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An Ode to the Marshrutka

I’m not much of a poet, but I decided to write an ode to the marshrutka, my daily form of transport here in Bishkek. If you like you can try to sing it to the tune of «Ode to Joy».

Every day I end up spending
An hour on the marshrutka
A metal box with wheels
That takes me where I’m to go
There’s so many options
Routes numbered high to low
How on earth am I to work out
On which of these I’m to hop?

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Photo credit: thisisbossi via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Once I’ve jumped into the vehicle
Next it’s time to find a seat
First pay the driver my ten soms
No need for a receipt
Often simple, there’s few people
Other times I need to stand
Look that seat is free and close by
Yes I’ll grab it whilst I can!

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Photo credit: Konrad Lembcke via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC

Oh dear the marshrutka’s stopping
More people are clambering in
Looks like I will give my seat up
To the lady with the kid
Not a problem, I’m happy to do it
But it leaves me a little lost
Now I can’t see out the window
I don’t know when to get off!

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Photo credit: killerbass via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC

So I’m standing in the middle
Of the aisle trying to hang on
The guy to my left’s quite clumsy
I can’t wait ‘til he gets off
When is my stop, have we turned left?
It’s all quite a mystery
Maybe I should move up toward
The front so that I can see

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Photo credit: nuakin via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

The driver’s speeding forward
How do I tell him to stop?
I don’t want to have to walk
Five miles back to where I first was
Please sir «Здесь моя обстановка»
When you stop I’m out of here
Thankfully the door’s now open
I can give a little cheer!

Kyrgyzstan: First Impressions

Greetings from Bishkek! It might seem quite odd, after seven weeks of being in Kyrgyzstan to be writing a blog about my first impressions of the country, however, having been away in the mountains, and then been unwell, this is my first real opportunity to write in quite a while!

I arrived in Bishkek in mid-April, and have felt very welcomed by the family that I’m staying with here. I’m living in the north of the city, near to the old bus station, and I have a decent supermarket, a quiet park, and access to public transportation all within a fifteen minute walk of the house. For the first week, I was unsure how to get around by marshrutka (minibus), and was sometimes walking up to an hour to get to my destination!

In May, having spent a considerable amount of time thinking about my future plans, I decided to make Bishkek my base in Central Asia for the coming year. That means, that I’ll be writing a lot more blogs about Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan, but here are three first impressions about the country.

The Cost of Living is Low, Except for Luxuries
How much does it cost you to get into the centre of your city by public transport? It costs me 12p. Yup, that’s right, 12p, which is 10 Kyrgyz som. If you go on the trolleybus, rather than the marshrutka, it costs 8 som, which is about 10p, however they’re more infrequent and don’t go to as many destinations. There are two good apps to navigate the city by marshrutka and trolleybus – 2GIS, and bus.kg. 2GIS is good if you know the name of the street/shop you’re going to, whereas bus.kg relies on your map-reading skills to help plot your route.

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Some luxuries, such as speciality coffee, are reasonably priced; my favourite place so far is Travellers Coffee, where you can get 500ml of Chemex-filtered specialty coffee for about £2.50 – great for a morning or afternoon of catching up on emails. Other luxuries, however, such as the gym, cost as much if not more than in the UK. My first experience at one gym here cost me 3000 som (£34.50) for a month, and whilst they had adequate facilities, there was one thing it was missing – free drinking water — you were expected to bring your own or pay for one of their bottles.

There Are Lots of Green Spaces
I like to be close enough to nature that I can go and visit it, but not actually live for example in the countryside. When I lived in Wales, I loved the fact that my office was a five minute walk from the coast. Here, I’m within an hour’s drive of mountains, and I can see them out of my window every day (unless it’s raining). I’m thankful for the fact that there are a number of beautiful green spaces in Bishkek. Just fifteen minutes’ walk from my house is Elm Park, which I’ve not fully explored, but looks like a great place to cycle around. I’m also a fan of Erkindik Avenue, which has a beautiful promenade that you can walk down.

