до свидания – farewell

I’ve been back over a month now and am slowly getting settled back into life in North America. I feel like it’s about time that I reflected back on the last 9 months and concluded this blog.

Coming home was surreal. I was actually a lot more sad than I thought I would be leaving Bishkek. The sun had finally come out and spring was in the air – I loved walking the streets, feeling completely comfortable in my surroundings. I felt like I knew “my part” of the city and could get around. I knew I would miss the familiarity of my life there and I do.

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My last day at UCA 

It was a long trip home and suddenly, everything felt even more familiar. I easily adjusted back into life in Canada, in my childhood home. I was surprised at how it never even felt like I had left and that Bishkek was a distant dream. Did I even go there? Sometimes, small things would jerk me back into reality – like being in my kitchen and forgetting which cupboard something was in. It made me realize that I had been gone a long time.

I was very busy visiting family and friends when I got home. Life moves a lot faster here – I felt overwhelmed with the travelling, the lists of things to do, the money I was spending. Not only that but I made several big changes coming home so there’s a lot going on for me. Things had been pretty simple in Bishkek and I never had much going on. It’s different being home and it’s taking me some time to adjust back into the swing of things. I am still feeling bouts of “reverse culture shock” and I’m slowly working through that… deep breaths.

One of the biggest challenges is knowing how to talk about my experience in a way that people will find interesting. I constantly hear “how was your trip?” – and finding a one sentence answer to encapsulate 8 months of experiences, both personal and professional, is not an easy task! I think people are genuinely interested but can’t find a way to relate or know what to ask. It’s a difficult task for them but also for me – and it can be quite isolating. However, from time to time, I’ll find someone else who’s had a similar, long term, overseas experience and we can talk for hours. That part is a rare gift. I still lean on my fellow fellows – we share a unique bond as we’re all going through this together. I’m grateful for that.

It is kind of scary that I look back at the past 9 months and have it feel like a blur. As much as it was difficult, I don’t want to forget any part of it because I want to remember my growth throughout the experience. I want to remember the people I met and the stories they told. I want to remember my observations and how I questioned things. I left Canada with many, many questions and came back with even more – and I want to remember them and pose them and question them some more. It was hard and I’m happy to be home but I still want this experience to be a part of me and for the experiences I had there to shape my way forward. I feel like it’s so easy to get drawn back into the comforts of the privileged life here in Canada. That’s something that I will be grappling with for some time.

Kyrgyzstan is a dynamic and complex place. I barely feel like I got to know the country while I was there. 8 months just isn’t long enough – I was still merely a visitor and I try to remember that. It’s important to note that my observations of the country are my own and that they may not reflect the reality of the population. There is so much history that shapes the way the country operates today that I could not possibly understand in my time there.

I did some presentations a couple weeks ago to high school students and I told them straight up that I hadn’t fully wrapped my head around some of the things I had seen or observed in Kyrgyzstan. I don’t know how long it’ll take me to truly understand or if I ever will. I do know that it makes me want to push forward – learn more and keep my curiosity about this part of the world, and others, going. I hope this curiosity pushes me, challenges me to expand my views and continue to exchange ideas with others. I don’t think I can stop now. 

Time for my next adventure.

All the best,

Savannah

 

 

Things I will miss

This is something that I drafted before I left – to begin the reflection process. This list is not exhaustive but describes some of the beauty of Kyrgyzstan!

1. The weather

I certainly did complain about the small bout of cold that we had in February but overall, I’ve been totally impressed with the weather here. It’s not too hard to please a West Coast girl – I basically grew up in the doom and gloom of winter. Kyrgyzstan has a fantastic climate – so much sunshine! The summers are very hot but the autumn was very comfortable and lasted until well into December. There was some snow here and there but after the short snowfall, it was back to sunshine-y days in Bishkek. The snow is also a wonderful, dry snow that is sometimes hard to find on the West Coast of Canada so I really loved that. Downside? Not a lot of shovelling here so lots of ice.. and slush. Nonetheless, this has got to be one of the best climates I have had the pleasure of living in. December 1st - 10 degrees

10 degrees on December 1st – marking halfway through my fellowship

2. The scenery

No doubt about it, Kyrgyzstan is a hidden treasure – one of the most beautiful places in the world. There is so much rich mountainous landscape here. There are lush green mountainside and red, earthy columns directly opposite. I have been so fortunate to see some of the Kyrgyz mountainside and I was truly blown away. I’ll miss some of the beautiful sights I’ve seen here and even looking out my window at the vast snowcapped mountains. What a beautiful place this is!

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DSC_0554 November Office View

 

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3. The names

The names here all have a meaning – which I love. It’s always really cool to talk to people and find out what their name means. For instance, there are a lot of names that start with “gul” (Gulzada, Gulbahor, ect) and “gul” means flower. I think it’s such a beautiful tradition. They often ask me what my name means.. and it does mean desert plain (like the African Savannah) but it wasn’t chosen based on it’s meaning. I think it’s a special part of the culture here.

