5 Senses of Uzbekistan

In honor of the 2019 New York Times 52 Places Traveler’s arrival in and article about Uzbekistan, I had participants in my Literature Club write their own stories about what they want people to know about their country, focusing on one of the five senses. I contributed my own writing, too. 😉 I hope this helps you to see, taste, feel, smell, and hear Uzbekistan a little bit better, even if you can’t physically be here!

Entries have been edited for clarity.

See – written by a TSUL professor

I see Uzbek society’s willingness and desire for mutual cooperation – not only on  economical or political issues, but also on culture, education, science, and public health. We invite people from all over the world to Uzbekistan. We are ready to show our traditions and manners, but on one condition. We must see that our guests respect our history and our reality.

Taste – written by a WLU student

Plov has been prepared for 100 years as a traditional family cuisine. Whenever special guests come to an Uzbek family, it will be prepared. The ingredients are meat, carrots, onions, rice (alanga, devzira), tomatoes, and others according to the person’s tastes or region. I prefer the carrots to be caramelized, but some regions don’t cook the carrots long enough – we call those “alive carrots.” We don’t want alive carrots!

Feel – written by me 🙂

I felt the matchbox in my hand, but I couldn’t bring myself to use it. It was my first week in Uzbekistan, and my stove wasn’t working. My counterpart, eager to help, showed up on my doorstep with take-out food for me in one hand and a box of matches in the other. She showed me how she used to use matches to light stoves in her childhood, lying them flat after lighting them and turning on the gas. I’d never used matches before and finally worked up the courage to light one. I immediately felt the heat race toward my fingers, the acrid smell of smoke permeating the air. I blew it out, panicked. My counterpart ended up lighting the stove for me. I could still feel the heat on my fingers, and I wondered how I’d feed myself given my fear of fire. What I felt even more strongly, though, was the care and hospitality of my counterpart, and I knew with people like her in Uzbekistan, I’d be just fine.

Smell – written by a TSUL professor

I think that every country has its own smell. You may notice it when you arrive in some new place for the first time. Uzbekistan also has it’s specific smell; if compared with a perfume, it will be new aroma mixing notes of flowers, plants and fresh summer morning air. It is one of the reasons you will remember this country.

Hear – written by a WLU student

There is a traditional type of sport called kerash. I was watching one of the competitions, and it was between a guy and a girl. In the very beginning, I felt strange that I was watching a match between two people of opposite genders. But I was so intrigued by it that I forgot the game was between a man and a woman. The words of the announcer captured my attention: “Halol! Chala!” When these words were shouted, I felt like a real Uzbek once more.

 

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Metz + Strasbourg, France |Dec 2018 – Jan 2019

Sitting at our most-frequented cafe on the Yonsei University campus, hugging each other goodbye, Carolyn and I didn’t expect we’d see each other twice more within the next 13 months: once on my layover in Vienna, and once again visiting her family in Metz! (Pronounced “mess” if you want to be French about it – pronouncing the “t” will get you called a German.) During our exchange semester in Seoul, South Korea, Carolyn and I instantly became friends because she had once applied to NSLI-Y (she’s French-American and has the citizenship of both!) and recognized my name from the applicant Facebook group. XD But besides that, we both shared a love for languages, international relations, and journaling side-by-side when we should’ve been paying attention in Korean History class.

Carolyn and her entire family are amazing, each member with distinct personalities and interests, and I can’t wait to visit them again someday. They were what charmed me the most about Metz, duh, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to ring in the New Year! But here are a few other things that charmed me during my time there…

Christmas market & Sentier des Lumières

Even though Christmas had passed, all the decorations and festivities were still up! We love a good European Christmas market and light show!

The entire city of Strasbourg

Especially with all the Christmas decorations still up, it looked like something out of a Disney movie. I had delicious salmon at Maison Kommerzell (where the likes of Macron and Kofi Annan have once dined!), and we took a boat tour through Petite France and the area where all the EU buildings are. Such a treat to see two European Union capitals on one trip, bringing my total up to having been to all three! 😉 For dinner, Carolyn and her mom had flam, a local specialty that’s basically a white pizza. I couldn’t partake because I can think of nothing worse than a dough – cheese – butter combination, but I’m glad they enjoyed it!

Centre Pompidou Metz

I had no idea there was one outside of Paris, too! I liked that the museum was a manageable enough size to be able to see everything in one afternoon. The first exhibit was about color, with some more modern and pop arty pieces. The second was a giant room softly lit in magenta, with mats to lay on as you watched/listened to a dramatic six-hour piano performance playing on a loop on a screen. Next was a room covered in chalkboards for people to leave their mark, an homage to a school classroom left standing after Nagasaki that people used to search for their loved ones. Afterward was a floor about nighttime art, whether that meant work about night or work created during the night. The final exhibit was kind of about space, but not really?? My favorite piece was a small room with dyed cloth draped from the ceiling. Every inch of wall was covered in soundproofing material, and a low base note played from a speaker so that viewers could empathize with the artist’s hearing deficiency.

