My name is Forrest Dunbar, and I am a 33-year-old attorney now living in my home state of Alaska. I volunteered with the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan from August, 2006 until August, 2008. I lived and trained in Ecik, outside Almaty, and then was stationed in Petropavlovsk, where I worked as a teacher. I taught English, American History, and American Literature. I also worked at summer camps, organized an English teachers’ convention, and attempted to lead a journalism course at the local university. Unfortunately, the university administration shut down the journalism class pretty quickly (long live the Fourth Estate).
I studied Russian in Ecik, and was placed with a Russian family and Russian counterpart in Petropavlovsk. I therefore learned Russian. I attempted to take extra courses in Kazakh, but never really got the hang of it. I found Russian quite challenging, and learning Kazakh and Russian at the same time proved too much for my young self (as I’m sure it would now, for my not-young self).
My host family was always very open and invited me to participate in their family gatherings. The teachers at my school were great, particularly my counterpart Irina and two women, both named Lena (I referred to them as “the Lena’s”). The students at my school were bright and engaging, especially the older students that were training to be English teachers and were a bit closer to my age.
I remember being grateful one summer when I was invited to be a camp counselor in the southern part of the country. I enjoyed the train ride down — I liked to buy eggs and meat and noodle soup, and relax and read during the long journey — and once there I had a great time. The other counselors were friends, the climate was good, and the kids were fun to be around. I actually worked at three different summer camps during my two years in Kazakhstan, and each time I was grateful for the experience.
I hope that the tradition of holding summer camps continues long into the future. And hope it also continues to be a place where children of Russian, Kazakh, and other descents can mingle and learn together. I very much appreciated Kazakhstan’s ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity, and I hope that it remains a pillar of Kazakhstani society even after the current President is gone. When I lived there, protection and tolerance of that diversity was, to me, his most impressive accomplishment.
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