Today is the last day of training, which we’ve been doing for the last four days. From getting to know the university and the Aga Khan Development Network to playing team building exercises, we’ve covered a lot of ground and I’m feeling a lot more prepared for camp!
This whole week is set up as training and team building for the counsellor team. It’s been really nice to have the four days so we could take it slow and also get some time to get to know one another.
On day one, we started with some of the dryer topics like policies and emergency procedures, as well as a presentation from the associate Dean who talked to us about the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and the mission of the University. The University of Central Asia was set up as a part of the AKDN as a way to use education as a tool of development. UCA will have three campuses in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan, but Naryn is the only completed campus. The Khorog campus in Tajikistan is set to open in September and welcome it’s first class. All of the locations are in mountainous regions, which is a part of a strategy to develop mountainous regions through education. There’s an inverse relationship in a lot of developing countries between altitude and development levels, which is especially important in Central Asia where a lot of poverty is found in higher altitudes. The construction of the university has led to things like greater infrastructure and road between Bishkek and Naryn, the construction and maintenance of some health services in town, and some other developments like local parks.
This year that just passed was the inaugural undergraduate class of UCA. There were under one hundred students, with about 40% female and 60% male students. Students came from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and I think maybe a few other countries. They all had to live on campus – I imagine so not to disrupt the local communities – and they have to buy into meal plans and other offerings of the campus. Overall everyone’s really excited to keep growing the university and welcome the next few years of students.
We also got a tour of campus and the surrounding grounds. A lot of the campus is still being built but the main classrooms and dorms are so impressive. The facilities are so well designed.The architect of the building is from Japan and was hired for his famously colourful designs. My favourite part of the design is the idea of bringing inside spaces outside and bringing nature into work spaces. The library and student lounge have the most amazing views of the red mountains on the one side of the classroom, and most of the classrooms have incredible views as well. They have so many student spaces and put a really big emphasis on student life. There’s a really cool sports bubble with a soccer field and basketball court that’s all pressurized and cool inside.
We’ve also had some cultural sensitivity training. As with any large-scale development project, there’s always local relations and issues that come up between the developers and those affected by it. There can also be ethnic and religious issues when new and different populations are brought in to a local, otherwise homogenous area, like with a university setting.
They’ve been taking good care of us during training! We’ve been eating so well – a lot of new Central Asian cuisine. Being vegetarian here is not all that easy – I get a lot of funny looks when I ask for no meat and have ended up eating a lot of rice and pasta and bread. In the photo is Plov, a Kyrgyz dish with rice, vegetables, meat, and a really good sauce. I managed to eat around the meat and got extra cucumber and tomato salad on the side. Another staple is the dark bread that seems to be everyone’s favourite here. It’s richer than the bread at home and really delicious. I’ve been eating it in the mornings with a local cheese.
I’m expecting to be pretty busy over the next two weeks and likely won’t have a lot of time to write and post pictures. Early Saturday morning I head to Bishkek for the night and Sunday is when the campers arrive and all the fun begins.