Monday, October 20, 2014

Malik in Bishkek: Trip to Naryn

The helicopter slowly rose to what felt like only a few feet off the ground, and then all of a sudden jolted forward. Nadim and I let out simultaneous high-pitched shrieks. We were on our way to Naryn, a small city hidden in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Naryn is also one of the three locations for the University of Central Asia's (UCA's) undergraduate campuses, to be opened in September 2016. The campus backs onto the Naryn River and is located in a valley just outside the city. The helicopter ride was about an hour, and we flew over hundreds of mountains and saw a few remote villages from above; it was truly breathtaking.

Construction of the Naryn campus has been progressing very quickly, and the foundation and concrete of the campus has already been laid. We had a brief meeting with the Site Manager who showed us designs of the campus, and then went on a tour. Seeing the campus forming and visualizing the final product really puts into perspective the work we have been doing at Academic Affairs. The students who we are working towards recruiting will be studying here in just a few years; the curriculum we are developing will be implemented in this very location. It makes the work feel more 'real' if that makes sense, which is a strong motivator.

As I have mentioned, UCA's vision is to provide world-class education to the mountain societies of Central Asia. The goal is to educate students who can then use their knowledge to promote the social and economic development of the region. Outside of this direct goal however, there are many positive externalities. One of which we saw while at the UCA lookout point, observing the campus from a ledge on one of the surrounding mountains. While we were there, a few cars pulled up to the gazebo that UCA had built and set up a picnic on the benches. We spoke to the family for a bit (those who spoke Russian did, I just stood there) and found out they were celebrating a wedding. They come up to the lookout for family gatherings. We were informed by the Site Manager that this lookout used to be very dangerous, but UCA cleaned it up and built a gazebo, some benches, and a fence so it was more secure. With little effort, UCA was providing a direct benefit to this family, outside the immediate realm of its vision. This impact will be magnified when you compare this small gazebo to a university with world-class facilities. The economic fallout will be enormous, and it's exciting to see what the next few years hold for Naryn.

Random thoughts of the week:

  • Russian low-point: I was locked out of my apartment, and had to have Malika (who speaks Russian) on speakerphone asking my neighbour to let me in the building via the intercom. I was completely useless.
  • Russian high-point: I successfully conducted an extensive negotiation with a cab driver, and got a fare reduced from 200 KGS to 160 KGS. That's a total discount of $0.80 lol...
  • High school students are assigned 'door duty.' At every entranceway at the two high schools we visited, there would be two students who stand there for extended periods of time. Apparently their job was to ring the bell once class was over, although I'm not sure if that's still in practice.
  • Ariff (Dr. Kachra) - Dean of Academic Affairs at UCA gave me some good advice this week. He said to learn how to peg where expectations are set. That way, rather than just meeting expectations, you can always surpass them.

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