Cafes! And stores!

Ô Sœurs and Fox were our favorites, the latter serving up some delicious homemade apricot jam with their bread. Carolyn introduced me to her favorite Danish home decor chain, and we had fun looking at the random things we could find at Tiger, such as a basketball hoop for when you’re on the toilet…

All in all a great trip filled with sightseeing, plenty of relaxing (I didn’t even mention in this post the amount of time spent napping, watching chick flicks, and decorating cookies), and great company! I can’t wait to see my favorite family again someday!

 

What I’m Not Doing (That I Wish I Had Time For!)

I realized that since I share so much about the things I am up to on my Fulbright grant, it might be fun to write a post about what I’m not doing – but that I wish I could!

Blogging club

Obviously, blogging is something I enjoy! Ever since I first stepped foot in Uzbekistan, I’ve been wanting to start a Voices of Uzbekistan blog. It’d be great if my students could add their perspectives to the internet, which is lacking enough in content about this part of the world, let alone content directly from the mouths of its citizens. However, I don’t think we’re quite there yet in terms of comfort with writing. If I were here teaching another year, I’d 100% start the club because I think by then, my students would be more familiar with different styles and contexts of writing. I realized early on that this club wouldn’t be feasible in my 10 months here, but it’s always an idea I can keep in mind for the future, even if not for Uzbekistan!

Running club

I’ve noticed that girls here just don’t run – boys hardly do either, at least not outside. Another ELF and friend of mine started a running club in her host city, Namangan, and I’d love to start one in Tashkent too, but just for girls. Running taught me a lot about camaraderie, perseverance, and mental strength – it’d be the perfect complement to the Girls’ Club I run (no pun intended, sincerely)!

Speaking of Girls’ Club…

I honestly hadn’t been dedicating enough thought to it, but that’s changed this weekend. I sat down with my amazing friend and mentor, Dave, and he sketched out how I could make the Girls’ Club sustainable after my departure. He told me to come up with a vision for it, to pinpoint and groom some potential leaders, to sketch out milestones I’d like the club to reach when I’m gone. So that’s exactly what I did tonight: detailed exact activities and objectives I picture for the club and emailed people I know who can help me with it all. I’m ready to put more thought into the club and also to get the thoughts of the participants! After all, this is a club for them – it’s not just about what I envision, but also what they want.

Application essay writing club

Okay, so basically all the things I wish I could do are clubs. 😉 I got this idea from seeing a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kyrgyzstan do this with an American Corner there. If you know me, you know that in all sincerity, I am PASSIONATE about writing application essays. I enjoy playing with words and writing styles to get across complex thoughts and feelings, a skill I’d love to work on with students. However, I don’t know if a club like this is as “useful” in Uzbekistan simply because there are less programs at the moment for Uzbeks to apply for. It appears to me that part of the application essay writing club’s success in Kyrgyzstan is because so many students do end up applying for the FLEX program – unfortunately, FLEX is not back in Uzbekistan yet.

Easy Uzbek

I follow an amazing channel on YouTube called Easy Languages, where hosts from all over the world do street interviews with people in their native language. I thought it’d be cool to make a few Easy Uzbek videos for the channel, but 1) YouTube is often blocked in Uzbekistan, 2) people here probably wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking for a camera, no matter how tame the topic, and 3) I simply don’t have the technical skills for a project like this. *sigh* But it’s something I’m definitely going to keep in mind for the future!

Access presentations

Access is a program funded by the U.S. Embassy for local teachers to teach English to a selected group of less-privileged students. Given that I had the goal to travel to every region in Uzbekistan, I was excited to visit the Access sites where there was one and do some kind of activity. So far I have been a guest in the Urgench class and have given a presentation about U.S. university life in the Bukhara class. Unfortunately, all my working and traveling these past two months caught up to me, and upon returning to Tashkent this past weekend, my body and mind just broke down. It was not pretty, and I think I will hold off on traveling for at least a few weeks because I’m terrified something like that will happen again. That means I probably won’t end up working with all six Access sites in Uzbekistan – and that’s okay. I need to slow down for the sake of my health.

Just because I haven’t had the time to do any of the above things doesn’t mean I won’t have the time to! I only have 3.5 months left here – but that’s still a good chunk of time to make some moves! 😉 Even if I don’t end up doing them here, they’re ideas I can play with wherever I end up in the future.

