From Peace Corps Wiki
For the official Welcome Book for Kazakhstan see here
PEACE CORPS / KAZAKHSTAN HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan
Since the first Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Kazakhstan in 1993, approximately 700 Volunteers have served here. The first group consisted of 50 English language and economic development Volunteers.
Peace Corps Programming in Kazakhstan
Peace Corps/Kazakhstan’s objective is to increase the knowledge and improve the skills of Kazakhstani citizens, strengthening their ability to compete in the global marketplace. Volunteers meet this objective by participating with Kazakhstanis in community work and life focused on two broad program areas: education and organizational and community assistance.
In Kazakhstan, English is viewed increasingly as a tool to help students get access to information and technology, achieve broader academic goals, and pursue more diverse professional opportunities. Peace Corps/Kazakhstan is assisting the Kazakhstani Ministry of Education by improving English language education throughout the country. Education Volunteers are placed in village schools where students have had little chance to tap into the kinds of learning to move them up the economic ladder.
During pre-service training, education trainees receive intensive instruction and hands-on practice in student-centered, highly participatory methods of teaching English as a foreign language in primary, secondary, or postsecondary schools. Emphasis is shifting from conversational English to multi-skill coursework, where students can practice decision-making, problem-solving and critical thinking. Volunteers also help Kazakhstani English teachers improve their own language facility. They work with them to develop professional networks, gain access to information, and develop teaching materials and resources through formal means (e.g., university teacher training programs) and informal means (e.g., English teacher associations, language conferences, etc.).
Outside the classroom, Volunteers become involved in a range of activities depending on their interests and skills as well as their community’s needs. Volunteers have worked with their local counterparts to organize summer camps, environmental clubs, student-run companies, and HIV/AIDS trainings to name a few.
Governmental and Nongovernmental Organization Development
Organizations in Kazakhstan range from very small, loosely organized groups with a single mission to well-funded and managed agencies with a complex set of objectives.
However, many organizations need help in working with their communities to define needs and develop strategies for accomplishing goals. Volunteers participate in community self-appraisals and they recruit, train, and motivate local volunteers. They help plan and implement economic development strategies and provide essential computer skills training for office and project management. They help define mission statements, develop and deliver training seminars, assist with public relations, and participate in grant writing and other fundraising activities. By being on the job, day in and day out, they help mentor and build skills one-on-one. Organizations where Volunteers have been placed include business incubators, women’s cooperatives, environmental organizations, school resource centers, public health information offices, governmental agencies, and regional small business consulting centers. During the 12-week pre-service training, trainees receive intensive coursework and hands-on experience in the core competencies for organizational capacity-building and community participation.
COUNTRY OVERVIEW: KAZAKHSTAN AT A GLANCE
For more than 2,000 years, Kazakhstan and Central Asia have been a meeting ground between Europe and Asia. The area was the locus of ancient east-west trade routes (known collectively as the Silk Road) and, at various points in history, a cradle of scholarship, culture, and power. Kazakhstan lies at the heart of the great Eurasian steppe, the band of grasslands stretching from Mongolia to Hungary that has served for millennia as the highway and grazing ground of nomadic horseback people. The Kazakhs remained largely nomadic until well into the 20th century and, as a result, have left no ancient cities or ruins. The name Kazakh is said to mean “free warrior” or “steppe roamer.”
The early history of Kazakhstan is a shadowy procession of nomad empires. Around 200 B.C., eastern Kazakhstan was briefly under the control of the Hsiung-nu, a great nomad confederacy from China’s northern borders. Mongol and Turkic peoples began moving into Kazakhstan in the first century B.C. Islam came to the region in the seventh to ninth centuries as members of the Turkish Khaganate settled in the area. Mongols ruled the region from 1219 to 1447, and in the 15th century, the Kazakhs emerged as a distinct people.
The Kazakhs were the first of the Central Asian people to feel the impact of Russia’s push to the south at the turn of the 19th century. Their agreements in the mid-18th century to accept Russian protection turned into annexation a few decades later. Tatars and Cossacks were sent to settle and farm what had been the grasslands of the Kazakhs. In the late 1800s, Europeans began to flood Kazakhstan. The immigrants were mostly freed Russian and Ukrainian serfs, and they brought with them straight streets, gas lights, telephones, parks, and hotels—all strange to the nomadic Kazakhs.
In 1989, as part of the new processes of perestroika and glasnost, Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev appointed a Kazakh, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to replace an ethnic Russian as the head of the Kazakh Communist Party. In December 1991, Kazakhstan declared its independence from the Soviet Union, and in early 1992, Nazarbayev was elected president of the country by popular vote. Nazarbayev insisted that he and other Central Asian leaders be considered “founding members” of the new Commonwealth of Independent States. Nazarbayev still serves as president and advocates a secular Western-oriented regime, like that in Turkey, under authoritarian leadership.
With independence, there has been a rise in Kazakh nationalism. The government adopted Kazakh as the official language of the country and required that civil servants eventually master the language. Russian is still the working language of Kazakhstan and the other Central Asian republics, however. While the government continues to promote Kazakh nationalism, it also seeks to assure the Slavic and other ethnic communities that they have a place in the nation.
Kazakhstan’s government is a parliamentary democracy, headquartered in the newly founded capital of Astana. It has three branches: presidential, legislative, and judicial, as well as a Constitutional Court. The majority of political power is concentrated in the presidential branch of the government, headed by President Nazarbayev. On the regional level, Kazakhstan is broken up into 14 provinces, or oblasts, each with a mayor, or akim. All oblast akims are appointed by the president. Provinces are further divided into rayons (like a county in the U.S.) and cities, each with presidentially appointed leaders.
Throughout the years of Soviet domination, Kazakhstan, like its Central Asian neighbors, was completely dependent on the Soviet Union for energy resources, educational materials, banking, postal services, and all major planning and administrative activities. Since declaring its independence in December 1991, the Republic of Kazakhstan has been working to establish institutional and economic stability, particularly through the development of its vast mineral resources, including oil and gas reserves.
Kazakhstan is transitioning to a market economy and is working on institutional reform of its enterprises, social services, and educational system. Prices have been freed, a policy of privatization is being pursued, and the government is actively encouraging investment and development assistance from the West.
People and Culture
The Kazakhs first emerged as an identifiable ethnic group in the 15th century. They are a mix of Mongol and Turkic peoples whose language is derived from Turkish. During the Mongol invasions, the Kazakhs acquired a nomadic lifestyle centered around livestock herding, largely as a survival strategy. From 1850 through nearly to the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, large numbers of Russians and Eastern Europeans were given financial incentives to migrate to Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan’s population is between 15 million and 16 million, which makes it one of the world’s least densely populated places. Most people are concentrated in the south and north. With a population of more than 1 million, the former capital of Almaty is the largest city; Astana, the new capital, has a population of 500,000 and is growing. The cities of Karaganda, Shymkent, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Taraz, and Pavlodar are the next largest, with more than 300,000 inhabitants each. Kazakhstan has the least homogeneous population of the former Soviet republics: About 53 percent of the population is Kazakh and 30 percent Russian; large numbers of Ukrainians, Uzbeks, Tatars, Germans, Belorussians, Koreans, Greeks, Chechens, Poles, Uighurs, and Jews can also be found throughout the country.
The environment of Kazakhstan is extremely diverse, ranging from the forests of the north to the central steppe, the Caspian and Aral seas in the west, and the mountain ranges of the south. Climatic conditions are also highly variable with mild summers and extremely cold winters in the north and very hot summers and mild winters in the south. Kazakhstan contains large numbers of endangered species in the mountainous regions and is home to the famous snow leopard.
In terms of natural resources, Kazakhstan is one of the richest per-capita countries on Earth. The task at hand is to exploit these resources and distribute this wealth throughout the population. The country contains approximately 60 percent of the former Soviet Union’s mineral resources—iron, coal, oil, gas, lead, aluminum, copper, zinc, nickel, uranium, silver, and gold, among others. It also produces up to one-third of the wheat of the former Soviet Union.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
We offer a list of Web sites for you to search for additional information about the Peace Corps and Kazakhstan, or to connect you to returned Volunteers and other invitees. It is difficult to track information as it is moved around on the Web, so please note that links change. We have tried to make sure these links are active and current, but we cannot guarantee it.
A note of caution: As you surf these sites, please also remember that you will find bulletin boards and chat rooms in which people are free to give opinions and advice based on their own experiences. The opinions expressed are not those of the Peace Corps or the United States government. You may also find opinions of people who were unhappy with their choice to serve in the Peace Corps. As you read these comments, we hope you will keep in mind that the Peace Corps is not for everyone, and no two people experience their service in the same way.
General Information About Kazakhstan
On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in Almaty to information about converting currency from the dollar to the tenge. Just click on Kazakhstan and go from there.
Visit this site to learn all you need to know about any country in the world.
Site with information primarily about Almaty from the view of a tourist or expat
U.S. State Department’s website. Issues background notes periodically about countries around the world. Find Kazakhstan and learn more about its social and political history.
This site includes links to all the official sites for governments of countries around the world.