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In May I went with my friends to a mountain village called Sosnovka. We were there to help with the development of a children’s home. Whilst there, we had the opportunity to get out into the mountains. They are so atmospheric, lots of dramatic twists and turns! One time we decided to ascend a rocky hill, which in itself was a challenge going up, but rather dangerous going down. Thankfully my friends had experience and were able to safely help me to return to level ground!

Bishkek – A Provincial, Soviet-Style City
When I was studying Russian at university, I spent three months in the Golden Ring city of Yaroslavl. Much of the architecture of the provincial city, whose population was about 600,000, was Soviet apartment blocks, lots of grey! The city did have one saving grace – beautiful Orthodox churches (the city is one of the founding places of the Orthodox Church). Bishkek reminds me quite a lot of Yaroslavl, though on a slightly larger scale (its population is about a million), just with mosques scattered round the city rather than Orthodox churches (though you can still find a few of those too).

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The city is still developing quite a lot, and I was thinking the other day, that I have yet to see any of the big Western fast food chains here – no McDonald’s, no Starbucks, no KFC, Burger King or Subway. In the malls here the biggest influence is from Turkey – we have clothes shops like Waikiki, Koton and Mavi which I saw on the main streets of Ankara when I was there in April. Close to where I’m living there’s a lot of construction work going on to develop pavements, which I’m very thankful of, as walking on the roads at night can be quite dangerous!

Much more to come from Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan in the weeks and months to come!

An Englishman in Ankara

Greetings from Bishkek! I’ve now been here for a week and a half, and I’m enjoying getting to explore this city and develop a new pattern of work and rest. I want to spend some time reflecting on my three weeks in Turkey’s capital, and share with you some recommendations of places to go, food to eat and specialty coffees to try. I’d been to Ankara twice before, so on this occasion I didn’t visit the Anit Kabir or Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, but both are worth visiting if it’s your first time in the city.

Ankara Sights
Most of my time during this visit was spent supporting the projects run by the charity I work for, or meeting up with friends who either live in the city or were visiting from America. My favourite place in the city by far, which I went to on a couple of occasions during this stay is Ankara Castle, an ancient fortification which has fantastic views of the city. You can climb all over the castle walls, though you might want to keep an eye out for the steep drops if you’re exploring with small, wandering children or have a crippling fear of heights! On the way up to the castle there are a number of souvenir shops with everything from statues of whirling dervishes to Turkish tea sets for you to purchase at reasonable prices, but you can also try your hand at bartering with the shop owners.

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One of the new places I visited which I’d highly recommend is the State Art and Sculpture Museum, which is free and has a great variety of 20th century Turkish art. I didn’t know what to expect from my visit, perhaps older pieces as there is also a modern art gallery in Ankara, but I was impressed by what I found. The museum doesn’t get very crowded, and you probably only need an hour to go around it – I particularly enjoyed seeing paintings that depicted the comings and goings of life in both rural and urban Turkey. It is right next door to the Ethnography Museum, which I have yet to visit, but you could certainly combine both in an afternoon. Another cultural experience I’d recommend trying at least once is the hammam, which is a series of steam rooms followed by a massage. We went to the original hammam in the Hamamonou district of Ankara.

Ankara Cuisine
I went to a number of good restaurants during my time in Ankara, both for Turkish food and international cuisine. You can find a lot of good places for Turkish cuisine on Selanik Caddesi — I’d highly recommend trying iskender kebabs at Meşhur Aspava. If you’re looking for something cheap to have on the go, I’d suggest picking up a durum from Morgi Döner in Hamanonou.

