My summer in Kazakhstan can be described in a few words: adventurous, hot and cold, full of fun and the beginning of great friendships.
In February 2016 I applied for an internship at the Kazakh National University in Almaty and luckily was accepted. Together with my family we decided that flying to Kazakhstan is too boring, so the idea of going there by train was born. The organization of the visa was a bit complicated but with the help of IAESTE Kazakhstan and IAESTE Austria it was no problem. However, the organization of the train journey was more complicated and in the end we decided to fly to Moscow and start our train adventure there.
After 2 weeks „on the road “in Siberia and Kazakhstan I finally arrived in Almaty- the „Father of Apples “were I spent the next 2 months doing my internship.
I worked in KAZNU, the biggest university in Kazakhstan in the Micro ecology laboratory. On my first day I was warmly welcomed and immediately felt at home in my new group of colleagues. They even gave me some dishes for my room when I told them I don’t have any and of course they gave me tea.
My task was to microbiologically analyse water samples from all over Kazakhstan and to find out if they were contaminated with certain pathogens.
Although the equipment and some procedures were quite different from the labs where I had worked before, I developed some routine quite soon. My task was to microbiologically analyse water samples from all over Kazakhstan and to find out if they were contaminated with certain pathogens. However, there weren’t always a lot of samples, so I also helped my supervisor, a really nice PhD student with a project dealing with bacterial cellulose.
The team of the microecology laboratory in KAZNU
The working environment was really nice and I was invited to at least one cup of tea per day! However, in August and September it was still holiday time for the Kazakh students and so also the lab the people were not so active and sometimes I just had a free day or a free afternoon. It was a pity that they sometimes didn’t know anything for me to do, but on the other hand I had a lot of time to explore the city and its surroundings.
It was definitely a plus that I could speak basic Russian, because some of my colleagues were not so good or maybe just too shy to speak English. Furthermore, all the chemicals in the lab were only marked with Cyrillic letters 😉 most of my colleagues however, were happy to speak English with me and also students from other labs came to our room from time to time to practice English with me.
I lived in a double room in the House of young scientists, which is a quite new dormitory directly on the KAZNU campus. Compared to some other IAESTE trainees I was really lucky, because there are also quite old dormitories on the campus.
My roommate was a really nice girl from Poland and we had a really good time together. In our room we had two simple beds, a table and a closet and a private bathroom 😉 We had one kitchen for the whole floor with only a small fridge (for about 40 people) – however we were happy with that, because our friends in the other dormitories didn’t have any fridge at all.
Something that was really different to dorms in Europe was, that we always had to leave the key at the reception and we were only allowed to go out until midnight. After midnight the security staff closed the doors and they got quite angry when we woke them up because we didn’t come home on time…
All in all, I liked my room and especially the fact that I didn’t have to pay for it very much. (However it was deducted from my salary).
I had a lot of free time in Kazakhstan, but it was never boring. During the week we explored the city of Almaty. Together with the other IAESTE trainees from all over the world, Irina (who is working for IAESTE) and some Kazakh people volunteering for IAESTE we went to different restaurants and bars, discovered museums, enjoyed traditional and modern Kazakh music and had a look at the sights of the city as for example the green market, the hill Koktobe or the first president park.
On the weekends IAESTE organised different trips for us. Usually we went by bus to some cool place in nature as for example the Issyk Lake or the Charyn Canyon. After some time, however we started together with our new Kazakh friends to organise more adventurous excursions. We hiked up the mountains up to 3500 metres and once we even went to a glacier and an amazing glacier lake. After hiking we even went to a real „Russian “Spa, which was also a very interesting experience 😉 Another weekend we went to a sport shop, rented tents, sleeping bags and mats and went up the mountain to camp there. That was such a great feeling to be in the middle of nowhere with a group of people from all over the world just having a good time.
The IAESTE hiking group at the glacier lake Having fun at the singing sand dune
At the end of our internships we still had some time left and so a group of 4 IAESTE trainees decided to do a car trip around Almaty. In these 5 days we saw so many beautiful but completely different landscapes and we were just amazed by the beauty of this big country. Although it was not always easy to find the right way it was a great adventure and I am so glad that we were brave enough to drive on these endless roads.
A big thanks for this opportunity!
Although I didn’t become rich in this internship it was an enriching experience that I wish everybody – because getting to know other cultures makes you really rich.
This summer was one of the best in my life and I am really happy that IAESTE gave the opportunity to go to this interesting, beautiful country. While talking to my colleagues and my new friends from Kazakhstan I could understand their culture and society much better than a „normal “tourist can. It was great to be a part of this great international trainee group- we had a lot of fun and created valuable friendships.
When I have a look at the pictures I am still amazed by the beauty of this country and especially by it’s diversity. Although I didn’t become rich in this internship it was an enriching experience that I wish everybody – because getting to know other cultures makes you really rich.
Beautiful Kazakh landscape
Lisa Öller, Biotechnology student at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna (BOKU)