This online world atlas includes maps and geographical information about countries around the world. Each country page contains links to other sites, such as the Library of Congress, that contain comprehensive historical, social, and political backgrounds.
This United Nations site allows you to search for statistical information for member states of the U.N.
This site provides an additional source of current and historical information about countries around the world, including Kazakhstan.
This site provides updated political, economic and environmental information.
Connect With Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees
This Yahoo site hosts a bulletin board for prospective Volunteers and returned Volunteers.
This is the site of the National Peace Corps Association, composed of returned Volunteers. On this site you can find links to all the Web pages of the “friends of” groups for most countries of service, made up of former Volunteers who served in those countries. There are also regional groups who frequently get together for social events and local volunteer activities.
This site is hosted by a group of returned Volunteer writers. It is a monthly online publication of essays and Volunteer accounts from countries around the world.
Web ring linking to other websites of returned Peace Corps Volunteers.
Online Articles/Current News Sites about Kazakhstan
- The Economist: www.economist.com/countries/ kazakhstan/
- The Times of Central Asia: www.timesca.com
International Development Sites about Kazakhstan
- The United Nations Development Programme: www. undp.org
- Asian Development Bank: www.adb.org/Kazakhstan/ default.asp
- The United States Agency for International Development: www.usaid.gov/regions/europe_eurasia/car/kzpage.html
- World Bank Group: http://www.worldbank.org/
- Hopkirk, Peter. The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. New York: Kodansha Globe, 1994. An account of the race between Britain and Russia to learn about and acquire the territory of Central Asia.
- Hopkirk, Peter. Setting the East Ablaze: Lenin’s Dream of an Empire in Asia. New York: Kodansha Globe; Reprint edition, 1995.
- Olcott, Martha Brill (ed.). Kazakhstan: Unfulfi lled Promise. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2002.
- Remnick, David. Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire. New York: Vintage, Reprint edition, 1994. A journalist’s account of the final days of the Soviet Empire. Provides insight into the history of the Soviet Union, the mentality of the people, and the role of the republics in the development and fall of the Soviet Union.
- Thubron, Colin. The Lost Heart of Asia. New York: Harper Perennial, 1995.
Books About the History of the Peace Corps
- Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960’s. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000.
- Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.
- Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004.
Books on the Volunteer Experience =
- Dirlam, Sharon. Beyond Siberia: Two Years in a Forgotten Place. Santa Barbara, Calif.: McSeas Books, 2004.
- Casebolt, Marjorie DeMoss. Margarita: A Guatemalan Peace Corps Experience. Gig Harbor, Wash.: Red Apple Publishing, 2000.
- Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. New York, N.Y.: Picador, 2003.
- Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York, N.Y.: Perennial, 2001.
- Kennedy, Geraldine ed. From the Center of the Earth: Stories out of the Peace Corps. Santa Monica, Calif.: Clover Park Press, 1991.
- Thompsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 1997 (reprint).
LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
While most Volunteers will have access to e-mail, it can be very slow, irregular, or simply unavailable at times. Do not expect to have e-mail access in your home or at your site; many Volunteers must travel to larger cities to access e-mail accounts. (Note that many Volunteers have difficulty receiving e-mails consistently when using Hotmail accounts. If you use Hotmail, please consider setting up an alternate e-mail address for use during your time in Kazakhstan.)
You may consider bringing your own laptop computer, modem, and e-mail software. Volunteers with computers are often able to connect to the Internet over their home phone line (assuming that they have a telephone in their home), though this is a costly and slow option. There are several computer outlets in Almaty and other cities, but U.S. computer warranties are not accepted in Kazakhstan. Some Volunteers also bring a small printer; if you bring one make sure to bring extra ink cartridges since they may not be available locally. Some hotels in Kazakhstan provide fax services in their business centers for a fee. Telegrams can be easily sent and received from most post offices. You must pay for your own telegrams, faxes, and e-mail access.
Some letters from the United States may take two to six weeks to reach a Volunteer, while others may take three months or more. Some mail may simply not arrive. Current Volunteers have estimated that they receive approximately 90 percent of the mail that is sent from the United States. Some letters may arrive with clipped edges because postal workers have tried to see if any money was inside. Boxes and packages take about one to two months. You may have to pay a special handling charge to get your packages from a local post office. All items may be opened and inspected by government officials. Occasionally, items have been missing from packages sent to Volunteers. Your friends and family should not mail expensive items to you. As a general rule, the smaller the package, the better. If you have a package sent overnight or sent by a company other than the USPS it may have to go through customs and you may have to pay a fee to get the package. Fees vary but can be up to $100 (U.S.). Generally, a letter takes three to four weeks to get back to the United States. However, the mail system here is not that efficient, and it is not unheard of for a letter to take three months. To mail a letter to the United States through the Kazakh system, you can buy pre-stamped envelopes at the post offices. Bring a supply of U.S. stamps to send letters back with people traveling to the United States.
Despite the inevitable delays, we encourage you to write to your family and to number your letters. Family members will typically become worried when they do not hear from you, so please advise your parents, friends, and relatives that mail and e-mail access may be sporadic and not to worry if they do not receive your letters regularly. If a serious problem were to occur, Peace Corps/Kazakhstan would notify the Office of Special Services at the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., and it would contact your family members immediately.
Your address during training will be:
“Your name,” PCT
P.O. Box 257
Once you become a Volunteer and are at your site, you should have your mail sent directly to your new address rather than to the Peace Corps Office.
Long-distance communication via telephone is available but expensive (the equivalent of $1.50 to $6.00 per minute depending on location). If you are calling from outside Almaty, it may take a very long time to get a line; telephone calls to the United States are usually made through an international operator, and it can take anywhere from half an hour to three hours or longer to get through. Long-distance calls within the country can be made either by dialing a special code or through an inter-city operator. You can order a call to the United States from a home telephone or from an international post office. In some sites it is very difficult, if not impossible, to call the United States. You often must go to the international post office to place the call. In Kazakhstan “smart cards” are extensively used in pay telephones. Cards must be purchased in Kazakhstan; cards purchased in the U.S. or Europe will not work. American telephone calling cards (such as AT&T) can be used in Kazakhstan by calling an access number. If you plan to make international calls, you should establish an international account with AT&T, MCI, Sprint, or another provider before you leave home. Some Volunteers choose to purchase cellphones at their own expense once in country. Due to the cost of calls, text messaging is extensively used among Volunteers.
Volunteer sites are selected by the Peace Corps staff in Kazakhstan, with the approval of the country director.
Volunteers are posted in sites upon the request of a
Kazakhstani agency and where the need for Volunteer services has been established. It is impossible to say where Volunteers will be posted before they arrive in Kazakhstan. The staff matches Volunteer skills with the needs of the site. You should remain flexible about the type and location of the job you will have during your service.
You will live with a host family for the first six months of your service in addition to staying with a host family during pre-service training. Depending on your site placement, you may continue to live with a host family or move to a dorm or apartment. There are many sites in smaller communities where independent living is not an option, so some Volunteers will stay with families for the duration of their service. If you feel you cannot live with a host family for this period of time, you should consider carefully whether you wish to accept this assignment in Kazakhstan.
There are many benefits to staying with a host family, including companionship upon arrival at site, faster acquisition of the local language, and improved integration into the local community. Aspects of host-family living that Volunteers may find challenging include the lack of privacy and independence and eating local cuisine. Volunteers are not allowed to supplement their living allowance to live in an accommodation above the level acceptable for a Volunteer.
Living Allowance and Money Management
As a Volunteer in Kazakhstan, you will receive four types of allowances: Living, vacation, settling-in, and monthly travel.
The living allowance covers basic living expenses. The allowance is for food, rent, utilities, household supplies, clothing, recreation and entertainment, transportation, local reading materials, and other incidentals. The amount is reviewed once a year through a market survey to ensure that it is adequate. Presently the living allowance in Kazakhstan is paid in the local currency, tenge, not U.S. dollars, and ranges from the equivalent of $180 to $450, depending on your site. The current exchange rate is approximately one U.S. dollar to 128 tenge. The living allowance is paid every month directly to Volunteers via electronic funds transfer to the Volunteers’ Kazakhstan bank accounts, which can be accessed by their ATM cards at most places in the country.
A vacation allowance, equivalent to $24 per month, is added to your living allowance each month. A one-time settling-in allowance of $200 and paid in local currency is given to buy basic household items when you move to your site. Volunteers also receive a monthly travel allowance, which is intended to cover all Volunteer travel in-country other than travel mandated by the Peace Corps.
Most Volunteers find that they can live comfortably in Kazakhstan with these four allowances, although many Volunteers bring money (in cash or traveler’s checks) for out-of-country travel. All Volunteers are strongly discouraged from supplementing their income for daily living with money brought from home. The living allowance is adequate, and Volunteers should be living at the economic equivalent of their neighbors and colleagues. If you bring cash, the bills should be new and without any written marks, creases, or tears. Only dollars in very good condition will be exchanged in Kazakhstan, as banks only want bills in good condition.
Credit cards can be used in several establishments in Almaty and in a few stores in the larger cities, but they are most useful during vacations and travel out of the country.