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We tried a few different international restaurants in Ankara – on one of my first nights in the city I was invited to Günaydin Steakhouse by my American friends – we shared a stunning tomahawk steak as a starter – it was the first time I’ve ever had steak done rare, and I loved it! For my main I had a very tasty burger; another place I’d recommend going for a burger is Big Bang Burger in Tunalı, where I was a big fan of the Smoke Bang. My final recommendation of food in Ankara is actually Uyghur food, specifically Urumçi, where I had a delicious noodle dish.

Ankara Coffee
There are a number of specialty coffee shops in Ankara, particularly around Tunalı, which I’ll come to later on. I’d specifically like to highlight Mavi Kapı Kafe Hamamönü which uses Coffee Haus coffee. The place has a relaxed atmosphere, highly skilled baristas and often has delicious cakes. On Saturday evenings they have an English-speaking club which is a great way to get to know new people in the city.

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In Tunalı, I tried both Crop Coffee and Koala Coffee, and had good experiences at both. Both serve Aeropress and V60 filters and have a variety of coffees including some from my favourite coffee growing regions, Central America and East Africa. However, on my last day in town, my friend and I found another coffee shop we became a big fan of called Kakule Kahve. It felt like a proper hipster, specialty coffee shop that you’d find in London; I had a tasty mocha and my friend had a really nice Chemex. It was also the only place in the city that I found original postcards, which was something that I had been on the lookout for in Ankara.

I’d suggest if you’re going as a tourist, to spend two to three days in Ankara, but there is also plenty of places to get to know should you choose to stay longer, or if you end up moving to the city.

Living Overseas With No Language

Greetings from Bishkek! I’m now living in Central Asia! I’ll be in Kyrgyzstan for the next two months before moving to Almaty in June. It’s great to finally be back in this part of the world, and in the coming weeks I’ll share further about my first impressions of this country and the culture that I’m looking to adapt to. On Sunday I left Turkey, where I’d been visiting friends for the past three weeks. As I wasn’t staying in the country for very long, I had no plan to formally learn the language, which made it challenging at times to get around the cities I visited.

In 2010 I had a similar experience, spending nearly three weeks in Mexico having learnt no Spanish, and somehow I managed to explore three different cities and two ancient pyramid sites in the country using only my Lonely Planet guidebook! From these experiences I’ve decided to write a post focusing on two useful pointers if you’re planning to visit a country where English isn’t spoken by the majority as a second language, and how you can get by for a couple of weeks without any formal language learning.

Make Friends Who Speak the Language
Having friends in Turkey who speak the Turkish language, both locals and expats, helped me to get by whilst I was visiting this country. They can order for you when you’re out at restaurants together, direct your taxi to the right destination and haggle over prices for you at the local market. If they’ve lived in the city for a while, they can also provide you with an orientation so that you know how to use local transport and buy groceries, as well as inform you of any cultural taboos when you’re out in public.

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If you don’t have any friends in the country you’re visiting, my best recommendation is to go out and make some! Many big cities have CouchSurfing events or Meetup groups that you can join. I’ve stayed with CouchSurfers over 50 times and I’d highly recommend it as a way to meet local people, learn about the culture and if your host isn’t busy, explore the city with them.

Get a Local SIM Card and Use Your GPS
As a frequent traveller, I knew that when I arrived in Turkey I wanted to get a SIM card, mostly so I could use the Internet. SIM cards are often cheap to get overseas, and many have set packages that need topping up once they’ve run out. As I only stayed in Ankara for three weeks, I opted for the cheapest package from TurkTelecom, which cost me 50 lira (about £11) and came with 250MB data. I managed to run on this for the first two weeks, by which time I knew the city centre fairly well. When it started to run low, I began to navigate around the city without using GPS to the best of my ability.

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GPS apps like Google Maps are generally very up to date with the latest routes to get around the city by foot, public transport and by car. If I was in a hurry to meet someone, I often checked to see how far it was by taxi, as short journeys in Turkey were relatively inexpensive and within my travel budget. I used to show my taxi driver the route on my phone, and they figured out how best to get me to my destination. The most important time I used Google Maps in Turkey, however, was when I was on a local bus in Istanbul. It was taking me to Sabiha Gökçen airport, however the bus was very slow and stopped far too often. From Google Maps I worked out that I’d miss my flight if I stayed on the bus, so I got off it as soon as I could and took a taxi. Thankfully it got me to the airport by the skin of my teeth to catch my flight!