How Fulbright Has Changed My Life So Far

It’s much less dramatic and more literal than it sounds. I know I’ve talked about so many life-changing experiences throughout the years, but Fulbright has been the one that’s forced me the most to grow and to learn simply because it’s been the longest of all my abroad experiences. I wanted to do some reflection now that I only have 4 months left and talk about the ways – everyday and extraordinary – that my life has been changed during my 6 months here.

She cooks! And cleans!

Okay, I’m still an awful cook, but I used to only know how to boil pasta and fry up veggies. Now I can make my own homemade pasta sauce, and I’ve never met anyone whose broccoli I like more than my own (besides my mom’s because I got my recipe from her). My ability to clean is an even bigger work in progress, but I’ll leave it at this: day by day, I become a better and better kelin (Uzbek bride – they’re usually forced to do all the cooking and cleaning for their new family, especially their mother-in-law).

She exercises!

I signed up for a gym right next to the cafe I go to every day, and I usually go three to five times a week. I used to be a runner, so it feels good to be doing longer distances on the treadmill again. I don’t want to sound like one of those annoying workout people, but exercise truly has helped with my mental health and physical health. I’ve struggled with chronic fatigue since I was a child, and exercising consistently has given me more energy than I’d felt in years. People usually say they don’t exercise because they don’t have time, but exercising actually gives me more time. I used to spend 3 hours a day napping to get the same energy boost as only 1 hour in the gym gives me. After exercising, I’m also more focused, so I get work done faster. This all saves time, people!

She teaches!

I had no teaching experience before I came to Uzbekistan and barely any tutoring or leadership experience either. In the beginning of the year, I relied heavily on textbooks and free-flowing conversation, but now I’m able to find a happy medium between the two, with structure but not too much from textbooks, and with natural conversation but within the guidelines of the structure. I’m also working with all different ages and levels: beginner high school students, advanced high school students, advanced university students, beginner adults, intermediate adults, and advanced adults. I thought working with beginners would be difficult, but it’s been so much fun! I incorporate a lot of visual aids, charades, and running around the classroom pointing at things. All of these people from different backgrounds that I teach have me growing as a professional. Even though I don’t want to become a teacher, these are all skills that will serve me well as I pursue careers in international education and diplomacy.

She innovates!

I started a Girls’ Club through the U.S. Embassy’s American Center and beginner English classes for the staff and at-risk girls of a local organization combatting human trafficking, Istiqbolli Avlod. I’ll admit that thinking of content for Girls’ Club has been difficult for me because I’m not as well-versed on feminist topics as I should be, but the English classes have been incredibly fun to prep for and conduct. I’m excited to challenge myself to innovate for my Girls’ Club too and make it a useful and safe space for Tashkent’s youth. For my Academic Writing class, I create my own handouts, and I’ll soon be reading Divergent with my Practical English class and Animal Farm with my Academic Writing class. I get some discussion questions and activities from the internet, but I come up with most of them myself. I’ve never seen myself as a creative person, so sometimes I feel a little bit stifled in that I don’t have an outlet for creativity; I don’t draw, sing, act, nothing! I’ve found that creating material for my classes and clubs, though, allows me to express my creativity. 🙂

She challenges herself!

Giving presentations at professional events, writing a speech for my rector, and helping host a workshop were things I didn’t expect to do on my grant, but that I have done and succeeded in! In my first semester here, I had the opportunity to present at a conference but passed it up because I felt unqualified and scared. There’s another conference coming up this semester, though, and I knew I wanted to prove myself wrong. I submitted my proposal long ago, choosing a topic I’ve taught in various settings: in my Academic Writing class, at a writing workshop, in a presentation for EducationUSA. This morning, I made the handout for it, and I’m pretty damn proud of it. Last semester, I kept asking myself, “Why should anyone listen to me?” This semester I’m challenging myself, “What can I say that is worth people’s time to listen to?”

She fights back!

If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably already heard about some of the resistance I’ve faced during my time here. I want to give the caveat that my university and everyone associated have been absolutely wonderful and are not a contributing factor to any of the difficulties I’ve faced – actually, they’ve been some of my biggest supporters. Anyway, there are people who underestimate me, who turn their noses up at me, who would rather that I not even be in this country doing what I’m doing. It put me in a great depression for the longest time. Of course, I didn’t believe any of the negative things I heard about myself, but it still felt pretty shitty to know that not everyone around me believes in me like I believe in myself. And yet, that belief in myself has been the torch guiding me through the darkness, the light not only at the end of the tunnel but in the tunnel with me. The belief in me of so many people around me – physically and metaphorically – has reassured me that as I walk down this tunnel, I walk with an army behind me. I’ve proven time and again that I work hard, go the extra mile, and love everything about what I do here – the teaching, the outreach, the citizen diplomacy. I can prove myself a hundred times more and there will still be people waiting for me to fail. But you know what? They can wait for me to fail, but they can’t take away the smiles on my students’ faces as a concept clicked, the stimulating conversations about difficult social topics, the rudimentary exchanges in Uzbek and laughter, the love I radiate into the people around me.