Traveler’s checks can be cashed for a 2 percent to 3 percent fee at most large banks. There are a few retail places in Kazakhstan where they can be used. American bank debit cards can be used in a growing number of cities in Kazakhstan.
Food and Diet
A variety of food is available in Kazakhstan in the summer, although there are fewer choices available in the winter. Each town has a green bazaar (similar to a farmer’s market in the United States) and small food stores. At the green bazaar, you can find—when in season—fresh tomatoes, potatoes, beets, carrots, squash, radishes, pumpkin, cucumbers, onions, cabbage, melons, oranges, grapes, bananas, pears, pomegranates, and apples. Garlic, fresh dill, and basil are generally available; however, spices tend to be somewhat sporadic from site to site. Pack your favorite spices! Markets usually have chicken, cow, sheep, goat, pig, and horse meat. Horse meat is the Kazakh national favorite. Pork is forbidden by Islam, but is popular with Russians and other non-Kazakh ethnic groups (and to Kazakhs who do not adhere to these Islamic tenants). Dairy products include milk (from cow, horse, or camel), butter, cheese, cottage cheese, and sour cream. Stores usually carry staples such as rice, barley, buckwheat, millet, spaghetti, pasta, vermicelli, flour, sugar, salt, juice, sausage, butter, cheese, yogurt, eggs, meat, and chicken, though supplies may be sporadic. The bread stores carry a variety of breads. Bread is a part of every meal here. There tends to be a lack of green vegetables, however.
To Americans, mealtime should be a time of relaxation, but in a strange country mealtime may be a perpetually unsettling challenge. The available food may not only be strange in type and appearance, but it may be unpalatable and even unhealthy from an American perspective. Meals in Kazakhstan are meat-based and fairly normal according to American standards, although without as much diversity as American meals. Eating is a significant social function and is a way to develop your working relationships and friendships. You may feel obligated to demonstrate your friendliness and willingness to accept local customs by eating food that you do not want. Sometimes you may not be able to refuse the food without offending your host. Your decision in each case will be the result of a fine balancing of many factors: the requirements of courtesy, the limits of your own tolerance to unaccustomed foods, and realistic concerns for your health. This will take time, and until you get comfortable in making such decisions, it will be a strain.
There are very few vegetarians in Kazakhstan. There may be issues for vegetarian Volunteers, whether strict or not, in most parts of the country. Kazakhstan is a meat-eating culture, and school cafeterias, business lunches, and special dinners will all feature meat. Vegetarian Volunteers will have to overcome these obstacles and face limited food choices at times.
Transportation within Kazakhstan is primarily by trains, buses, micro-vans, or private taxis. When traveling long distances, it is usually necessary to book tickets on the national railway service. This can be done either at the local train station or at specialized kiosks that provide train tickets and information. Train transport is available in three classes: Luxury-kupee, kupee, and platszcart. Most Volunteers purchase the four-person sleeper car kupee-class ticket. When on the train, it is common for the police to ask for your passport and other documents.
Short distances between adjacent cities and within cities can be traveled by public bus. The fare for buses varies by location but is usually between 40 to 60 tenge. Private taxi may also be hired when traveling within a city. Prices for taxis vary widely, with taxis in Almaty costing 400 to 1,000 tenge for cross town rides to 60 tenge within smaller towns and villages.
Geography and Climate
Covering about 2.7 million sq. km (1.7 million sq. miles), Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world, about half the size of the United States. Its border with Russia in the north and west is one of the world’s longest, at about 5,000 km (3,100 miles). It has a lengthy shoreline (almost 1,000 km, or 620 miles) on the Caspian Sea and a shrinking one on the Aral Sea. The country is mainly flat except for its alpine southeast and eastern fringes. Southeast Kazakhstan lies along the northern edge of the Tian Shan. Mount Khan Tengri, at 6,995 m (22,944 feet), stands on the border with the Kyrgyz Republic. Kazakhstan’s eastern border with China is a series of alternating mountain ranges and gaps through which roads or railways pass. The only serious elevations in the rest of the country are the Karatau hills, really a spur of the Tian Shan northwest of Zhambyl and Shymkent, and a band of upland that stretches west from the Tarbagatay hills, occasionally topping 1,000 m (3,280 feet) south of Semipalatinsk. The north of the country is flat, mostly treeless steppe. Much of it is original grassland now turned over to wheat or other agriculture. Farther south, the steppe is increasingly arid, turning into desert or semi-desert, often with some scrub vegetation, across much of the southern third of the country. The climate varies significantly with the topography, but generally Kazakhstan has four seasons, with very cold winters and hot, dry summers. The duration of the season depends on the region of the country. Be prepared for temperatures down to -40° F in winter and up over 100° F in summer.
In some cities in Kazakhstan, you may go to a concert, theater performance, bowling alley, circus performance, a movie, museums, saunas, or local cafés. There may be a few interesting restaurants. English movies are dubbed into Russian. Chess is a national pastime. Ice-skating and snow skiing are available outside of Almaty; you can rent skates and skis there. Soccer is extremely popular, and in the rural districts, horse riding and hunting are also very popular. You will have to create much of your own entertainment, especially during winter or in villages.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining your own cultural identity and acting like a professional—all at the same time. You will be working as a professional and are expected to dress and behave accordingly.
While some of your counterparts may dress in seemingly worn clothes, this will be due to economics rather than choice. The likelihood is that they are wearing their “best.” A foreigner in Kazakhstan wearing ragged, unmended clothing is more likely to be considered an affront than someone trying to “get closer to the people.” In Kazakhstan, people take pride in dressing well. Kazakhstani women are very fashion conscious, although the clothing available in Kazakhstan may be of lower quality and is often expensive.
Professional dress, especially in a business setting, is more formal than in Silicon Valley in the United States. For men, it is appropriate to wear a shirt, tie, and slacks to work, or perhaps a suit—definitely not jeans. Women usually wear skirts with shirts/blouses or sweaters or dresses. Both men and women should bring one or two sport jackets or blazers. Women can and do wear high-heeled shoes. Keep in mind, though, that you will be doing a lot of walking. Generally, Kazakhstani women wear dress boots to work in the winter and pumps and open-toed dress shoes in summer. Hiking boots at work are not acceptable. You may want to bring one suit or dressy outfit, but dry cleaning is not available in many places. Nice jeans and shorts are appropriate for casual wear and shorts are becoming more common among adults in major cities. The “grunge” look is never appropriate.
Overall, your clothing and shoes should be comfortable and warm. Many schools and offices are not adequately heated in the winter. Bring warm professional clothes! You should dress conservatively. Although local women wear miniskirts in the summer, you will get additional unwanted attention wearing this type of attire.
Toasting and drinking alcoholic beverages (primarily vodka) is part of the local culture in Kazakhstan and many Volunteers experience pressure to drink more than they desire or are accustomed to. Unfortunately, excessive drinking on the part of Volunteers has resulted in a number of alcohol-related incidents impacting both Peace Corps’ reputation and the safety of Volunteers in Kazakhstan. As a result, Peace Corps/Kazakhstan has implemented an alcohol use policy. It has been included below so that you will an opportunity to review this information in advance of making a decision to serve in Kazakhstan.
Volunteers/trainees serve 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and at all times are representing the Peace Corps and the United States. Kazakhstani culture can encourage use of alcohol in social situations; however, it discourages drunkenness and losing control of oneself.
Drinking excessively can result in behavior that is inappropriate and damages the reputation of all hard-working, committed Peace Corps Volunteers who have served and will serve in Kazakhstan. In addition, Volunteers/trainees compromise their personal safety when under the influence of alcohol. All allegations of alcohol misconduct will be investigated beginning with a discussion with the Volunteer/ trainee concerned.
Drunkenness and lewd, offensive behavior resulting from alcohol consumption are not allowed and will result in one of the following disciplinary actions:
- Alcohol Contract. An official alcohol contract that will either prohibit or limit a Volunteer/trainee’s alcohol consumption may be instituted for the duration of service. The Volunteer/trainee, country director, and Peace Corps medical officer will sign the alcohol contract and a violation of the contract may result in the initiation of administrative separation procedures.
- Administrative Separation. Violations of this policy that diminish a Volunteer’s effectiveness or adversely impact the Peace Corps’ program in Kazakhstan will result in the initiation of administrative separation procedures.
More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is outlined in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (often alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal safety problems. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help Volunteers reduce their risks and enhance their safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive.
As solid as our emergency plans and training are, Volunteers are ultimately responsible for their own safety and MUST take every reasonable precaution to ensure it. Every friendship you cultivate, every decision you make—traveling away from site; staying out late; drinking; becoming involved in personal, intimate relationships—will impact your personal safety. Thoughtful decision-making, preparedness, awareness, and vigilance will all help reduce the possibility of crimes against you.
