Monday, September 14, 2009

K17 Pre-Service Training (PST)

PST lasted a total of eleven weeks which had been divided into three training groups, I worked the final three and a half weeks with three other volunteers from across the country. During our time there we were responsible for giving trainings, assisting their group with their practicum, general Q &A, and wrapping up training so the new group could be sworn in as volunteers.

Unlike my work in Jalal Abad, my time was very structure during those three weeks. I started at 8 am Monday through Friday and finished at 5 pm. I had deadlines to be met and paper work to be filled out on a daily basis. By no means was this a bad thing, I really enjoyed the structure in my life! Another bonus was that everyone spoke English. I was amazed at how efficiently I was able to work when I understood and could be understood!

On the weekends I had time to see friends from the Chui region who I rarely got to see during the year because of the distance between the north and the south. Its funny, when you look on the map Kyrgyzstan in no larger than the state of Virginia but because of the massive mountain ranges running through the country it takes approximately 20 hours to travel from one side of the country to the other.

These mountain ranges also hinder the sharing of the northern and southern Kyrgyz cultures so over time two very distinct lifestyles have developed. The three major differences I notice are the food, language and dress. All of these factors are very much influenced by the surrounding countries. The food, for example, in the south has a much heavier Uzbek influence which means more spices and flavorful food, plus due to the fact that we are on the edge of the Fergana valley, we have more access to the fresh fruits and vegetables that do not grow in the north. The language in the south is also heavily influenced by the Uzbeks and is spoken much slower, while the predominant language in the north is Russian. In fact many of the Kyrgyz speakers struggle in the Bishkek metropolitan because Kyrgyz is the second language to most families. Finally the dress, this was by far the most shocking difference for me. In Jalal Abad I regularly see women in burkas, head covering and minimal amount of skin being shown. The men wear more traditional clothing and particularly in the summer you see men walking around with Kalpaks, a traditional hat of Kyrgyzstan. Upon arrival in Bishkek the first thing I noticed was women wearing tank tops, shorts and more western style clothing and the absence of traditional Kyrgyz clothing. I can only imagine the shock I will have the first time I go to an American bar!

All in all the three weeks of training was good; I met a lot of cool K17s, I saw old friends, I learned more about the Peace Corps administration and the people in it, and I got lots of shopping done but I was ready to return to Jalal Abad!

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