Well, after four crazy and exciting months I’ve finally left Bishkek. Now that I’m back in the United States, I thought I’d use my final post to sum up just a few of the important things I learned while I was in Kyrgyzstan. It was an amazing journey, but I’m glad to home, and back at Sporcle HQ.
I thought I’d sum up my journey with some highlights of a few things I learned while in Bishkek.
How to Be Flexible
As a people, the Kyrgyz put each other over any deadline and showing up on time is the exception, not the rule. Students often referred to this as “Kyrgyz Time”. I experienced this the first night I arrived in Bishkek. Our bus was scheduled to leave at a certain time, but was missing two passengers. Instead of leaving them behind, we waited an hour for them to arrive.
I cannot recall a single passenger (apart from me) getting concerned over the fact that the bus hadn’t left on time. This mentality was hard to adjust to, but after a few months I have learned to relax and have faith that things will work themselves out. Eventually.
How to be an Outsider
Learning this skill requires a delicate balance of accepting your foreign status without being too obvious about it. I made a concerted effort to blend in when I first arrived, to the point that I was anxious everywhere I went. I soon learned to relax and accept that I was always going stand out. I can now say I am comfortable with being a foreigner, and I take pride in the fact that people could tell I am from abroad, but couldn’t quite guess where (I often get mistaken for Ukrainian, Russian or German).
In a similar vein, being in a foreign country has also taught me about American culture. Things I use to take for granted, like not cutting in front of people in lines, I now realize was a piece of “common sense” that was actually just a rule in my own culture. The first time this happened, I sighed and glared at the person that cut in front of me, but did nothing. By the third time, I just shrugged and longingly thought of how lines work in American supermarkets. After a while, I finally learned that all I needed to do was step around the person and take back my space. Easy, right?
Home Ec 101
I’ve learned how to cook and sew in Kyrgyzstan. You would think that living on my own for a few years would do that, but nope – it took moving to Kyrgyzstan for me to learn the most basic of adult skills. It’s just that when you have two pairs of jeans and four pairs of socks for four months, that’s a lot of wear and tear. I’m quite attached to my patchwork jeans at this point. I also learned how to cook through necessity. A tight budget and a lack of familiarity with the local cuisine kept me in the kitchen often.
You learn to get creative with only one stove top, one skillet, a small pot and a broken spatula. I’ve developed mad skills at shopping in foreign languages and using products whose exact nature I’m still unfamiliar with. For example, my friends and I developed a “mac’n’cheese’ that did not include real butter, milk, cheese or noodles but was still delicious.
Kyrgyz Street Smarts
I can now clumsily build a yurt, which is more complicated than a tent but not as bad as IKEA furniture. I can hail cabs, marshrytkas and waiters like it’s going out of style. I can walk head-on into oncoming traffic without hesitation. I can walk for miles on ice without falling (Kyrgyzstan does not ice their sidewalks). I can drink horse and camel milk without curling my lips. I can curse in Russian with flair. I can make a few Kyrgyz dishes like Plov, Lagman and Manti. Last but not least, I can also haggle. It took a few months to learn, but that skill has finally worked its way into my arsenal.
Wrapping it Up
Study abroad programs are designed to introduce students to new cultures, new languages and new ways of looking at the world. By that measure, I consider my trip to be a success. Kyrgyzstan was an adventure and I have stories to tell for the rest of my days. I’m excited to have gained an insight into that part of the world, and Kyrgyzstan truly does come first in my heart.
As I stand in American supermarkets, with a basket full of cow milk, mac’n’cheese and a peaceful respect for groceries lines – I still do find myself daydreaming about Bishkek and all the ways that we are different and the same. I look forward to returning one day, and I highly encourage other people…especially those Kyrgyzstan enthusiasts on our site…to add Bishkek to their bucket list and GO. If you do, make sure you drink some Kumis for me 😉
Thanks for reading guys and as they say in Kyrgyzstan, Кош калын (kosh kalyng!) – Goodbye!