Rewards and Frustrations
Although the potential for job satisfaction is quite high, like all Volunteers you will encounter numerous frustrations. Due to financial or other challenges, collaborating agencies do not always provide the support promised. The pace of work and life is slower than what most Americans are accustomed to, and many people are hesitant to change practices and traditions that are centuries old. For these reasons, the Peace Corps experience is often described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys that occur throughout your service. You will need to demonstrate self-motivation, resourcefulness, and initiative in your work—perhaps more than in any other job you have had or will ever experience. Often you will find yourself in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your counterparts with little guidance from supervisors. You may work for months without seeing a visible impact and without receiving feed-back on your work. Development is a slow process. Positive progress is often seen only after the combined efforts of several Volunteers and over the course of many years. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
In many aspects of daily life, you may feel pulled in opposite directions between your accustomed life and that of your hosts. At times, life may seem a series of minor nagging frustrations. Such frustrations can accumulate, and you may come through a long struggling day feeling exhilarated and happy with your achievements and yet become angry because you have to wipe your mouth on your hand for want of a paper napkin.
To approach and overcome these difficulties, you will need maturity, flexibility, and open-mindedness. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave Kazakhstan feeling that they have gained much more than they have sacrificed during their service. If you are able to make the commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.
Overview of Pre-Service Training
Your Peace Corps training begins in the United States during pre-departure orientation, when you come together as a group to prepare for your flight to Kazakhstan. When you arrive in Almaty, you will be met at the airport and transported by bus to your training site. Pre-service training lasts 12 weeks and consists of Kazakh and Russian language instruction, cross-cultural awareness, health and personal safety, and technical skills—depending on your assignment. Pre-service training emphasizes experiential learning in which you take responsibility for your own learning. Training is an immersion model—that is, being immersed in the local living and work conditions. During your first week in-country, you will move in with a host family selected by the Peace Corps. Expect to deal with the frustrations of language barriers and cultural differences from the start. Expect to deal with frustrations due to lack of e-mail, telephones, copy machines, and computers. Training will prepare you for your first three to six months at site and the techniques for continued individual learning. It is also the time for you to make an informed two-year commitment to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kazakhstan.
Technical training prepares you to work in Kazakhstan by building on the skills you already have and by helping you develop new skills in a manner appropriate to the needs of the country. The Peace Corps staff and Kazakhstani trainers will conduct training. Training places great emphasis on learning how to transfer the skills you have and how to determine what the community feels are their needs. A key to successful Peace Corps service is not to impose what you feel they need, but to learn what the community members and host agencies deem to be their needs and work with them on those projects.
You will be supported and evaluated by experienced Kazakhstani trainers and Peace Corps staff throughout the training to build the confidence and skills you need to undertake your project activities and be a productive member of your community.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, language skills are the key to personal and professional satisfaction during your service. These skills are critical to your job performance. They help you integrate into your host community, and ease your personal adaptation to new surroundings and people. Therefore, language training is the heart of the training program, and you must successfully meet minimum language requirements in order to complete training and become a Volunteer. Experienced Russian and Kazakh language instructors provide formal language instruction six days a week in small classes of five to six people. The Kazakh and Russian languages are also introduced in the health, culture, safety, and technical components of training.
Your language training will incorporate a community-based approach. You will have classroom time and will be given assignments to work on outside of the classroom and with your host family to learn the language. Our goal is to get you to a point of basic social communication skills so that you can practice and develop these skills more thoroughly. Prior to swearing in as Volunteers, you will work on strategies to continue language studies during your two years of service.
As part of your pre-service training, you will live with a Kazakhstani host family. This experience is designed to ease your transition into life at your site. Families have gone through an orientation conducted by Peace Corps staff to explain the purpose of the pre-service training program and to assist them in helping you adapt to living in Kazakhstan. Many Volunteers form strong and lasting friendships with their host families.
Cross-cultural and community development will be a focus of training to improve your perception, communication, and facilitation skills. Topics such as needs assessments, community mobilization, conflict resolution, gender and development, and traditional and political structures are addressed.
During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical training and information. You are expected to practice preventive healthcare and to take responsibility for your own health by adhering to all medical policies. Topics include preventive health measures and minor and major medical issues that Volunteers may encounter while in Kazakhstan. Sexual health and harassment, nutrition, mental health, and safety issues are also covered.
During the safety training sessions, you will learn how to adopt a lifestyle that reduces risk in your home, at work, and during your travels. You will also learn appropriate, effective strategies for coping with unwanted attention and about your individual responsibility for promoting safety throughout your service.
Additional Trainings During Volunteer Service
In its commitment to institutionalize quality training, the Peace Corps has implemented a training system that provides Volunteers with opportunities to increase their technical, language, and cross-cultural skills throughout their two years of service.
During your service, there are usually three or four training events. The number, length, and design of these trainings are adapted to country-specific needs and conditions. The titles and objectives for trainings in Kazakhstan are as follows.
- In-Service Trainings: In-service trainings provide an opportunity for Volunteers to upgrade their technical, language, and project development skills while sharing their experiences. Additional trainings may be held on specific topics (e.g., HIV/AIDS prevention, project design and management, or grant writing.)
- Close of Service Conference: The close of service conference prepares Volunteers for their future after Peace Corps service and reviews Volunteers’ respective projects and personal experiences.
YOUR HEALTH CARE AND SAFETY IN KAZAKHSTAN
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease. The Peace Corps in Kazakhstan maintains a clinic with full-time medical officers, who take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported to either an American medical facility in the region or to the United States.
Health Issues in Kazakhstan
In the past, the American press has given environmental problems in Kazakhstan a great deal of coverage. However, some of these reports are factually weak and sensationalized. The Peace Corps is aware of Kazakhstan’s environmental problems and shares the concerns of the Volunteers and trainees. The purpose of this discussion is to give you an idea of current environmental problems and what Peace Corps/Kazakhstan is doing to reduce the risk to you for your term of service.
For more than 70 years, the Soviets placed industrial development above other concerns, especially the environment. With little or no thought given to the effects on the environment, factories were constructed, nuclear tests were conducted, and endangered animals were poached.
As a result of this blind development, Kazakhstan now has some serious environmental problems. The most pressing problem is the shrinking and destruction of the Aral Sea, which has resulted in increased respiratory problems for local inhabitants, regional climate changes, and decreased agricultural production. The rising level of the Caspian Sea is flooding coastal towns and forewarns of future catastrophes.
More likely to affect Volunteers is industrial pollution in large cities. Many residents place water pollution of rivers, groundwater reserves, and fresh-water reservoirs as the primary environmental problem. Finally, in the former nuclear testing site in the region of Semipalatinsk, approximately 500 bombs were exploded above and below ground between 1949 and 1991.
Because water pollution is the primary citizen concern, all Volunteers receive water treatment units to ensure they are drinking safe water. In addition, several sessions in pre-service training are devoted to risk reduction and environmental health concerns. Unfortunately, the problem of exposure to low levels of radiation is difficult to assess in any country, including Kazakhstan. At the end of 1994, the Peace Corps contracted two American radiation specialists from an environmental health firm to do firsthand tests at various Volunteer sites. Their reports, available at the Peace Corps/ Kazakhstan office, indicate that Volunteers at the sites tested are not exposed to unusual external radiation levels in their apartments or in the immediate area of their apartments.
Analysis of data gathered by local environmental specialists and reviewed by U.S. specialists indicates that the airborne particles from these tests do not pose a significant health risk given the short amount of time the Volunteers live in the region. The Peace Corps continues to monitor these and other environmental factors. In 1995 all Volunteers were given individual radiation badges to help determine the amount of radiation Volunteers receive. Results from the badges showed no elevated levels of radiation. Personal radiation badges worn by Volunteers in two separate areas of Kazakhstan in the fall of 2000 and winter of 2001 were evaluated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Results from these radiation badges were all read as “non-detectable” exposures of radiation.
Earthquakes pose another environmental risk. Much of the southern part of the republic, including the cities of Almaty, Taraz, and Shymkent, lies on a geological fault. Earthquakes occurred along this fault line during the last century resulting in destruction. Historical patterns indicate there may be a threat of another event within the next 20 years. All trainees receive a briefing on earthquake preparedness. Additionally, Peace Corps/Kazakhstan maintains an emergency evacuation plan.
In spite of the efforts of the local environmental specialists and several agencies of the U.S. government, including the Peace Corps, there is still much that is unknown about the environmental conditions in Kazakhstan and in the other countries of the former Soviet Union. If, after reading this, you are uncomfortable with living and working in this environment, do as much research as possible before making a commitment to come.
Helping You Stay Healthy
The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy. Upon your arrival in Kazakhstan, you will receive a medical handbook. At the end of training, you will receive a first-aid kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs. The contents of the kit are listed later in this section.
During training, you will have access to basic first-aid supplies through the medical officer. However, during this time, you will be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs and any other specific medical supplies you require, as we willnot order these items during training. Please bring a three-month supply of any prescription drugs you use, since they may not be available here and it may take several months for new shipments to arrive.
You will have physicals at mid-service and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the medical officers in Kazakhstan will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Kazakhstan, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.
With its low humidity, Kazakhstan does not have many of the problems of warmer climates, like malaria. You will be immunized against local ailments that are a problem, such as tick-borne encephalitis and hepatitis. You will have distillers to purify your water. Kazakhstan, in general, is a relatively healthy country when compared to our southerly neighbors, and this greatly reduces your risk of various illnesses.