4. My humble abode

My little apartment provided me with peace of mind and much comfort over some of the tougher moments in Kyrgyzstan. It’s small and it’s not always ideal (will I miss having no sink in my bathroom? I think not) but it’s cozy and home-y. I spent many days in the kitchen, listening to tunes and trying to concoct something gluten-free AND edible from what was available. I’ve spent many afternoons on my comfy couch, watching TV and keeping in touch with friends and family at home. I am thankful for the peace and quiet I’ve had in this apartment. It’s given me the opportunity to think about this experience and reflect. I keep telling myself I probably won’t have this kind of free time or ‘me’ time in a very long time so I should enjoy it and I really have. I’ll miss it here.

5. The conversations

I have found that wherever I go, the most impactful experiences have been very simple conversations. I absolutely love when I have a chance to have genuine conversations with people here. There is something so organic about learning through just hanging out and chatting with others. I love this exchange of ideas when I talk about Canada and they talk about Kyrgyzstan. To learn in this way has been a gift; having people who are open to speaking with me about some of the history of this country and how and why things are the way they are now. Kyrgyzstan is a very interesting place and the complexities are not easily understood by a foreigner. I hope to share some of what I’ve learned and observed with others at home so there is a greater understanding of this region of the world.

6. The people

Saving the best for last, it’s always the people who make a place wonderful. As with my previous travels, I have had the pleasure of meeting some incredible people from various backgrounds and have learned and laughed with them. Getting to work with an international organisation, I’ve met amazing expats and locals alike. I’ve travelled to two of our future campus sites and been inspired by our staff there and the impact of our projects.  I’ve really enjoyed working with my team in Communications and with everyone at UCA. I am so thankful for this opportunity and wish everyone the best in moving this project forward.

Extending my warmest thanks to those who downloaded TV shows for me and fed my sugar addiction, drank wine with me, stayed out till the wee hours, made me delicious food,  listened to me complain, laughed with me, and provided me with a friend and some comfort during the harder moments. I’ll miss everyone I’ve met in Kyrgyzstan – thanks for making it unforgettable.

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Fellow Reflection

Ever since I got home, just over a week ago, I’ve been thinking about how I should sit down and reflect on the experience. I know it’s an important step and it’s one that I look forward to completing. However, things have been hectic (and wonderful) since I got home – catching up with family and friends, eating delicious food and enjoying the amenities afforded to me by living in Canada. 

While I continue to ponder my own reflection, take a look at this wonderful piece written by Tracey, a fellow fellow who spent her 8 months in Bangladesh. It eloquently captures a lot of what I feel about my own experience.

Enjoy!

The exchange of ideas

Written in December, as a reflection.

I took a break from my regular job in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Usually, I’m behind my computer, tasked with writing press releases and success stories and communicating the work the University of Central Asia is accomplishing. Not an easy task when the University spreads across three countries. It keeps me pretty busy.

 

However, today I have been requested to assist with an English class within our School for Professional and Continuing Education. I immediately accept the offer, though my decision weighs on me as the time approaches. I’m not a teacher and I’m not always as good on my feet but resolve myself to give it a try. As the time comes, I’m informed I’ll be working with adults – working professionals who are learning English. I had almost forgotten that these are the type of people we cater to; images of intimidating children had been circling my head.

 

Soon after, I’m at the front of the class discussing ‘Success’, the topic of the Ted Talk they had just finished watching. I was impressed by their use of English and what they had to say. It quickly became a game of Canada versus Kyrgyzstan – what are the differences and what are the similarities.  What had each of us heard about the other? Did they remember that the 2010 Winter Olympics happened in Vancouver, Canada, close to where I’m from? Could I tell them if everything they’ve seen in movies like American Pie was true for all adolescents in North America?  Answering some of these questions was intimidating, as I don’t feel I can represent a whole country or Western culture. However, the exchange was fascinating and I learned so much in that short 40 minute class. I enjoyed myself immensely.

 

Coming away from the class, my brain was spinning. They had asked me such interesting questions! Had I given the right answers? What did I really think about what they’d asked and said? I began to realize that this is what it’s all about. I have come to live in Kyrgyzstan and I have learned a lot about the culture through immersion. However, it’s always when I get to do this kind of exchange of ideas that I really feel myself growing. Working for a development organization, it’s important to realize it’s about the give and take. It’s about the exchange of ideas. I will not leave this place having made many, if any, significant changes in 8 months but I will take these conversations and ideas and bring them home with me. They will help shape how I see the world and what the next steps are towards a better one. These ideas will be life changing.

Clarity

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There are moments here…moments of clarity.

When it all makes sense..

I remember exactly why I’m here..why I wanted to be here.

I know that this is exactly where I should be.

These moments..they are few.

The all too human part of me tugs at them, quickly taking over.

The part that doesn’t want to be alone.

The part that craves the strong bonds I’ve left behind and long for.

However, it is in these moments…

..these moments of clarity where it all makes sense..

I can see the ‘bigger picture’.

I know it’s all worth it.

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Making decisions.

Having only recently graduated from university, decisions feel so much more crucial. Could one decision shape how my future will look? Career-wise, it seems almost imperative to make sure I make the right decision because I’m only just starting out. I need to make sure I build a solid foundation from the opportunity I’ve been given within this fellowship.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about these kinds of decisions within the last few months. This article rang so true to me and it’s one that will be especially useful for fellows or others who are at a crossroads!

http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/11/stop-worrying-about-making-the-right-decision/

Enjoy!

Article courtesy of Ola in Tanzania.