Recent alumna Amina Hurd ’23 decided to participate in an exchange program in Almaty, Kazakhstan, as part of her gap year curriculum. Having arrived in Almaty on August 30th, Hurd will spend the next ten months living with a host family and attending tenth grade at a local high school.
Hurd previously learned Russian for four years at Andover and participated in numerous programs related to the Russian language, including a six-week trip to Estonia with the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program. Hurd continues to pursue her passion for the language with the Future Leaders Exchange Abroad (FLEX Abroad) program in Kazakhstan.
“The overall aim is to initiate cultural exchange between teenagers here and in the U.S. Now, we can say that it is true cultural exchange because we’ve got teenagers, around 100 I believe, from different places in Kazakhstan in America, and now we’ve got five Americans in Kazakhstan. Not only do we get the cultural exchange, but also the language component. I’m here to talk with people and then [learn at] school,” said Hurd.
Sharing observations from her host school, Hurd commented on the universality of high school student life, noting the similarities between Kazakh teenagers and American teenagers. However, she noticed one major cultural difference in student treatment of teachers.
“There’s a lot more respect shown towards teachers. When teachers come into the classroom, everybody stands up, and they can’t sit down until the teacher says you can sit. If you’re late, you have to stand in the doorway and say, ‘I’m sorry for being late, may I please come in?’ We also have International Teachers Day where the kids swap places with the teachers. Teachers got presents, there was music, there were balloons [and] flowers. That was a big cultural difference that I’ve noticed straight away,” said Hurd.
Hurd has particularly enjoyed spending time with her host family and people in her local community, as living in Kazakhstan has exposed Hurd to new culinary experiences. Hurd described her first time trying “beshbarmak,” the national dish of Kazakhstan, made of wide wheat noodles called “lapsha” topped with horse meat, onions, and potatoes.
“At first, I was a little hesitant to try the horse meat because I rode horses before Andover and I’m looking to get back into it in college. I was thinking [that] horses are friends, not food. But then, I learned more about the nomadic culture in Kazakhstan, how there were separate horses for riding, eating…and I felt a lot more comfortable after that. All in all, it’s delicious. We have it at several family gatherings,” said Hurd.
Linguistic and cultural exchange is not Hurd’s only objective for the program. Pointing out the lack of geographical awareness Americans often demonstrate, she hopes to better inform people in the U.S. about Kazakhstan.
“Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country by landmass, but you could ask any random American on the street, ‘Where’s Kazakhstan?’ And they’ll [be like], ‘Kazakhstan? What’s that?’ What I really hope to do is to familiarize my American friends and family with Almaty and Kazakhstan, whether that’s through social media, talking to them, or other ways I can share my experience,” said Hurd.