Kazakhstan is vast, so it is critical that you let your medical officer know immediately of any significant illness or injury and promptly report to the medical office or other designated facility for scheduled immunizations. Many diseases that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken. These diseases include food poisoning, amebiasis, giardia, hepatitis A, dysentery, and typhoid fever. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation for Kazakhstan during pre-service training.
Abstinence is the only certain choice for prevention of HIV/ AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). You are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. To lessen risk, use a condom every time you have sex. Whether your partner is a host country citizen, a fellow Volunteer, or anyone else, do not assume this person is free of HIV/AIDS or other STDs. You will receive more information from your medical officer about this important issue. Condoms are available from the medical office.
Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent unplanned pregnancies. Your medical officer can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the medical officer.
Maintaining Your Health
As a Volunteer, you must accept a certain amount of responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. The old adage, “An ounce of prevention ...” becomes extremely important in areas where medical diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to the standards of the United States.
Women’s Health Information
Pregnancy is a health condition that is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions that require medical attention but also have programmatic ramifications. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that the Peace Corps’ medical and programmatic standards for continued service during pregnancy can be met. The majority of Volunteers who become pregnant are medically separated from Peace Corps service.
Feminine hygiene products are available for you to purchase on the local market. If you require a specific feminine hygiene product, please bring a six-month supply with you.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
The Peace Corps medical officers provide Volunteers with a first-aid kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that might occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked from the Peace Corps medical office at no cost to the Volunteer.
Medical Kit Contents
Ace bandages Adhesive tape American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook Antacid tablets (Tums) Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens) Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B ointment Band-Aids Butterfly closures Cepacol lozenges Condoms Dental floss Diphenhydramine HCL 25 mg (Benadryl) Insect repellent stick (Cutter’s) Lip balm (Chapstick) Oral rehydration tablets Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit) Pseudoephedrine HCL 30 mg (Sudafed) Robitussin-DM lozenges (Cough calmers) Scissors Sterile gauze pads Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine) Tweezers
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental,
or dental—since the time you submitted your examination
reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and may jeopardize your eligibility to serve.
If your dental exam was done more than a year ago, or if your physical exam is more than two years old, contact the Office of Medical Services to find out whether you need to update your records. If your dentist or Peace Corps dental consultant has recommended that you undergo dental treatment or repair, you must complete that work and make sure your dentist sends requested confirmation reports or X-rays to the Office of Medical Services.
If you wish to avoid taking duplicate vaccinations, you should contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and bring it to your pre-departure orientation. If you have any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for the cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment, either at your predeparture orientation or shortly after you arrive in Kazakhstan.
Bring a three-month supply of any prescription or over-thecounter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth control pills. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for this three-month supply, Peace Corps will provide and cover the cost of pre-approved prescriptions during your service. While awaiting shipment—which can take several months—you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or non-prescribed medications, such as St. John’s wort, glucosamine, echinacea, selenium, or antioxidant supplements. You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, although it might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about your on-hand three-month supply of prescription drugs.
If you wear prescription eyeglasses, bring two pairs with you. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will replace it, using the information your doctor in the United States provided on the eyeglasses form during your examination. Over-the-counter reading glasses commonly found in drugstores in the United States are not available in Kazakhstan. If you use this type of eyeglasses, you should bring a sufficient quantity to cover breakage and loss as Peace Corps does not supply over-thecounter glasses. To reduce the risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease, we discourage you from using contact lenses during your Peace Corps service. Most Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless their use has been recommended by an ophthalmologist for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services has given approval.
If you are eligible for Medicare, are over 50 years of age, or have a health condition that may restrict your future participation in healthcare plans, you may wish to consult an insurance specialist about unique coverage needs before your departure. The Peace Corps will provide all necessary healthcare from the time you leave for your pre-departure orientation until you complete your service. When you finish, you will be entitled to the post-service healthcare benefits described in the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook. You may wish to consider keeping an existing health plan in effect during your service if you think age and/or pre-existing conditions might prevent you from reenrolling in your current plan when you return home.
Safety and Security—Our Partnership
Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Property thefts and burglaries are not uncommon. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although almost all Volunteers complete their two years of service without serious personal safety problems. In addition, more than 84 percent of Volunteers surveyed in the 2004 Peace Corps Volunteer Survey say they would join the Peace Corps again.
The Peace Corps approaches safety and security as a partnership with you. This Welcome Book contains sections on: Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle; Peace Corps Training; and Your Health Care and Safety. All of these sections include important safety and security information.
The Peace Corps makes every effort to give Volunteers the tools they need to function in the safest and most secure way possible, because working to maximize the safety and security of Volunteers is our highest priority. Not only do we provide you with training and tools to prepare for the unexpected, but we teach you to identify and manage the risks you may encounter.
Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk
There are several factors that can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are within the Volunteer’s control.
Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2004, the following factors stand out as risk characteristics for assaults. Assaults consist of personal crimes committed against Volunteers, and do not include property crimes (such as vandalism or theft).
- Location: Most crimes occurred when Volunteers were in public areas (e.g., street, park, beach, public buildings). Specifically, 43 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites.
- Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the evening between 5:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.— with most assaults occurring around 1:00 a.m.
- Absence of others: Assaults usually occurred when the Volunteer was unaccompanied. In 82 percent of the sexual assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied and in 55 percent of physical assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied.
- Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
- Consumption of alcohol: Forty percent of all assaults involved alcohol consumption by Volunteers and/or assailants.
Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk
Before and during service, your training will address these areas of concern so that you can reduce the risks you face.
For example, here are some strategies Volunteers employ:
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of theft:
- Know the environment and choose safe routes/times for travel
- Avoid high-crime areas per Peace Corps guidance
- Know the vocabulary to get help in an emergency
- Carry valuables in different pockets/places
- Carry a "dummy" wallet as a decoy Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of burglary:
- Live with a local family or on a family compound
- Put strong locks on doors and keep valuables in a lock box or trunk
- Leave irreplaceable objects at home in the U.S.
- Follow Peace Corps guidelines on maintaining home security
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of assault:
- Make local friends
- Make sure your appearance is respectful of local customs; don’t draw negative attention to yourself by wearing inappropriate clothing
- Get to know local officials, police, and neighbors
- Travel with someone whenever possible
- Avoid known high crime areas
- Limit alcohol consumption
Support from Staff
In March 2003, the Peace Corps created the Office of Safety and Security with its mission to “foster improved communication, coordination, oversight, and accountability of all Peace Corps’ safety and security efforts.” The new office is led by an Associate Director for Safety and Security who reports to the Peace Corps Director and includes the following divisions: Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security; Information and Personnel Security;
Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise; and Crime Statistics and Analysis.
The major responsibilities of the Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security Division are to coordinate the office’s overseas operations and direct the Peace Corps’ safety and security officers who are located in various regions around the world that have Peace Corps programs. The safety and security officers conduct security assessments; review safety trainings; train trainers and managers; train Volunteer safety wardens, local guards, and staff; develop security incident response procedures; and provide crisis management support.
If a trainee or Volunteer is the victim of a safety incident, Peace Corps staff is prepared to provide support. All Peace Corps posts have procedures in place to respond to incidents of crime committed against Volunteers. The first priority for all posts in the aftermath of an incident is to ensure that the Volunteer is safe and receiving medical treatment as needed. After assuring the safety of the Volunteer, Peace Corps staff provides support by reassessing the Volunteer’s work site and housing arrangements and making any adjustments, as needed. In some cases, the nature of the incident may necessitate a site or housing transfer. Peace Corps staff will also assist Volunteers with preserving their rights to pursue legal sanctions against the perpetrators of the crime. It is very important that Volunteers report incidents as they occur, not only to protect their peer Volunteers, but also to preserve the future right to prosecute. Should Volunteers decide later in the process that they want to proceed with the prosecution of their assailant, this option may no longer exist if the evidence of the event has not been preserved at the time of the incident.
The country-specific data chart below shows the incidence rates and the average number of incidents of the major types of safety incidents reported by Peace Corps Volunteers/trainees in Kazakhstan as compared to all other Europe, Mediterranean, and Asia (EMA) region programs as a whole, from 2001–2005. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy.
To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of the graph is provided as follows:
The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population. It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way to compare crime data across countries. An “incident” is a specific offense, per Peace Corps' classification of offenses, and may involve one or more Volunteer/trainee victims. For example, if two Volunteers are robbed at the same time and place, this is classified as one robbery incident.
The chart is separated into eight crime categories. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); burglary (forcible entry of a residence); robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault (attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault (attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without consent).
When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.
What if you become a victim of a violent crime?
Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of violent crimes. The Peace Corps will give you information and training in how to be safe. But, just as in the U.S., crime happens, and Volunteers can become victims. When this happens, the investigative team of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is charged with helping pursue prosecution of those who perpetrate a violent crime against a Volunteer. If you become a victim of a violent crime, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is entirely yours, and one of the tasks of the OIG is to make sure that you are fully informed of your options and help you through the process and procedures involved in going forward with prosecution should you wish to do so. If you decide to prosecute, we are here to assist you in every way we can.
