I used to spend summer days in the sands outside of Breakers and go to Dairy Treat or Butch’s to satisfy cravings. And, as I think back about all my memories, there I can’t help but feel supreme gratitude to have such a pleasant town to call mine.
But now life looks a little bit different. I’m in Kazakhstan and I’m serving in the Peace Corps.
For the past two years, I was a teacher in my small town of Zerenda and it was my classes that were filled with enthusiastic students. I spent my days planning lessons, reading and learning how to cook. I hand-wrung my laundry and was accustomed to power and water outages. I walked to school in temperatures 30 below zero.
I don’t run track anymore, play football or enjoy the delight of beach burritos, but I will always be a student and my sense of gratitude is unwavering.
I am a student of this country, its people, its culture and its language. One of the many lessons I’ve learned is that the Kazakhs are a supremely welcoming people. But the impact after nearly a century of brutal and dehumanizing leadership is profound.
Here in Kazakhstan, one can’t help but sense a forlorn nature in many of the strangers that you encounter. Nevertheless, they are a proud people, eager to build their own reputation and separate themselves from their past. They celebrate their national symbols and are eager to promote their nomadic history.
I’ve discovered this is a capable country, though it is a society with a rare modern and undeveloped mix. My cell phone works far better here than the dunes of Grand Haven would ever allow, yet I go without power and water on a weekly basis. A few doors down, I can watch satellite on a flat-screen TV, but just a few doors in the other direction and I’d be forced to relieve myself in a whole in the ground.
Above all, it is a country that is attempting to establish itself with all resources available. It’s a culture seeking an identity. And it has been fascinating to observe.
Although Grand Haven is still my sentimental home, Kazakhstan feels like my home right now.
I’m six years removed from the halls of Grand Haven High School and my learning environment has changed drastically. But the lessons I have learned are equally important. These lessons will empower me with a new perspective.
Grand Haven will always be the same cozy West Michigan beach town — but after spending two years in Zerenda, it will be viewed through a different lens. Life in America is fast-paced and restriction-free. Two years in Kazakhstan will allow me to be grateful for its luxuries, while likely noticing a few of its follies.
My two years here have flown by faster than I ever could have imagined. In two weeks, I will leave Kazakhstan and my classroom will change again. Fortunately, my home will always remain the same.
— By Myles Fish