Some things I learned on my trip from Canada to Kazakhstan :
1. Not all travel pillows are created equal. I was cheap, so I just took the one my mom and brother used on their trip earlier this summer instead of buying a new one. My brother had warned me against this, but I was convinced that he was just using it wrong. It was one of those firm, memory foam travel cushions and probably the most uncomfortable thing I could have used on the journey. Luckily for me, Turkish Airlines provided mini-pillows, a blanket, and a “comfort pack” that had things like toothbrush and toothpaste, a sleeping mask, a pair of socks, slippers, and lip balm to all its passengers (Air Canada really needs to step up its game). What I can say for sure though, is that having an uncomfortable travel pillow is better than having no travel pillow at all because after I arrived in Almaty, KZ, I had to take a 5 hour ride to get to Taldykorgan, the city where I now work. Since the bus I rode in was more spacious than the seats in the airplane, I was able to try out different configurations until I figured out the optimal pillow-to-head ratio and positioning to be comfortable for the trip.
2. Starbucks is pretty much the same everywhere. If they don’t know how to spell your name, they will make it up. My first ever “butcher your name” experience was at the Starbucks in Istanbul airport:
When the barista asked for my name I said, “April.” He then proceeded to write down “Ibra.”
3. Not all customs officers will treat you like a criminal.
Prior to the trip, I had been watching a lot of “Border Security” (on National Geographic Channel) with my younger brother. So, after I claimed my bags at the Almaty airport, I was mentally preparing myself for this lengthy inspection process where I would have to declare all the food items I brought into the country (I packed some comfort foods like candy, chocolate, instant tea and coffee), and to explain that the fuzzy peaches I brought with me were artificial
peach flavor, etc. As I was bumbling about the airport with my bags looking for the bag inspection area, one of the officers noticed that I was struggling so she stopped me and pointed me towards a door. I tentatively walked through. . . and that was it! So, for the ten minutes I had been trying to figure out whether or not they would let me bring my fuzzy peaches into the country, the school representative who had been sent to meet me had been standing about 4 meters away from me the entire time. And all I had to do was walk through a door. What a relief it was to see him there!
4. The “enroutes” in Kazakhstan are very different than the ones in Canada. Now, Almaty is only about 250km away from Taldykorgan, but they are currently fixing all the roads so instead of a 2-3 hour car ride, it took about 5 hours, during which I drank minimal amounts of water to avoid making pit stops along the way.
What I’m used to.
What’s it’s like here.
5. A little Russian goes a long way. Prior to the trip, I learned some basic Russian phrases to help get me started (e.g. ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘thank you’, etc.). Since I’ve arrived, these phrases have been tremendously useful in terms of basic communication with the locals and it’s actually helping me learn the language faster since I am at least somewhat familiar with some of the pronunciation. The native language here is Kazak, but I the official language here is Russian, and most people will know how to speak it. One thing I regret not buying prior to the trip is a Russian phrase book (useful for shopping, asking for directions, etc.). As an alternative, I’ve been writing down phrases and words in a little notebook I carry around with me, and now I know to look these words up ahead of time and write them in my notebook before going to the market. My next goal is to learn the Russian alphabet.
The basic phrases I learned prior to the trip.