Crimes that occur overseas, of course, are investigated and prosecuted by local authorities in local courts. Our role is to coordinate the investigation and evidence collection with the regional security officers (RSOs) at the U.S. embassy, local police, and local prosecutors and others to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible under the laws of the country. OIG investigative staff has extensive experience in criminal investigation, in working sensitively with victims, and as advocates for victims. We also, may, in certain limited circumstances, arrange for the retention of a local lawyer to assist the local public prosecutor in making the case against the individual who perpetrated the violent crime.
If you do become a victim of a violent crime, first, make sure you are in a safe place and with people you trust and second, contact the country director or the Peace Corps medical officer. Immediate reporting is important to the preservation of evidence and the chances of apprehending the suspect. Country directors and medical officers are required to report all violent crimes to the Inspector General and the RSO. This information is protected from unauthorized further disclosure by the Privacy Act. Reporting the crime also helps prevent your further victimization and protects your fellow Volunteers.
In conjunction with the RSO, the OIG does a preliminary investigation of all violent crimes against Volunteers regardless of whether the crime has been reported to local authorities or of the decision you may ultimately make to prosecute. If you are a victim of a crime, our staff will work with you through final disposition of the case. OIG staff is available 24 hours-aday, 7 days-a-week. We may be contacted through our 24-hour violent crime hotline via telephone at 202.692.2911, or by e-mail at [email protected]
Security Issues in Kazakhstan
When it comes to your safety and security in the Peace Corps, you have to be willing to adapt your behavior and lifestyle to minimize the potential for being a target of crime. As with anywhere in the world, crime does exist in Kazakhstan. You can reduce your risk of becoming a target for crime by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking advance precautions. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities. Tourist attractions, especially in large towns, are favorite work sites for pickpockets.
There has been an increase in crime among Kazakhstanis as well as foreigners. Local people no longer feel safe walking alone at night and the number of break-ins and thefts has increased.
The safety concerns here are similar to those in the United States, and the precautions you need to take are the same as you would at home. Harassment occurs to both locals and foreigners, but as a foreigner, you will be a more visible target.
It is possible that during your Peace Corps service in Kazakhstan you may encounter some level of harassment, including physical or sexual assault. You will receive a thorough briefing on how to minimize these risks and how to protect yourself in the event of an incident. You can avoid many problems and remain safe by behaving with caution. Should any crime happen to you, it is important that you notify the medical unit immediately and receive appropriate care, including care for your emotional well-being. Guidance is also available about your options for prosecuting an attacker.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in Kazakhstan
The Peace Corps’ approach to safety is a five-pronged plan to help you stay safe during your two-year service and includes the following: information sharing, Volunteer training, site selection criteria, a detailed emergency action plan, and protocols for reporting and responding to safety and security incidents. Kazakhstan’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
The Peace Corps/Kazakhstan staff keeps Volunteers apprised of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates will be offered in Volunteer newsletters and in memoranda from the country director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, Volunteers will be contacted through the emergency communication network.
Volunteer training includes sessions to prepare you for specific safety and security issues in Kazakhstan. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout your two-year service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.
Certain site selection criteria are used to determine safe environments for Volunteers before their arrival. Peace Corps staff works closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for the Volunteer’s arrival and to establish expectations of their respective role in supporting the Volunteer. Each site is inspected before the Volunteer’s arrival to ensure placement in appropriate, safe, and secure housing and work sites. Site selection criteria are based in part on any relevant site history; access to medical, banking, postal, and other essential services; availability of communications, transportation, and markets; appropriate housing arrangements; and other support needs.
You will also learn about the country’s detailed emergency action plan in the event of civil or political unrest or a natural disaster. When you arrive at your site, you must complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your house from the Peace Corps office. If there is a security threat, Volunteers in Kazakhstan will gather at pre-determined locations until the situation resolves itself or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate.
The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner. Volunteers should report any security incident immediately to the Peace Corps medical officer. In addition to responding to the needs of the Volunteer, the Peace Corps collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends and develop strategies to minimize risks to future Volunteers.
DIVERSITY AND CROSSCULTURAL ISSUES
In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, we are making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race, and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other, despite our many differences. Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal.
In other ways, however, our diversity poses challenges. In Kazakhstan, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyles, background, and beliefs will be judged in a cultural context very different from our own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics considered familiar and commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed.
Outside of Kazakhstan’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What is advertised as “typical” cultural behavior or norms may also be a narrow and selective interpretation, such as the perception in some countries that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Kazakhstan are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to differences that you present. Volunteers need to be supportive of one another.
In order to ease the transition and adapt to the ways of your host country, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, women trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions will need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limits. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during your pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
Overview of Diversity in Kazakhstan
The Peace Corps staff in Kazakhstan recognizes adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of cultures, backgrounds, religions, ethnic groups, and ages and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who will take pride in supporting each other and demonstrating the richness of American culture.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Kazakhstan is a traditional, patriarchal society. It is among the challenges of living and working in Kazakhstan to cope effectively and constructively with the differing status of women and men and the different standards of behavior to which they are held. To promote greater understanding, many Volunteers participate in Women in Development (WID) and Gender and Development (GAD).
Female Volunteers may:
- find that being a single woman living alone is not the cultural norm;
- receive more unwanted and inappropriate attention from men than in the United States; and
- have to work harder than male Volunteers to gain the respect of host-country colleagues. Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Volunteers of color may work and live with individuals who have had no experience with or understanding of the African-American, Hispanic American or Asian-American culture. Volunteers of color may be evaluated as less professionally competent than white Volunteers; they may be treated suspiciously, especially in rural areas of Kazakhstan. They may be the only minority trainee or Volunteer. The Russian word for a black or dark-skinned person sounds like the English word “Negro.” As such, its use is not meant as a racial slur. Asian-American Volunteers may not be accepted as Americans. They may be identified by their cultural heritage, not by their American citizenship. They may have to deal with peoples’ higher expectations of their language learning ability or cross-cultural adaptability.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Respect comes with age in Kazakhstan. Younger Volunteers may have to work harder than their older colleagues to be accepted as professionals. On the other hand, older Volunteers may face challenges solely due to their age. Throughout your service, you will be working and living with individuals in the Peace Corps community (the majority of Volunteers are in their 20s) who may have little understanding of, or respect for, the lives and experiences of senior Americans. Your interactions with Peace Corps staff may be different than that of younger Volunteers. Staff may not give you the necessary personal support, while at the same time, you may be reluctant to share your personal, sexual, or health concerns with the staff. You may find that younger Volunteers look to you for advice or support. While some seniors find this an enjoyable part of their Volunteer experience, others choose not to fill this role.
Peace Corps countries vary greatly in the physical and human resources available for in-country training. Some senior trainees have encountered inattentiveness to their needs for an effective learning environment, including timing, presentation of materials, comfort level, and health. You may need to be assertive in developing an effective individual approach to language learning.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
While homosexuality certainly exists in Kazakhstan, there may not be as much cultural acceptance as there was in a Volunteer’s home community. Moreover, host country acceptance of homosexuality among nationals may be quite different from their acceptance of homosexuality among foreigners. Lesbian, gay, or bisexual Volunteers may serve for two years without meeting another gay Volunteer. Straight Volunteers and staff may not be able to give needed support.
Most lesbian, gay, or bisexual host-country nationals will have migrated to the larger cities, while many Volunteers are posted in rural sites, where cultural difficulties may be greater. Though relationships with host-country nationals can occur, they may not be easy and could result in dangerous situations. AIDS (SPID in Russian) is a critical issue in many countries, including Kazakhstan. There is a backlash being felt by gay American men for supposedly bringing the disease into some areas.
Civil liberties are sometimes nonexistent or ignored. Homosexuals may be hassled in bars or on streets. Lesbians will face constant questions about boyfriends, marriage, and sex (as do all women). Wearing an “engagement ring” may help. Gay men must deal with machismo: talk of conquests, girl watching, and dirty jokes.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Volunteers are free to exercise their personal religious beliefs, but you may not engage in religious proselytizing or otherwise engage in activities that could be contrary to law or would impair your effectiveness as a Volunteer.
Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
As a disabled Volunteer in Kazakhstan, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. In Kazakhstan, as in other parts of the world, some people may hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against them. There is little to no infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities.
As part of the medical clearance process, the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services determined that you are physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodation, to perform a full tour of Volunteer service in Kazakhstan. Your service should be without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption during your time in Kazakhstan.
The Peace Corps/Kazakhstan staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations for them in their training, housing, job sites, or in other areas, to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How much luggage will I be allowed to bring to Kazakhstan?
Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds those limits. The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits, and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limitations. The authorized baggage allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 100 pounds total with a maximum weight of 50 pounds for any one bag.
Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (short-wave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. Please check the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Website for a detailed list of permitted and prohibited items at http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/permittedprohibited-items.shtm.
What is the electric current in Kazakhstan?
