For better or for worse, the extent of many people’s knowledge about Kazakhstan extends only about as far as Sacha Baron Cohen’s hit mockumentary, Borat. While the comedy parodies many aspects of Kazakh culture, it unsurprisingly is not the most accurate portrayal of what life is like in the world’s largest landlocked country. For a real immersive experience in this archetypal Central Asian nation, study abroad programs are the way to go.
Kazakhstan is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, as its heavily mountainous terrain makes consolidation and urban settlement a challenge. Historically populated by nomadic tribes, today Kazakhstan’s population is most rural and extremely diverse; there are people in Kazakhstan that are part of over 130 different ethnic identities, but most are of Kazakh and Russian origin.
Almaty is Kazakhstan’s largest city by far, with about 1.5 million people living in the metropolitan area. Located in the southeastern reaches of the country, very near to Kyrgyzstan and the western plains of China, Almaty is the main economic, cultural, and industrial life vein of Kazakhstan. It was also formerly the capital, before losing its status in 1997.
While most study abroad programs in Kazakhstan are rooted in Almaty, the current capital of Astana is another potential place to study abroad in Kazakhstan. A planned city, Astana is exceedingly modern in its appearance and is a major center for education in Kazakhstan; over 50,000 students are enrolled in the city’s many institutions of higher education.
It is also possible to participate in a study abroad program in Kazakhstan that entails travel to the rural parts of the country; although, permanent academic placements in these areas are rare. About half of Kazakhstan’s population resides in small villages tucked away from urban areas, so this can be a valuable learning opportunity to experience an equally significant demographic of Kazakh life.
Studying Abroad in Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan is an off-the-map destination for study abroad, so there are a relatively small handful of international programs available, in comparison to other countries. Most study abroad programs in Kazakhstan are focused around the study of various aspects of Eurasian and Central Asian culture, including history, literature, and socioeconomic development. Kazakhstan is often considered the most prominent country in Central Asia, as it has the largest economy, making it a prime place to learn more about the region.
Language Immersion is another popular type of study abroad program in Kazakhstan. Kazakh is the country’s primary language, and it is common for students to enroll in language courses in Kazakhstan, since studying the language in-country will provide them with many opportunities to practice conversing with locals. Russian is also recognized as an official language in Kazakhstan, so Russian language courses are usually offered as well, making it an interesting alternative destination for students interested in learning the Kazakhs’ northern neighbor’s tongue.
Study abroad programs in Kazakhstan are typically offered throughout the year. English is generally the medium of education, so you will not have to worry if you are not adept in Kazakh or Russian. Most local universities make use of either Russian or Kazakh, however, so it is likely that your courses will take place at a smaller international or satellite school.
Scholarships & Costs
Kazakhstan is in the middle of the pack in terms of affordable destinations to study abroad in. It has the largest economy in Central Asia and a decently large urban population, meaning that city life will be more expensive than in many developing countries, but more affordable than in most industrialized nations. Most daily necessities, like food and transportation, are cheap, while imported luxuries will be relatively more expensive.
For information on financial aid opportunities to study abroad in Kazakhstan, you can check out GoAbroad’s Scholarship Directory.
Accommodation & Visas
Homestays are a popular option for students who study abroad in Kazakhstan, as most programs tend to be small enough in number not to merit student housing. Living with a local host family is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the Kazakh culture and form bonds that will carry on well after you return home.
You will likely need to apply for a student visa in order to study abroad in Kazakhstan. The process if fairly simple, but can sometimes take a long time, so be sure to get on the ball early. For more details about what specific steps you need to take, talk to your program provider and also check out GoAbroad’s Kazakhstan Embassy Directory.
Benefits & Challenges
The Path Less Traveled. How many people do you know that have studied abroad in Kazakhstan? Central Asia is an often overlooked destination for study abroad that has a beautiful topography, rich culture, and fascinating history. Just come experience it for yourself!
Culture Shock. Studying abroad in Kazakhstan, may leave you feeling very far and isolated from home, but that is a good thing. Your study abroad program in Kazakhstan is an opportunity to fully immerse yourself in a different environment, and living in Kazakhstan will teach you many new things about the world.
Regional History. From the days of the Mongolian empire to the recent rule of the Soviet Union, Central Asia has always been a disputed region, and Kazakhstan has often founds itself at the center of it all. Studying abroad in Kazakhstan will introduce you to the history and intrigue of this enriching country.