Three Days in Istanbul

Merhaba Türkiye’den! I’ve been in this country for two weeks now, and wanted to share with you from my time in Istanbul last week. I visited this cosmopolitan city four years ago, and on that trip saw the major attractions; the Haghia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar. On this occasion I stayed with friends who recently moved to the city, and I got to see it from a more local perspective, which I really enjoyed.

Day One: Moda and Kadikoy
The sun was out and it was great to be back in Istanbul in warmer weather – it was pretty chilly here in February 2013! My friends live in Kadikoy, a busy neighbourhood on the Asian side, which was familiar to me from my first visit. As soon as we got off the airport bus we were surrounded by commuters and traders aplenty! Kadikoy has a wide variety of street stalls, local shops and inexpensive restaurants for you to try out.

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We went from Kadikoy on a walk through Moda, which is a quieter, primmer neighbourhood that seems to be developing a buzz to it. It has a developing a street art scene – there are some nice pieces towards the coast. The region also has a beautiful coastal park which was being fully exploited because of the nice weather; the streets were packed as locals were going out for strolls, ice cream and picnics. We finished our walk with a generously topped waffle at Kemal Usta Waffles in Moda which I’d highly recommend.

Day Two: Çamlıca Hill and Kadikoy
My friends took me out for a traditional Turkish breakfast the next morning. It was a decent journey to get there, first by bus and then on a healthy trek up Çamlıca Hill to The Çamlıca Social Facility. This place is subsidised by the government, so the food is pretty cheap but really tasty. Breakfast is served in a traditional Turkish tea room and includes a variety of meats, cheeses and jams. Whilst the breakfast is delicious, you really go up the hill to see the 360 degree view of the city, which was pretty fantastic on the clear day that we went.

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We returned to Kadikoy for the rest of the day, and I had some time to myself to do some work in a local specialty coffee shop, called Montag. The place has a nice atmosphere, middling wifi and a decent variety of coffees. I treated myself to a Guatemalan filter coffee and a tasty piece of lemon cheesecake. Later on I met up with my friends and we had a nice meal out at Leman Kultur — quite a busy place, but good food, which included the “Arnold Schwarzenegger Burger” and the tortilla chip-topped pizza.

Day Three: Karakoy and Taksim
On my final morning I explored Karakoy, on the European side, by myself. My first goal was to buy the best baklava in the city. After a few detours I ended up at Karaköy Güllüoğlu which does a fantastic range of baklava, including chocolate-flavoured. After picking up baklava for myself and as gifts, I decided to go up the Galata Tower, a medieval stone tower built by the Genoese in 1348.

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This tower once was used to spot fires across the city, until it was damaged by two fires in the 1800s. There are still great views of the just how immense this city is from the Galata Tower. I spent more time after this working from a decent coffee shop called Coffee Brew Lab near Taksim, where I had a delicious Kenyan blend. I finished my final morning off with a cheap and easy lunch at Beyoğlu Halk Döner before saying goodbye to my friends and heading to the airport!

Istanbul is such a cosmopolitan city, and like London it will take a long time for me to explore it fully! I look forward to more trips to this city, exploring it from a local’s perspective.

An Englishman in Wales #1

Greetings from Turkey, my first stop in Asia on the way to Kazakhstan. I’ve been here for a week now – in this time I’ve gone to a wedding, explored the city with friends and made a trip to Istanbul to visit more friends. I’ll be sharing some of my insights on this fascinating country in future posts. Today, I want to reflect back on my time in South Wales and celebrate the finest it has to offer – it’s a beautiful part of the world and I encourage you all to visit if you’ve yet to!