The electricity here is as in Europe—220 volts, 50 Hertz with Shuco-style plugs (two round prongs). Even if your appliance says it is 220V-compatible, you will need an adapter that allows you to plug it into an outlet for two round prongs. Adapters do not convert electricity—they only allow you to plug in an appliance with an American-style plug into the Kazakhstani two round prong electric sockets. It is possible to find converters and adapters in Almaty. There are almost no grounded outlets in Kazakhstan.
How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. They are given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which covers their expenses.
Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Consider bringing extra money (say $300) to buy a local coat, hat, and clothes. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are not particularly useful in Kazakhstan, since only a very limited number of establishments in Almaty and a few of the larger cities accept them; however, they can be useful on vacations outside the country. If you choose to bring extra money, plan on bringing the amount that suits your own personal travel plans and needs. Only new (offset picture) dollars in very good condition can be exchanged. It is safer to bring a debit card (ATM card) to access money directly from a U.S. bank account. Most larger towns and cities in Kazakhstan now have ATM (Bancomat) locations.
When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding training). Leave may not be taken during training, the first three months of service, or the last three months of service, except in conjunction with an authorized emergency leave. Family and friends are welcome to visit you after pre-service training and the first three months of service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. Education Volunteers in Kazakhstan work in schools and these schools operate on an academic schedule similar to that of the United States. Therefore, vacation time is available during winter, spring, and summer breaks. Organizational and community assistance program Volunteers may take vacation at a time that is convenient to both the Volunteer and his or her host agency. Extended stays by visitors at your site are not encouraged and may require permission from your country director. The Peace Corps cannot provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance.
Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects. However, such insurance can be purchased before you leave. Ultimately, Volunteers are responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Additional information about insurance should be obtained by calling the company directly.
Volunteers should carefully consider whether to bring valuable items overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places, satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available.
Do I need an international driver’s license?
Volunteers in Kazakhstan do not need to get an international driver’s license because operation of vehicles is prohibited during service. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi. Rural travel ranges from buses, to mini-buses, to trucks, to a lot of walking.
What should I bring as gifts for Kazakhstan friends and my host family?
Tokens of friendship are greatly appreciated, and you are likely to visit local families during your pre-service training. Some gift suggestions include: Knickknacks for the house; pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; and photos to give away. Most people would probably enjoy candy, especially chocolate, from America more than a small souvenir. Apartments and houses are small and eating candy while drinking tea and conversing is very important culturally. It is highly recommended that you bring pictures of your family, home, local area, and other points of interest to you. Sharing photos is a great ice breaker and social norm here.
Where will my site assignment be when I finish and how isolated will I be?
Peace Corps trainees are assigned to their sites after completion of pre-service training. This gives Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee’s technical and language skills prior to assigning sites, in addition to finalizing site selections with their ministry counterparts. Many factors influence the site selection process and the Peace Corps does not guarantee placement where you might ideally like to be. Approximately 70 percent of Volunteers will live in towns or rural villages while the rest live in cities. Some sites have only one Volunteer; larger cities may have up to four. Many sites are from 24 to 40 hours away from the Peace Corps office by train.
How can my family contact me in an emergency?
The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services in Washington, D.C., provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, you should instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574.
For non-emergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
Kazakhstan has cellular phone service, and Peace Corps staff members are equipped with cellphones to attend to emergency calls. Because of the lack of radio transmitting stations, cellular service is not widespread in some rural areas. Differences in GSM technology make many U.S. cellphones incompatible with the Kazakhstani system, so only phones and cellular plans purchased here will function in Kazakhstan. Local communication methods are reliable for Peace Corps Volunteers and most Volunteers have home phones. For convenience and social purposes, most Volunteers choose to purchase cellphones at their own expense once they arrive in-country.
Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
Some Volunteers have e-mail access from their homes and can check e-mail daily. Other Volunteers must travel up to four hours to a city to visit an Internet café and therefore can only check e-mail once every couple of weeks. Many Volunteers bring laptop computers to Kazakhstan and find that having a computer makes their life easier. However, it is difficult, if not impossible, to have computers repaired at most sites and U.S. warranties are not honored in Kazakhstan. If you plan to bring a computer (and printer), consider purchasing property insurance, as theft of laptops has been a problem in the past.
This section of the Welcome Book has been thoroughly debated among Volunteers in Kazakhstan. Previous versions written by Volunteers have been described as “misleading and useless” by other Volunteers. There is no perfect list! Having received input from a number of current Volunteers, it is safe to say that everyone agrees that you can buy everything that you need in Kazakhstan and that bringing less is actually better. With that caveat, this section contains several lists of the “basics” and the most common recommendations from Volunteers.
Remember you have a 100-pound baggage weight restriction and that Kazakhstanis have been living here for centuries without imports!
During training, you will primarily need “business casual” attire, though there are occasions (such as the swearing-in ceremony) when more formal attire is appropriate (jackets for men, dresses/skirts for women).
Your luggage should be durable, lightweight, and easy to carry. Duffel bags and backpacks without frames are best. When choosing luggage, remember you will be hauling it around on foot. There are no “Red Caps” or luggage carts in this part of the world. If you cannot carry it by yourself, do not bring it!
The clothing you bring should be durable and versatile. The weather in Kazakhstan varies quite a bit. The summers are very hot. Spring and fall are rainy and the streets get pretty muddy. The winter is cold and windy with snow and rain. Kazakhstanis dress more formally than Americans, and there will be many occasions where you can dress up. You will probably be hand washing all of your clothes in a bathtub, so do not bring too many white things as they will get pretty dirty (though bleach is available).
Professional dress is required, but this does not mean expensive dress. As long as your clothing is neat, clean, and conservative it should be acceptable. A foreigner in Kazakhstan wearing ragged, unmended, unironed clothing is likely to be considered an affront.
Overall, your clothing and shoes should be comfortable and warm, keeping in mind that there may be little heat in the winter and no air conditioning in summer. Both men and women should bring one basic sport jacket/blazer. You may want to bring one suit or dressy outfit, but keep in mind that dry cleaning is not available in many places and you may get only occasional use out of these items. However, business and school dress here can be similar to that in America. Be sure to bring a good supply of lightweight, short-sleeved dress shirts. Tank tops can be worn on occasion, but they are not generally acceptable.
You will be walking a lot, and all of your shoes should be comfortable and, if possible, waterproof. Good shoes are hard to find, and imported shoes are very expensive, so do not skimp on these. Your shoes will take a beating and wear out quickly, so bring shoes with sturdy soles. Consider bringing an extra pair or two. Also be sure to bring shoes appropriate for all seasons (i.e., sandals, boots, etc.). Locals wear high heels with incredible skill on uneven surfaces and ice. Unless you possess this skill, high heels are not recommended. You will be taking your shoes off and putting them on as you enter and leave homes here, so slip-on shoes are much easier.
Note: It begins to get cold in Kazakhstan in October. Although you can purchase winter clothing in Kazakhstan (you will receive $200 at the end of pre-service training for this purpose), make sure you bring some warm clothes with you (i.e., sweaters, jackets, gloves, and hats). During training (October), you will visit your permanent site. If you are assigned to the northern part of the country, it may already be snowing with temperatures in the 30s.
- Warm winter coat—full length is best, especially for women (can be purchased in Kazakhstan; black or gray recommended)
- Waterproof, lightweight jacket (black or gray recommended)
- Three pairs of warm socks—white is impossible to keep clean and should be avoided
- Winter gloves (extremely warm and waterproof), scarf, and hat
- One/two sets of thermal underwear (tops and bottoms—some Volunteers recommend polypropylene; others recommend silk); you will wear these under clothes for warmth and for sleeping
- Three warm flannel shirts or sweatshirts
- Several good sweaters and turtlenecks
- Sturdy, well-made shoes—sandals, sports, dress and winter (good shoes are hard to come by and they’re expensive when you find them, don’t go cheap on this), including:
- Waterproof hiking boots (there are some great mountains for hiking here). They should have good traction, be warm, and be durable. It gets very messy in the winter with a lot of ice, slush, and mud. Thick soles will help keep your feet warm.
- Sneakers and walking shoes
- Outdoor sandals (Tevas and Birkenstocks are acceptable, but not for work)
- Thongs for the shower
- Dress shoes
- Insulated durable professional looking water-proof boots
- Extra shoelaces, one can of waterproofing, and a tube of good shoe glue (a real must!)
- Bathing suit
- Baseball cap
Men here dress in suits for business meetings, weddings, and work. It is appropriate to wear a shirt, tie, and pants (not jeans) to work. Sports jackets with nice pants and dress shirts are acceptable. Most local people wear the same ties daily. You probably do not need more than two to four ties. The acceptability of shorts will depend upon your site. Shorts are usually only worn here by men for sporting events or exercise. A cultural point to consider is that hair is worn short by men in Kazakhstan, and beards on younger men are rare.
- One suit
- One or two sport coats
- Three ties
- Three dress shirts (long and short sleeves—bring short sleeves even if you do not wear them in America)
- Three pairs dress slacks (chino/khaki type but dark colors)
- Three pairs of shorts
- Three T-shirts/regular shirts for everyday wear
- One pair of slacks/shorts that zip off at the knees (you cannot wear shorts to training events and if you have afternoon plans these will be a life-saver; also great if you know you will be visiting a mosque in Kazakhstan or if you go on vacation to another Muslim country like Turkey or the UAE and don’t want to wear pants all day.)
