The first days in Kokshetau ...
But I don't. I live in a very beautiful city that has some pretty hills, if not exactly snow-capped mountains, theaters, restaurants, internet cafes, a central square and park (with a ferris wheel! 150 TGZ for two pi radians!), several conference centers, kung fu, and large, clean schools. The worst problem might be the sweet temptations of soft city life which are the bane of so many volunteers. O, Ryan! Moderation and chastity! Certainly moderation.
My new host family is a good one. I live on the seventh floor of an apartment building by the train station, with a balcony of my own looking south. My host mother works as a legal aide and government inspector for labor disputes, and earns a fair income of about $100 / month - less, she says, than she could make, because she doesn't take bribes. My host father works in Korea and sends money home. Jenghis (as in Genghis Khan), my host brother, just turned 20 and is the leader of Green Team, which is one of the five rock bands in Kokshetau. He's a cool guy, with cool friends, and as I said before, speaks excellent English. The tentative plan is that I'll teach him harmonica if he'll teach me to play the guitar. In the aparement, there's even hot water, when there's water, which there is about half the time.
Working at the school may be challenging. I saw the schedule of classes from last year, and the most English any sixth grade class took was two hours a week. I'll start teaching math in English right from the start of my teaching schedule (that is, after one week of observing classes). There's some sort of weird idea that a lot of people have that the kid's don't need language to learn math, since it's all just numbers after all. The textbooks that I'll be using haven't arrived yet. The "syllabus" published by the government is little more than a half-page list of topics reordered and repeated several times to fill a page or two.
Yesterday, I went to the city-wide conference of teachers for Kokshetau. There were a lot of speeches about how valuable the teachers were and what a fine job the shools were doing, and then a ten minute break, after which there was to be a concert of (European) classical music to celebrate their accomplishments. I took some tea and returned to my seat after ten minutes. The lights came up, an emcee announced a suite from Carmen, the musicians came out, sat down, and waited. And waited and waited, for ten minutes. Finally, the emcee came back out and said that we were going to wait for some Kazakhstani State education officials who had given speeches, and who were now taking their own sweet time eating lunch. My counterpart and I got up and left, but most people stayed. "I can't leave!" one teacher told me. "My director is here!"
My counterpart speaks good English, my host brother speaks excellent English, and I'm worried about learning Russian when everyone just wants to practice their English with me. Kazakh will be a struggle - even people in the "Kazakh" school where I work usually speak Russian with one another, and their Kazakh is a great hybrid of Russian vocabulary and Kazakh grammar. (Occasionally it'll leak the other way - I caught my counterpart saying "Jeyaning podrugasi" in the middle of a Russian sentence, for example. That's "Jenya's girlfriend" with Kazakh possesive suffixes on Russian vocabulary.) Maybe after a while we'll all speak a three-language pidgin of Russian, English, and Kazakh.