Swansea and the Gower Peninsula
For the first couple of years that I was living in South Wales, I didn’t realise how much Swansea had to offer. The city centre itself isn’t the most pretty, but it has a wide range of shops and restaurants, including my favourite Middle Eastern restaurant, Awa. The bay, however, is stunning! I loved going on walks around Swansea Marina and along the coast to the Mumbles. There’s a great free museum that explores the history of Swansea and its waterfront that I highly recommend. You can also get a stunning view of Swansea Bay from the Grape and Olive restaurant at the corner of the marina.

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On your way to the Mumbles I’d recommend a walk through Clyne Gardens – if you go up into the woods, you’ll be able to get another beautiful view of Swansea and the bay too. The Mumbles is a quaint touristy part of Swansea with nice cafes and restaurants, and a fairly decent castle to visit. I highly recommend going to Verdi’s for a delicious Italian ice cream!

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After visiting Swansea and the Mumbles, you have to go to the Gower – it is stunningly beautiful and a great place to go for coastal walks. My favourite beaches are Three Cliffs and Rhossili Bay, but you can’t really go wrong in visiting most of them! Walking over Worms Head when the tide is out is a fun activity to do, but make sure you check the tidal forecast to allow enough time to return back before the water comes in! I’m a big fan of castles, my favourite on the Gower would have to be Pennard – it’s a ruin at the top of Three Cliffs, but it’s very atmospheric and there are great views to be had once you’ve climbed up the sandy hill. Finally, I’d encourage you to finish your day off at the King Arthur for a tasty Welsh meal and a pint of local beer.

The Brecon Beacons
The Brecon Beacons are to mountains what the Gower is to coast and countryside – both are gorgeous places to explore and highly recommended to visit – particularly if you’re into hiking in the countryside. The Brecon Beacons showcase the beauty of rural, hilly Wales – my favourite place to walk here is up to Pen y Fan – the highest point in the Beacons – take a look at the view below that you get from the top.

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Another highlight of the Brecon Beacons is Waterfall Country – spread throughout the lower Brecons is a series of waterfalls, many of which you can get to by foot – there’s a specific waterfall walk that I recommend that will take you to four of them over the course of a few hours, including one that was used as the entrance to the bat cave in Batman Begins.

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In terms of towns, Brecon and Hay are both quaint places to visit – Brecon has a lovely cathedral and Hay is known for its books, hosting an annual literary festival. Going back to castles, I’d say that my favourite in the Brecon Beacons region is Carreg Cennen – it’s on the top of the hill and feels very atmospheric – if you’re like me and like castles you can certainly see a number of these in this region on one day if you’re up for it!

I realised after I started writing this post that there’s too many places I recommend in South Wales, so next time I write on this topic I’ll be sharing my recommendations of places to visit in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire!

Saying Goodbyes

I leave South Wales two weeks tomorrow, and the UK in just 20 days time, eek! Time has gone so quickly, and there are many people I’m still to say a proper goodbye to before I go. Leaving friends, family and work colleagues brings with it mixed emotions — on the one hand, I’m excited for this upcoming season in Central Asia, and on the other, it’ll be sad to say farewells and harder to keep in touch with everyone from home. This isn’t the first time I’ve left the UK, but it will be for the longest amount of time until I’m next back, and it’s a currently planned as a permanent move.

I’m very aware that the nearer to my departure it gets, the more of an emotional impact it will be for me to say goodbye to my nearest and dearest, particularly to my family and close friends. This morning my housemate Josh became the latest friend I’ve said goodbye to as he heads to the Middle East for the next three weeks; I’ve already said farewell to some of my good friends on recent visits to Bristol, Leeds and London. It will also be sad to finish working with a number of my colleagues in South Wales — they have played a significant contribution to my personal and spiritual development over the past four years.