- Two pairs of jeans (not usually acceptable for work attire)
- Six pairs of socks, preferably not white
Kazakhstani women are very fashion conscious. Women should wear skirts that are at least knee length. In a few communities, schools do not approve of women wearing pants in the classroom. Also, blouses and upper portions of dresses should be modest. In certain cities and towns in Kazakhstan, you will see women in mini-skirts and other scant attire. However, you should be aware that for the Kazakhstanis, this sends a certain message about your character. Generally, Kazakhstani women wear dress boots to work in the winter and sandals in the summer.
Hair is styled in all sorts of ways, and shouldn’t be a problem. Local hair-coloring products are not up to par, and we’ve seen some interesting interpretations of henna and even blond hair coloring. Go with your natural color, or bring what you need.
- Dress jackets
- Plenty of mid-length and long skirts and dresses
- Jeans (acceptable in larger cities)
- Dress pants
- At least one good outfit for formal occasions
- One or two pairs of shorts and a short skirt or two (for American social occasions)
- Tights and leggings
- Jewelry and makeup (both are worn here, and available)
- Slips (cotton, lightweight)
- Sturdy winter boots, which can be worn with skirts and dresses and dress pants
- One washcloth and one towel (these are available locally, but quality is often not that great)
- Razors or electric shaver, shaving cream
- Shampoo and conditioner (might not be your favorite brand, but many types are available here)
- Nail clipper
- Toothpaste (Crest and Colgate are available)
- Good toothbrushes
- Soap (if your skin is sensitive, you may want to bring a good supply)
- Deodorant (available here)
- Feminine hygiene products are available at all sites in Kazakhstan so there is no need to bring an extensive supply Odds & Ends:
- Flashlight: very powerful and illuminating (power outages are regular which makes it a pain to shave or make posters for a lesson, so this will help tremendously)
- One of two sturdy water bottles (e.g., Nalgene)
- Battery charger and at least four rechargeable batteries
- Electricity converter kit (the voltage is 220 and is uniform across Asia. It should have a pair of parallel, round prongs)
- A lot of good books (Note that the Peace Corps office has a library from which you can check out books)
- Random House’s Russian: Living Language audio program
- Copy of Lonely Planet: Central Asia
- Lots of music
- Laptop (if applicable) with DVDs if you want to watch movies
- Leatherman or Swiss Army knife
- Office supplies
- Two luggage locks
- Day planner
- Toiletries bag and initial set of toiletries
- Digital camera (great for e-mailing photos home and you do not want to carry pictures around for two years)
- High-quality backpack (will need to get your stuff to Kazakhstan, as well as for vacation out-of-country and when you go camping in-country; there are lots of beautiful places to go camping in the eastern and western parts of the country)
- Hand sanitizer (important to have when eating out since many places will not have bathrooms or you wouldn’t want to use the facilities if they did. Clean hands will help you avoid sickness during pre-service training. Your body will have enough things stressing it out already.)
- Pictures, Pictures, Pictures—People in Kazakhstan, especially your students if you are a teacher, love to see pictures of their Volunteer’s life in America. Pictures of the close major cities to you and your family to things as mundane as the local supermarket and the car you drive will all be crowd pleasers. They will also be a great icebreaker with your host families, which you will be desperate for since you will have all of two Russian lessons under your belt on the day you go to live with them.
- Gifts for host families
In your haste to prepare for the brutish Central Asian winter,
do not forget to prepare for the equally brutish Central Asian
summer, especially in the south. It tops off at 110 F out here
and AC is pretty hard to come by so have good summer stuff, too. Don’t worry about sun block or mosquito netting as both will be provided by Peace Corps.
Pert Plus, Gillette, and even Herbal Essences can easily be found at the smallest bazaars, so don’t go overboard on the toiletries unless there is some aftershave, shampoo or whatever that you can’t live without for two years.
Do not pack any work clothes that you hope to use after two years! After two years of your hand washing and sun-drying, the clothes will be rags, especially if you end up in a village. Do not, however, come like some Volunteers do, thinking that looking like a pauper in the third world is the norm just because it is the Peace Corps. People do dress up regularly, and clean, ironed clothes are a must in this culture. People may have only two outfits (some of your students will have only one), but they will look like they were just store-bought even if they wear them every day in a given week.
People typically wear black and gray in winter, especially as far as jackets are concerned. Having a brightly colored jacket will make you stick out as a foreigner. It is also not a bad idea to avoid white (especially in the case of socks) because this will be the hardest to keep clean.
The only medical supplies you should need are initial supplies of prescription medications—Peace Corps will provide the rest.
After a couple of weeks here you will miss flavors other than fat in your food. Bringing spices you like with you is an excellent idea both for yourself and for introducing yourself to locals. You will get requests to cook things from locals and also it is a nice thing to do for people who will no doubt be cooking for you repeatedly. Do not use them for a while after you arrive even though you may be tempted. A few other hints: ranch mix and barbeque sauce are always missed by Volunteers.
Office supplies are of poor quality here and having Sharpie pens that do not run out the third time you use them, three-ringed binders/folders, and clipboards are all luxuries foreign to this land. They will also be great tools for your class if you are a secondary English teacher and the folders you will need for the copious amounts of paperwork that Peace Corps will give you during training and expect you to hold on to.
Gifts for Host Families
While it is not something you have to bring it is a nice thing
to do and will endear you to the family. If you go visiting at
someone’s house (which you will do a lot in the next two years)
it is polite to bring a gift and this is a great way to start since
you will be living with them for three months. The best gifts are often the most useful ones. The two most popular gifts I have given to date are a high-powered flashlight (due to the power outages) and a large scented candle. For many of the families, money is tight so lavish, luxury items aren’t as big a hit as they would be in the U.S. Candy or something that can be consumed the first night you are with them is also a nice icebreaker. Remember, you will have two host families in Kazakhstan.
Many of you have just gotten out of college and cannot afford to blow a thousand bucks at REI as some of the other people will. Things in Kazakhstan are significantly cheaper than they are in the U.S. and the people here had to survive the winters long before you decided to come here, so finding heavy-duty winter clothing here at a fraction of the price is totally feasible. However, the selection of sizes and colors may be limited. Some of the larger-sized trainees who arrived in 2006 found it very difficult to find coats that fit. They ended up having coats sent from the U.S. Additionally, the quality may not be as good. It is advisable to buy gloves, silk undergarments, and winter shoes at home and bring some sweaters and at least a jacket with you.
If you are thinking of buying one before you come pay the extra cash if you can for a DVD burner.
The following list consists of suggestions for you to consider as you prepare to live outside the United States for two years. Not all items will be relevant to everyone and the list does not include everything you should make arrangements for.
- Notify family that they should call the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services at any time if there is a critical illness or death of a family member (telephone number: 800.424.8580, extension 1470; 24 hour duty officer: 202.638.2574).
- Establish a power of attorney to handle your legal and financial issues.
- Give the Peace Corps’ On the Home Front handbook to family and friends.
- Forward to the Peace Corps travel office all paperwork for the Peace Corps passport and visas.
- Verify that luggage meets the size and weight limits for international travel.
- Obtain personal passport if you plan to travel after your service ends. Your Peace Corps passport will expire three months after you finish your service, so if you plan on traveling longer, you will need a regular passport.
- Complete any needed dental and medical work.
- If you wear glasses, bring two pairs, plus prescription.
- Arrange to bring a three-month supply of all medications (including birth control pills) you are presently taking.
- Make arrangements to maintain life insurance coverage. . Arrange to maintain supplemental health insurance coverage while away. (Even though the Peace Corps is responsible for your healthcare during Peace Corps service overseas, it is advisable for people who have preexisting conditions to arrange for the continuation of their supplemental health coverage. If there is a lapse in supplemental health coverage, it is often difficult and expensive to be reinstated for insurance. This is especially true when insurance companies know you have predictable expenses and are in an upper age bracket.)
- Arrange to continue Medicare coverage.
- Bring a copy of your certificate of marriage or divorce.
- Register to vote in the state of your home of record. (Many state universities consider voting and payment of state taxes as evidence of residence in that state.) . Obtain a voter registration card and take it with you overseas.
- Arrange to have an absentee ballot forwarded to you overseas.
- Purchase personal property insurance to extend from the time you leave your home for service overseas until the time you complete your service and return to the United States.
- Obtain student loan deferment forms from the lender or loan service.
- Execute a power of attorney, if necessary, for the management of your property and business.
- Arrange for deductions from your readjustment allowance to pay alimony, child support, and other debts through the Office of Volunteer Financial Operations at 800.424.8580, extension 1770.
- Place all important papers—mortgages, deeds, stocks, and bonds—in a safe deposit box or with an attorney or other caretaker.
- If you wish someone in the U.S. to file your tax returns, you must execute the power of attorney forms prior to coming to Kazakhstan.