University of Wisconsin–Madison

Museums, Mountains, and Billiards

1:04 AM ALMT, July 3, 2015 – Almaty, Kazakhstan

Right now I’m sitting at my desk with the full Moon at my back and nice breeze rolling through my room. It’s weird; even though I knew full well that the Moon would look exactly the same over here in Kazakhstan – along with all other astronomical phenomena – I still expected it to be different for some reason. It’s pure coincidence that Almaty lies on the 43rd parallel, just as Madison does, so our seasonal weather patterns are similar, though it’s quite a bit hotter here in the summer. Temps were in the upper 90s the last two days and tomorrow is supposed to be over 100. We’re required to wear pants on campus in our unconditioned classrooms so that amplifies the heat a bit. To be honest, though, the heat doesn’t really bother me much. It’s all part of the experience, right?


In my last blog post I was just about to head over to campus for my first day of classes. Today we wrapped up week two which means I’m over a quarter of the way done with academics here already. Totes cray. I don’t want it to go this fast. On a typical day at the university, I study Russian in a small group of students from 9:25 AM to 2:20 PM with a few short five minute breaks and one 25 minute break for lunch. Studying Russian for five hours a day definitely tests your attention span, but our awesome instructor Madina helps make it fun and engaging. For lunch we usually head over to the cafeteria and scarf down some plov or whatever dish we’re feeling brave enough to try. Class is usually followed by some exploration of Almaty. Either that, or bowling, oddly enough. Or as the Kazakhs call it here, “bowoooling” (the Cyrillic alphabet doesn’t support the ‘w’ sound).




I’ve already done a ton of cool stuff so far in Almaty so I’ll just try to highlight some of my favorite experiences. We had an organized excursion for all the students in the program (about 15 of us) to the Central State Museum which had a ton of old military history in it as well as a Kazakh cosmonaut section which was pretty cool. This poster says, “FOR COUNTRY, FOR HONOR, FOR FREEDOM!”




I went with some students and new Kazakh friends on a day trip up to Medeu and Shymbulak which are an ice rink and ski resort, respectively. A bus ride (₸80, $0.50) got us to Medeu and then a cable car ride (₸2500, $13) took us up to Shymbulak where we climbed another 2000 ft up the mountains. Fun crew, great views, and the overpriced cappuccino I had after getting back into Shymbulak was definitely worth it.




I went with my host couple to a family friend’s apartment and afterwards I went with the guys to play Russian billiards. This makes American billiards look like child’s play. For starters, the table is huge, probably 50% bigger than a regular pool table. Additionally, the pocket openings are basically the exact same diameter as the balls, so you have to be dead on with your shots. The first one to sink eight balls is the victor.




Yesterday evening we had another official excursion to the A. Kasteyev State Museum of Arts which was an incredible collection of artwork. I am by no means an art snob but I was truly drawn in by some of the paintings on display there. A short break for tea and sweets separated our hour-long guided tour from a piano-accompanied concert by Kazakh opera singer Dina Khamzina. Holy cow, was she good.




That’s all for now. Adventures await.


Thanks for reading,