Take Time to Celebrate Friendships
Before I go I want to try and spend quality time with those who I’ve become closest to here in South Wales and in London. Sometimes this can happen on an individual basis, whilst on other occasions it has to be a large group farewell. I’m now at the stage where I’ve completed most of my practical preparations for leaving the UK, and so have some space available before I head to London to meet up with friends for a coffee, meal or scenic drink on the Gower. I want to enjoy a final time of fellowship, thanking them for their friendship over the past four years I’ve been in South Wales.

However, when I get to London, it’s going to be a little different! I literally have four days before my flight, in which I need to pack, see friends and spend quality time with my family. Normally, I love going out for coffee or lunch with friends when I’m home, but with such little time, I’ve had to restrict my London meetups to a Friday evening celebration and an «open house» on the Saturday afternoon. Thankfully I’ve been able to see a number of my friends recently on trips to London in January and February, so this isn’t the only time we’ve had for a proper catch up before I go. I still hope these events are special; sadly the reality is that there isn’t the time to see friends on an individual basis on this occasion.

You Won’t See Everyone Before You Leave
I can name at least half a dozen of my friends who I wasn’t able to see in the two and a half weeks I was home over the Christmas holidays — the reality is, that with just four days in London, and two weeks of evenings left in South Wales, I’m not going to meet up with everyone I’d like to see before I go. Where possible, try and come up with a short list of those you’d like to catch up with, and make it clear to them that you’d like to arrange something with them. You might also get invitations from those you weren’t expecting — try to fit these in as well, as they probably care more about your friendship than you might have been aware of before.

Make sure you also keep some space available for any final preparations, and block out any times when you think you might need some personal space!

Long-Distance Friendship Expectations
Moving overseas to a different time zone makes it harder to keep in regular communication with your friends and family back home. It’s important to have realistic expectations of how often you’ll be able to have conversations on Skype — Kazakhstan is six hours ahead of the UK, which actually makes it quite inconvenient for me to contact people when they finish work, as it will be nearly midnight my time! Figure out what works best for you — it may be that you need to block out one Saturday a month to Skype with a few of your friends as soon as they wake up, or figure out if you can contact them on their lunch hour one day during the week.

I have some close friends in the UK who I normally call every few weeks, and others who I chat with every few months. Where possible, discuss with them in advance the best times to Skype with them, and set realistic expectations for how often you’ll now chat with one another. Facebook Messenger has an event reminder tool which is a great way of prompting  you that you’re due a catch up. There may also be some friends who realistically you’re not going to Skype with — try to discuss with them in advance other ways you can keep in touch, such as email, Whatsapp or carrier pigeon.

Travel Update and Living Sustainably

With less than five weeks until my departure date, I finally booked a number of my flights this week. I managed to find a good deal on Monday with Ukrainian International Airlines to fly from London to Ankara via Kiev. The airline allowed me to pay for a second cabin bag (both 23kg) in advance for half the price ($25). I’ll be spending two weeks in Turkey (including a two day visit to northern Cyprus) from the end of March before I head to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for two months.

I had less choice in my flights between Ankara and Bishkek, particularly when it came to bringing extra baggage. I opted for Turkish Airlines, who have given me 30kgs for free, and charge $5 per kilo over. It may mean I end up paying up to an extra £65 to bring all my luggage to Kyrgyzstan, however I highly rate the airline for their customer service, food and on-board comfort. I’ve yet to book my flight to Almaty; I plan to arrive in the city in mid-June.

This week I’ve been to some classes that the charity I work for put on for those preparing to move overseas. They are covering the different areas involved in living sustainably overseas. I thought I’d cover the first two in this blog post, and the remaining four in my next post.

Living Sustainably: Physical Preparation

The way you prepare physically for moving overseas will differ depending on the part of the world you’re going to. No matter where you’re headed, there are a number of areas to consider in terms of physical preparation. Firstly let’s go back and ask some questions about the three physical areas I mentioned in my post “The Gift of Time” – exercise, diet and sleep.

