Lessons learned from Kazakh culture

Anyone who may have read any of my posts, here on medium or instagram may already know that I’m big on travel.

In fact these days I’m almost solely focused on working as an expat, moving around every few years and just experiencing as many different cultures as possible. My parents instilled in me a lifelong passion for travel, and the belief that travel really does broaden the mind.

One of my first loves when it comes to travel and culture is Kazakhstan.

There are a few reasons for that and probably the biggest is that really its one of the first places I really was able to work in and experience for any period of time, around the age of 20/21.

Starting at the age of 19 I’d been fortunate enough to travel extensively for work but up until this point it was for short trips in many different places. Kazakhstan was different, longer and repeat trips and the first time i really got a taste for culture in the country I was a guest in.

In fact for a lot of friends and colleagues our assignments in Kazakhstan in the late nineties and early noughties are the stuff of legend, that we still talk about with great fondness all these years later.

Back in those days the country was redeveloping its own identity and moving away from the soviet satellite model that it been used to since the early part of the 20th century.

Personally I consider that we were hugely lucky to have that opportunity to see a country develop having come out from under the shadow of the Soviet Union around 10 years previously. Certainly the opportunity to see such a rapid development of a country and change back to a uniquely national culture across so much of the globe as those countries that redeveloped post Soviet Union, is one we will be very unlikely to see again in our lifetimes.

Many assignments have and gone since then and I have experienced many different cultures and countries but always referred back to Kazakhstan as my base experience.

Fast forward to 2017 and I had the chance to take on another live in assignment, this time in Kazakhstan. Since I felt like I had unfinished business in my love affair with the country I jumped at the chance.

Ive been here just over 3 years making it my longest assignment to date and I still if I’m fortunate have around 12 months to go. In the time I’ve been here, this time I have really done my best to explore what the country and its fantastic people have to offer.

The 9th largest country in the world and the largest landlocked country in the world. Kazakhstan is roughly the same size as Western Europe, with a population of roughly 18mm people recorded in the last census 2017.

The climate is desert in the west and centre and mainly alpine in the east. Winters are 5 months long and brutally cold getting down as low as -50dgc with wind chill in some areas. Summers are hot and dry with temperatures reaching 50dgc in some areas. It really is a climate with extremes.

The landscape is varied from the beaches and long deserted stretches of coastline on the campaign sea, through the flat expanse of the central Asian steppe and the greenery, mountains, lakes, waterfalls and canyons in the east. It’s a country that has something for everyone.

If you think the gran canyon is a sight to behold, the Chorley canyon outside of the city of Almaty is on another level and so much more accessible.

The people are truly patriotic about their country and defending its culture in a way that many of us simply wouldn’t understand. The people of Kazakhstan can trace themselves back through the lineage of the Khan dynasty and are a major part of the history of the Silk Road,

Respect for your elders is a value that’s not simply admired or desired, its an expectation and a key founding tenet of the culture. I don’t just mean elders in the family I mean anyone regardless of background or position more than 7 or 8 years older than you.

Hospitality is offered everywhere with genuine intent, not simply as a gratuitous gesture.

The cuisine is a rich varied melting pot of Middle Eastern and Asian influences, although be warned you will end up trying horse at some point in your travels :).

In 2020 Kazakhstan is really expanding its efforts to bring tourism to the country. I highly recommend it, the place and the people will be a richly rewarding experience you will never forget.

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