed to an amazingly handsome population. After an obligatory toast shared with the Russian origin family pictured above – web designers / photographers – they revealed that their grandparents had been exiled to Karagonda 75 years earlier and it was extremely difficult to get back to where you were from. For over a year, this family served as the email contact between Radik and School #49 and me – his school had neither an Internet connection nor email provider to assist our initiative in developing joint programs.
Karagonda is a fairly well put together city that enjoys a high level of cultural development – music and the visual arts in particular. In the two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has become an oil and gas power but the boom has passed over Karagonda. Astana, the capital, and Almaty, the business and second government center, have prospered greatly. Most Russian business college students I spoke to were shockingly open with stating their belief that there was no future for them in the country – the President and government took such a big cut of all imports and exports that there was no money to be made by anyone else. The Russian legacy may be these drab apartment blocs in the background of the market place (above picture).
I and the other U. S. teachers were debriefed in this U. S. government building in Almaty. We spent our day sharing time with young Peace Corp officers who I think are some of the best people that America produces.
This ski resort located in the mountain chain bordering Almaty and China is reflective of the country’s fast paced economic development and westernization. Below is an invitation from the U. S. Embassy honoring our service with a reception in our honor.
The U. S. Foreign Service does a great job of taking care of fellow Americans representing the country abroad. We were all treated like VIP’s and the recognition of our service was deeply appreciated.
At this special reception for us, the three U.S. ACIE teachers are seen standing next to their respective Kazakh host teachers. The U. S. Ambassador and wife sponsored the reception, and the able and gracious Mrs. Vivian Walker, U. S. Public Affairs Officer stationed in Almaty at that time, made us feel at home.
Email from Bill Bradley responding to my report to him of my outstanding experience in Karagonda and Kazakhstan in general. Bill had just returned home from Kyrgyzstan.
My trip to Kyrgyzstan also went extremely well. ACCELS sent me there instead of my first choice – Uzbekistan – and told me that I would have a chance to see many cities instead of just one – so I took them up on it. Well, that turned out to be true beyond my wildest expectations, with various attendant advantages and disadvantages.
Madeline – the other teacher sent to Kyrgyzstan – and I slept in Almaty one night at the end of each trip. We slept in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, at both ends and once in the middle. In addition, we stayed in Tokmok four nights, Maalu-su four nights, and Osh four nights. Then Madeline and I split up. She went to At-Bashi and I went to Amanbaev for four nights. We flew Air Kyrgyzstan twice, and drove many hours in hired cars on rough roads in mountainous scenery.
Tokmok was very Russified, but was evolving to a more ethnic leadership since independence. Maalu-su was mostly urban Kyrgyz. Osh was mostly Uzbek, and Amanbaev was very rural Kyrgyz.
The food mostly tasted very good, and the hospitality made for plenty of it. A couple of times we were asked to eat weird things – horse intestines and goat head – or drink weird things such as a vodka-based rubbing alcohol cocktail, but mostly the food was rich, hearty fare.
I gather that the Uzbeks and Kyrgyz killed each other in large numbers in 1990 during de-collectivization of the farms, and there is still a residual ethnic tension in the form of insulting stereotypes. Several times we had to cross into Kazakhstan – the customs officials acted like thugs and crooks. I recall the difficult time you had with airport customs when we first landed in Almaty – well, believe me, it was like that every where we entered or exited Kazakhstan. If it weren’t for the very real danger of losing valuables, I often felt like laughing at the weird over-sized green hats they wore. Those hats kept reminding me of Mel Brooks’ movies I had seen – Space Balls for example.
Given all of the places we stayed, I was with my official host teacher (that selected me back in Delaware) only a single evening. I stayed with other host families nearly the entire time – which put a heavy over-demand on the various gifts that I hauled from Denver. One of the children of a host family just emailed me that she did not pass the third round of interviews, but she is only 15 so she’s going to try again.
Perhaps it was the relatively brief stays in each place, but I did not really bond with anyone except Abdoukadir’s family in Osh – he / they were great to me. But I do not feel sufficient emotional heat to put in the work to bring them to America for an exchange, and I definitely do not see lots of my students signing up for outdoor toilets and no hot water.
I followed up my ACIE exchange promise to build linkages with Karagonda and Kazakhstan by inviting Secondary School #49 and Mr. Schaihutdinov to participate in a global student exchange program that I was planning and organizing. The Global Catalyst Foundation (GCF) sponsored a world-wide student conference on e-commerce education and I hoped for Radik to come. GCF invited a second school, a Karagonda business college called the ALTER School, that did participate. Mr. Aybat Yeshkeev chaperoned two male marketing students; School #49 had to withdraw due to a testing schedule conflict. Mr. Yeshkeev and his two students made a great contribution to Super-Exchange V – it was a pleasure to have and work with them.
The Kazakh delegation joined teacher – student delegations from 12 other nations, a total of 19 high schools from 13 countries that include 17 teacher – chaperons and 49 students for one of the greatest student exchanges in history.
Group photo of Super-Exchange V student participants – the two Kazakh students in top row, 3rd and 4th from left.
Assembled Super-Exchange V teacher – participants. Mr. Aibat Yeshkeev in top row on far left.
In 2003, I was again invited to an ACIE teacher exchange preparation conference. My role was as a TEA alumni and share my 1999 experiences with the new group.
The TEA Alumni badge was worn as a badge of honor and distinction.
Group photo of the 2003 Kazakhstan teacher group being trained by ACIE / ACCELS to help spread the English language across Kazakhstan.
Photo of grouped, individual presentations made by the Central Asian teachers to educate their regional participants and the American teachers too. My late wife, Sue Auerbach Heller, who passed away in 2009, is pictured while viewing the projects. This web site and web page is dedicated to the memory of Sue who was a wonderful wife and mother. Sue believed in diverse peoples coming together to
accomplish great things as strongly as I did. Naturally, she loved the mission and work of the ACIE / ACCELS Program.