Summer in Central Asia

Hi, I’m the Metadata Assistant here at Mountain West. I returned last week from a long hiatus from work during which I partook in an intensive Russian language program in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan as an awardee of the Foreign Language and Area Studies scholarship (FLAS) grant for the 2018-2019 school year. For those that were interested, here is a short rundown of my experiences this summer and some background about Kyrgyzstan.
A picture of two yurts on a grassy plain against the dramatic backdrop of the Ala-Too mountains.
I spent roughly 11 weeks in Kyrgyzstan. The majority of this time I lived in the capital city of Bishkek (called Frunze during the Soviet period). I studied with a group composed of students from several universities in the U.S. for much of the summer we attended language classes 4 days a week, and traveled to cultural sites the other three. A few of us even took the opportunity to travel on our own to Osh in the south and Almaty in Kazakhstan observe the cultural differences between the different regions of the country. In Osh there are many more people who speak Uzbek than in the north, due both to proximity to Uzbekistan and to the way borders were drawn up by Joseph Stalin in the 20th century. Kyrgyzia was intentionally drawn to include populations of several rival ethnic groups in order to promote internal conflict. So Osh and Bishkek contain a multitude of cultural variances. Almaty in Kazakhstan is thought to be the origin place of apples and during the 5 days we visited there was experiencing some turmoil regarding the construction of a giant straw squirrel statue. I recommend reading into that. It’s quite entertaining and provides some insight into political discourse under an authoritarian regime.
Issyk-Kul against the mountains.
We also visited and Cholpon-Ata and Barskon on the shores of Issyk-Kul, the second largest high-mountain lake in the world. It has the bluest waters you can imagine set against the backdrop of the Tian Shan branch of the Himalaya range. In fact, we visited here more than once, just to escape the heat.
In this photo, several of us are eating a typical Kyrgyz meal at the home the family hosting us in Talas region. From left, Me, Danar, Farhan, Sultan, and Johnny.  
We rode horses several times throughout the program. Going into this program sans equestrian experience I admit to feeling a bit nervous, but it turns out that I am a natural on horseback. The last few weeks of the program we went on an extensive trek through the mountains around Issyk-Kul with ample opportunity to experience the breathtaking nature of the Kyrgyz landscape and the hospitality of the Kyrgyz people. We regularly stopped at yurts occupied by families following a centuries old nomadic tradition. They consistently invited us to eat with them and we were offered to eat the best of their food. Kyrgyz food uses simple ingredients and spices to create subtly flavored and very filling dishes. If you’re invited to eat in a Kyrgyz home, you might expect to eat more food than you have room for. We also accepted several invitations to try kumis, a dairy beverage made with fermented mare’s milk. While most Kyrgyz people will drink a few glasses in a sitting, I found the desire to continue drinking it entirely absent.
Pictured below is a small sampling of the 3000 photos I took as the de facto photographer on the program. 
Despite all these wondrous experiences, I’m excited to return to regular life and continue working with MWDL. This spring I will finish my degree in Applied Mathematics and I’ve already met a ranch owner who wants me to come ride her horses each month. So, I look forward to more exciting times in the coming year.
Morning snow on one of the higher peaks in the Tian Shan. We had planned to stay there the previous night, but (luckily) thought better of it.
Crossing a fast moving river on horse back. From left we have Matthew, Syimyk (one of our guides on this trek), and Joseph. Taking a photo from horseback in the middle of the river is no easy feat.
A picture of several of us eating fine treats left over from the first birthday of the little boy on the left. 

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