  • Exercise: Where and when can I exercise? What are the local sports/activities I can get involved in as a form of exercise? Is it more expensive to join a gym where I’m going? Are there pavements or parks where I can go for a run? What is culturally appropriate exercise clothing?
  • Diet: What is culturally acceptable for me to eat? If I’m sharing a flat, what are the rules about sharing food in the fridge? What dry foods (spices, seasonings) can I take with me for a taste of home? What vegetables are grown locally? How can I sustain a balanced diet in the locality?
  • Sleep: If I’m living with a family, will I have to share a room? What times do local people get up and go to bed each day? How do I drown out noise if I’m living by a main road? When can I make up for sleep if I’m to attend an important social/cultural event?

Some other questions to have considered in advance are:

  • Do I need any vaccinations for where I’m going?
  • Do I need to take any additional medication with me?
  • Can I arrange a health check up with my doctor before I go?
  • Do I need to bring clothes with me for both temperature extremes?

Living Sustainably: Practical Preparation

There are so many things you’ll need to consider when it comes to practical preparation, that to be honest, I’m not going to be able to name them all in this article, and they could be quite specific to where you’re going and what you’re planning on doing. So my suggestion is that you do what we did in our class and brainstorm ideas, and then ask some friends or family members to give you any further ideas that they have.

I’m going to use the rest of this post to encourage you to consider the following area of practical preparation: preparing a budget. If you’re going to join a company or charity overseas where others already work, then I’d recommend asking them for their advice on living costs. They should be able to give you a breakdown of what they spend on average per month in different areas including accommodation, bills and food.

I’d also recommend doing research for yourself on the matter. I’m in the position where I’m going to be the first person in my charity looking to live in Kazakhstan, and so there currently isn’t a budget for living in the country. Numbeo is a good website to get an idea of living costs in major cities, and you can also do a price comparison between where you’re from and where you’re going to. I’d also recommend you have an emergency budget in case you need to make an unplanned return to your home country or your technology breaks down.

Letting Go

«That’s no longer your responsibility». This was the response my team leader gave me when I suggested I got involved in a developing situation at work last week. It was an area in which I had previous experience, but as I’m currently in the process of handing over my work responsibilities in preparation for my move next month, someone new is going to be taking this on and now is the time for them to move forward with it. Without my input.

This news took me by surprise more than I had been expecting. For the past two years I’ve been working within our Communications Team at work, developing the charity’s website and social media accounts. I’ve become well-equipped at designing website pages, creating engaging posts for Facebook and Twitter, and learning how to write succinctly in our charity’s style. Now is the time that I have to start letting go of these responsibilities, to finish well and hand over the reins to my colleagues. Here’s a few things I’ve learnt about letting go this past week.

There are Side-Effects of Letting Go
At the end of the day on Tuesday, having received this message from my team leader, I came home and tried to work on some creative tasks. In just over a week’s time I’m sharing with a couple of groups about my move to Kazakhstan, and wanted to create some literature about my future work. I have previous experience using programmes like Photoshop, Canva and PowerPoint to design materials, but for some reason I just couldn’t stay focused.

The realisation that I was no longer responsible for these areas at work had hit me for six, and I didn’t really know why. I felt frustrated that I wasn’t able to complete my tasks that evening, and reached out to a mentor the next day who was able to support me as we spent time chatting through this «letting go» process. After sharing with him and others, I was able to go home on Wednesday and design my literature to a level that I was happy with.

Consider the Right Time to Let Go
With less than seven weeks until my planned move, I now have to choose to let go of some of the things that have been precious to me over the four years that I’ve lived in South Wales. I’ve been a part of an international friendship group that meets every Wednesday in Swansea for the past two and a half years, and I absolutely love it. It’s a place where I’ve been able to make friends with individuals and couples from many countries around the world, and some of my closest friends today are people that I first met at this group two years ago.

