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Destination: Kyrgyzstan SRAS Director, Renee Stillings, shares her thoughts after a short site visit to Kyrgyzstan
SRAS Director Renee Stillings exploring Kyrgyzstan on horseback during her recent site visit there. Contact Renee to find out how SRAS can better serve your students.
My husband and I often joke that there is life BC (Before Children) and AC (After Children). For me personally, AC has meant for a few of the very young years, limited travel, and now that they are a bit more self-sufficient, increasing amounts of travel, but yet still limited in duration.
Obviously I love visiting the places in which we have programs, both for what the location has to offer and for the people. We have built relationships with our partners over many years and well, it is just fun and inspiring to actually spend some time with them. But AC has also meant looking differently at each place I visit. I think about not if, but when would my children appreciate or benefit most from accompanying me. And I have had the thought for many years that I want my children to join me on a mountain horse trek in Kyrgyzstan. Really it is just a matter of their reaching an age of confidence and enough strength to stay on the horse. A few more years.
Site visits also give me new ideas and this time I gave more thought to faculty-led programs in the region. Our most popular semester program, Central Asian Studies, is based in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) and includes travel to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. The majority of our summer students spend a week on horseback trekking in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. In both cases this exploration is related to studies. And really it provides a ready framework for faculty-led programs.
Renee was invited to "tea" with a local family and served a small feast made, in large part, from produce the family raises themselves.
To me, Kyrgyzstan is all about rural, village life and appreciating the spectacular nature. For students of anthropology it is an incredible experience. Traditional weddings, yurt building and other rituals so central to Kyrgyz life blend with the nomadic herding of sheep, cattle, and even camels. Here everything appears to be free range and organic. It is a way of life. And welcoming guests is central to this way of life.
The cost of living in Kyrgyzstan is very low. Our students always rank it highly for its affordability. For faculty-led programs, it is possible to travel with small groups and still have excellent cost efficiency. And really the nature of village visits and mountain treks necessitates fairly small groups so as to in a way remain observers.
Kyrgyzstan also stands out as the most democratic of countries in the region. It hasn’t always been smooth, and there have been some hiccups along the way, but they are proud of where they are today. There are a lot of ways in which to study Kyrgyzstan – from political, cultural, religious, even geological standpoints.
If you think that Kyrgyzstan could be a great destination for your students – either an individual or a group you'd like to lead, we'd love to hear your ideas and would be happy to help you and your students make the most of this extraordinary location.