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By Reginald Smith

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Shade by Bayterek, the Kazakh national monument in Astana the capital

Kazakhstan, little known to most Americans and other foreigners, has had a long and storied history. Part of the Silk Road from the Middle East to China, once one of the greatest trade networks in the global economy, it has been a magnet for many cultures and peoples throughout the ages. It has also seen its share of conquerors from the invincible Genghis Khan to Tamerlame, to the Russian Empire.

Independent since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992, Kazakhstan has been developing its own unique national culture under the tight control of its rulers, its booming oil economy, and increasing connections with China. Literally on the other side of the world and not near any other major destinations, it may seem a strange place for a New Jersey native to end up.

However, Shade is not regretting her decision for one minute. Shade Adu traded the comfortable and predictable life of Newark for the majesty (and quirkiness) of Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. Shade literally stumbled into this opportunity by accident. As she relates, “one of my graduate school professors invited the class to meet with a delegation from Kazakhstan to hear about a possible job opportunity. I thought he was absolutely crazy and I was not interested at all, so I decided not to attend the presentation.” However, on hearing from a classmate that he was given a job on the spot, she later decided to go for it. “A week later, I met the delegation at a local Hilton hotel with my resume in hand and over a year later I’m in Kazakhstan having the time of my life. The moral of this story is don’t allow the spirit of fear be your deciding factor. Within, this past year, I’ve done things that I was once afraid to do.”

Fortunately, her family was very supportive and it made her transition across the globe relatively easy. Kazakhstan was of course a transition. Luckily she went with a delegation of other Americans so had friends and a support network. Later she even found out about English speaking clubs and events through friends and the US Embassy. There she met the wider US expat community of teachers, missionaries, and employees of the oil industries. Not content to circumscribe her friend group to foreigners, she has begun learning both Russian and Kazakh to get around more easily. Her friendships with locals even got her invited to a wedding where she was slightly embarrassed because she attracted so much attention, she outshone the bride! She was thinking, “What bride wants to be upstaged by the one black girl at the wedding with over 300 guests?” Seeing she was flustered, another guest told her, “you may be the first and last Black person they see,” and she understood her predicament. “This and countless other experiences aboard have enlightened me and made me realize my role as an American and as an African American aboard. I hate the idea of one person representing an entire race of people but in some cases I am that person, so with that in mind I am trying to be the best role model possible.”

She also ran into some of the tried and true travails of Black Expats, however. First, no black hair care products (shocker!). Second, people are always curious about your skin and hair, sometimes to the point of being offensive. “Many people want to take pictures with me, and touch my hair. Sometimes this can be annoying, but it doesn’t bother that much. I’ve probably experienced more discrimination being a black woman in America than I have in Kazakhstan.” Finally, you can miss some of the small things from home like certain foods or McDonald’s. This can have a silver lining though in that she has found herself to be much less materialistic and eating much healthier due to the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables.

She enjoys her job and finds that not only is it rewarding, but it has been financially beneficial. “Living aboard has given me a chance to do what I love while being able to save enough money to pay off my student loans in a fraction of the time. I was truly blessed with this opportunity and it is allowing me to travel while pursuing my dream of being debt free.” In addition she notes it is very easy for English speakers to find a job abroad teaching.

In summary, she encourages everyone to go abroad and was even angry with herself for almost turning down such a great opportunity. She thanks a friend for giving her the final encouragement to make the plunge: “ I called my friend and she agreed that it was a good opportunity and asked me what was stopping me. I then stopped and thought about what was stopping me. What made me laugh and not even stay for the presentation? It was just a presentation. It wasn’t like I was signing my life away. I didn’t even want to hear the offer. The answer to this question was fear. I was afraid to live overseas and take a chance on something different. Despite my fears and that part of my brain that said this is absolutely crazy, I decided to take a chance.”

Emblem_of_KazakhstanLiving & Spending in Astana, Kazakhstan

Monthly rent:

$600-$1100+

Cost for meals:

$12-$30+

Transportation costs:

Bus – $.40

Compared to your home country are most things cheap/same/expensive?

Clothes are more expensive because of the amount of taxes included in the price. I’m already a cheap person and sometimes I go to the mall and walk right out because the prices are ridiculous. Fresh fruits and produce are inexpensive which is great. Meat is about the same or a little bit more expensive.

Recommended monthly living budget:

If you do not include in the rent, I would say that $500 a month is a reasonable budget. You can socialize, get around town and eat well.

Any legal hurdles all foreigners have to face to live there?

Getting a visa can be a headache but once you get it you shouldn’t have any problems. You should always carry your passport, many foreigners experience document checks.

Three things you would recommend someone to bring when they come:

I would recommend bringing hair care products, your favorite food seasonings, and peanut butter. African American hair care products are just not available. After I run out I usually make my own conditioners and oils for items that I find at the local store. My favorite seasonings and peanut butter just give me a slight sense of home which has made my stay in Kazakhstan even better.

Top 3 things you would recommend for someone visiting or living here to do:

The top three attractions in Astana are The Khan Shatyr, The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, and Bayterek. The Khan Shtyr is the world’s largest tent shopping mall and indoor beach. The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation is the shape of a pyramid and art gallery, theater, and museum in the shape of a pyramid that displays how the different ethnicities in Kazakhstan live in peace. It is the shape of a pyramid and has one of three horizontal elevators in the world. The Bayterk is a national monument. You can take an elevator to the top and see the outskirts of the city

Where are the best places to vacation in Kazakhstan:

Two places that I enjoyed besides Astana are Almaty and Borovoe National Park. The locals consider Borovoe to be Kazakhstan’s Switzerland. It is a peaceful place to visit to get some fresh air when you get tired of city living. I loved Almaty, the mountainous former capital is very charming and a nice place to relax. Both places are children friendly have numerous activities for people who enjoy active lifestyles.

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A snapshot with the guards in front of the Presidential Palace
Photo credits: Nicholas Chen

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