Having chatted to my team leader last week, I became aware that with such a short amount of time left, I needed to let go of my involvement with this group. I still have a friend from this group that I’m meeting up with, but it really felt to me that this was the right time to hand over the other friendships I’ve made to the new team members who’ve been coming along over the past year. I also recognised that I need to use some of that time on a Wednesday evening to focus on the different areas of my preparations.

Be Available to Help
There are some areas of my work which, to be honest, I’m quite looking forward to handing over! I’m glad I’ve been able to support our charity with these roles, but as time gets closer to my departure I’ve been itching to hand them on to my colleagues. I handed one of these over last week, our email enquiries, and will finish handing over a second, our short-term opportunities, this coming week. There can be a lot involved in handing over a role; you’re imparting your experiences and suggesting best practice to the one who’s taking over from you. My recommendation is that where possible you make yourself available to support your colleagues even after you’ve let go of the responsibility.

I’m in the privileged position of being around for the next six weeks at work, which means that if there any questions, my colleagues can come and chat to me, and hopefully I’ll be able to provide them with the answers they need! Over the next few weeks I’m planning to check how my colleagues are getting on and commit to supporting them where they need help. As I hand over more of my responsibilities, including our social media accounts and website management, more of my time will be going to supporting my colleagues in these areas of handover, so that as I work myself out of these roles I can finish them all well.

The Gift of Time

“Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” — Bil Keane

It feels quite apt to be writing about time management on the 2nd February, a date made famous in movie history by Phil Connors (played by the wonderful Bill Murray), who got to relive Groundhog Day over and over again in snowy Punxsutawney. I wrote this blog post from my National Express bus, trying to make the most of my five and a half hour journey back to South Wales after a week of birthday celebrations and visiting friends.

There are only 55 days left until my planned move to Central Asia, which means that my time living in the UK (on this occasion) is coming nearer to an end. And so bearing this timeline in mind, I feel it’s important that I make the most of my free time here.

Setting Goals
Many of you will have heard of SMART goals before – I’ve found this to be a good model to follow when I’ve set goals. Here’s a summary:

Specific – what is it you are wanting to achieve?
Measurable – how will you know if you’ve achieved your goal?
Agreed Upon – if this goal involves others, have they agreed to the conditions?
Realistic – is it feasible that you’ll be able to achieve the goal with your current resources?
Time-Based – when are you aiming to have completed your goal by?

Currently when I have a free evening in South Wales (depending on my mood and energy levels) I’m trying to commit to spending time working on some of my plans and preparations for Kazakhstan until just before 10pm, when my mind begins to switch off and I choose to relax with a show on Netflix. What can you do today that will be a little step forward in your preparations for going? It may be spending time practising the language, reading a book about the culture or researching an estimated budget for living in the country you’re planning to move to.

I begun setting larger goals, and then broke these down into smaller components, setting shorter deadlines for when I want to have the next step completed. I’ve found that by having a list of tasks I want to complete, I’ve been able to achieve more than when I wasn’t setting such goals. As I have different evening commitments each week, I try to plan in advance what I want to achieve. It’s important for there to be flexible in all this; some of the deadlines I set have to change when something else needs to take priority.

Areas for Goals
Not all of the goals I set are directly related to my practical preparations for Kazakhstan; some are good habits I’m trying to keep, such as going to the gym regularly and making times to Skype with friends. However I do believe preparation for a move overseas involves every area of my life. Below are the different areas in which I try to set SMART goals:

  • Financial: The managing of my money, both income and outcome
  • Mental: The skills and abilities I’m looking to maintain and develop
  • Physical: My rhythm of exercise, diet and sleep
  • Social: My relationships with my friends, family and support team
  • Spiritual: My personal relationship with God
  • Vocational: My roles at work, including how to finish them well

I’ll be sharing more about how to prepare for a move overseas with regard to each of the above areas over the coming weeks.