My life has been profoundly changed by my time on Fulbright in Uzbekistan. Those effects can never be terminated. Everything I’ve learned and felt here will be invested back into the lives of everyone else I have the privilege of working alongside, the rest of my life.

Luxembourg, Luxembourg | December 2018

While visiting my friend C in her hometown, Metz, we made a quick trip to Luxembourg because she works there and it wasn’t yet the holidays for her. I felt like she was bringing her kid (me) to work. :,) I spent most of my day in Trier, Germany, and didn’t see much of Luxembourg, a fail on my part. I’d love to go back someday when I’m better at German since the prevalence of both French and German in the city would be a fascinating case study (or just an excuse for me to run around spouting off both) once I up my proficiency in the latter!

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Trier, Germany | December 2018

I went to France for winter break, and this trip to Trier was a trip within a trip (to Luxembourg) within a trip (to Metz, France) within a trip (to Paris). I was only there for a few hours, just walking around the main part of the city to look at Roman ruins, admire the colorful buildings in the main square, stop by the house where Karl Marx was born, and buy my favorite kids’ books in German. 😛 Enjoy some pictures!

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Dark Before the Dawn: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan | December 2018

I just skimmed through all 100+ blog posts I’ve written since starting this in 2015, privating a couple because they’re pretty embarrassing. I’m embarrassed by them because of how naive and open and optimistic I was. Four years since the start of my blog, I’ve been burned enough to want to keep some of my feelings to myself – but I don’t like that. I miss being naive and open and optimistic. It’s what I’ve always been known for and it’s how I’ve made so many great friends around the world through the power of the internet. I still post a lot on social media, but I’ve noticed that my content has changed. I used to write a lot about what was in my heart. I used to allow my moments of inspiration and passion to guide the way I interacted with social media. Now, a lot of my interactions with social media are guided by a sense of mistrust of the people who could read my posts, not a sense of camaraderie with them.

However, I’ve been actively working to untangle those feelings and find a way to be more “me” online again. This blog post about my time in Bishkek is a challenge to myself: to reflect on my moments of simple happiness without feeling like I’m naive, to share my struggles without worrying I’m too open, to dream about the future without wondering if I’m overly optimistic.

Happiness: Early Morning

“Rise and shine!” I texted D shortly after my 6:40am alarm went off. In 20 minutes, wrapped up in every piece of winter clothing we could find, we were in the hotel lobby then out the door.

The sun hadn’t risen yet and wouldn’t rise for another 1.5 hours, but given our busy conference schedule, we were determined to see a bit of the city, even if it meant a pre-dawn wakeup call. We trudged through the dark streets until we arrived at Ala-Too Square, lit up with New Years decorations in festive colors. Across the street was a protest of three people. Amazed, I watched as policemen walked past them without a word.

“Are you allowed to talk like this about your president?” I asked one of the protesters in Russian after a quick glance at his hand-painted banner.

“Of course, according to the rights given to us in our constitution,” he responded proudly.

With sunrise on the horizon, we decided to head back to our hotel for the start of the conference. We asked a policeman where we could get a taxi, and he called his friend. He didn’t look at us, didn’t talk to us, but he waited with us until the taxi came.

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Openness: Afternoon

In the middle of the conference, I received news that hurt, humiliated, and confused me. I’d never seen myself as a strong person in any sense of the word. But that day, I proved to myself that I’m not just strong – I’m brave. I didn’t run to my room to hide and cry. I continued to participate fully in all activities, to challenge myself to do better, and most importantly, to trust people. It’s that trust – of me in others and of others in me – that has helped me weather the worst of storms.

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Optimism: Evening

The last day of the conference, we were all invited to a networking dinner with Kyrgyz alumni of U.S. Department of State programs. As we all know, State Department exchanges are my passion, and I felt so in my element chatting with Kyrgyz Fulbright alumni, reuniting with my friend O (the EducationUSA Kyrgyzstan adviser and Study With US Central Asia coordinator) and her adorable family, and meeting the coworker of my former U.S. Embassy Bishkek internship supervisor. Did I squeal when talking to the Fulbright alumni? Of course! Did my heart melt to a puddle when I got to see O’s adorable baby again? Duh. Did the coworker and I text pictures of me looking salty AF about my former internship supervisor not having time to meet up with me to him? Wouldn’t have been me without the saltiness. There are days when my dreams feel so far away from me, but then there are days like this one, sitting around a table hearing individual stories about the impact of exchange and berating diplomats, that anything and everything feels possible.

And out of those “anything”s that feel possible, here’s one that does again after writing this post: being myself.